1839 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Lamb

Thomas Hood, in "Reminiscences of Thomas Hood" Hood's Own (1839) 551.



I was sitting one morning beside our Editor, busily correcting proofs, when a visitor was announced, whose name, grumbled by a low ventriloquial voice, like Tom Pipes calling from the hold through the hatchway, did not resound distinctly on my tympanum. However, the door opened, and in came a stranger, — a figure remarkable at a glance, with a fine head, on a small spare body, supported by two almost immaterial legs. He was clothed in sables, of a by-gone fashion, but there was something wanting, or something present about him, that certified he was neither a divine, nor a physician, nor a schoolmaster: from a certain neatness and sobriety in his dress, coupled with his sedate bearing, he might have been taken, but that such a costume would be anomalous, for a Quaker in black. He looked still more like (what he really was) a literary Modern Antique, a New-Old Author, a living Anachronism, contemporary at once with Burton the Elder, and Colman the Younger. Meanwhile he advanced with rather a peculiar gait, his walk was plantigrade, and with a cheerful "How d'ye," and one of the blandest, sweetest smiles that ever brightened a manly countenance, held out two fingers to the Editor. The two gentlemen in black soon fell into discourse; and whilst they conferred, the Lavater principle within me, set to work upon the interesting specimen thus presented to its speculations. It was a striking intellectual face, full of wiry lines, physiognomical quips and cranks, that gave it great character. There was much earnestness about the brows, and a deal of speculation in the eyes, which were brown and bright, and "quick in turning:" the nose, a decided one, though of no established order; and there was a handsome smartness about the mouth. Altogether it was no common face — none of those willow-pattern ones, which Nature turns out by thousands at her potteries; — but more like a chance specimen of the Chinese ware, one to the set — unique, antique, quaint. No one who had once seen it, could pretend not to know it again. It was no face to lend its countenance to any confusion of persons in a Comedy of Errors. You might have sworn to it piecemeal, — a separate affidavit for every feature. In short, his face was as original as his figure; his figure as his character; his character as his writings; his writings the most original of the age. After the literary business had been settled, the Editor invited his contributor to dinner, adding, "we shall have a hare — and — and — and many Friends!"

The hesitation in the speech, and the readiness of the illusion, were alike characteristic of the individual, whom his familiars will perchance have recognized already as the delightful Essayist, the capital Critic, the pleasant Wit and Humorist, the delicate-minded and large-hearted Charles Lamb!