When I write again, you will hear tidings of the farce, for Charles is to go in a few days to the Managers to inquire about it. But that must now be a next-year’s business too, even if it does succeed; so it’s all looking forward, and no prospect of present gain. But that’s better than no hopes at all, either for present or future times.
Charles has written Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, and has begun Hamlet; you would like to see us, as we often sit writing on one table (but not on one cushion sitting), like Hermia and Helena in the Midsummer Night’s Dream; or, rather, like an old literary Darby and Joan: I taking snuff; and he groaning all the while, and saying he can make nothing of it, which he always says till he has finished, and then he finds out he has made something of it....
Martin [Burney] has just been here. My Tales (again) and Charles’s Farce has made the boy mad to turn Author; and he has written a Farce, and he has made the Winter’s Tale into a story; but what Charles says of himself is really true of Martin, for he can make nothing at all of it; and I have been talking very eloquently this morning, to convince him that nobody can write farces, &c., under thirty years of age. And so I suppose he will go home and new model his farce.
A little later, June 26, Lamb writes to Wordsworth:—
“Mary is just stuck fast in All’s Well that Ends Well. She complains of having to set forth so many female characters in boy’s clothes. She begins to think Shakspear must have wanted Imagination. I to encourage her, for she often faints in the prosecution of her great work, flatter her with telling how well such and such a play is done. But she is stuck fast and I have been obliged to promise to assist her.”
Then we have Mary Lamb to Sarah Stoddart again (early in July, 1806): “I am in good spirits just at this present time, for Charles has been reading over the Tale I told you plagued me so much, and he thinks it one of the very best: it is ‘All’s Well that Ends Well.’”
The work was finished in the autumn of 1806 and published at the end of the year, dated 1807. Lamb sent Wordsworth a copy on January 29, 1807, with the following letter:—
“We have book’d off from Swan and Two Necks, Lad Lane, this day (per Coach) the Tales from Shakespear. You will forgive the plates, when I tell you they were left to the direction of Godwin, who left the choice of subjects to the bad baby, who from mischief (I suppose) has chosen one from damn’d beastly vulgarity (vide ’Merch. Venice’), where no atom of authority was in the tale to justify it—to another has given a name which exists not in the tale, Nic Bottom, and which she thought would be funny, though in this I suspect his hand, for I guess her reading does not reach far enough to know Bottom’s Christian name—and one of Hamlet, and Grave digging, a scene which is not hinted at in the story, and you might as well