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ESSAYS OF ELIA..
BY CHARLES LAMB.
THE SOUTH-SEA HOUSE.
dissipated, or scattered into air at the blast of the
breaking of that famous BUBBLE. Reader, in thy passage from the Bank—where
Such is the South-Sea HOUSE. At least, such thou hast been receiving thy half-yearly divi- it was forty years ago, when I knew it,-a magdends (supposing thou art a lean annuitant like nificent relic! What alterations may have been myself)—to the Flower-Pot, to secure a place for made in it since, I have had no opportunities of Dalston, or Shacklewell, or some other thy sub-verifying. Time, I take for granted, has not freshurban retreat northerly,—didst thou never observe ened it. No wind has resuscitated the face of the a melancholy-looking, handsome, brick and stone sleeping waters. A thicker crust by this time edifice, to the left-where Threadneedle-street stagnates upon it. The moths, that were then abuts upon Bishopsgate ? I dare say thou hast battening upon its obsolete ledgers and day-books, often admired its magnificent portals ever gaping have rested from their depredations, but other wide, and disclosing to view a grave court, with light generations have succeeded, making fine cloisters, and pillars, with few or no traces of fret-work among their single and double entries. goers-in or comers out—a desolation something Layers of dust have accumulated (a superfætation like Balclutha's.*
of dirt!) upon the old layers, that seldom used to This was once a house of trade,-a centre of
be disturbed, save by some curious finger, now busy interests. The throng of merchants was and then, inquisitive to explore the mode of bookhere—the quick pulse of gain—and here some keeping in queen Anne's reign ; or, with less halforms of business are still kept up, though the lowed curiosity, seeking to unveil some of the soul be long since fled. Here are still to be seen mysteries of that tremendous HOAX, whose extent stately porticos; imposing staircases ; offices roomy the petty speculators of our day look back upon with as the state apartments in palaces—deserted or
the same expression of incredulous admiration, and thinly peopled with a few straggling clerks; the hopeless ambition of rivalry, as would become the still more sacred interiors of court and committee
puny face of modern conspiracy contemplating the rooms, with venerable faces of beadles, door-keep- Titan size of Vaux's superhuman plot. ers—directors seated in form on solemn days (to Peace to the manes of the BUBBLE! Silence and proclaim a dead dividend,) at long worm-eaten destitution are upon thy walls, proud house, for a tables, that have been mahogany, with tarnished gilt-leather coverings, supporting massy silver ink
Situated as thou art, in the very heart of stirstands long since dry ;—the oaken wainscots hung ring and living commerce,-amid the fret and fewith pictures of deceased governors and sub-go- ver of speculation; with the Bank and the 'Change, vernors, of queen Anne, and the two first mon
and the India-house about thee, in the heyday of archs of the Brunswick dynasty ;-huge charts, present prosperity, with their important faces, as which subsequent discoveries have antiquated ; | it were, insulting thee, their poor neighbour out of dusty maps of Mexico, dim as dreams,--and business—to the idle and merely contemplative,soundings of the Bay of Panama!—The long pas- to such as me, old house! there is a charm in thy sages hung with buckets, appended, in idle row, to quiet:-a cessation—a coolness from businesswalls, whose substance might defy any, short of an indolence almost cloistral—which is delightful! the last conflagration :-with vast ranges of cel- With what reverence have I paced thy great bare larage under all, where dollars and pieces of eight rooms and courts at eventide! They spoke of once lay an “unsunned heap,” for Mammon to
the past:—the shade of some dead accountant, have solaced his solitary heart withal,—long since with visionary pen in ear, would flit by me, stiff * I passed by the walls of Balclutha, and they were
as in life. Living accounts and accountants puzzle desolate.-OSSIAN.
I have no skill in figuring. But thy great
dead tomes, which scarce three degenerate clerks | The simultaneous sound of his well-known rap at of the present day could lift from their enshrining the door with the stroke of the clock announcing shelves—with their fantastic flourishes, and deco six, was a token of never-failing mirth in the famrative rubric interlacings—their sums in triple co- ilies which this dear old bachelor gladdened with lumniations, set down with formal superfluity of his presence. Then was his forte, his glorified cyphers—with pious sentences at the beginning, hour! How would he chirp, and expand, over a without which our religious ancestors never ven- muffin ! How would he dilate into secret histotured to open a book of business, or bill of lading-ry! His countrymen, Pennant, himself, in particthe costly vellum covers of some of them almost ular, could not be more eloquent than he in relapersuading us that we are got into some better li- | tion to old and new London-the sight of old the brary, ---are very agreeable and edifying spectacles. atres, churches, streets gone to decay—where RoI can look upon these defunct dragons with com- somond's pond stood—the mulberry gardensmand placency. Thy heavy odd-shaped ivory-handled the Conduit in Cheap—with many a pleasant anpenknives (our ancestors had every thing on a ecdote, derived from paternal tradition, of those larger scale than we have hearts for) are as good grotesque figures which Hogarth has immortalized as any thing from Herculaneum. The pounce- in his picture of Noon,--the worthy descendants of boxes of our days have gone retrograde.
