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see the criticism, would hear the voice and recognize it as Lamb's? I love to linger over these delicate incidents of Lamb's courtship, which was all too brief.
But what of Mary? I think she cannot but have contemplated the likelihood of her brother's marriage and determined upon the line she would take in that event. Years before she had written, 'You will smile when I tell you I think myself the only woman in the world who could live with a brother's wife, and make a real friend of her, partly from early observations of the unhappy example I have just given you, and partly from a knack I know I have of looking into people's real character, and never expecting them to act out of it-never expecting another to do as I would in the same case.'
Mary Lamb was an exceptional woman; and even though her brother might have thought he kept the secret of his love to himself, she would know and, I fancy, approve. Was it not agreed between them that she was to die first? and when she was gone, who would be left to care for Charles?
Before I come to the little drama tragedy one could hardly call it of Lamb's love-affair as told in his own way by his letters, I may be permitted to refer to two letters of his to Miss Kelly, one of them relatively unimportant, the other a few lines only, both unpublished, which form a part of my own Lamb collection. These letters, before they fell from high estate, formed a part of the 'Sentimental Library' of Harry B. Smith, to whom I am indebted for much information concerning them. It will be seen that both these letters work themselves into the story of Lamb's love-affair, which I am trying to tell. So far as is known, four letters are all that he ever addressed to VOL. 121 - NO. 5
the lady: the two above referred to, and the proposal and its sequel, in the collection of Mr. Huntington of New York, where I saw them not long ago. I have held valuable letters in my hand before, but this letter of Lamb! I confess to an emotional feeling with which the mere book-collector is rarely credited. The earlier and briefer letter is pasted into a copy of the first edition of the Works of Charles Lamb, 1818, 'in boards, shaken,' which occupies a place of honor on my shelves. It reads: 'Mr. Lamb, having taken the liberty of addressing a slight compliment to Miss Kelly in his first volume, respectfully requests her acceptance of the collection, 7 June, 1818.' The compliment, of course, is the sonnet already quoted.
The second letter was written just ten days before Lamb asked Miss Kelly to marry him. The bones playfully referred to were small ivory discs, about the size of a two-shilling piece, which were allotted to leading performers for the use of their friends, giving admission to the pit. On one side was the name of the theatre; on the other the name of the actor or actress to whom they were allotted. The letter reads:DEAR MISS KELLY,
If your bones are not engaged on Monday night, will you favor us with the use of them? I know, if you can oblige us, you will make no bones about it; if you cannot, it shall break none betwixt us. We might ask somebody else; but we do not like the bones of any strange animal. We should be welcome to dear Miss Linton's, but then she is so plump there is no getting at them. I should prefer Miss Iver's they must be ivory, I take it for granted - but she is married to Mr. —, and become bone of his bone; consequently can have none of her own to dispose of. Well, it all comes to this: if you can let us have them, you will, I dare say; if you cannot, God rest your bones. I am at an end of my bon-mots. C. LAMB.
9th July, 1819.
This characteristic note in Lamb's best punning manner ('I fancy I succeed best in epistles of mere fun; puns and that nonsense') may be regarded as a prologue to the drama played ten days later, the whole occupying but the space of a single day.
And now the curtain is lifted on the play in which Lamb and Miss Kelly are the chief actors. Lamb is in his lodgings in Great Russell Street, Covent Garden, the individual spot he likes best in all London. Bow Street Police Court can be seen through the window, and Mary Lamb seated thereby, knitting, glances into the busy street as she sees a crowd of people follow in the wake of a constable, conducting a thief to his examination. Lamb is seated at a table, writing. We, unseen, may glance over his shoulder and see the letter which he has just finished.
DEAR MISS KELLY,- We had the pleasure, pain I might better call it, of seeing you last night in the new Play. It was a most consummate piece of acting, but what a task for you to undergo! at a time when your heart is sore from real sorrow! It has given rise to a train of thinking, which I cannot suppress.
Would to God you were released from this way of life; that you could bring your mind to consent to take your lot with us, and throw off forever the whole burden of your Profession. I neither expect nor wish you to take notice of this which I am writing, in your present over-occupied & hurried state. But to think of it at your pleasure. I have quite income enough, if that were to justify me for making such a proposal, with what I may call even a handsome provision for my survivor. What you possess of your own would naturally be appropriated to those for whose sakes chiefly you have made so many hard sacrifices. I am not so foolish as not to know that I am a most unworthy match for such a one as you, but you have for years been a principal object in my mind. In many a sweet assumed character I have learned to love you, but simply as F. M. Kelly I love you better
than them all. Can you quit these shadows of existence, & come & be a reality to us? Can you leave off harassing yourself to please a thankless multitude, who know nothing of you, & begin at last to live to yourself & your friends?
