It was in the Autumn of 1817 that I first became acquainted with Charles Lamb. He had then just removed from his smoke-blackened, dismal chambers in the Middle Temple, to light, airy, and convenient lodgings in Russell Street, Covent Garden, "delightfully situated between two great theatres," and a spot admirably suited to one who would not exchange "London by Lamp-light for all the glories of Skiddaw and Helvellyn;" nor "No. 4, Inner Temple Lane by Punch-light, for Melrose by Moonlight!" Of a congenial taste was his sister. Mary Lamb preferred the "full tide of human existence" that, from morning to night, streamed under her windows, and the incessant rattling of coaches and carts, to rural sights and sounds. Covent Garden, with its earliest peas and asparagus, was more to her fancy than the gardens of old Alcinous! Here Lamb had his summer parlour for prints, and his winter parlour for books; with everything, like Goodman Dogberry, "handsome" about him. His occasional rambles rarely extended beyond Finchley, on the north; Dulwich College (for its pictures!), on the south; and Turnham-green, on the west. The east, with its narrow and tortuous carrefours, was unknown to him. He never explored Wapping, nor walked Whitechapel-ward. In those days the sylvan retreats of far-off Ponder's-End, Cheshunt, Enfield and Amwell had yet to be realized. After winding up a narrow pair of stairs (not unlike the "ilegant ladder" that led to the family crib of Colman's Irish cow-doctor, Mr. Looney Macwoulter), a visitor, on entering a middle-sized front room, would dimly discern, through tobacco smoke that was making its way up the chimney and through the key-holes, a noble head, worthy of Medusa, on which were scattered a few grey curls among crisp ones of dark brown, and an expressive, thoughtful set of features inclining to the Hebrew cast. This was mine host. Around him at that witching time when "churchyards yawn," and sobriety in its soft bed is past yawning, a band of brothers — who were under no cloud but that which proceeded from their pipes — smoking "like limekilns," kept it up merrily. The locality generally induced the subject; hence the stage, from "Gammer Gurton's Needle" down (a painful descent!) to the last (Wardour Street!) Elizabethan drama, or uproarious, "sensation," brimstone melo-drame that had received its critical "Goose" at Covent Garden, or Old Drury, was the topic of discussion. Hazlitt, a pale-faced, spare man with sharp, expressive features and hollow, piercing eyes, would, after his earnest and fanciful fashion, anatomise the character of Hamlet, and find in it certain points of resemblance to a peculiar class of mankind; while Coleridge, the invested monarch of other men's minds by right of supreme ability, would as stoutly contend that Hamlet was a conception unlike any other that had ever entered into the poetical heart or brain; adding, that Shakespeare might possibly have sat to himself for the portrait, and from his own idiosyncrasy borrowed some of its spiritual lights and shades; and the metaphysical subtlety and superior word-painting of Coleridge brought him off conqueror. Those who have heard Lamb descant upon, and seen John Kemble as Lear — and I, happily, have heard and seen both — have, in truth, a just conception of the sublime. What Elia has written upon the heartbroken old King — touching as it is, and true — may not compare, for terrible intensity, with what he has spoken. The flood of extemporaneous eloquence — his nerves braced to their utmost tension — that he poured forth — for here his natural defect of speech gave way to the high-wrought inspiration of the moment — upon Lear's madness; the flashing of his melancholy eye sparkling with supernatural fire, the quivering of his fine poetical lips:
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting,
With forms to his conceit;
bespoke a too mournful sympathy with that most piteous of all human calamities, which induced those who were acquainted with his sorrowful history to divert him from a subject so personally exciting, and to lead him into flowery paths where fairies
"Hop in our walks, and gambol in our eyes,
And nod to us, and do us courtesies;"
paths in which he ever delighted to wander.
