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From The Bibliophile Library of Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Vol. XVIII, compiled and arranged by Nathan Haskell Dole, Forrest Morgan, and Caroline Ticknor; The International Bibliophile Society, New York-London; 1904; pp. 6291-6307.



[6291]

CELEBRATED ENGLISH LETTER WRITERS.






[“FAMILIAR letters form no insignificant part of the literary treasures of a nation. In so far as they are really familiar, they may be compared to the camp-followers of an army, unsought auxiliaries, untrained, and not regularly enlisted, but a contingent equally meritable and indispensable. They afford the surest revelation of the real man, and fling undesigned light upon manners, feelings, and the dark passages of biography. When regularly drilled and disciplined in view of eventual publication, or perhaps even actually shaped and fashioned out of original drafts penned in careless freedom, they lose much of this natural charm, but acquire another as examples of consummate art. This character attaches to the letters of Pope and Gray, and equally to Cowper’s if the writer designed his letters for publication, but if this was not contemplated, Cowper deserves to be placed at the head of all letter writers as having best reconciled art and nature. Whether Horace Walpole’s letters were intended for publication or otherwise, they were certain to be artificial. The antithesis to the calculated elegance of Pope and Gray is the frank impetuosity of Byron, whose letters enlisted the sincerity too often lacking in his poetry. We have given Shelley a place as the greatest epistolary master of magnificent description, while Charles Lamb is supreme in quaint humour. The bustle of our own age mars the ease and polish of letter writing, yet it has classical examples, among which Dickens’s correspondence may be particularly named.]



Alexander Pope to Lady Mary Montagu.

1716.

MADAM, — I have been (what I never was till now) in debt to you for a letter some weeks. I was informed you were at sea, and that ’twas to no purpose to write till some news had been heard of your arriving somewhere or other. Besides, I have had a second dangerous illness, from which I was more diligent to be recovered than from the first, having now some hopes of seeing you again. If you make any tour in Italy, I shall not easily forgive you for not acquainting me soon enough to have met you there. I am very certain I can never be polite unless I travel with you: and it is never to be repaired, the loss that Homer has sustained, for want of my translating him in Asia. You will come hither full of criticisms against a man who wanted nothing to be in the right but to have kept you company; you have no way of making amends, but by continuing an Asiatic when you return to me, whatever English airs you may put on to other 6292 people. I prodigiously long for your Sonnets, your Remarks, your Oriental Learning; — but I long for nothing so much as your Oriental self. You must of necessity be advanced so far back into true nature and simplicity of manners, by these three years’ residence in the East, that I shall look upon you as so many years younger than you was, so much nearer innocence, (that is, truth) and infancy (that is, openness). I expect to see your soul so much thinner dressed as your body; and that you have left off, as unwieldy and cumbersome, a great many damned European habits. Without offence to your modesty be it spoken, I have a burning desire to see your soul stark naked, for I am confident ’tis the prettiest kind of white soul in the universe. But I forget whom I am talking to; you may possibly by this time believe, according to the Prophet, that you have none; if so, shew me that which comes next to a soul; you may easily put it upon a poor ignorant Christian for a soul, and please him well with it; — I mean your heart; — Mahomet, I think, allows you hearts; which (together with fine eyes and other agreeable equivalents) are worth all the souls on this side the world. But if I must be content with seeing your body only, God send it to come quickly: I honour it more than the diamond casket that held Homer’s Iliads; for in the very twinkle of one eye of it there is more wit, and in the very dimple of one cheek of it there is more meaning, than all the souls that ever were casually put into women since men had the making of them.

