Lamb and Coleridge in London

Mary Wedd

(Coleridge Bulletin, New Series 19, Spring 2002, pp.18-29)



The first time that Coleridge and Lamb were together in London was, of course, when they were at Christ’s Hospital.  London was – and remained – Lamb’s home ground and he missed it sadly when in later life he moved to ‘the country’ at Enfield.  He could not forget that ‘there was a London, and that I was of that old Jerusalem’.[1]  Lamb’s family home in the Temple was within walking distance of the school and loving relations could and did supplement its meagre diet.  For Coleridge it was very different.  He spent his early years in beautiful countryside which he always remembered.  He was the spoilt youngest of a large family and favourite of his father, who on a night walk explained the stars to him and so co-operated with the. influence of ‘Faery Tales’, as he said, in rendering his mind ‘habituated to the Vast’.[2]  When this loved father died and, after a few months, Sam was packed off first to relations in London and then, after a short time at Hertford, to boarding school in the city, it must have seemed to him that his mother rejected him out of hand.  Richard Holmes comments on ‘the remarkable fact that he was not allowed back to Ottery, during the brief Christmas and summer vacations, more than three or possibly four times over the next nine years’.[3]

       Nobody who has not suffered it can enter into the utter desolation of homesickness, though Lamb comes near to it in empathy with his friend.


O the cruelty of separating a poor lad from his early homestead.  The yearnings which I used to have towards it in those unfledged years.  How in my dreams would my native town (far in the west) come back, with its church, and trees and faces.[4]


Coleridge himself in ‘Frost at Midnight’ provides the most poignant evocation of that wretched state.  The translation from fair Devon to dismal town must have had a lifelong effect on his view of London.


                                   For I was reared

In the great city, pent ’mid cloisters dim,

And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.


Fortunately light-pollution was not a problem then and Sam could escape up on to the leads and commune with those stars to which his father had introduced him.  Coleridge seems to have become reconciled, at least in part,




both to Christ’s Hospital and to London as time went on but this early trauma must have done much to account for the instability of his adult life. Bathing in the New River on their holiday days is mentioned by both Coleridge  and Lamb and it was to relieve the rheumatic fever occasioned by one of these dowsings that Coleridge was given opium. [5]

       If he is to be believed, Coleridge as a boy was quite at home walking the streets of London, so much so that he thought nothing of impersonating as he did so ‘Leander swimming the Hellespont and “thrusting his hands before him as in the act of swimming” ’.[6]  This was a most fortunate circumstance, accidentally, causing a generous passer-by to give him access to the King Street Library.  At least I suppose it was fortunate.  We have Lamb’s evidence for Coleridge’s omnivorous reading and brilliant disquisitions on it even as an ‘inspired charity-boy’ at school, expounding ‘the mysteries of Jamblichus or Plotinus’ or ‘reciting Homer in his Greek, or Pindar’.[7]  However, faced with the cumulative effect of a lifetime’s lumber, Coleridge’s daughter, editing his work, ‘wished her father “would have read more common-place-ishly, and not quoted from such a number of out-of-the-way books, which not five persons in England but himself would ever look into” ’.[8]

       Lamb was junior to Coleridge at school, and lacked his extreme brilliance but when they were in their early twenties, as Lucas says, ‘the development of Lamb’s critical taste was years in advance of Coleridge’s’[9] and their friendship in adult life was destined to be of great value to both of them. Lamb was nearly fifteen when he left Christ’s Hospital and worked briefly in Joseph Paice’s office and then at the South Sea House, before settling down at the East India House on April 5th 1792.  Imagine a boy leaving school at fourteen going on to become a man of such profound learning and literary sensitivity.  It is a credit to the education he received at Christ’s Hospital and to his own character and passion for reading.  He did not get paid during his first three probationary years at the India House, though he may have saved up the small sums he earned before that, as he was still living at home with his family.[10] From April 1795 he began to earn £40 a year, increased the following year to £70.

       In December 1794 Coleridge, having finally left his long-suffering Cambridge College without a degree, so as to practise Pantisocracy, and having failed to make his intentions clear to Sara Fricker, came to stay in London.  He was twenty-two, Lamb nearly twenty.  Was it perhaps significant that Coleridge chose to stay at the Salutation and Cat, very close to Christ’s Hospital?  Anyway, there he was for a month and his old school-fellow, Lamb, was in his seventh heaven in the evenings after work.  As he wrote in December 1796, ‘…’twas 2 Christmases ago, and in that nice little smoky room at the Salutation,




which is even now presenting  itself to my recollection, with all its associated train of pipes, tobacco, Egghot, welch Rabbits, metaphysics & Poetry –’ [11]  In his first extant letter, of May 27th 1796, Lamb starts by explaining that he has paid Coleridge’s bill to the landlord, May, and redeemed Coleridge’s clothes left behind as surety.