Nor were their endeavours unsuccessful. He turned from tragedy to comedy with equal facility and grace. When the discourse grew tiresome, and some loquacious Coryphaeus of common-place who had yet to learn silence in the probationary school of Pythagoras, and whose imagination was too scanty for his vocabulary, with self-satisfied effrontery, was monotonously mouthing, he would play the "logical contradictory," or "matter-of-lie man" with some grotesque locution, transparent solecism or incongruous theory, to the delight of Talfourd (the pet of the bar for his frolicksome humour), who seconded his friend's audacity with the raciest relish; while Hood, sad looking and sickly, whose brain was a quiver of sharp jests, and who (as Lamb said) carried two faces (a tragic one and a comic) under his namesake, gave with a well-pickled and pointed pun common-place his quietus. A plentiful supper — for mine host, though a philosopher, had no taste for Plato's diet, dates and cold water; or for nourishing a friend "on diagrams, and filling his belly with the east wind," — would follow; — after which the goblets were refilled, the pipes re-fused, and the talk resumed for another pleasant hour or two. The company then took their leave (Coleridge generally lingering lag-last), bidding each other "good night;" while labour, returning to its daily toil, was grumbling "good morning."
Upon these occasions I was a silent spectator, having much to learn and little to impart, and that little would have been like sending coals to Newcastle, or owls to Athens. My share of the entertainment was therefore limited to a rubber at whist, or a quiet game at cribbage with sister Mary. Seeing that the fiery draughts of a fiendish spring were reducing him to a trembling shadow, it was with lively satisfaction I learnt from his own lips that he was removing to a cottage at Islington where certain intruders "that time hath worn into slovenry;" idlers who led an up-and-down, here-to-day and gone-to-morrow kind of existence, would not be likely to follow him. In this suburban retreat ("The house of Socrates," he said, "though small, would hold all his friends, and this is quite big enough to hold all mine") — he was in the year 1823 comfortably settled. The New River (now somewhat "elderly") flowed in front of it, and a pretty garden in full bearing and in full bloom flourished in its rear, supplying his dinner with vegetables, his dessert with fruit, and his hearth with flowers. He took to the culture of plants, and now, having been honoured with his commands, I was, for the first time, of some use to him. He watched the growth of his tulips with the gusto of a veteran florist and became learned in all their gaudy varieties. He grew enamoured of anemones. He planted, pruned, and grafted; and seldom walked abroad without a bouquet in his button-hole! The rose, from its poetical association with Carew's exqusite song, — "Ask me no more where Jove bestows, When June is past, the fading rose" — was his favourite flower. If the fishes of the New River knew him not, (cockney Piscators with their penny rods had frightened even the minnows away!) the birds of the air did; for they congregated upon his grass-plot, perched upon his window-sills, nestled in the eaves of his house-top, responded to his whistle, pecked up his plum-cake, and serenaded him morning and evening with their songs. It became one of his amusements to watch their motions. "Commend me," he said, "to the sparrows for what our friend Matthews calls in his 'At home,' 'irregular appropriation.' I remember seeing a precocious Newgate-bird thatch from the muckle-mouth of a plethoric prentice-boy a hissing-hot slice of plum-pudding, and transfer it to his own, to the diversion of the bystanders, who could not forbear laughing at the urchin's mendacious dexterity; but this sleight of hand feat is nothing to the celerity with which these feathered freebooters will make a tid-bit exchange beaks." Seeing his growing fondness for birds, I offered him a beautiful bullfinch ensconced in a handsome cage. But he declined the present. "Every song that it sung from its wiry prison," said he, "I could never flatter myself was meant for my ear; but rather a wistful note to the passing travellers of air that it were with them too! This would make me self-reproachful and sad. Yet I should be loth to let the little captive fly, lest, being unused to liberty, it should flutter itself to death, or starve."