I have a mind to fill the rest of this paper with an accident that happened just under my eyes, and has made a great impression upon me. I have just passed part of this summer at an old romantic seat of my Lord Harcourt’s, which he lent me. It overlooks a common-field, where, under the shade of a haycock, sat two lovers, as constant as ever were found in Romance, beneath a spreading beech. The name of the one (let it sound as it will) was John Hewet; of the other, Sarah Drew. John was a well-set man about five and twenty, Sarah a brown woman of eighteen. John had for several months borne the labour of the day in the same field with Sarah, when she milked, it was his morning and evening charge to bring the cows to her pail. Their love was the talk, but not the scandal. of the whole neighbourhood; for all they aimed at was the blameless possession of each other in marriage. It was but this very morning that he had obtained her parents’ consent, 6293 and it was but till the next week that they were to wait to be happy. Perhaps this very day, in the intervals of their work, they were talking of their wedding clothes; and John was now matching several kinds of poppies and field-flowers to her complexion, to make her a present of knots for the day. While they were thus employed (it was on the last of July) a terrible storm of thunder and lightning arose, that drove the labourers to what shelter the trees or hedges afforded. Sarah, frightened and out of breath, sunk on a haycock, and John (who never separated from her) sate by her side, having raked two or three heaps together to secure her. Immediately there was heard so loud a crack as if Heaven had burst asunder. The labourers, all solicitous for each other’s safety, called to one another: those that were nearest our lovers, hearing no answer, stept to the place where they lay: they first saw a little smoke, and after, this faithful pair, — John, with one arm about his Sarah’s neck, and the other held over her face, as if to secure her from the lightning. They were struck dead, and already grown stiff and cold in this tender pasture. There was no mark or discolouring on their bodies, only that Sarah’s eye-brow was a little singed, and a small spot between her breasts. They were buried the next day in one grave, in the parish of Stanton-Harcourt, in Oxfordshire! where my Lord Harcourt, at my request, has erected a monument over them. Of the following epitaphs which I made, the critics have chosen the godly one: I like neither, but wish you had been in England to have done this office better: I think ’twas what you could not have refused me on so moving an occasion.

When Eastern lovers feed the fun’ral fire,
On the same pile their faithful Fair expire;
Here pitying Heav’n that virtue mutual found,
And blasted both, that it might neither wound.
Hearts so sincere, th’ Almighty saw well pleas’d
Sent his own lightning, and the victims seized.



Think not, by rig’rous judgment seiz’d,
     A pair so faithful could expire;
Victims so pure Heav’n saw well pleas’d
    And snatch’d them in celestial fire.


Live well, and fear no sudden fate:
    When God calls Virtue to the grave,
Alike ’tis justice, soon or late,
    Mercy alike to kill or save.
Virtue unmov’d can hear the call,
And face the flash that melts the ball.


6294

Upon the whole, I can’t think these people unhappy. The greatest happiness, next to living as they would have done, was to die as they did. The greatest honour people of this low degree could have, was to be remembered on a little monument, unless you will give them another, — that of being honoured with a tear from the finest eyes in the world. I know you have tenderness; you must have it; it is the very emanation of good sense and virtue; the finest minds, like the finest metals, dissolve the easiest.

But when you are reflecting upon objects of pity, pray do not forget one, who had no sooner found out an object of the highest esteem, than he was separated from it; and who is so very unhappy as not to be susceptible of consolation, from others, by being so miserably in the right as to think other women what they really are. Such an one can’t but be desperately fond of any creature that is quite different from these. If the Circassian be utterly void of such honour as these have, and such virtue as these boast of, I am content. I have detested the sound of honest woman and loving spouse, ever since I heard the pretty name of Odaliche. Dear Madam, I am for ever

Your, &c.

My most humble services to Mr. Wortley. Pray let me hear from you soon, though I shall very soon write again. I am confident half our letters are lost.





Thomas Gray to the Rev. Norton Nicholls.

Pembroke Hall: August 26, 1766.

Dear Sir, — It is long since that I heard you were gone in haste into Yorkshire on account of your mother’s illness; and the same letter informed me that she was recovered; otherwise I had then wrote to you, only to beg you would take care of her, and to inform you that I had discovered a thing very little known, which is, that in one’s whole life one never can have any more than a single mother. You may think this is obvious, and (what you call) a trite observation. You are a green gosling! I was at the same age (very near) as wise as you, and yet I never discovered this (with full evidence and conviction, I mean) till it was too late. It is thirteen years 6295 ago, and seems but yesterday; and every day I live it sinks deeper into my heart.

