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.

I will mention one more,—­the delicate and curious feeling in the wish for the “Cumberland Beggar” that he may have about him the melody of birds, although he hear them not.  Here the mind knowingly passes a fiction upon herself, first substituting her own feeling for the Beggar’s, and in the same breath detecting the fallacy, will not part with the wish.  The “Poet’s Epitaph” is disfigured, to my taste, by the common satire upon parsons and lawyers in the beginning, and the coarse epithet of “pin-point,” in the sixth stanza.  All the rest is eminently good, and your own.  I will just add that it appears to me a fault in the “Beggar” that the instructions conveyed in it are too direct, and like a lecture:  they don’t slide into the mind of the reader while he is imagining no such matter.  An intelligent reader finds a sort of insult in being told, “I will teach you how to think upon this subject.”  This fault, if I am right, is in a ten-thousandth worse degree to be found in Sterne, and in many novelists and modern poets, who continually put a sign-post up to show where you are to feel.  They set out with assuming their readers to be stupid,—­very different from “Robinson Crusoe,” the “Vicar of Wakefield,” “Roderick Random,” and other beautiful, bare narratives.  There is implied, an unwritten compact between author and reader:  “I will tell you a story, and I suppose you will understand it.”  Modern novels, “St. Leons” and the like, are full of such flowers as these,—­“Let not my reader suppose;” “Imagine, if you can, modest,” etc, I will here have done with praise and blame, I have written so much only that you may not think I have passed over your book without observation....  I am sorry that Coleridge has christened his “Ancient Marinere,” a “Poet’s Reverie;” it is as bad as Bottom the Weaver’s declaration that he is not a lion, but only the scenical representation of a lion.  What new idea is gained by this title but one subversive of all credit—­which the tale should force upon us—­of its truth!

For me, I was never so affected with any human tale.  After first reading it, I was totally possessed with it for many days.  I dislike all the miraculous part of it; but the feelings of the man under the operation of such scenery, dragged me along like Tom Pipe’s magic whistle.  I totally differ from your idea that the “Marinere” should have had a character and a profession.  This is a beauty in “Gulliver’s Travels,” where the mind is kept in a placid state of little wonderments; but the “Ancient Marinere” undergoes such trials as overwhelm and bury all individuality or memory of what he was,—­like the state of a man in a bad dream, one terrible peculiarity of which is, that all consciousness of personality is gone.  Your other observation is, I think as well, a little unfounded:  the “Marinere,” from being conversant in supernatural events, has acquired a supernatural and strange cast of phrase, eye, appearance, etc., which frighten the “wedding guest.”  You will excuse my remarks, because I am hurt and vexed that you should think it necessary, with a prose apology, to open the eyes of dead men that cannot see.

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