And with what cheerfulness and gratitude he boasted that, for the first time in his life, he was the absolute lord and master of a whole house! — of an undisturbed and a well-conducted home! I helped him to arrange his darling folios (Beaumont and Fletcher, Ben Jonson, and Company!) in his pleasant dining-room; to hang in the best light his portraits of the poets, and his "Hogarths," (the latter in old-fashioned ebony frames), in his newly-furnished drawing-room; and to adorn the mantelpieces with his Chelsea china shepherds and shepherdesses (family relics) which, like their owner, looked gayer and fresher for the change of air! He lived abstemiously, retired to rest at a reasonable hour (the midnight chimes had hitherto been to him more familiar music than the lark's), and rose early. He took long summer walks in the neighbouring flelds, and returned with a gathering of wild flowers. "Every glimpse of beauty," he said, "was acceptable and precious to colour our pale lives." He lamented the encroachments of "horrid bricks and mortar" on the green sward, and it was during one of our rural rambles together that he extemporised in prose, what I thus (to his cordially expressed contentment), turned and twisted into rhyme:—
Bricks and mortar! bricks and mortar!
Cut your rambles rather shorter,
Give green fields a little quarter!
You, in your suburban sallies,
Turn our pleasant fields and valleys
Into squalid courts and alleys.
All along our rural passes
Where tripp'd village lads and lasses
Not a single blade of grass is!
Where I saw the daisies springing,
Where I heard the blackbird singing,
And the lark while heavenward winging,
I behold a rookery frightful
Which with tatters (tenants rightful!)
Beggary fills from morn to night full.
And beside their neighbour wizen
For rogues I see a palace risen,
And for poverty a prison!
Bricks and mortar! bricks and mortar!
Give green fields a little quarter;
As sworn foes to nature's beauty
You've already done your duty!
"Merrie Islington" was endeared to Charles Lamb by many tender recollections. Its rural walks, having been the scenes of his early and transient courtship, still retained for him an inexpressible charm, and he never recalled to memory those golden days of pure and perfect love without a passionate emotion, a sympathetic thrill deepening into despondency. It is better silently to endure a sorrow which nobody feels but yourself; hence he seldom, and then reluctantly, alluded to the subject. He strove indeed to forget it. Yet great as had been his sacrifice, great also had been his reward; since it had enabled him to devote a life of unceasing watchfulness and care to a sister who, but for his gentle and refined affection, would have been without a guardian and a comforter. I have had many opportunities of friendly converse with this gifted woman when her intellect was unclouded, and I have beheld her when that intellect was a ruin and memory was alive only to the horrors of the past. I know but one parallel case to this beautiful and affecting one — Pope's filial devotion to his mother — yes, one more — that of Cleobis and Bito who, as a reward for their filial piety, lay down in the temple, and fell asleep and died. Lamb, referring to his many domestic trials, once remarked to me, "What a hard heart must mine be that these blows cannot break it!" Yet he might have remembered that when the darkness is deepest (midnight), the light is near.
Unlike Coleridge, who had no sympathy with local associations (the little smoky parlour of the "Salutation and Cat," near Smithfield, where he, Jem White — the author of "Falstaff's Letters" — and Elia, in early life, had spent so many intellectual hours, he did not, in after years, care to be reminded of), Lamb venerated and visited places known to traditionary fame. In the Autumn of 1823, after dining at Colebrooke Cottage with him and Robert Bloomfield, I accompanied the two poets to the celebrated "Queen Elizabeth's Walk" at Stoke Newington, which had become Lamb's favourite promenade in summer, for its wild flowers, upon which he could never tread