Can any man wonder, like him? can any man see ghosts, like him? or fight with his own shadow—sessa—as he does in that strangely-neglected thing, the Cobler of Preston—where his alternations from the Cobler to the Magnifico, and from the Magnifico to the Cobler, keep the brain of the spectator in as wild a ferment, as if some Arabian Night were being acted before him, or as if Thalaba were no tale! Who like him can throw, or ever attempted to throw, a supernatural interest over the commonest daily-life objects? A table, or a joint stool, in his conception, rises into a dignity equivalent to Cassiopeia’s chair. It is invested with constellatory importance. You could not speak of it with more deference, if it were mounted into the firmament. A beggar in the hands of Michael Angelo, says Fuseli, rose the Patriarch of Poverty. So the gusto of Munden antiquates and ennobles what it touches. His pots and his ladles are as grand and primal as the seething-pots and hooks seen in old prophetic vision. A tub of butter, contemplated by him, amounts to a Platonic idea. He understands a leg of mutton in its quiddity. He stands wondering, amid the commonplace materials of life, like primaeval man, with the sun and stars about him.
Lamb took the name of Elia, which should, he said, be pronounced Ellia, from an old clerk, an Italian, at the South-Sea House in Lamb’s time: that is, in 1791-1792. Writing to John Taylor in July, 1821, just after he had taken over the magazine (see below), Lamb says, referring to the South-Sea House essay, “having a brother now there, and doubting how he might relish certain descriptions in it, I clapt down the name of Elia to it, which passed off pretty well, for Elia himself added the function of an author to that of a scrivener, like myself. I went the other day (not having seen him [Elia] for a year) to laugh over with him at my usurpation of his name, and found him, alas! no more than a name, for he died of consumption eleven months ago, and I knew not of it. So the name has fairly devolved to me, I think; and ’tis all he has left me.”
In the library at Welbeck is a copy of a pamphlet, in French, entitled Considerations sur l’etat actuel de la France au mois de Juin 1815, par un Anglais, which was presented to the Duke of Portland by the author, F.A. Elia. This was probably Lamb’s Elia. The pamphlet is reprinted, together with other interesting matter remotely connected with Lamb, in Letters from the Originals at Welbeck Abbey, privately printed, 1909.
Elia. Essays which have appeared under that signature in the London Magazine, was published early in 1823. Lamb’s original intention was to furnish the book with a whimsical preface, as we learn from the following letter to John Taylor, dated December 7, 1822:—
“DEAR SIR,—I should like the enclosed Dedication to be printed, unless you dislike it. I like it. It is in the olden style. But if you object to it, put forth the book as it is; only pray don’t let the printer mistake the word curt for curst.