Many a corollary could I draw from this axiom for your use (not for my own) but I will leave you the merit of doing it yourself. Pray tell me how your own health is. I conclude it perfect, as I hear you offered yourself for a guide to Mr. Palgrave, into the Sierra-Morena of Yorkshire. For me, I passed the end of May and all June in Kent not disagreeably; the country is all a garden, gay, rich, and fruitful, and (from the rainy season) had preserved, till I left it, all that emerald verdure, which commonly only one sees for the first fortnight of the spring. In the west part of it from every eminence the eye, catches some long winding reach of the Thames or Medway, with all their navigation; in the east, the sea breaks in upon you, and mixes its white transient sails and glittering blue expanse with the deeper and brighter greens of the woods and corn. This last sentence is so fine, I am quite ashamed; but, no matter; you must translate it into prose. Palgrave, if he heard it, would cover his face with his pudding sleeve.

I went to Margate for a day; one would think it was Bartholomew fair that had flown down from Smithfield to Kent in the London machine, like my Lady Stuffdamask: (to be sure that you have read the New Bath Guide, the most fashionable of books) so then I did not go to Kinsgate, because it belonged to my Lord Holland; but to Ramsgate I did, and so to Sandwich, and Deal, and Dover, and Folkestone, and Hythe, all along the coast, very delightful. I do not tell you of the great and small beasts, and creeping things innumerable that I met with, because you do not suspect that this world is inhabited by any thing but men and women and clergy, and such two-legged cattle.

Now I am here again very disconsolate and all alone, even Mr. Brown is gone; and the cares of this world are coming thick upon me; I do not mean children. You, I hope, are better off, riding and walking with Mr. Aislaby, singing duets with my cousin Fanny, improving with Mr. Weddell, conversing with Mr. Harry Duncomb. I must not wish for you here; besides, I am going to town at Michaelmas, by no means for amusement. Do you remember how we are to go into Wales next year? Well! Adieu, I am sincerely yours.                                                      T.G.

P.S. Pray how does poor Temple find himself in his new 6296 situation? Is Lord Lisburne as good as his letters were? What is come of the father and brother? Have you seen Mason?

The Hon. Horace Walpole to Sir Horace Mann.

Arlington Street: June 25, 1749

Don’t flatter yourself with your approaching year of Jubilee: its pomps and vanities will be nothing to the shows and triumphs we have had and are having. I talk like an Englishman: here you know we imagine that a jubilee is a season of pageants, not of devotion; but our Sabbath has really been all tilt and tournament. There have been, I think, no less than eight masquerades, the fire-works, and a public act at Oxford: to-morrow is an installation of six Knights of the Bath, and in August of as many Garters: Saturday, Sunday, and Monday next, are the banquets at Cambridge, for the instalment of the Duke of Newcastle as chancellor. The whole world goes to it: he has invited, summoned, pressed the entire body of nobility and gentry from all parts of England. His cooks have been there these ten days, distilling essences of every living creature, and massacring and confounding all the species that Noah and Moses took such pains to preserve and distinguish. It would be pleasant to see pedants and professors searching for etymologies of strange dishes, and tracing more wonderful transformations than any in the Metamorphoses. How miserably Horace’s unde et quo Catius will be hacked about in clumsy quotations! I have seen some that will be very unwilling performers at the creation of his Mamamouchi.* I have set my heart on their giving a doctor’s degree to the Duchess of Newcastle’s favourite — this favourite is at present neither a lover nor an apothecary, but a common pig, that she brought from Hanover: I am serious; and Harry Vane, the new lord of the treasury, is entirely employed, when he is not at the Board, in opening and shutting the door for it. Tell me, don’t you very often throw away my letters in a passion, and believe that I invent the absurdities I relate! — Were not we as mad when you was in England?

The King, who has never dined out of his own palaces, has 6297 just determined to dine at Claremont to-morrow — all the cooks are at Cambridge — imagine the distress!

