CHARLES LAMB TO ROBERT SOUTHEY
August 10, 1825.
Dear Southey,—You’ll know who this letter comes from by opening slap-dash upon the text, as in the good old times. I never could come into the custom of envelopes; ’tis a modern foppery; the Plinian correspondence gives no hint of such. In singleness of sheet and meaning then I thank you for your little book. I am ashamed to add a codicil of thanks for your “Book of the Church.” I scarce feel competent to give an opinion of the latter; I have not reading enough of that kind to venture at it. I can only say the fact, that I have read it with attention and interest. Being, as you know, not quite a Churchman, I felt a jealousy at the Church taking to herself the whole deserts of Christianity, Catholic and Protestant, from Druid extirpation downwards. I call all good Christians the Church, Capillarians and all. But I am in too light a humour to touch these matters. May all our churches flourish! Two things staggered me in the poem (and one of them staggered both of us). I cannot away with a beautiful series of verses, as I protest they are, commencing “Jenner.” ’Tis like a choice banquet opened with a pill or an electuary— physic stuff. T’other is, we cannot make out how Edith should be no more than ten years old. By’r Lady, we had taken her to be some sixteen or upwards. We suppose you have only chosen the round number for the metre. Or poem and dedication may be both older than they pretend to; but then some hint might have been given; for, as it stands, it may only serve some day to puzzle the parish reckoning. But without inquiring further (for ’tis ungracious to look into a lady’s years), the dedication is eminently pleasing and tender, and we wish Edith May Southey joy of it. Something, too, struck us as if we had heard of the death of John May. A John May’s death was a few years since in the papers. We think the tale one of the quietest, prettiest things we have seen. You have been temperate in the use of localities, which generally spoil poems laid in exotic regions. You mostly cannot stir out (in such things) for humming-birds and fire-flies. A tree is a Magnolia, &c.—Can I but like the truly Catholic spirit? “Blame as thou mayest the Papist’s erring creed”—which and other passages brought me back to the old Anthology days and the admonitory lesson to “Dear George” on the “The Vesper Bell,” a little poem which retains its first hold upon me strangely.
The compliment to the translatress is daintily conceived. Nothing is choicer in that sort of writing than to bring in some remote, impossible parallel,—as between a great empress and the inobtrusive quiet soul who digged her noiseless way so perseveringly through that rugged Paraguay mine. How she Dobrizhoffered it all out, it puzzles my slender Latinity to conjecture. Why do you seem to sanction Lander’s unfeeling