with indifference; for its seclusion and its shade. He would watch the setting sun from the top of old Canonbury Tower, and sit contemplating the starry heavens, (for he was a disciple of Plato, the great Apostle of the Beautiful!) until the cold night air warned him to retire. He was hand and glove with Goodman Symes, the then tenant of this venerable Tower and a brother antiquary in a small way, who took pleasure in entertaining him in the oak-panelled chamber where Goldsmith wrote his "Traveller," and supped on butter-milk; pointing at the same time to a small coloured portrait of Shakespeare in a curiously carved gilt frame, which Lamb would look at lovingly, and which, through the kindness of a late friend, has since become mine. He was never weary of toiling up and down the steep, winding, narrow stairs of this suburban pile, and peeping into its sly corners and cupboards, as if he expected to discover there some hitherto hidden clue to its mysterious origin! The ancient hostelries of Islington and its vicinity he also visited. At the Old Queen's Head he puffed his pipe, and quaffed his ale out of the huge tankard presented by a certain festivous Master Cranch, of a Bonifacial aspect and hue, to a former host, in the Old Oak Parlour where, according to tradition, Sir Walter Raleigh received full souce in his face the humming contents of a jolly Black Jack from an affrighted clown who, seeing clouds of tobacco smoke curling from the Knight's nostrils and mouth, thought he was all on fire! It was here that he chanced to fall in with that obese and burly figure of fun Theodore Hook, who came to take a last look at this historical relic before it was pulled down. Hook accompanied him to Colebrooke Cottage which was hard by. During the evening Lamb (lightsome and lissom) proposed a race round the garden; but Hook (a cochon a l'angraisse, pursy and puffy, with a nose as radiant as the red-hot poker in a pantomime, and whose gait was like the hobblings of a fat goose attempting to fly) declined the contest, remarking that he could outrun nobody but "the constable." In the Sir Hugh Myddleton's Head "Elia" would often introduce his own, for there he would be sure to find, from its proximity to Sadler's Wells, some play-going old crony with whom he could exchange a convivial "crack," and hear the celebrated Joe Grimaldi call for his namesake" (a tumbler!) of "sweet and pretty" (rum punch!); challenging Boniface to bring it to a "rummer!" Many a gleeful hour has he spent in this once rural hostelrie (since razed and rebuilt) in fumigation and fun. Though now a retired "country gentleman," luxuriating in the Persian's Paradise, "something to see, and nothing to do," he occasionally enjoyed the amusements of the town. He had always been a great sight-seer (as early as 1802 he piloted the Wordsworths through Bartlemy Fair), and the ruling passion still followed him to his Islingtonian Tusculum. "One who patronises," said he, "as I do, St. Bartlemy, must have a kindred inkling for my Lord Mayor's Show. They both possess the charm of antiquity." Profanely speaking, I fear he rather preferred the Smithfield Saturnalia; not that he loved the curule chair and its Mayor, the men in armour, the city coach, the broad banners and broad faces, the turtle and venison, of London's corporation less, but that he loved dwarfs, giants, penny-trumpets, posture-masters, and learned pigs more; to say nothing of those savoury and sable attractions, the fried sausages (not ambrosial fare!) and the little sweeps! He had a quick ear, and a quick step for Punch and Judy, preluded by the eternal Pandean pipes and drum; and it was not until Punch, with commendable ferocity, had perpetrated all his traditional extravagances, and was left crowing and cacchinating solus on the scene, that he was to be coerced or coaxed away. Many a penny he has paid for a peep into a puppet-show, and after his final retirement to Edmonton in the Spring of 1833, he, in my company, revisited its fair in the September following, and renewed old acquaintanceship with the clowns and conjurers.
