TO THE FRIENDLY AND JUDICIOUS READER,
Who will take these Papers, as they were meant; not understanding every thing perversely in the absolute and literal sense, but giving fair construction as to an after-dinner conversation; allowing for the rashness and necessary incompleteness of first thoughts; and not remembering, for the purpose of an after taunt, words spoken peradventure after the fourth glass. The Author wishes (what he would will for himself) plenty of good friends to stand by him, good books to solace him, prosperous events to all his honest undertakings, and a candid interpretation to his most hasty words and actions. The other sort (and he hopes many of them will purchase his book too) he greets with the curt invitation of Timon, “Uncover, dogs, and lap:” or he dismisses them with the confident security of the philosopher, “you beat but on the case of ELIA.”
Dec. 7, 1822.
[Elia. Essays which have appeared under that signature in the London Magazine was just about to be published. The book came out with no preface.
“You beat but on the case.” When Anaxarchus, the philosopher, was being pounded to death in a mortar, by command of Alexander the Great, he made use of this phrase. After these words, in Canon Ainger’s transcript, Lamb remarks:—“On better consideration, pray omit that Dedication. The Essays want no Preface: they are all Preface. A Preface is nothing but a talk with the reader; and they do nothing else. Pray omit it.
“There will be a sort of Preface in the next Magazine, which may act as an advertisement, but not proper for the volume.
“Let ELIA come forth bare as he was born.”
The sort of Preface in the next magazine (January, 1823) was the “Character of the Late Elia,” used as a preface to the Last Essays in 1833.]
CHARLES LAMB TO WALTER WILSON
E.I.H. 16 dec. 22.
Lightening I was going to call you—
You must have thought me negligent in not answering your letter sooner. But I have a habit of never writing letters, but at the office—’tis so much time cribbed out of the Company—and I am but just got out of the thick of a Tea Sale, in which most of the Entry of Notes, deposits &c. usually falls to my share. Dodwell is willing, but alas! slow. To compare a pile of my notes with his little hillock (which has been as long a building), what is it but to compare Olympus with a mole-hill. Then Wadd is a sad shuffler.—