those heroic confessors, who, flying to this counThe very clerks which I remember in the South- try, from the wrath of Louis the Fourteenth and Sea HouseI speak of forty years back-had an his dragoons, kept alive the flame of pure religion air very different from those in the public offices in the sheltering obscurities of Hog-lane, and the that I have had to do with since. They partook of vicinity of the Seven Dials! the genius of the place!
Deputy, under Evans, was Thomas Tame. He They were mostly (for the establishment did had the air and stoop of a nobleman. You would not admit of superfluous salaries) bachelors. Gen- have taken him for one, had you met him in one erally (for they had not much to do) persons of a of the passages leading to Westminster-hall. By curious and speculative turn of mind. Old-fash- stoop, I mean that gentle bending of the body forioned, for a reason mentioned before. Humorists, wards, which, in great men, must be supposed to for they were of all descriptions; and, not having be the effect of an habitual condescending attenbeen brought together in early life, (which has a tion to the applications of their inferiors. While tendency to assimilate the members of corporate he held you in converse, you felt strained to the bodies to each other) but, for the most part, placed height in the colloquy. The conference over, you in this house in ripe or middle age, they necessari- were at leisure to smile at the comparative insigly carried into it their separate habits and oddities, nificance of the pretensions which had just awed unqualified, if I may so speak, as into a common you. His intellect was of the shallowest order. stock. Hence they formed a sort of Noah's ark. It did not reach to a saw or a proverb. His mind Odd fishes. A lay monastery. Domestic retainers was in its original state of white paper. A suckin a great house, kept for more show than use. ling babe might have posed him. What was it Yet pleasant fellows, full of chat--and not a few then? Was he rich? Alas, no! Thomas Tame among them had arrived at considerable proficiency was very poor. Both he and his wife looked outon the German flute.
wardly gentlefolks, when I fear all was not well The cashier at that time was one Evans, a at all times within. She had a neat meagre perCambro-Briton. He had something of the chol- son, which it was evident she had not sinned in eric complexion of his countrymen stamped on over-pampering; but in its veins was noble blood. his visage, but was a worthy sensible man at She traced her descent by some labyrinth of relabottom. He wore his hair, to the last, powdered tionship, which I never thoroughly understood, and frizzed out, in the fashion which I remember much less can explain with any heraldic certainty to have seen in caricatures of what were termed, at this time of day,—to the illustrious, but unforin my young days, Maccaronies. He was the last tunate house of Derwentwater. This was the of that race of beaux. Melancholy as a gib-cat secret of Thomas's stoop. This was the thought over his counter all the forenoon, I think I see him -the sentiment—the bright solitary star of your making up his cash (as they call it) with tremu- lives,-ye mild and happy pair,—which cheered lous fingers, as if he feared every one about him you in the night of intellect, and in the obscurity 'was a defaulter ; in his hypochondry ready to im- of your station! This was to you instead of riches, agine himself one; haunted, at least, with the idea instead of rank, instead of glittering attainments : of the possibility of his becoming one: his tristful and it was worth them all together. You insulted visage clearing up a little over his roast neck of none with it; but, while you wore it as a piece of veal at Anderton's at two, (where his picture still defensive armour only, no insult likewise could hangs, taken a little before his death by desire of reach you through it. Decus et solamen. the master of the coffee-house, which he had fre- Of quite another stamp was the then accountant, quented for the last five-and-twenty years,) but John Tipp. He neither pretended to high blood, not attaining the meridian of its animation till nor in good truth cared one fig about the matter. evening brought on the hour of tea and visiting. | He" thought an accountant the greatest character in the world, and himself the greatest accountant | posed honour is at stake. Tipp never mounted in it." Yet John was not without his hobby. The the box of a stage-coach in his life; or leaned fiddle relieved his vacant hours. He sang, cer- against the rails of a balcony; or walked upon tainly, with other notes than to the Orphean lyre. the ridge of a parapet; or looked down a preciHe did, indeed, scream and scrape most abomina- pice; or let off a gun ; or went upon a water parbly. His fine suit of official rooms in Threadneedle- ty; or would willingly let you go if he could have street, which, without any thing very substantial helped it: neither was it recorded of him, that for appended to them, were enough to enlarge a man's lucre, or for intimidation, he ever forsook friend or notions of himself that liv in them, (I know not principle. who is the occupier of them now,) resounded fort- Whom next shall we summon from the dusty nightly to the notes of a concert of“ sweet breasts,” dead, in whom common qualities become uncomas our ancestors would have called them, culled mon? Can I forget thee, Henry Man, the wit, from club-rooms and orchestras—chorus singers the polished man of letters, the author, of the South--first and second violincellos-double basses— Sea House ? who never enteredst thy office in a and clarionets—who ate his cold mutton, and drank morning, or quittedst it in mid-day-(what didst his punch, and praised his ear. He sat like Lord thou in an office ?)