Last Thursday, the Monarch of my last paragraph gave away the six vacant ribands: one to a Margrave of Anspach, a near relation of the late Queen; others to the Dukes of Leeds and Bedford, Lords Albemarle and Granville: the last, you may imagine, gives some uneasiness. The Duke of Bedford has always been unwilling to take one, having tied himself up in the days of his patriotism to forfeit great sums if ever he did. The King told him one day this winter, that he would give none away but to him and to Anspach. This distinction struck him; he could not refuse the honour; but he has endeavoured to waive it, as one imagines, by a scruple he raised against the oath, which obliges the Knights, whenever they are within two miles of Windsor, to go and offer. The King would not abolish the oath, but has given a general dispensation for all breaches of it, past, present, and to come. Lord Lincoln and Lord Harrington are very unhappy at not being in the list. The sixth riband is at last given to Prince George: the Ministry could not prevail for it till within half an hour of the ceremony: then the Bishop of Salisbury was sent to notify the gracious intention. The prince was at Kew, so the message was delivered to Prince George himself. The child, with great good sense, desired the Bishop to give his duty and thanks, and to assure the King that he should always obey him; but that, as his father was out of town, he could send no other answer. Was not it clever? The design of not giving one riband to the Prince’s children had made great noise: there was a Remembrancer on the subject ready for the press. This is the Craftsman of the present age, and is generally levelled at the Duke, and filled with very circumstantial cases of his arbitrary behaviour. It has absolutely written down Hawley, his favourite general and executioner, who was to have been upon the staff.

Garrick is married to the famous Violette, first at a Protestant, and then at a Roman Catholic chapel. The chapter of this history is a little obscure and uncertain as to the consent of the protecting Countess, and whether she gives her a fortune or not.

6298

Adieu! I believe I tell you strange rhapsodies; but you must consider that our follies are not only very extraordinary, but are our business and employment: they enter into our politics, nay, I think they are our politics — and I don’t know which are the simplest. They are Tully’s description of poetry, “hæc studia juventutem alunt, senectutem oblectant; pernoctant nobiscum, pergrinantur, rusticantur,” so if you will that I write to you, you must be content with a detail of absurdities. I could tell you of Lord Mountford’s making cricket-matches, and fetching up parsons by express from different parts of England to play matches on Richmond-green; of his keeping aide-de-camps to ride to all parts to lay bets for him at horse-races, and of twenty other peculiarities; but I fancy you are tired: in short, you, who know me, will comprehend all best when I tell you that I live in such a scene of folly as makes me even think myself a creature of common sense.

NOTES

*  See Molière’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme.

  A weekly newspaper.

  A German dancer at the Opera House, and a protégé of Dorothy, Countess of Burlington.

William Cowper to the Rev. John Newton.

March 19, 1784.

My dear Friend, — It being his majesty’s pleasure that I should yet have another opportunity to write before he dissolves the parliament, I avail myself of it with all possible alacrity. I thank you for your last, which was not the less welcome for coming, like an extraordinary gazette, at a time when it was not expected. As when the sea is uncommonly agitated, the water finds its way into creeks and holes of rocks, which in its calmer state it never reaches, in like manner the effect of these turbulent times is felt even at Orchard side, where in general we live as undisturbed by the political element, as shrimps or cockles that have been accidentally deposited in some hollow beyond the water mark, by the usual dashing of the waves. We were sitting yesterday after dinner, the two ladies and myself, very composedly, and without the least apprehension of any such intrusion in our snug parlour, one lady knitting, the other netting, and the gentleman winding worsted, when to our unspeakable surprise a mob appeared before the window; a smart rap was heard at the door, the boys halloo’d, and the maid announced Mr. Grenville. Puss was unfortunately let out of her box, so that the candidate, with all his good friends at his heels, was refused admittance 6299 at the grand entry, and referred to the back door, as the only possible way of approach.

