« ZurückWeiter »
cincts of Christ's Hospital, when they were blue-coat boys together in that time-honoured school. The friendship of boyhood, as is not usual, lasted into manhood and during life,—their minds, in many respects dissimilar, closely associated and identified. Coleridge died; and, in the brief interval of only a few months that Lamb survived, he was constantly reiterating, in a kind of soliloquy, and that confused state of feeling before we realize the absence in death of one whose presence has long been familiar,—he was reiterating, “ Coleridge is dead! Coleridge is dead !" A poet who knew and loved them both has coupled their names in the same stanzas of his elegy on his brother-bards :
“Nor has the rolling year twice measured
From sign to sign its steadfast course,
Was frozen at its marvellous source.
“The rapt one of the godlike forehead,
The heaven-eyed creature, sleeps in earth;
Has vanished from his lonely hearth.
“ Like clouds that rake the mountain summit,
Or waves that own no curbing hand,
From sunshine to the sunless land !"
The early poetical pieces of Lamb were first published with Coleridge's; and it was Coleridge, he said, who first kindled in him, if not the power, yet the love, of poetry, and beauty, and kindliness. Poetry was gradually given up by them both. “You," said Lamb to his friend, now devoted to his philosophy, “now write no Christabels' nor "Ancient Mariners,' and I have dwindled into prose and criticism.” One of the most pleasing pieces in the small collection of Lamb's poems may illustrate both the depth and tenderness of his feelings and the peculiarity of his way of thought. The verses have the merit of giving currency to a very feeling phrase, -one of those happy combinations of words which poetry frequently incorporates into the language, Berving to express some universal sentiment, and, therefore, soon acquiring the familiarity of a proverb. It cannot fail to be recognised, I think, as an expression of a feeling which has been experienced probably by every one who is now listening to me,—that painfully hollow sense of destitution when there comes across us the memory of faces familiar to some former period of life, -that desolate craving after the departed,—the missing of something which had been a portion of our very selves.
Several of the stanzas go on to mention the memory of what has been and never more will be, and in language as simple as possible,-just such words as the feeling would express itself in, finding natural utterance in earnest conversation ; but, as it is dwelt on, suddenly the imagination expands, and, as the shadowy recollections of childhood — memories of the old familiar faces—throng around him, the living man, moved by a stronger sympathy with the past than with the present, -nearer of kin, as it were, to the dead than to the living,-feels spectre-like visiting the scenes of his childhood, and, in the intensity of his loneliness, the earth becomes a very desert to him. The allusion in the latter part of the verses is to Coleridge :
“I have had playmates, I have had companions,
In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days:
“I have been laughing, I have been carousing,
Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom cronies :
“I loved a love once, fairest among women;
Closed are her doors on me; I must not see her:
“I have a friend, a kinder friend has no man;
Like an ingrate I left my friend abruptly,-
“ Ghost-like I paced round the haunts of my childhood;
Earth seemed a desert I was bound to traverse,
“Friend of my bosom! thou more than a brother!
“How some they have died, and how some they have left me,
There is another set of verses of Lamb's, which
very gracefully and feelingly, and with admirable truth and a certain indescribable sort of playful pathos, express the emotion, not amounting to strong grief, occasioned by the death of one who had been pleasantly known, and the perplexity of mind in associating the lately living with the grave:
“When maidens such as Hester die, Their place ye may not well supply Though ye among a thousand try
With vain endeavour.
“A month or more hath she been dead; Yet cannot I by force be led To think upon the wormy bed
And her together.
“A springy motion in her gait,
That flushed her spirit.
“I know not by what name beside I shall it call, if 'twas not pride ; It was a joy to that allied
She did inherit.
“Her parents held the Quaker rule,
Which doth the human feeling cool; But she was trained in nature's school:
Nature had blest her.
“A waking eye, a prying mind, A heart that stirs, is hard to bind : A hawk's keen sight ye cannot blind;
Ye could not Hester.
“My sprightly neighbour, gone before
To that unknown and silent shore,
Some summer morning ?
“When from thy cheerful eyes a ray
Hath struck a bliss upon the day,--
A sweet forewarning.”
The prose and criticism into which Lamb describes himself as having dwindled are those delightful essays which have given such a pleasant popularity to his assumed title of “ Elia.” I know of no essay-writing comparable to them, so full are they of an inimitable blending of thoughtfulness and playfulness,--that halfserious, half-sportive habit of mind, far more agreeable than wit, described by our word, -without, I believe, any equivalent in other languages,-our English word humour.
I pass now to a name of high worth in English literature,—the poet-laureate, Robert Southey. His life has been one of extraordinary literary industry,—a career of most honourable authorship, actuated by the most ardent impulses, and never lowered to the flattery of mean tastes or temporary fashions, but steadily devoted to the purpose of instructing, improving, and innocently pleasing his fellow-beings. I am not able to recall the name of any author who has accomplished so many, such varied, and such laborious literary plans. In prose he will be remembered as the historian of Brazil, of the Peninsular War, of the Church of England, as the biographer of Nelson, of Wesley, and of Cowper, and as the writer of various miscellaneous works and essays and translations. The excellence of his prose style is distinguished : such is it3 native purity and ease that you may
page with scarce a thought of the transparent veil of words interposed between your mind and his. But my present duty is with his poetry alone.
Three or four years ago Mr. Southey, at the age of sixtythree, undertook what he regarded as a kind of testamentary task,—the collecting, arranging, and editing his com