As plainly & frankly as I have seen you give or refuse assent in some feigned scene, so frankly do me the justice to answer me. It is impossible I should feel injured or aggrieved by your telling me at once, that the proposal does not suit you. It is impossible that I should ever think of molesting you with idle importunity and persecution after your mind [is] once firmly spokenbut happier, far happier, could I have leave might be your friends; our interests yours; to hope a time might come when our friends
our book-knowledge, if in that inconsiderable particular we have any little advantage, might impart something to you, which you would every day have it in your power ten thousand fold to repay by the added cheerfulness and joy which you could not fail to bring as a dowry into whatever family should have the honor and happiness of receiving you, the most welcome accession that could be made to it.
In haste, but with entire respect & deepest affection, I subscribe myself
20 July, 1819.
No punning or nonsense here. It is the most serious letter Lamb ever wrote a letter so fine, so manly, so honorable in the man who wrote it, so honoring to the woman to whom it was addressed, that, knowing Lamb as we do, it can hardly be read without a lump in the throat and eyes suffused with tears. The letter is folded and sealed and sent by a serving-maid to the lady, who lives hard by in Henrietta Street, just the other side of Covent Garden - and the curtain falls. Before the next act we are at liberty to wonder how Lamb passed the time while Miss Kelly was writing her reply. Did he go off to the 'dull drudgery of the desk's dead wood' at East India House, and there busy himself with
the prices of silks or tea or indigo, or did he wander about the streets of his beloved London? I fancy the latter. In any event the curtain rises a few hours later, and Lamb and his sister are seen as before. She has laid aside her knitting. It is late afternoon. Lamb is seated at the table endeavoring to read, when a maid enters and hands him a letter; he breaks the seal eagerly. Again we look over his shoulder and read:
HENRIETTA STREET, July 20th, 1819. An early & deeply rooted attachment has fixed my heart on one from whom no worldly prospect can well induce me to withdraw it, but while I thus frankly & decidedly decline your proposal, believe me, I am not insensible to the high honour which the preference of such a mind as yours confers upon me let me, however, hope that all thought upon this subject will end with this letter, & that you henceforth encourage no other sentiment towards me than esteem in my private character and a continuance of that approbation of my humble talents which you have already expressed so much and so often to my advantage and gratification.
Believe me I feel proud to acknowledge myself
Your obliged friend
F. M. KELLY.
Lamb rises from his chair and attempts to walk over to where Mary is sitting; but his feelings overcome him, and he sinks back in his chair again as the curtain falls. It moves quickly, the action of this little drama. The curtain is down but a moment, suggesting the passage of a single hour. When it is raised, Lamb is alone; he is but fortyfive, but looks an old man. The curtains are drawn, lighted candles are on the table. We hear the rain against the windows. Lamb is writing, and for the last time we intrude upon his privacy. Now poor Charles Lamb, now dear Charles Lamb, 'Saint Charles,' if you will! Our hearts go out to him; we
DEAR MISS KELLY, Your injunctions shall be obeyed to a tittle. I feel myself in a lackadaisical no-how-ish kind of a humor. I believe it is the rain, or something. I had thought to have written seriously, but I fancy I succeed best in epistles of mere fun; puns & that nonsense. You will be good friends with us, will you not? Let what has past 'break no bones' between us. You will not refuse us them next time we send for them?
Yours very truly,
P. S. Do you observe the delicacy of not signing my full name?
N. B. Do not paste that last letter of mine into your book.
We sometimes say the English are not good losers. To think of Charles Lamb may help us to correct that opinion. All good plays of the period have an epilogue. By all means this should have one; and ten days later Lamb himself provided it. It appeared in The Examiner, where, speaking of Fanny Kelly's acting in 'The Hypocrite,' he said, —
'She is in truth not framed to tease or torment even in jest, but to utter a hearty Yes or No; to yield or refuse assent with a noble sincerity. We have not the pleasure of being acquainted with her, but we have been told that she carries the same cordial manners into private life.'
The curtain falls! The play is at an
THE RUSSIAN CHARACTER
BY A. G. TOLFREE
was a Tolstoyan. Not, however, if one believed his family, a Tolstoyan at second-hand. From childhood he had demonstrated tendencies which Tolstoy developed later in life. To a succession of bewildered tutors and governesses he had presented a series of insoluble problems, and, promptly upon attainment of his majority, he had made partition of the woods and fields constituting his share of the family estates among the peasants on the land. He had never married. He had kept for his own use a small house with a strip of garden in front; otherwise similar to other peasant houses on the wide sandy thoroughfare of the village street.