Candidates are creatures not very susceptible of affronts, and would rather, I suppose, climb in at a window, than be absolutely excluded. In a minute, the yard, the kitchen, and the parlour were filled. Mr. Grenville advancing towards me shook me by the hand with a degree of cordiality that was extremely seducing. As soon as he and as many more as could find chairs were seated, he began to open the intent of his visit. I told him I had no vote, for which he readily gave me credit. I assured him I had no influence, which he was not equally inclined to believe, and the less, no doubt, because Mr. Ashburner, the draper, addressing himself to me at this moment, informed me that I had a great deal. Supposing that I could not be possessed of such a treasure without knowing it, I ventured to confirm my first assertion, by saying, that if I had any I was utterly at a loss to imagine where it could be, or wherein it consisted. Thus ended the conference. Mr. Grenville squeezed me by the hand again, kissed the ladies, and withdrew. He kissed likewise the maid in the kitchen, and seemed upon the whole a most loving, kissing, kind-hearted gentleman. He is very young, genteel, and handsome. He has a pair of very good eyes in his head, which not being sufficient as it should seem for the many nice and difficult purposes of a senator, he has a third also, which he wore suspended by a riband from his buttonhole. The boys halloo’d, the dogs barked, Puss scampered; the hero, with his long train of obsequious followers, withdrew. We made ourselves very merry with the adventure, and in a short time settled into our former tranquillity, never probably to be thus interrupted more. I thought myself, however, happy in being able to affirm truly that I had not that influence for which he sued; and which, had I been possessed of it, with my present views of the dispute between the Crown and the Commons, I must have refused him, for he is on the side of the former. It is comfortable to be of no consequence in a world where one cannot exercise any without disobliging somebody. The town however seems to be much at his service, and if he be equally successful throughout the country, he will undoubtedly gain his election. Mr. Ashburner perhaps was a little mortified because it was evident that I owed the honour of this visit to his misrepresentation of my importance. But had he thought 6300 proper to assure Mr. Grenville that I had three heads, I should not I suppose have been bound to produce them. Many thanks for the worsted, which is excellent.

We are as well as a spring hardly less severe than the severest winter will give us leave to be. With our untied love, we conclude ourselves yours and Mrs. Newton’s affectionate and faithful,                                                    &c.

Lord Byron to Thomas Moore.

Ravenna: December 9, 1820.

I open my letter to tell you a fact, which will show the state of this country better than I can. The commandant of the troops is now lying dead in my house. He was shot at a little past eight o’clock, about two hundred paces from my door. I was putting on my great-coat to visit Madame la Contessa G. when I heard the shot. On coming into the hall, I found all my servants on the balcony, exclaiming that a man was murdered. I immediately ran down, calling on Tita (the bravest of them) to follow me. The rest wanted to hinder us from going, as it is the custom for everybody here, it seems, to run away from “the stricken deer.”

However, down we ran, and found him lying on his back, almost, if not quite dead with five wounds, one in the heart, two in the stomach, one in the finger, and the other in the arm. Some soldiers cocked their guns, and wanted to hinder me from passing. However we passed, and I found Diego, the adjutant, crying over him like a child — a surgeon who said nothing of his profession — a priest, sobbing a frightened prayer — and the commandant, all this time, on his back, on the hard, cold pavement, without light or assistance, or anything around him but confusion and dismay.

As nobody could, or would, do anything but howl and pray, and as no one would stir a finger to move him, for fear of consequences, I lost my patience — made my servant and a couple of the mob take up the body — sent off two soldiers to the guard — despatched Diego to the Cardinal with the news, and had the commandant carried up stairs into my own quarter. But it was too late, he was gone — not at all disfigured — bled inwardly — not above an ounce or two came out.

I had him partly stripped — made the surgeon examine him, 6301 and examined him myself. He had been shot by cut balls or slugs. I felt one of the slugs, which had gone through him, all but the skin. Everybody conjectures why he was killed, but no one knows how. The gun was found close by him — an old gun, half filed down.

He only said, “O Dio!” and “Gesu!” two or three times, and appeared to have suffered little. Poor fellow! he was a brave officer, but had made himself much disliked by the people. I knew him personally, and had met him often at conversazioni and elsewhere. My house is full of soldiers, dragoons, doctors, priests, and all kinds of persons, — though I have now cleared it, and clapt sentinels at the doors. To-morrow the body is to be moved. The town is in the greatest confusion, as you may suppose.

You are to know that, if I had not had the body moved, they would have left him there till morning in the street, for fear of consequences. I would not choose to let even a dog die in such a manner, without succour: — and, as for consequences, I care for none in a duty.

Yours, &c.

P.S. The lieutenant on duty by the body is smoking his pipe with great composure. —— A queer people this.

Shelley’s Impression of Pompeii.