—without some quirk that left Midas among them. But at the desk Tipp was a sting! Thy gibes and thy jokes are now exquite another sort of creature. Thence all ideas tinct, or survive but in two forgotten volumes, that were purely ornamental, were banished. You which I had the good fortune to rescue from a stall could not speak of any thing romantic without re- in Barbican, not three days ago, and found thee buke. Politics were excluded. A newspaper was terse, fresh, epigrammatic, as alive. Thy wit is a litthought too refined and abstracted. The whole tle gone by in these fastidious days—thy topics are duty of man consisted in writing off dividend war- staled by the “new-born gauds” of the time:rants. The striking of the annual balance in the but great thou used to be in Public Ledgers, and company's books, (which, perhaps, differed from in chronicles, upon Chatham and Shelburne, and the balance of last year in the sum of 251. 1s. 6d.) Rockingham, and Howe, and Burgoyne, and Clinoccupied his days and nights for a month previous. ton, and the war which ended in the tearing from Not that Tipp was blind to the deadness of things Great Britain her rebellious colonies,—and Kep(as they call them in the city) in his beloved house, pel, and Wilkes, and Sawbridge, and Bull, and or did not sigh for a return of the old stirring days Dunning, and Pratt, and Richmond, -and such when South-Sea hopes were young-(he was in.
small politics. deed equal to the wielding of any the most intri- little less facetious, and a great deal more obcate accounts of the most flourishing company in streperous, was fine, rattling, rattleheaded Plumer. these or those days):—but to a genuine account- He was descended, -not in a right line, reader, ant the difference of proceeds is as nothing. The (for his lineal pretensions, like his personal, favourfractional farthing is as dear to his heart as the ed a little of the sinister bend,) from the Plumers thousands which stand before it. He is the true of Hertfordshire. So tradition gave him out; and actor, who, whether his part be a prince or a pea- certain family features not a little sanctioned the sant, must act it with like intensity. With Tipp opinion. Certainly old Walter Plumer (his reform was every thing. His life was formal. His puted author) had been a rake in his days, and actions seemed ruled with a ruler. His pen was visited much in Italy, and had seen the world. not less erring than his heart. He made the best He was uncle, bachelor-uncle, to the fine old whig executor in the world : he was plagued with in- still living, who has represented the county in so cessant executorships accordingly, which excited many successive parliaments, and has a fine old his spleen and soothed his vanity in equal ratios. mansion near Ware. Walter flourished in George He would swear (for Tipp swore) at the little or- the Second's days, and was the same who was phans, whose rights he would guard with a tena- summoned before the House of Commons about a city like the grasp of the dying hand, that com- business of franks, with the old Duchess of Marlmended their interests to his protection. With all borough. You may read of it in Johnson's life this there was about him a sort of timidity-(his of Cave. Cave came off cleverly in that business. few enemies use to give it a worse name)-a some- It is certain our Plumer did nothing to discounthing which, in reverence to the dead, we will tenance the rumour. He rather seemed pleased place, if you please, a little on this side of the he- whenever it was, with all gentleness, insinuated. roic. Nature certainly had been pleased to endow But, besides his family pretensions, Plumer was John Tipp with a sufficient measure of the prin- an engaging fellow, and sang gloriously. ciple of self-preservation. There is a cowardice Not so sweetly sang Plumer as thou sangest, which we do not despise, because it has nothing mild, child-like, pastoral M- —; a flute's breathbase or treacherous in its elements ; it betrays it- ing less divinely whispering than thy Arcadian self, not you: it is mere temperament; the ab- melodies, when, in tones worthy of Arden, thou sence of the romantic and the enterprising; it sees didst chant that song sung by Amiens to the bana lion in the way, and will not, with Fortinbras, ished Duke, which proclaims the winter wind more “ greatly find quarrel in a straw," when some sup- lenient than for a man to be ungrateful. Thy sire
was old surly M, the unapproachable church- , house are, in some sort, the settings up of an au. warden of Bishopsgate. He knew not what he thor. The enfranchised quill, that has plodded all did, when he begat thee, like spring, gentle off- the morning among the cart-rucks of figures and spring of blustering winter:-only unfortunate in cyphers, frisks and curvets so at its ease over the thy ending, which should have been mild, concilia- flowery carpet-ground of a midnight dissertation. tory, swan-like.
