1825 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Lamb

Bryan Waller Procter, "To Charles Lamb. Written over a Flask of Sherris" London Magazine NS 2 (July 1825) 332-34.



Dear Lamb, I drink to thee, — to thee
Married to sweet Liberty!—

What! — old friend, and art thou freed
From the bondage of the pen?
Free from care and toil indeed—
Free to wander amongst men
When and howsoe'er thou wilt,—
All thy drops of labour spilt
On those huge and figured pages,
Which will sleep unclasp'd for ages,
Little knowing who did wield
The quill that traversed their white field?
Come, — another mighty health!
Thou hast earn'd thy sum of wealth,
Countless ease, — immortal leisure,—
Days — and nights of boundless pleasure,
Checquer'd by no dream of pain,
Such as hangs on clerk-like brain
Like a nightmare, and doth press
The happy soul from happiness.

Oh! happy thou, — whose all of time
(Day, and eve, and, morning-prime)
Is fill'd with talk on pleasant themes,—
Or visions quaint, which come in dreams
Such as panther'd Bacchus rules,
When his rod is on "the schools,"
Mixing wisdom with their wine;—
Or, perhaps, thy wit so fine
Strayeth in some elder book,
Whereon our modern Solons look
With severe ungifted eyes,
Wondering what thou seest to prize.
Happy thou, whose skill can take
Pleasure at each turn, and slake
Thy thirst by every fountain brink,
Where less wise men would pause to shrink.
Sometimes 'mid stately avenues
With Cowley thou or Marvel's muse
Dost walk, — or Gray, by Eton towers,
Or Pope, in Hampton's chesnut bowers,—
Or Walton, by his loved Lea stream:—
Or, — dost thou with our Milton dream
Of Eden, and the Apocalypse,
And hear the words from his great lips?

Speak! — In what grove or hazel shade
For "musing Meditation made,"
Dost wander, — or on Penshurst lawn,
Where Sydney's fame had time to dawn
And die, ere yet the hate of men
Could envy at his perfect pen?
Or, dost thou in some London street,
With voices fill'd and thronging feet,
Loiter, with mien 'twixt grave and gay—
Or take, along some pathway sweet,
Thy calm suburban way?—
Happy beyond that man of Ross,
Whom mere content could ne'er engross,
Art thou, — with hope, — health, — "learned leisure,"
Friends — books — thy thoughts — an endless pleasure!
—Yet — yet — (for when was pleasure made
Sunshine all without a shade?)
Thou, perhaps, as now thou rovest
Through the busy scenes thou lovest
With an idler's careless look,
Turning some moth-pierced book,
Feel'st a sharp and sudden woe
For visions vanished long ago!—
And then thou think'st how time has fled
Over thy unsilver'd head,
Snatching many a fellow mind
Away, and leaving — what — behind?—
Nought, alas! save joy and pain
Mingled ever, like a strain
Of music where the discords vie
With the truer harmony.
So, perhaps, with thee the vein
Is sullied ever, — so the chain
Of habits and affections old,
Like a weight of solid gold,
Presseth on thy gentle breast,
Till sorrow rob thee of thy rest.

—Ay: So it is. Ev'n I (whose lot
The fairy Love so long forgot)
Seated beside this Sherris wine,
And near to books and shapes divine,
Which poets and the painters past
Have wrought in lines that aye shall last—
Ev'n I, with Shakspeare's self beside me,
And One, whose tender talk can guide me
Through fears, and pains, and troublous themes—
Whose smile doth fall upon my dreams
Like sunshine on a stormy sea,—
Want something, — when I think of thee!