In the "Philosophy" area of a local used-book sale recently there appeared The Wit and Wisdom of Charles Lamb, edited by Ernest Dressel North. This tiny volume was published in 1892 by The Knickerbocker Press, G. P. Putnam's Sons. It is inscribed "From your Affect. Broth. J. A. Blake Dec. 25, '92" and bears a yellowed bookplate: "Charlotte Haven Lord Hayes, Blake". (Its original price was apparently $1, and it again sold for that sum --- in a currency depreciated by at least an order of magnitude. What path did it take, across 108 years, to arrive on the shelf where I found it?)
Charles Lamb (1775-1834) was a British writer and humorist who described himself as one who "... stammers abominably, and is therefore more apt to discharge his occasional conversation in a quaint aphorism, or a poor quibble, than in set and edifying speeches; has consequently been libelled as a person always aiming at wit; which, as he told a dull fellow who charged him with it, is at least as good as aiming at dulness. A small eater, but not drinker; confesses a partiality for the production of the juniper-berry; was a fierce smoker of tobacco, but may be resembled to a volcano burnt out, emitting only now and then an occasional puff...."
Some quotes from or about Lamb:
from a letter of Haydon to Wordsworth, October 16, 1842:
Coleridge's Monologue --- The story of Lamb, on his way to the India House, leaving Coleridge at 10 a.m. in a doorway talking with his eyes shut, and coming back at 4 p.m. to find Coleridge still there with his eyes shut, talking away, as he thought, to Lamb, I have heard my father declare, though only on Lamb's authority, to be strictly true; but then Lamb delighted in such fictions about his friends.
from Grace Before Meat:
On Saying Grace --- I own that I am disposed to say grace upon twenty other occasions in the course of the day besides my dinner. I want a form for setting out upon a pleasant walk, for a moonlight ramble, for a friendly meeting, or a solved problem. Why have we none for books, those spiritual repasts --- a grace before Milton --- a grace before Shakespeare --- a devotional exercise proper to be said before reading the Fairy Queen?
from Witches and Other Night Fears:
Credulity --- Next to making a child an infidel, is the letting him know that there are infidels at all. Credulity is the man's weakness, but the child's strength.
from Distant Correspondents:
Puns --- A pun hath a hearty kind of present ear-kissing smack with it; you can no more transmit it in its pristine flavor, than you can send a kiss. Have you not tried in some instances to palm off a yesterday's pun upon a gentleman, and has it answered? Not but it was new to his hearing, but it did not seem to come new from you. It did not hitch in. It was like picking up at a village ale-house a two days' old newspaper. You have not seen it before, but you resent the stale thing as an affront. This sort of merchandise above all requires a quick return. A pun, and its recognitory laugh, must be co-instantaneous. The one is the brisk lightning, the other the fierce thunder. A moment's interval, and the link is snapped. A pun is reflected from a friend's face as from a mirror. Who would consult his sweet visnomy, if the polished surface were two or three minutes (not to speak of twelve months, my dear F.) in giving back its copy?
from Imperfect Sympathies:
Lack of Humor in Scotchmen --- I was present not long since at a party of North Britons, where a son of Burns was expected; and happened to drop a silly expression (in my South British way), that I wished it were the father instead of the son --- when four of them started up at once to inform me, that "that was impossible, because he was dead." An impracticable wish, it seems, was more than they could conceive.
from First Fruits of Australian Poetry:
The First Pun in Otaheite [Tahiti?] --- We know a merry captain, and co-navigator with Cook, who prides himself upon having planted the first pun in Otaheite. It was in their own language, and the islanders first looked at him, then stared at one another, and all at once burst out into a genial laugh. It was a stranger, and as a stranger they gave it welcome. Many a quibble of their own growth, we doubt not, has since sprung from that well-timed exotic. Where puns flourish, there must be no inconsiderable advance in civilization.
from a letter to Wordsworth, April 9, 1816:
Borrowers of Books --- I have not bound the poems yet. I wait till people have done borrowing them. I think I shall get a chain and chain them to my shelves, more Bodleiano, and people may come and read them at chain's length. For of those who borrow, some read slow; some mean to read but don't read; and some neither read nor meant to read, but borrow to leave you an opinion of their sagacity. I must do my money-borrowing friends the justice to say that there is nothing of this caprice or wantonness of alienation in them. When they borrow my money they never fail to make use of it.
from a letter to Manning, February 26, 1808
Wordsworth and Shakespeare --- Wordsworth, the great poet, is coming to town; he is to have apartments in the Mansion House. He says he does not see much difficulty in writing like Shakespeare, if he had a mind to try it. It is clear that nothing is wanting but the mind. Even Coleridge was a little checked at this hardihood of assertion.
from The Superannuated Man:
Age Not Reckoned By Years --- I have indeed lived nominally fifty years, but deduct out of them the hours which I have lived to other people, and not to myself, and you will find me still a young fellow. For that is the only true Time, which a man can properly call his own, that which he has all to himself; the rest, though in some sense he may be said to live it, is other people's time, not his. The remnant of my poor days, long or short, is at least multiplied to me, threefold. My ten next years, if I stretch so far, will be as long as any preceding thirty. 'T is a fair rule-of-three sum.
Tuesday, October 24, 2000 at 20:22:30 (EDT) = Datetag20001024