This happy change of life and scene, this moral sunshine — (he had vanquished evil by resisting it) — produced the best effects upon his constitution (sickly frames are the homes of sickly fancies) and mind. Those spectre-haunted day and night dreams, (ghastly and grotesque!) that he so fearfully describes, no longer distracted him, and he lost that nervous irritability and restlessness which at one time threatened to become a permanent disease. His eyes recovered their lustre, his step its firmness, his pulse its regularity, and his appetite its tone. "I have the stomach," said he, "of a Heliogabalus and the gorge of a garreteer!" He had not become a "sadder" — for he was as full of felicitous absurdities as ever — but a "wiser" man. All rejoiced at his rejuvenescence. To his taciturn friend George Dyer, who had broken the fast and long Lent of his tongue and asked for eggs at the breakfast-table, he excused himself for not producing them, by gravely asserting there had been a "strike" amongst the fowls, and that no more eggs would be laid for the present; which that "good natured heathen" as potently believed, as he did the same romancer's confidentially-whispered intelligence that the "Great Unknown" of the Waverley Novels was Lord Castlereagh! As our friendship increased (we had now become nearer neighbours) our discourse grew more confidential, and I learnt to my gratification, not to say, surprise — for in the wild sallies of his mirth many an unguarded expression hardly consistent with the Pharisee's superficial sobriety had escaped from him — that he was deeply impressed with the sublime truths of religion; with the health, beauty, and joyousness of the Christian faith; and that intellectual piety added another charm to his character. I say intellectual piety, because much controversy has been wasted on its obvious meaning; as if piety belonged only to the unlearned, and was not the result both of reason and revelation. That "pearl of days," the Sabbath, he kept holy. He loved the Temple where the Word of God was spoken and His Praise was sung. He pronounced the Liturgy of the Church of England the most devout, comprehensive and glorious of heavenly inspirations; often quoting the saying of George Herbert, "Give me the prayers of my Mother, the Church — these are none like hers." The gorgeous chant and psalm, "the ornament of God's service, and a help to devotion, and the exquisite Evening Hymn which he had lisped at his mother's feet in childhood, melted him to tears. The Hallelujah Chorus and its stupendous "Amen!" — the Dead March in Saul, that marvellous inspiration! — the great organ roaring and pealing with a mighty utterance of sound, the silver-clear young trebles singing out, and the deep base responding mournfully, were almost too overpowering, in their incomparable cumulative grandeur and pathos, for his painfully sensitive nerves. The beatific visions that such music inspires can hardly be less sublime and thrilling than those which inspired it! He never used an oath, or profaned the HOLY NAME. He had no stereotyped sanctimonious "God willings." The Divine permission was a well-understood proviso in every engagement and promise that he made. With him "A witty sinner was the worst of fools;" a skull grinning at its own ghastliness! charnel-house joviality!
Singularly charitable in judging of others, he was not for sending to Dr. Faust's great patron all who differed from him in religious belief. He scorned the economical caution of penny-wise philanthropy (hard cash is ever deaf to pauper eloquence!) that shuts its heart against the street-beggar. "Vive les gueux!" If in mid-winter (poverty's most pinching time) he buttoned up his surtout, he unbuttoned his pockets. "It is an accepted maxim," he would lay, "that twenty rogues had better escape punishment, rather than that one innocent man should suffer. I therefore hold that to be duped by a score of begging impostors out of a few paltry pence is not half so bad as denying one deserving applicant." He had a deep reverence for the grandeur of old age, and never refused grey hairs. To the halt and the blind he was equally compassionate, and he pointed to a fine engraving of Belisarius ("Date obolum Belisario") that adorned his dining-room as his excuse. He lamented the cold, callous utilitarian tendencies of the day, and the grim cant of political economists ("one-eyed men," as Dr. Arnold calls them), which he pronounced "all Malthus and Betty Martin, O!" (Martineau). He denied their title to philosophers; for philanthropy and philosophy were never intended to be disunited, but to work together for the common good.
His judgment was ever open to correction and his heart to tenderness. Sorrow had tempered and given mildness to his character; while time, instead of contracting, had enlarged his exuberant benevolence. His candour and generosity knew no bounds, in confessing an error and in repairing an injury. His resentments were quick and brief, and, the impulse past, were sincerely repented of. Of such a character was his unhappy difference with Southey; and the ready forgiveness and unfailing affection of that fast and incomparable friend he never alluded to without a tremor and a tear. But there was a trinity of idiosyncrasies that he could never conquer. His hatred of injustice, his contempt for purse-pride, (the mounted mendicant!), and his impatience of fools.