It feels its promotion. Much remains to sing. Many fantastic shapes that you see, upon the whole, the literary dignity rise up, but they must be mine in private :--al- of Elia is very little, if at all, compromised in the ready I have fooled the reader to the top of his condescension. bent; else could I omit that strange creature Not that, in my anxious detail of the many comWoollet, who existed in trying the question, and modities incidental to the life of a public office, I bought litigations ?-and still stranger, inimitable, would be thought blind to certain flaws, which a solemn Hepworth, from whose gravity Newton cunning carper might be able to pick in this Jomight have deduced the law of gravitation. How seph's vest. And here I must have leave, in the profoundly would he nib a pen-with what delib- fulness of my soul, to regret the abolition, and doeration would he wet a wafer !
ing-away-with-altogether, of those consolatory inBut it is time to close-night's wheels are rat- terstices, and sprinklings of freedom, through the tling fast over me—it is proper to have done with four seasons—the red-letter days, now become to this solemn mockery.
all intents and purposes, dead-letter days. There Reader, what if I have been playing with thee was Paul and Stephen, and Barnabas all this while-peradventure the very names, which I have summoned up before thee, are fantastic—un
" Andrew and John, men famous in old times". substantial—like Henry Pimpernel, and old John we were used to keep all their days holy, as long Naps of Greece :
back as I was at school at Christ's. I remember Be satisfied that something answering to them their effigies, by the same token, in the old Basket has had a being. Their importance is from the Prayer-Book. There hung Peter in his uneasy past.
posture; holy Bartlemy in the troublesome act of Aaying, after the famous Marsyas by Spagnoletti. I honoured them all, and could almost have wept the defalcation of Iscariot, so much did we love to
keep holy memories sacred; only methought I a OXFORD IN THE VACATION.
little grudged at the coalition of the better Jude Casting a preparatory glance at the bottom of with Simon, clubbing (as it were) their sanctities this article as the wary connoisseur in prints, together, to make up one poor gaudy-day between with cursory eye, (which, while it reads, seems as them, as an economy unworthy of the dispensathough it read not,) never fails to consult the quis tion. sculpsit in the corner, before he pronounces some These were bright visitations in a scholar's and rare piece to be a Vivares, or a Woollet-methinks a clerk's life, “far off their coming shone.” I was I hear you exclaim, reader, Who is Elia ?
as good as an almanac in those days. I could Because in my last I tried to divert thee with have told you such a saint's day falls out next some half-forgotten humours of some old clerks week, or the week after. Peradventure the Epiphdefunct, in an old house of business, long since any, by some periodical infelicity, would, once in gone to decay, doubtless you have already set me six years, merge in a Sabbath. Now am I little down in your mind as one of the selfsame college better than one of the profane. Let me not be -a votary of the desk-a notched and cropt scriv- thought to arraign the wisdom of my civil superiener-one that sucks his sustenance, as certain ors, who have judged the further observation of sick people are said to do, through a quill. these holy tides to be papistical, superstitious. Well
, I do agnize something of the sort. Only in a custom of such long standing, methinks, fess that it is my humour,-my fancy in the fore- if their holinesses the Bishops had, in decency, been part of the day, when the mind of your man of let- first sounded—but I am wading out of my depths. ters requires some relaxation—and none better I am not the man to decide the limits of civil and than such as at first sight seems most abhorrent ecclesiastical authority—I am plain Elia-no Selfrom his beloved studies)—to while away some den, nor Archbishop Usher, though at present in good hours of my time in the contemplation of in- the thick of their books, here in the heart of learndigos, cottons, raw silks, piece goods, flowered or ing, under the shadow of the mighty Bodley. otherwise. In the first place
I can here play the gentleman, enact the stuand then it sends you home with such increased dent. To such an one as myself, who has been appetite to your books
not defrauded in his young years of the sweet food of to say that your outside sheets, and waste wrap- academic institution, nowhere is so pleasant, to pers of foolscap, do receive into them, most kindly while away a few idle weeks at, as one or other and naturally, the impression of sonnets, epigrams, of the Universities. Their vacation, too, at this essays-so that the very parings of a counting- / time of the year, falls in so pat with ours. Here