1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Charles Abraham Elton

Charles Lamb to Charles Abraham Elton, 17 August 1824?; Works of Charles Lamb, ed. Lucas (1903-05) 7:650-51.



My dear Sir, You have overwhelmed me with your favours. I have received positively a little library from Baldwyn's. I do not know how I have deserved such a bounty.

We have been up to the ear in the classics ever since it came. I have been greatly pleased, but most, I think, with the Hesiod, — the Titan battle quite amused me. Gad, it was no child's play — and then the homely aphorisms at the end of the works — how adroitly you have turned them! Can he be the same Hesiod who did the Titans? the latter is—

—wine
Which to madness does incline.

But to read the Days and Works, is like eating nice brown bread, homely sweet and nutritive. Apollonius was new to me. I had confounded him with the conjurer of that name. Medea is glorious; but I cannot give up Dido. She positively is the only Fine Lady of Antiquity: her courtesy to the Trojans is altogether queen-like. Eneas is a most disagreeable person. Ascanius a pretty young master. Mezentius for my money. His dying speech shames Turpin — not the Archbishop I mean, but the roadster of that name.

I have been ashamed to find how many names of classics (an more than their names) you have introduced me to, that before I was ignorant of. Your commendation of Master Chapman arrideth me. Can any one read the pert modern Frenchify'd notes, &c., in Pope's translation, and contrast them with solemn weighty prefaces of Chapman, writing in full faith, as he evidently does, of the plenary inspiration of his author — worshipping his meanest scraps and relics as divine — without one sceptical misgiving of their authenticity, and doubt which was the properest to expound Homer to their countrymen. Reverend Chapman! you have red his hymn to Pan (the Homeric) — why, it is Milton's blank verse clothed with rhyme. Paradise Lost could scarce lose, could it be so accoutred.

I shall die in the belief that he has improved upon Homer, in the Odyssey in particular — the disclosure of Ulysses of himself, to Alcinous, his previous behaviour at the song of the stern strife arising between Achilles and himself (how it raises him above the Iliad Ulysses!) but you know all these things quite as well as I do. But what a deaf ear old C. would have turned to the doubters in Homer's real personality! They might as well have denied the appearance of J. C. in the flesh. — He apparently believed all the fables of H.'s birth, &c.

Those notes of Bryant have caused the greatest disorder in my brain-pan. Well, I will not flatter when I say that we have had two or three long evening's good reading out of your kind present.

I will say nothing of the tenderest parts in your own little volume, at the end of such a slatternly scribble as this, but indeed they cost us some tears. I scrawl away because of the interruptions every moment. You guess how it is in a busy office — papers thrust into your hand when your hand is busiest — and every anti-classical disavocation.