An elderly housekeeper looked after his wants when he was there. But he was not often there. Where was he? Mother and sisters, brothers-in-law, nephews and nieces, had long since ceased speculating. Paul T-lived among the peasants, a peasant himself; helping them in their work, gathering in the crops, moving about from one village to another, but not for years having stepped beyond the confines of his province. When his relations were in St. Petersburg or Moscow they never saw him. He abhorred the towns, and the way of life of his relations, and of every one of his class, in the towns.
But into the country-house life among the wheatfields of Orel, - the late breakfasts, the large lunches of many courses, the afternoon drives, the afternoon teas, when the English governess cut bread-and-butter, with jam, and the French tutor read aloud
from the classics, and the châtelaine held on her lap Peter, the fat guineapig, - he made, at uncertain intervals, a tangential descent. Always unannounced, he came riding on a peasant's cart or sledge. Formal greetings—any other ritual of approach, devised by human beings for the purposes of social intercourse - were gestures apparently cimian to him, and ignored. His presence was first proclaimed by the crashing of lively tunes on the drawing-room piano, to which every youthful soul in the house promptly responded. Every child hung upon him. He spoke a language children understood; but he was mystery, also; he was different from every one else; colored lights, as of fairy tales, hung about him. A big man, in shabby, baggy clothes, with a large black-and-gray beard, he had all the peasant uncouthness, until he spoke. Then the man of the world emerged, together with something radiant in his whole personality, at once subtle, triumphant, and caustic.
'Paul was such a charming man!' his sisters would sigh.
'He is a charming man now.'
'Ah, but how can you say it? But is it not terrible? With all his talent! He used to play so well. Now he never plays. He never reads. He is losing his intelligence. If a man spends his whole time with ignorant peasants, it can't be otherwise. You use your intelligence, or you lose it. What use have you of your brains if you talk, live, work, eat, sleep, with ignorance, and those who have no brains?'
And 'Uncle Paul' rarely left without
turning round and round the point of the barb in the flesh. If he stayed for dinner, he spoke fraternally to the servants as they went about the table; and, eating sparingly himself of one or two plain articles of food, he attacked the useless luxury of cookery and service.
The care-free happiness of the man, and his underlying charm, disarmed, even while he stirred up every inherited antagonism. Presently he vanished without good-byes; leaving behind him a smouldering resentment, oddly complicated by a thwarted family adoration.
By any outward test possible to apply, Paul T― was an absolutely happy man. He was happy because he was free to live his life according to his instincts; and that, for a Russian, is always the first condition of happiness. He was happy because he had given his sense of community between the peasant and himself a concrete demonstration. With all Russians of a certain type the word compassion has a very full conceptual meaning. It is literally compassion. The feeling that the peasant belonged to the land, that he had human rights to it of which he was deprived, was a genuine passion with Paul T. It was a passion with him to secure, so far as might be, equal title to comfort and happiness for the under-dog. Having satisfied itself, the passion had perfectly healthy reactions. Paul T seems in retrospect a more normal and vigorous personality than Tolstoy; and, by that much, the question of genius aside, a more representative example of a class of Russian without understanding whom it is impossible to understand Russia to-day.
The T―s were, generally speaking, an average Russian family of the large landowning, small-noble class. They were cultivated, they knew all the European capitals, they spoke three or
four languages, they lived in St. Petersburg when they were not on their estates; their sons went into the Emperor's body-guard; but they were homeloving, rather simple-minded people, neither averse to the gayeties of the world nor dependent on them; people of dignity, charm, and poise, on the whole, yet on the whole, and in the best sense, commonplace.
In spite of all this, it was clear that the vein which had shown itself in the brother who had turned muzhik did not begin and end with him. He had his explanation in an extraordinary old grandmother, whose husband had at one time been court chamberlain, who had lived always in an atmosphere of semi-barbaric show and wastage, but whose inner life apparently had been one of unceasing religious tension, and other-worldly quest. There was outwardly nothing to suggest the mystic, nothing of the Madame Swetchine, in this little old bent imperious lady, with her piercing eyes, and the stick she leaned on, that went pounding fiercely over the wooden floors. But in her own apartments, where the sacred images stood in every corner, prayers were being said, and services held, for hours at a time, the pope coming from the village and staying long into the evening. And here also, in this religious devotion, there was passion the same intensity, not satisfied with the lukewarm and the tame, which had led the other member of the family to leave outright the life of his class.
'Elle est morte,' wrote her daughter when the end had come, 'après avoir prié toute la nuit. Tout en Dieu, comme elle a vécu.'