[This is the first of the letters to Bernard Barton (1784-1849), a clerk in a bank at Woodbridge, in Suffolk, who was known as the Quaker poet. Lamb had met him at a London Magazine dinner at 13 Waterloo Place, and had apparently said something about Quakers and poetry which Barton, on thinking it over, had taken too seriously. Bernard Barton was already the author of four volumes of poetry, of which Napoleon and other Poems was the latest, published in 1822. Lamb’s essay on “Imperfect Sympathies” had been printed in the London Magazine for August, 1821. For John Woolman, see note on page 93. The sonnet “Work” had been printed in the Examiner, August 29, 1819.]
CHARLES LAMB TO BARRON FIELD
Sept. 22, 1822.
My dear F.,—I scribble hastily at office. Frank wants my letter presently. I & sister are just returned from Paris!! We have eaten frogs. It has been such a treat! You know our monotonous general Tenor. Frogs are the nicest little delicate things—rabbity-flavoured. Imagine a Lilliputian rabbit! They fricassee them; but in my mind, drest seethed, plain, with parsley and butter, would have been the decision of Apicius. Shelley the great Atheist has gone down by water to eternal fire! Hunt and his young fry are left stranded at Pisa, to be adopted by the remaining duumvir, Lord Byron—his wife and 6 children & their maid. What a cargo of Jonases, if they had foundered too! The only use I can find of friends, is that they do to borrow money of you. Henceforth I will consort with none but rich rogues. Paris is a glorious picturesque old City. London looks mean and New to it, as the town of Washington would, seen after it. But they have no St. Paul’s or Westminster Abbey. The Seine, so much despised by Cockneys, is exactly the size to run thro’ a magnificent street; palaces a mile long on one side, lofty Edinbro’ stone (O the glorious antiques!): houses on the other. The Thames disunites London & Southwark. I had Talma to supper with me. He has picked up, as I believe, an authentic portrait of Shakspere. He paid a broker about L40 English for it. It is painted on the one half of a pair of bellows—a lovely picture, corresponding with the Folio head. The bellows has old carved wings round it, and round the visnomy is inscribed, near as I remember, not divided into rhyme—I found out the rhyme—
“Whom have we here,
Stuck on this bellows,
But the Prince of good fellows,
“O base and coward luck!
To be here stuck.—POINS.”
“Nay! rather a glorious
lot is to him assign’d,
Who, like the Almighty, rides upon the wind.—PISTOL.”