The Best Letters of Charles Lamb eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 323 pages of information about The Best Letters of Charles Lamb.
painter when I compose anything.  I will crave leave to put down a few lines of old Christopher Marlowe’s; I take them from his tragedy, “The Jew of Malta.”  The Jew is a famous character, quite out of nature; but when we consider the terrible idea our simple ancestors had of a Jew, not more to be discommended for a certain discoloring (I think Addison calls it) than the witches and fairies of Marlowe’s mighty successor.  The scene is betwixt Barabas, the Jew, and Ithamore, a Turkish captive exposed to sale for a slave.


(A precious rascal.)

  “As for myself, I walk abroad o’ nights,
  And kill sick people groaning under walls;
  Sometimes I go about and poison wells;
  And now and then, to cherish Christian thieves,
  I am content to lose some of my crowns,
  That I may, walking in my gallery,
  See ’m go pinioned along by my door. 
  Being young, I studied physic, and began
  To practise first upon the Italian;
  There I enriched the priests with burials,
  And always kept the sexton’s arms in ure [3]
  With digging graves and ringing dead men’s knells. 
  And after that, was I an engineer,
  And in the wars ’twixt France and Germany,
  Under pretence of serving Charles the Fifth,
  Slew friend and enemy with my stratagems. 
  Then after that was I an usurer,
  And with extorting, cozening, forfeiting,
  And tricks belonging unto brokery,
  I fill’d the jails with bankrupts in a year,
  And with young orphans planted hospitals,
  And every moon made some or other mad;
  And now and then one hang’d himself for grief,
  Pinning upon his breast a long great scroll,
  How I with interest tormented him.”

Now hear Ithamore, the other gentle nature, explain how he has spent his time:—­


(A Comical Dog.)

  “Faith, master, in setting Christian villages on fire,
  Chaining of eunuchs, binding galley-slaves. 
  One time I was an hostler in an inn,
  And in the night-time secret would I steal
  To travellers’ chambers, and there cut their throats. 
  Once at Jerusalem, where the pilgrims kneel’d,
  I strewed powder on the marble stones,
  And therewithal their knees would rankle so,
  That I have laugh’d a-good to see the cripples
  Go limping home to Christendom on stilts.”


“Why, this is something.”

There is a mixture of the ludicrous and the terrible in these lines, brimful of genius and antique invention, that at first reminded me of your old description of cruelty in hell, which was in the true Hogarthian style.  I need not tell you that Marlowe was author of that pretty madrigal, “Come live with me, and be my Love,” and of the tragedy of “Edward II.,” in which are certain lines unequalled in our English tongue.  Honest Walton mentions the said madrigal under the denomination of “certain smooth verses made long since by Kit Marlowe.”

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The Best Letters of Charles Lamb from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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