He was scrupulously polite and delicate in his attentions to women whom, when intellectual and amiable, he regarded with chivalric devotion. His taste inclined to pensive loveliness, rather than to stately, luxuriant beauty. Lustrous eyes, to him, looked sweetest in the soft and quiet shade of a tranquil brow. He avoided, with a gentle shudder, the "Strong-minded Woman," (Hic Mulier!) and that twin-ogress Bonnel Thornton's voluminous "Mighty good sort of a Woman" with their lavish expenditure of language; regarding them as anything but "Angels in the house," and only fit to be yoked to a Yankee, or a Yahoo prepared to undergo a martyrdom of marrowbones. At weddings, birth-days and christenings he was a social charm. In a mixed company he was often disappointing; being taciturn when the talk took a sounding brassy turn. But among chosen friends, — then his heart began to lighten! then his thoughts began to brighten! His youthful liveliness returned, and his graceful scholarship, and wit, mellowed by wisdom, had their full play.
"I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the twenty to follow my own teaching," says Portia in the "Merchant of Venice;" which saying Elia would apply reproachfully to himself after lecturing some bibulous friend. What valuable lessons of commercial prudence did Sir Walter Scott waste upon Terry touching accommodation bills, while he suffered 'Aldiborantiphoscophornio,' and 'Rigdum Funnidos' to fly kites upon him in 'sheaves!' But Sir Walter, being incapable of evil-doing himself, suspected it not in others. He was an honest man who needed no other bond but his word, no other witness but his God.
The tedious retailer of truisms — " Ex nihilo nihil fit " — would often smart under the tartness of his raillery. I once heard him silence a phlegmatic matter-of-fact man who was aping "Sir Oracle" as ridiculously as Christopher Sly playing the Lord, or Abon Hassan the Caliph, with the following extemporaneous effusion:—
'Tis true, quite true,
That twice one's two,
That old's not new,
That black's not blue,
That grog's not glue,
That Sal's not Sue,
That you 're not me, and I'm not you.
Nor do I think the dunderpate (a weazened Pantaloon who never looked beyond his pipe) had the wit to be disconcerted. His mock Life of Liston ("of all the lies I ever put off" he says, "I value this the most") and his letter to his friend Manning at Canton, giving a fabulous account of the deaths and burials of all their old co-mates; of the mishap to the Monument, the tumbling down of St. Paul's, and the exit of King Charles from Charing Cross, may be cited as fair examples of Touchstone's "lie circumstantial." He had no taste for "sensation" poetry, crabbed crambo, "cackling fustian;" the popularity of which was to him a standing marvel. "I sicken," said he, "on the modern rhodomontade and Byronism." And in a letter to the Quaker-Bard, Bernard Barton, he remarks, "I can no more understand Shelley than you. His poetry is 'thin sown with profit or delight.'" This very sensible judgment is confirmed by Hazlitt, who asserts with truth, "Nobody was ever wiser or better for reading Shelley." He hated "scrofulous French novels" varnishing and gilding over vice, and would willingly have seen their authors indebted to the tar-brush for their suit of fables and to the feather-bed for their penal plumes. The heroes of the white cap and halter, the Dick Turpins and Company were his aversion, whether they figured away in a transpontine drama in the flamboyant style, or a drawing-room romance consecrated to the glorification of the highwayman and the burglar. Of Cowper he was an enthusiastic admirer. "I would forgive a man," he says, "for not enjoying Milton, but I would not call that man my friend who should be offended with the divine chitchat of Cowper." And he adds, "I do so love him!" Sir Walter Scott was a great favourite with him, and he applauded the late Lord Ellesmere for declaring that he would gladly change his title and fortune to be the author of Waverley; for which Croker (Tadpole!) called his lordship "a romantic fool!"
