August 9 1815: Ban, Ban, Ca-Caliban


On August 9 1815, Charles Lamb, as only he can,  writes to William Wordsworth such lovely sad madness.

[p.m. August 9, 1815.] 9th Aug. 1815.

DEAR Wordsworth, We acknowlege with pride the receit of both your hand writings, and desire to be ever had in kindly remembrance by you both and by Dorothy. Miss Hutchinson has just transmitted us a letter containing, among other chearful matter, the annunciation of a child born. Nothing of consequence has turned up in our parts since your departure. Mary and I felt quite queer after your taking leave (you W. W.) of us in St. Giles’s. We wishd we had seen more of you, but felt we had scarce been sufficiently acknowleging for the share we had enjoyed of your company. We felt as if we had been not enough expressive of our pleasure. But our manners both are a little too much on this side of too-much-cordiality. We want presence of mind and presence of heart. What we feel comes too late, like an after thought impromptu. But perhaps you observed nothing of that which we have been painfully conscious of, and are, every day, in our intercourse with those we stand affected to through all the degrees of love. Robinson is on the Circuit.

Our Panegyrist I thought had forgotten one of the objects of his youthful admiration, but I was agreeably removed from that scruple by the laundress knocking at my door this morning almost before I was up, with a present of fruit from my young friend, &c.—There is something inexpressibly pleasant to me in these presents. Be it fruit, or fowl, or brawn, or what not. Books are a legitimate cause of acceptance. If presents be not the soul of friendship, undoubtedly they are the most spiritual part of the body of that intercourse. There is too much narrowness of thinking in this point. The punctilio of acceptance methinks is too confined and straitlaced. I could be content to receive money, or clothes, or a joint of meat from a friend; why should he not send me a dinner as well as a dessert? I would taste him in the beasts of the field, and thro’ all creation. Therefore did the basket of fruit of the juvenile Talfourd not displease me. Not that I have any thoughts of bartering or reciprocating these things. To send him any thing in return would be to reflect suspicion of mercenariness upon what I know he meant a freewill offering. Let him overcome me in bounty. In this strife a generous nature loves to be overcome. Alsager (whom you call Alsinger—and indeed he is rather singer than sager, no reflection upon his naturals neither) is well and in harmony with himself and the world. I don’t know how he and those of his constitution keep their nerves so nicely balanced as they do. Or have they any? or are they made of packthread? He is proof against weather, ingratitude, meat under done, every weapon of fate. I have just now a jagged end of a tooth pricking against my tongue, which meets it half way in a wantonness of provocation, and there they go at it, the tongue pricking itself like the viper against the file, and the tooth galling all the gum inside and out to torture, tongue and tooth, tooth and tongue, hard at it, and I to pay the reckoning, till all my mouth is as hot as brimstone, and I’d venture the roof of my mouth that at this moment, at which I conjecture my full-happinessed friend is picking his crackers, not one of the double rows of ivory in his privileged mouth has as much as a flaw in it, but all perform their functions, and having performed it expect to be picked (luxurious steeds!) and rubbed down. I don’t think he could be robbed, or could have his house set on fire, or ever want money. I have heard him express a similar opinion of his own impassibility. I keep acting here Heautontimorumenos. M. Burney has been to Calais and has come home a travelld Monsieur. He speaks nothing but the Gallic Idiom. Field is on circuit. So now I believe I have given account of most that you saw at our Cabin. Have you seen a curious letter in Morn. Chron., by C. Ll., the genius of absurdity, respecting Bonaparte’s suing out his Habeas Corpus. That man is his own moon. He has no need of ascending into that gentle planet for mild influences. You wish me some of your leisure. I have a glimmering aspect, a chink-light of liberty before me, which I pray God may prove not fallacious. My remonstrances have stirred up others to remonstrate, and altogether, there is a plan for separating certain parts of business from our department, which if it take place will produce me more time, i.e. my evenings free. It may be a means of placing me in a more conspicuous situation which will knock at my nerves another way, but I wait the issue in submission. If I can but begin my own day at 4 o Clock in the afternoon, I shall think myself to have Eden days of peace and liberty to what I have had. As you say, how a man can fill 3 volumes up with an Essay on the Drama is wonderful. I am sure a very few sheets would hold all I had to say on the subject, and yet I dare say * * * * * * * * * * [*] as Von Slagel * * * Did you ever read Charron on Wisdom? or Patrick’s Pilgrim? if neither, you have two great pleasures to come. I mean some day to attack Caryl on Job, six Folios. What any man can write, surely I may read. If I do but get rid of auditing Warehousekeepers Accts. and get no worse-harassing task in the place of it, what a Lord of Liberty I shall be. I shall dance and skip and make mouths at the invisible event, and pick the thorns out of my pillow and throw ’em at rich men’s night caps, and talk blank verse, hoity toity, and sing “A Clerk I was in London Gay,” ban, ban, Ca-Caliban, like the emancipated monster, and go where I like, up this street or down that ally. Adieu, and pray that it may be my luck. Good be to you all.
C. Lamb.

2 thoughts on “August 9 1815: Ban, Ban, Ca-Caliban

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I assume “Von Slagel” must be August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767-1845), the Germans critic and translator of Shakespeare. Any idea what the word before his name might be?

    • Thanks for reading the blog. You are right about Schlegel, but I cannot find what has been redacted. Most copies of this letter online usually do not include the paragraph.

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