April 26 1816: A Damaged Archangel

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On April 26 1816, Charles Lamb writes another entertaining letter to William Wordsworth. He appears to be doing some editing for Wordsworth. However, what is of interest is his comments about Coleridge. He mentions that Coleridge is printing Christabel together, in his words “with what he calls a vision, Kubla Khan—which said vision he repeats so enchantingly that it irradiates and brings heaven and Elysian bowers into my parlour while he sings or says it, but there is an observation “Never tell thy dreams,” and I am almost afraid that Kubla Khan is an owl that won’t bear day light, I fear lest it should be discovered by the lantern of typography and clear reducting to letters, no better than nonsense or no. ” Lamb also writes the famous description of Coleridge as “an Archangel a little damaged”. His full sentence is masterful: “I think his essentials not touched: he is very bad, but then he wonderfully picks up another day, and his face when he repeats his verses hath its ancient glory, an Archangel a little damaged.”

DEAR W. I have just finished the pleasing task of correcting the Revise of the Poems and letter. I hope they will come out faultless. One blunder I saw and shuddered at. The hallucinating rascal had printed battered for battened, this last not conveying any distinct sense to his gaping soul. The Reader (as they call ’em) had discovered it and given it the marginal brand, but the substitutory n had not yet appeared. I accompanied his notice with a most pathetic address to the Printer not to neglect the Correction. I know how such a blunder would “batter at your Peace.” [Batter is written batten and corrected to batter in the margin.] With regard to the works, the Letter I read with unabated satisfaction. Such a thing was wanted, called for. The parallel of Cotton with Burns I heartily approve; Iz. Walton hallows any page in which his reverend name appears. “Duty archly bending to purposes of general benevolence” is exquisite. The Poems I endeavored not to understand, but to read them with my eye alone, and I think I succeeded. (Some people will do that when they come out, you’ll say.) As if I were to luxuriate tomorrow at some Picture Gallery I was never at before, and going by to day by chance, found the door open, had but 5 minutes to look about me, peeped in, just such a chastised peep I took with my mind at the lines my luxuriating eye was coursing over unrestrained,—not to anticipate another day’s fuller satisfaction.

Coleridge is printing Xtabel, by Ld Byron’s recommendation to Murray, with what he calls a vision, Kubla Khan—which said vision he repeats so enchantingly that it irradiates and brings heaven and Elysian bowers into my parlour while he sings or says it, but there is an observation “Never tell thy dreams,” and I am almost afraid that Kubla Khan is an owl that won’t bear day light, I fear lest it should be discovered by the lantern of typography and clear reducting to letters, no better than nonsense or no sense. When I was young I used to chant with extacy Mild Arcadians ever blooming, till somebody told me it was meant to be nonsense. Even yet I have a lingering attachment to it, and think it better than Windsor Forest, Dying Xtian’s address &c.—C. has sent his Tragedy to D. L. T.—it cannot be acted this season, and by their manner of receiving it, I hope he will be able to alter it to make them accept it for next. He is at present under the medical care of a Mr. Gilman (Killman?) a Highgate Apothecary, where he plays at leaving off Laud—m. I think his essentials not touched: he is very bad, but then he wonderfully picks up another day, and his face when he repeats his verses hath its ancient glory, an Archangel a little damaged.

Will Miss H. pardon our not replying at length to her kind Letter? We are not quiet enough. Morgan is with us every day, going betwixt Highgate and the Temple. Coleridge is absent but 4 miles, and the neighborhood of such a man is as exciting as the presence of 50 ordinary Persons. ’Tis enough to be within the whiff and wind of his genius, for us not to possess our souls in quiet. If I lived with him or the author of the Excursion, I should in a very little time lose my own identity, and be dragged along in the current of other people’s thoughts, hampered in a net. How cool I sit in this office, with no possible interruption further than what I may term material; there is not as much metaphysics in 36 of the people here as there is in the first page of Locke’s  treatise on the Human understanding, or as much poetry as in any ten lines of the Pleasures of Hope or more natural Beggar’s Petition. I never entangle myself in any of their speculations. Interruptions, if I try to write a letter even, I have dreadful. Just now within 4 lines I was call’d off for ten minutes to consult dusty old books for the settlement of obsolete Errors. I hold you a guinea you don’t find the Chasm where I left off, so excellently the wounded sense closed again and was healed.

N.B. Nothing said above to the contrary but that I hold the personal presence of the two mentioned potent spirits at a rate as high as any, but I pay dearer, what amuses others robs me of myself, my mind is positively discharged into their greater currents, but flows with a willing violence. As to your question about work, it is far less oppressive to me than it was, from circumstances; it takes all the golden part of the day away, a solid lump from ten to four, but it does not kill my peace as before. Some day or other I shall be in a taking again. My head akes and you have had enough. God bless you.

C. Lamb.

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