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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 11, No. 67, May, 1863   By:

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THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.

A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.

VOL. XI. MAY, 1863. NO. LXVII.

CHARLES LAMB'S UNCOLLECTED WRITINGS.

I.

What Southey says of Cottle's shop is true of the little bookstore in a certain old town of New England, which I used to frequent years ago, and where I got my first peep into Chaucer, and Spenser, and Fuller, and Sir Thomas Browne, and other renowned old authors, from whom I now derive so much pleasure and solacement. 'Twas a place where sundry lovers of good books used to meet and descant eloquently and enthusiastically upon the merits and demerits of their favorite authors. I, then a young man, with a most praiseworthy desire of reading "books that are books," but with a most lamentable ignorance of even the names of the principal English authors, was both a pleased and a benefited listener to the conversations of these bookish men. Hawthorne says that to hear the old Inspector (whom he has immortalized in the quaint and genial introduction to the "Scarlet Letter") expatiate on fish, poultry, and butcher's meat, and the most eligible methods of preparing the same for the table, was as appetizing as a pickle or an oyster; and to hear these literary gourmands talk with such gusto of this writer's delightful style, or of that one's delicious humor, or t' other's brilliant wit and merciless satire, gave one a taste and a relish for the authors so lovingly and heartily commended. Certainly, after hearing the genial, scholarly, gentlemanly lawyer S sweetly discourse on the old English divines, or bluff, burly, good natured, wit loving Master R declaim, in his loud, bold, enthusiastic manner, on the old English dramatists, or queer, quaint, golden hearted Dr. D mildly and modestly, yet most pertinently, express himself about Old Burton and Old Fuller, or wise, thoughtful, ingenious Squire M ably, if not very eloquently, hold forth on Shakspeare and Milton, I had (who but a dunce or dunderhead would not have had?) a "greedy great desire" to look into the works of

"Such famous men, such worthies of the earth."

And after listening to the stout, brawny, two fisted, whole soled, big hearted, large brained Parson A , as he talked in his wise and winsome manner about Charles Lamed and his writings, I could not refrain from forthwith procuring and reading Elia's famous and immortal essays. Since then I have been a constant reader of Elia, and a most zealous admirer of Charles Lamb the author and Charles Lamb the man. Thackeray, you remember, somewhere mentions a youthful admirer of Dickens, who, when she is happy, reads "Nicholas Nickleby," when she is unhappy, reads "Nicholas Nickleby," when she is in bed, reads "Nicholas Nickleby," when she has nothing to do, reads "Nicholas Nickleby," and when she has finished the book, reads "Nicholas Nickleby": and so do I read and re read the essays and letters of Charles Lamb; and the oftener I read them, the better I like then, the higher I value them. Indeed, I live upon the essays of Elia, as Hazlitt did upon "Tristram Shandy," as a sort of food that simulates with my natural disposition.

And yet, despite all my love and admiration of Charles Lamb, nay, rather in consequence of it, I must blame him of what Mr. Barron Field was please to eulogize him for, writing so little. Undoubtedly in most authors suppression in writing would be a virtue. In Lamb it was a fault. There are a score or two of subjects which he, "no less from temerity than felicity of his pen," should have written upon, subjects on which he had thought and ruminated for years, and which he, and none but he, could do justice to. He who loved and admired before or since, such sterling old writers as Burton, Browne, Fuller, and Walton, should have given us an article on each of those worthies and their inditing. Chaucer and Spenser, though proud and happy in having had such an appreciating reader of there writings as Elia was, when denizen of this earth, would, methinks, have given him a warmer, heartier, gladder welcome to heaven, if he had done for them what he did for Hogarth and the old dramatists, pointed out to the would "with a finger of fire" the truth and beauty contained in their works... Continue reading book >>


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