To the gangrened envy of contemporary critics who, like a people mentioned by Rabelais, hear with their eyes and understand with their elbows, he owed small thanks. What was it to them, penny paragraph-mongers — two steps above a fool, and a great many below a wife man — that in a book they were unjustly abusing might lie the hopes, the heart and the fortune of its author? Gifford, renowned for his editorial amenities, and whose iron soul was irony, could find no better name for him than "Atheist," and "Maniac," and the garreteers of Grub Street, with vulturine noses for scenting carrion, followed their leader in full cry. "Dulness," in vituperating the "Album Verses," (the bee converts to honey, the spider to poison) sent him an assailant, which provoked the indignation of the ever-generous Southey, who came to the rescue of his old friend, and spared not the "childish treble" of the offender. Admired and beloved by a large circle of friends for his original genius, for his upright, cordial, and sincere nature, he could well afford to forgive; but I question if his forgiveness extended to Gifford for mutilating his Review of Wordsworth's "Excursion," composed in his happiest vein, and then palming the spurious article, as a genuine one, on the "Quarterly." That he could be merry even under his own mishap, we know — for when he found the malcontents perversely bent on hissing his farce of "Mr. H." off the stage, he (unlike the miser of Horace, who used to console himself for the hisses of the people by applauding himself at home) good humouredly joined in the hissing too!
Spring and Autumn were his favourite months. The geniality and beauty of the one brought with them verdure, hope, and joy; the falling leaves, fading flowers, and hollow whistling winds of the other, were exquisite responses to his constitutional melancholy. In these seasons I was often his companion in walks to Hornsey's ivy-mantled church, and vale; sometimes recreating ourselves at the "Compasses," the piscatory rendezvous of certain Waltonians who made that river-side and rural hostlerie their congenial house of call. Or, continuing our ramble through healthy villages overlooking glorious landscapes, and picturesque cottages surrounded by garden ground, mounting stiles and threading thickets, we would make the "Bald-faced Stag" at Finchley (where good cheer and moderate charges invited the wayfarer) our halting-place for the day's refection. There a right savoury dinner of pork chops ("Socrates," he said, "loved wild boar, Sophocles truffles, and why should not pig's meat be my gastronomical vanity?"), and a temperate libation crowned our "Shoemaker's Holiday," and the moon and stars lighted us to our homes. In the Spring of 1827 these cheerful days (which may be truly said to have been among the happiest of his life), these pleasant wanderings, came to an end.
Considerations for his sister's declining health induced him, not without regret, to quit his favourite Colebrooke Cottage, and retire to "the snuggest, most comfortable house" at Enfield, Chase-Side. Here he anticipated "comfort." After giving the monotonous experiment a fair trial, and finding it completely fail, he relinquished housekeeping (his domestic goods and chattels having all "faded away under the auctioneer's hammer") and quietly "settled-down" (himself and sister) "as poor boarders and lodgers" with a respectable couple, next door; "the Baucis and Baucida of dull Enfield!" But the "fine old sea songs," and the "one anecdote" of his septuagenarian host — with the occasional visits of his friends, but ill repaid him for what he had foregone. He became a prey to the maladie de langeur. The companionless summer days were too long for him, as were the solitary winter nights. London, "shirtless! bootless!" was the home he sighed for. In the Spring of 1833 he finally removed from Enfield to Church Street, Edmonton, the very dreariest and dullest of all his domiciles, where he died in December, 1834.
His melancholy accident and its fatal result were unknown to me, until one dark and chilly day in December, when, anticipating (alas! for the uncertainties of poor human nature) his wonted warm welcome, I reached his lodgings. The window-shutters were closed! I stood hesitating; afraid to knock at the door. The dismal, heart-breaking death-bell tolled heavily. Could its knell be for sister Mary? A not unlikely surmise, for she was ailing, and some years his senior. I crossed over to the churchyard, and stood beside an open and very deep grave. It was for Elia! . . Many surprises and shocks I have suffered in my life; but none so sudden and so sad as this.
In a tedious sickness and a lingering death, one noble faculty of mind and body passes away after another, until the final extinction of both, and the long-delayed melancholy wreck is complete. "Elia" was mercifully spared this slow agony; for, without that awful suddenness which warns us to "die daily," his passage through the dark valley was unprotracted and almost painless. Such is the fleeting remembrance of man.