The Best Letters of Charles Lamb eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 257 pages of information about The Best Letters of Charles Lamb.

LXXXII.

TO BERNARD BARTON.

May 15, 1824.

Dear B. B.,—­I am oppressed with business all day, and company all night.  But I will snatch a quarter of an hour.  Your recent acquisitions of the picture and the letter are greatly to be congratulated.  I too have a picture of my father and the copy of his first love-verses; but they have been mine long.  Blake is a real name, I assure you, and a most extraordinary man, if he is still living.  He is the Robert [William] Blake whose wild designs accompany a splendid folio edition of the “Night Thoughts,” which you may have seen, in one of which he pictures the parting of soul and body by a solid mass of human form floating off, God knows how, from a lumpish mass (fac-simile to itself) left behind on the dying bed.  He paints in water-colors marvellous strange pictures, visions of his brain, which he asserts that he has seen; they have great merit.  He has seen the old Welsh bards on Snowdon,—­he has seen the beautifullest, the strongest, and the ugliest man, left alone from the massacre of the Britons by the Romans, and has painted them from memory (I have seen his paintings), and asserts them to be as good as the figures of Raphael and Angelo, but not better, as they had precisely the same retro-visions and prophetic visions with themself [himself].  The painters in oil (which he will have it that neither of them practised) he affirms to have been the ruin of art, and affirms that all the while he was engaged in his Welsh paintings, Titian was disturbing him,—­ Titian the Ill Genius of Oil Painting.  His pictures—­one in particular, the Canterbury Pilgrims, far above Stothard—­have great merit, but hard, dry, yet with grace.  He has written a Catalogue of them, with a most spirited criticism on Chaucer, but mystical and full of vision.  His poems have been sold hitherto only in manuscript.  I never read them; but a friend at my desire procured the “Sweep Song.”  There is one to a tiger, which I have heard recited, beginning,—­

  “Tiger, Tiger, burning bright,
  Thro’ the deserts of the night,”

which is glorious, but, alas!  I have not the book; for the man is flown, whither I know not,—­to Hades or a madhouse.  But I must look on him as one of the most extraordinary persons of the age.  Montgomery’s book [1] I have not much hope from, and the society with the affected name [2] has been laboring at it for these twenty years, and made few converts.  I think it was injudicious to mix stories, avowedly colored by fiction, with the sad, true statements from the parliamentary records, etc.  But I wish the little negroes all the good that can come from it.  I battered my brains (not buttered them,—­but it is a bad a) for a few verses for them, but I could make nothing of it.  You have been luckier.  But Blake’s are the flower of the set, you will, I am sure, agree; though some of Montgomery’s at the end are pretty, but the Dream awkwardly paraphrased from B.

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