(From a letter to Thomas Love Peacock.) [c. 1818]

Since you last heard from me, we have been to see Pompeii, and are waiting now for the return of spring weather, to visit, first, Pæstum, and then the islands; after which we shall return to Rome. I was astonished at the remains of this city; I had no conception of anything so perfect yet remaining. My idea of the mode of its destruction was this: — First, an earthquake shattered it, and unroofed almost all its temples, and split its columns; then a rain of light, small pumice-stones fell; then torrents of boiling water, mixed with ashes, filled up all its crevices. A wide, flat hill, from which the city was excavated, is now covered by thick woods, and you see the tombs and the theatres, the temples and the houses, surrounded by the uninhabited wilderness. We entered the town from the 6302 side towards the sea, and first saw two theatres; one more magnificent than the other, strewn with the ruins of the white marble which formed their seats and cornices, wrought with deep, bold sculpture. In the front, between the stage and the seats, is the circular space occasionally occupied by the chorus. The stage is very narrow, but long, and divided from this space by a narrow inclosure parallel to it, I suppose for the orchestra. On each side are the consuls’ boxes, and below, in the theatre at Herculaneum, were found two equestrian statues of admirable workmanship, occupying the same place as the great bronze lamps at Drury Lane. The smallest of the theatres is said to have been comic, though I should doubt. From both you see, as you sit on the seats, a prospect of the most wonderful beauty.

You then pass through the ancient streets; they are very narrow, and the houses rather small, but all constructed on an admirable plan, especially for this climate. The rooms are built round a court, or sometimes two, according to the extent of the house. In the midst is a fountain, sometimes surrounded with a portico, supported on fluted columns of white stucco; the floor is paved with mosaics, sometimes wrought in imitation of vine leaves, sometimes in quaint figures, and more or less beautiful, according to the rank of the inhabitant. There were paintings on all, but most of them had been removed to decorate the royal museum. Little winged figures, and small ornaments of exquisite elegance, yet remain. There is an ideal life in the forms of these paintings of an incomparable loveliness, though most are evidently the work of very inferior artists. It seems as if, from the atmosphere of mental beauty which surrounded them, every human being caught a splendour not his own. In one house you see how the bedrooms were managed — a small sofa was built up, where the cushions were placed; two pictures, one representing Diana and Endymion, the other Venus and Mars, decorate the chamber; and a little niche, which contains the statue of a domestic god. The floor is composed of a rich mosaic of the rarest marbles, agate, jasper, and porphyry; it looks to the marble fountain and the snow-white columns, whose entablatures strew the floor of the portico they supported. The houses have only one story, and the apartments, though not large, are very lofty. A great advantage results from this, wholly unknown in our cities. The public buildings, whose ruins are now forests as it were of white fluted 6303 columns, and which then supported entablatures, loaded with sculptures, were seen on all sides over the roofs of the houses. This was the excellence of the ancients. Their private expenses were comparatively moderate; the dwelling of one of the chief senators of Pompeii is elegant indeed, and adorned with most beautiful specimens of art, but small. Bu their public buildings are everywhere marked by the bold and grand design of an unsparing magnificence. In the little town of Pompeii, (it contained about twenty thousand inhabitants,) it is wonderful to see the number and the grandeur of their public buildings. Another advantage, too, is, that, in the present case, the glorious scenery around is not shut out, and that, unlike the inhabitants of the Cimmerian ravines of modern cities, the ancient Pompeians could contemplate the clouds and the lamps of heaven; and could see the moon rise high behind Vesuvius, and the sun set in the sea, tremulous with an atmosphere of golden vapour, between Inarime and Misenum.

We next saw the temples. Of the temple of Æsculapius little remains but an altar of black stone, adorned with a cornice imitating the scales of a serpent. His statue, in terra-cotta, was found in the cell. The temple of Isis is more perfect. It is surrounded by a portico of fluted columns, and in the area around it are two altars, and many ceppi for statues; and a little chapel of white stucco, as hard as stone, of the most exquisite proportion; its panels are adorned with figures in bas-relief, slightly indicated, but of a workmanship the most delicate and perfect that can be conceived. They are Egyptian subjects, executed by a Greek artist, who has harmonized all the unnatural extravagances of the original conception with the supernatural loveliness of his country’s genius. They scarcely touch the ground with their feet, and their wind-uplifted robes seem in the place of wings. The temple in the midst, raised on a high platform, and approached by steps, was decorated with exquisite paintings, some of which we saw in the museum at Portici. It is small, of the same materials as the chapel, with a pavement of mosaic, and fluted Ionic columns of white stucco, so white that it dazzles you to look at it.

