Dear M. many thanks for the Books; the Faust I will acknowledge to the Author. But most thanks for one immortal sentence, “If I do not cheat him, never trust me again.” I do not know whether to admire most, the wit or justness of the sentiment. It has my cordial approbation. My sense of meum and tuum applauds it. I maintain it, the eighth commandment hath a secret special reservation, by which the reptile is exempt from any protection from it; as a dog, or a nigger, he is not a holder of property. Not a ninth of what he detains from the world is his own. Keep your hands from picking and stealing is no ways referable to his acquists. I doubt whether bearing false witness against thy neighbor at all contemplated this possible scrub. Could Moses have seen the speck in vision? An ex post facto law alone could relieve him, and we are taught to expect no eleventh commandment. The out-law to the Mosaic dispensation!—unworthy to have seen Moses’ behind—to lay his desecrating hands upon Elia! Has the irriverent ark-toucher been struck blind I wonder—? The more I think of him, the less I think of him. His meanness is invisible with aid of solar microscope, my moral eye smarts at him. The less flea that bites little fleas! The great Beast! the beggarly nit!
More when we meet.
Mind, you’ll come, two of you—and couldn’t you go off in the morning, that we may have a daylong curse at him, if curses are not dis-hallowed by descending so low? Amen.
Maledicatur in extremis.
[Abraham Hayward’s translation of Faust was published by Moxon in February, 1833. Lamb’s letter of thanks was said by the late Edmund Yates to be a very odd one. I have not seen it.
We may perhaps assume that Moxon’s reply to Lamb’s letter stating that Taylor’s claim had been paid contained the “immortal sentence.”
“Not a ninth.” A tailor (Taylor) is only a ninth of a man.
“The less flea.” Remembering Swift’s lines in “On Poetry, a Rhapsody":—
So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ’em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.]
CHARLES LAMB TO JOHN FORSTER
[No date. ? March, 1833.]
Swallow your damn’d dinner and your brandy and water fast—
& come immediately
I want to take Knowles in to Emma’s only female friend for 5 minutes only, and we are free for the even’g.
I’ll do a Prologue.
[The prologue was for Sheridan Knowles’ play “The Wife.” Lamb wrote both prologue and epilogue (see Vol. IV.).]
CHARLES LAMB TO EDWARD MOXON
[No date. ? April 10, 1833.]
Dear M. The first Oak sonnet, and the Nightingale, may show their faces in any Annual unblushing. Some of the others are very good.