1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Lamb

E. C., "The Turk in Cheapside. To Mr. Charles Lamb" William Hone, The Table Book 1 (1827) 194-95.



I have a favour to ask of you. My desire is this; I would fain see a stream from thy Hippocrene flowing through the pages of the Table Book. A short article on the old Turk, who used to vend rhubarb in the City, I greatly desiderate. Methinks you Would handle the subject delightfully. They tell us he is gone—

We have not seen him for some time past — Is he really dead? Must we hereafter speak of him only in the past tense? You are said to have divers strange items in your brain about him — Vent them I beseech you.

Poor Mummy! — How many hours hath he dreamt away on the sunny side of Cheap, with an opium cud in his cheek, mutely proffering his drug to the way-farers! That deep-toned bell above him, doubtless, hath often brought to his recollection the loud Allah-il-Allahs to which he listened heretofore in his fatherland — the city of minaret and mosque, old Constantinople. Will he never again be greeted by the nodding steeple of Bow? — Perhaps that ancient beldame, with her threatening head and loud tongue, at length effrayed the sallow being out of existence.

Hath his soul, in truth, echapped from that swarthy cutaneous case of which it was so long a tenant? Hath he glode over that gossamer bridge which leads to the paradise of the prophet of Mecca? Doth he pursue his old calling among the faithful? Are the blue-eyed beauties (those living diamonds) who hang about the neck of Mahomet ever qualmish? Did the immortal Houris lack rhubarb?

Prithee teach us to know more than we do of this Eastern mystery! Have some of the ministers of the old Magi eloped with him? Was he in truth a Turk? We have heard suspicions cast upon the authenticity of his complexion — was its tawniness a forgery? Oh! for a "quo warranto" to show by what authority he wore a turban! Was there any hypocrisy in his sad brow? — Poor Mummy!

The editor of the Table Book ought to perpetuate his features. He was part of the living furniture of the city — Have not our grandfathers seen him?

The tithe of a page from thy pen on this subject, surmounted by "a true portraicture & effigies," would be a treat to me and many more. If thou art still ELlA — if thou art yet that gentle creature who has immortalized his predilection for the sow's baby — roasted without sage — this boon wilt thou not deny me. Take the matter upon thee speedily. — Wilt thou not endorse thy Pegasus with this pleasant fardel?

An' thou wilt not I shall be malicious and wish thee some trifling evil: to wit — by way of revenge for the appetite which thou hast created among the reading public for the infant progeny — the rising generation of swine — I will wish that some of the old demoniac leaven may rise up against thee in the modern pigs: — that thy sleep may be vexed with swinish visions; that a hog in armour, or a bashaw of a boar of three tails, may be thy midnight familiar — thy incubus; — that matronly sows may howl after thee in thy walks for their immolated offspring; — that Mab may tickle thee into fits "with a tithe-pig's tail;" — that wheresoever thou goest to finger cash for copyright, instead of being paid in coin current, thou mayst be enforced to receive thy per-sheetage in guinea-pigs; — that thou mayst frequently dream thou art sitting on a hedge-hog; — that even as Oberon's Queen doated on the translated Bottom, so may thy batchelorly brain doat upon an ideal image of the swine-faced lady—

Finally, I will wish, that when next G. D. visits thee, he may, by mistake, take away thy hat, and leave thee his own—

"Think of that Master Brook."—

Yours ever,

E. C. M.D.

January 31, 1827.