Read XII.  TO COLERIDGE. of The Best Letters of Charles Lamb, free online book, by Charles Lamb, on

January 10, 1797.

I need not repeat my wishes to have my little sonnets printed verbatim my last way.  In particular, I fear lest you should prefer printing my first sonnet, as you have done more than once, “did the wand of Merlin wave,” it looks so like Mr. Merlin, the ingenious successor of the immortal Merlin, now living in good health and spirits, and flourishing in magical reputation, in Oxford Street; and, on my life, one half who read it would understand it so.

Do put ’em forth finally, as I have, in various letters, settled it; for first a man’s self is to be pleased, and then his friends, ­and of course the greater number of his friends, if they differ inter se.  Thus taste may safely be put to the vote.  I do long to see our names together, ­not for vanity’s sake, and naughty pride of heart altogether; for not a living soul I know, or am intimate with, will scarce read the book, ­so I shall gain nothing, quoad famam; and yet there is a little vanity mixes in it, I cannot help denying. ­I am aware of the unpoetical cast of the last six lines of my last sonnet, and think myself unwarranted in smuggling so tame a thing into the book; only the sentiments of those six lines are thoroughly congenial to me in my state of mind, and I wish to accumulate perpetuating tokens of my affection to poor Mary.  That it has no originality in its cast, nor anything in the feelings but what is common and natural to thousands, nor ought properly to be called poetry, I see; still, it will tend to keep present to my mind a view of things which I ought to indulge.  These six lines, too, have not, to a reader, a connectedness with the foregoing.  Omit it if you like, ­What a treasure it is to my poor, indolent, and unemployed mind thus to lay hold on a subject to talk about, though ’tis but a sonnet, and that of the lowest order!  How mournfully inactive I am! ­’Tis night; good night.

My sister, I thank God, is nigh recovered; she was seriously ill.  Do, in your next letter, and that right soon, give me some satisfaction respecting your present situation at Stowey.  Is it a farm that you have got? and what does your worship know about farming?

Coleridge, I want you to write an epic poem.  Nothing short of it can satisfy the vast capacity of true poetic genius.  Having one great end to direct all your poetical faculties to, and on which to lay out your hopes, your ambition will show you to what you are equal.  By the sacred energies of Milton! by the dainty, sweet, and soothing phantasies of honey-tongued Spenser!  I adjure you to attempt the epic, or do something more ample than the writing an occasional brief ode or sonnet; something “to make yourself forever known, ­to make the age to come your own.”  But I prate; doubtless you meditate something.  When you are exalted among the lords of epic fame, I shall recall with pleasure and exultingly the days of your humility, when you disdained not to put forth, in the same volume with mine, your “Religious Musings” and that other poem from the “Joan of Arc,” those promising first-fruits of high renown to come.  You have learning, you have fancy, you have enthusiasm, you have strength and amplitude of wing enow for flights like those I recommend.  In the vast and unexplored regions of fairy-land there is ground enough unfound and uncultivated:  search there, and realize your favorite Susquehanna scheme.  In all our comparisons of taste, I do not know whether I have ever heard your opinion of a poet very dear to me, ­the now-out-of-fashion Cowley.  Favor me with your judgment of him, and tell me if his prose essays, in particular, as well as no inconsiderable part of his verse, be not delicious.  I prefer the graceful rambling of his essays even to the courtly elegance and ease of Addison, abstracting from this the latter’s exquisite humor.

When the little volume is printed, send me three or four, at all events not more than six, copies, and tell me if I put you to any additional expense by printing with you, I have no thought of the kind, and in that case must reimburse you.

Priestley, whom I sin in almost adoring, speaks of “such a choice of company as tends to keep up that, right bent and firmness of mind which a necessary intercourse with the world would otherwise warp and relax....  Such fellowship is the true balsam of life; its cement is infinitely more durable than that of the friendships of the world, and it looks for its proper fruit and complete gratification to the life beyond the grave.”  Is there a possible chance for such an one as I to realize in this world such friendships?  Where am I to look for ’em?  What testimonials shall I bring of my being worthy of such friendship?  Alas! the great and good go together in separate herds, and leave such as I to lag far, far behind in all intellectual and, far more grievous to say, in all moral accomplishments.  Coleridge, I have not one truly elevated character among my acquaintance, ­not one Christian; not one but undervalues Christianity.  Singly what am I to do?  Wesley (have you read his life?), was he not an elevated character?  Wesley has said, “Religion is not a solitary thing.”  Alas! it necessarily is so with me, or next to solitary.  ’T is true you write to me.  But correspondence by letter and personal intimacy are very widely different.  Do, do write to me, and do some good to my mind, already how much “warped and relaxed” by the world!  ’T is the conclusion of another evening.  Good night; God have us all in His keeping!

If you are sufficiently at leisure, oblige me with an account of your plan of life at Stowey; your literary occupations and prospects, ­in short, make me acquainted with every circumstance which, as relating to you, can be interesting to me.  Are you yet a Berkleyan?  Make me one.  I rejoice in being, speculatively, a necessarian.  Would to God I were habitually a practical one!  Confirm me in the faith of that great and glorious doctrine, and keep me steady in the contemplation of it.  You some time since expressed an intention you had of finishing some extensive work on the Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion.  Have you let that intention go?  Or are you doing anything towards it?  Make to yourself other ten talents.  My letter is full of nothingness.  I talk of nothing.  But I must talk.  I love to write to you.  I take a pride in it.  It makes me think less meanly of myself.  It makes me think myself not totally disconnected from the better part of mankind.  I know I am too dissatisfied with the beings around me; but I cannot help occasionally exclaiming, “Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Meshech, and to have my habitation among the tents of Kedar.”  I know I am noways better in practice than my neighors, but I have a taste for religion, an occasional earnest aspiration after perfection, which they have not.  I gain, nothing by being with such as myself, ­we encourage one another in mediocrity, I am always longing to be with men more excellent than myself.  All this must sound odd to you; but these are my predominant feelings when I sit down to write to you, and I should put force upon my mind, were I to reject them, Yet I rejoice, and feel my privilege with gratitude, when I have been reading some wise book, such as I have just been reading, ­Priestley on Philosophical Necessity, ­in the thought that I enjoy a kind of communion, a kind of friendship even, with the great and good.  Books are to me instead of friends, I wish they did not resemble the latter in their scarceness.

And how does little David Hartley?  “Ecquid in antiquam virtutem?” Does his mighty name work wonders yet upon his little frame and opening mind?  I did not distinctly understand you, ­you don’t mean to make an actual ploughman of him?  Is Lloyd with you yet?  Are you intimate with Southey?  What poems is he about to publish?  He hath a most prolific brain, and is indeed a most sweet poet.  But how can you answer all the various mass of interrogation I have put to you in the course of the sheet?  Write back just what you like, only write something, however brief.  I have now nigh finished my page, and got to the end of another evening (Monday evening), and my eyes are heavy and sleepy, and my brain unsuggestive.  I have just heart enough awake to say good night once more, and God love you, my dear friend; God love us all!  Mary bears an affectionate remembrance of you.