Thence through other porticos and labyrinths of walls and columns (for I cannot hope to detail everything to you), we came to the Forum. This is a large square surrounded by lofty porticos of fluted columns, some broken, some entire, their 6304 entablatures strewed under them. The temple of Jupiter, of Venus, and another temple, the Tribunal, and the Hall of Public Justice, with their forests of lofty columns, surround the Forum. Two pedestals or altars of an enormous size, (for whether they supported equestrian statues, or were the altars of the temple of Venus, before which they stand, the guide could not tell,) occupy the lower end of the Forum. At the upper end, supported on an elevated platform, stands the temple of Jupiter. Under the colonnade of its portico we sate, and pulled out our oranges, and figs, and bread, and medlars, (sorry fare, you will say,) and rested to eat. Here was a magnificent spectacle. Above and between the multitudinous shafts of the sun-shining columns was seen the sea, reflecting the purple heaven of noon above it, and supporting, as it were, on its line the dark lofty mountains of Sorrento, of blue inexpressibly deep, and tinged towards their summits with streaks of new-fallen snow. Between was one small green island. To the right was Capreæ, Inarime, Prochyta,§ and Misenum. Behind was the single summit of Vesuvius, rolling forth volumes of thick white smoke, whose foam-like column was sometimes darted into the clear dark sky, and fell in little streaks along the wind. Between Vesuvius and the nearer mountains, as through a chasm, was seen the main line of the loftiest Apennines, to the east. The day was radiant and warm. Every now and then we heard the subterranean thunder of Vesuvius; its distant deep peals seemed to shake the very air and light of day, which interpenetrated our frames, with the sullen and tremendous sound. This scene was what the Greeks beheld (Pompeii, you now, was a Greek city). They lived in harmony with nature; and the interstices of their incomparable columns were portals, as it were, to admit the spirit of beauty which animates this glorious universe to visit those whom it inspired. If such is Pompeii, what was Athens? What scene was exhibited from the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the temples of Hercules, and Theseus, and the Winds? The islands and the Ægean Sea, the mountains of Argolis, and the peaks of Pindus and Olympus, and the darkness of the Bœtian forests interspersed?

From the Forum we went to another place; a triangular portico, half inclosing the ruins of an enormous temple. It is built on the edge of a hill over-looking the sea. triangle with central dot at base That 6305 black point is the temple. In the apex of the triangle stands an altar and a fountain, and before the altar once stood the statue of the builder of the portico. Returning hence, and following the consular road, we came to the eastern gate of the city. The walls are of enormous strength, and inclose a space of three miles. On each side of the road beyond the gate are built the tombs. How unlike ours! They seem not so much hiding-places for that which must decay, as voluptuous chambers for immortal spirits. They are of marble, radiantly white; and two, especially beautiful, are loaded with exquisite bas-reliefs. On the stucco-wall that incloses them are little emblematic figures of a relief exceedingly low, of dead and dying animals, and little winged genii, and female forms bending in groups in some funeral office. The higher reliefs represent, one a nautical subject, and the other a Bacchanalian one. Within the cell stand the cinerary urns, sometimes one, sometimes more. It is said that paintings were found within; which are now, as has been everything movable in Pompeii, removed, and scattered about in royal museums. These tombs were the most impressive things of all. The wild woods surround them on either side; and along the broad stones of the paved road which divides them, you hear the late leaves of autumn shiver and rustle in the stream of the inconstant wind, as it were, like the step of ghosts. The radiance and magnificence of these dwellings of the dead, the white freshness of the scarcely finished marble, the impassioned or imaginative life of the figures which adorn them, contrast strangely with the simplicity of the houses of those who were living when Vesuvius overwhelmed them.

I have forgotten the amphitheatre, which is of great magnitude, though much inferior to the Coliseum. I now understand why the Greeks were such great poets; and, above all, I can account, it seems to me, for the harmony, the unity, the perfection, the uniform excellence, of all their works of art. They lived in a perpetual commerce with external nature, and nourished themselves upon the spirit of its forms. Their theatres were all open to the mountains and the sky. Their columns, the ideal types of a sacred forest, with its roof of interwoven tracery, admitted the light and wind; the odour and the freshness of the country penetrated the cities. Their temples were mostly hypæthric; and the flying clouds, the stars, or the deep sky, were seen above. O, but for that series of 6306 wretched wars which terminated in the Roman conquest of the world; but for the Christian religion, which put the finishing stroke on the ancient system; but for those changes that conducted Athens to its ruin — to what an eminence might not humanity have arrived!

NOTES

§  The classic name of Procida





[To a friend who had been absent nine years in China, Lamb addressed this quaint and funereal letter. It is hardly necessary to remind the reader that not a word of it is true, and that some of the worthies here slain and buried survived for more than thirty years.]

Charles Lamb to Thomas Manning

December 25, 1815.

In sober sense, what makes you so long from among us, Manning? You must not expect to see the same England again which you left.

Empires have been overturned, crowds trodden into dust, the face of the western world has quite changed: your friends have all got old — these you left blooming — myself (who am one of the few that remember you), those golden hairs which you recollect my taking a pride in, turned to silvery and grey. Mary has been dead and buried many years — she desired to be buried in the silk gown you sent her. Rickman, that you remember active and strong, now walks out supported by a servant-maid and a stick. Martin Burney is a very old man. The other day an aged woman knocked at my door, and pretended to my acquaintance; it was long before I had the most distant cognition of her; but at last together we made her out to be Louisa, the daughter of Mrs. Topham, formerly Mrs. Morton, who had been Mrs. Reynolds, formerly Mrs. Kenny, whose first husband was Holcroft, the dramatic writer of the last century. St. Paul’s Church is a heap of ruins; the Monument isn’t half as high as you knew it, divers parts being successively taken down which the ravages of time had rendered dangerous; the horse at Charing Cross is gone, no one knows whither — and all this has taken place while you have been settling whether Ho-hing-tong should be spelt with a — or a —. For aught I see you had almost as well remain where you are, and not come like a Struldbrug into a world where few were born when you went away. Scarce here and there one will be able to make out your face; all your opinions will be out of date, your jokes obsolete, your puns rejected 6307 with fastidiousness as wit of the last age. Your way of mathematics has already given way to a new method, which after all is, I believe, the old doctrine of Maclaurin, new vamped up with what he borrowed of the negative quantity of fluxions from Eul.

Poor Godwin! I was passing his tomb the other day in Cripplegate churchyard. There are some verses upon it written by Miss ——, which if I thought good enough I would send you. He was one of those who would have hailed your return, not with boisterous shouts and clamours, but with the complacent gratulations of a philosopher anxious to promote knowledge as leading to happiness — but his systems and his theories are ten feet deep in Cripplegate mould. Coleridge is just dead, having lived just long enough to close the eyes of Wordsworth, who paid the debt to nature but a week or two before. Poor Col., but two days before he died he wrote to a bookseller proposing an epic poem on the “Wanderings of Cain,” in twenty-four books. It is said he has left behind him more than forty thousand treatises in criticism, metaphysics, and divinity, but few of them in a state of completion. They are now destined, perhaps, to wrap up spices. You see what mutations the busy hand of Time has produced, while you have consumed in foolish voluntary exile that time which might have gladdened your friends — benefited your country; but reproaches are useless. Gather up the wretched reliques, my friend, as fast as you can, and come to your old home. I will rub my eyes and try to recognize you. I will shake withered hands together, and talk of old things — of St. Mary’s Church and the barber’s opposite, where the young students in mathematics used to assemble. Poor Crips, that kept it afterwards, set up a fruiterer’s shop in Trumpington street, and for aught I know resides there still, for I saw the name up in the last journey I took there with my sister just before she died. I suppose you heard that I had left the India House, and gone into the Fishmongers’ Alms-houses over the bridge. I have a little cabin there, small and homely, but you shall be welcome to it. You like oysters, and to open them yourself; I’ll get you some if you come in oyster time. Marshall, Godwin’s old friend, is still alive, and talks of the faces you used to make.

Come as soon as you can.

C. LAMB.

[Finis]





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