Dear C –

make yourself perfectly easy about May.  I paid his bill, when I sent your clothes.  I was flush of money, & am so still to all the purposes of a single life, so give yourself no further concern about it. The money would be superfluous to me, if I had it.[12]


After all, he had received from Coleridge what no money could buy.  But was S.T.C.’s conversation perhaps a little overstimulating?  So Mary Lamb was one day to find it.  Later in that same letter Lamb tells of his six weeks in a madhouse and adds, ‘Coleridge it may convince you of my regards for you. when I tell you my head ran on you in my madness as much almost as on another Person, who I am inclined to think was the more immediate cause of my temporary frenzy -.’

       For Coleridge, on his. part, though he was to write to Poole on 4th July 1796, ‘I love Bristol and I do not love London’,[13] on this 1794 visit he began to see at least some of the advantages of the metropolis, where there were theatres, lecture halls, publishers and newspaper offices.  Also, what can be better than a circle of like-minded friends? And London, perhaps even more than Bristol, was the place to find them.  Among a number of such, Coleridge met at this time Godwin and Holcroft, as well as Gray and Perry of The Morning Chronicle, which published a series of his sonnets.  He began to be tempted by a continued life in London as a journalist.  As we know, that was not yet to be, Southey rooting his friend out from what he called ‘a most foul stye’.[14] What! that ‘nice little smoky room’ which represented inspiration to Lamb for the rest of his life!  How differently a situation can be seen through different eyes!  For Coleridge too this time in London with Lamb was an interlude both restful and rewarding.  On 11th December 1794 Coleridge, writing to Southey, called Lamb ‘a man of uncommon Genius’.[15]  Subsequent to this companionship in London, Lamb’s letters were full of close and constructive criticism of Coleridge’s work, which George Whalley called Lamb’s task of ‘poet-making’.[16]  The process begun at the Salutation and Cat continued its beneficent work.  As Richard Holmes points out, ‘Lamb’s natural taste and perception was to be crucial in the maturing of Coleridge’s verse during this year well before he came under the personal influence of




Wordsworth.’[17]  The benefit was mutual.  Years later Lamb, in dedicating the 1818 volume of his Works to Coleridge, reminded him of ‘those old suppers at our old…Inn, – when life was fresh and topics exhaustless, – and you first kindled in me, if not the power, yet the love of poetry, and beauty and kindliness. –’[18]

       When Coleridge turned down Perry’s offer of an associate editorship of the Morning Chronicle, Lamb wrote in June 1796, ‘London is the only fostering soil for Genius.’  He had sound arguments for this, but did not hide the personal bias.  ‘When you left London, I felt a dismal void in my heart.’[19]  He ended this letter, ‘mine will be loss if your lot is to be cast at Bristol or at Nottingham or any where but London’.  Lamb did not think highly of the Nether Stowey scheme at first: ‘Is it a farm you have got?  And what does your worship know about farming?’[20]  He asks about Hartley, ‘I did not distinctly understand you – you don’t mean to make an actual ploughman of him?’[21]  He had warned in October 1796,  ‘Remember you are not in Arcadia when you are in the west of England’.[22] If his visit to Somerset in the following summer became a landmark in his life so that ‘I sometimes envy that great-coat lingering so cunningly behind’,[23] it was in London again that we next meet Coleridge and Lamb together.

       In late November 1799 Coleridge came to London and began regularly writing for Daniel Stuart of the Morning Post.  Sara and Hartley joined him at 21 Buckingham Street and he was soon appreciating again the social and cultural advantages of Town, though he asserts of himself and Sara that ‘London does not suit either of us’.[24]  After the year-long breach with Lamb, their only serious quarrel ever, Coleridge was once again on terms of intimacy with his old school-fellow and, on 2nd March 1800 when Sara and Hartley left London, he went to stay with the Lambs, then living at 36 Chapel Street, Islington.  On 17th March Lamb wrote to Manning,


I am living in a continuous feast.  Coleridge has been with me now for nigh on three weeks, and the more I see of him in the quotidian undress and relaxation of his mind, the more cause I see to love him and believe him a very good man, and all those foolish impressions to the contrary fly off like morning slumbers. – He is engaged in Translations, which I hope will keep him this month to come. – [25]


Coleridge felt very differently about this.




In this engagement of translating Schiller I made too a very very foolish bargain… for I can say with truth, that I could have written a far better play myself in half the time.[26]


In another letter he cries out, ‘O this Translation is indeed a Borenever, never, never will I be so taken in again – ’[27]  In his exasperation he resorts to simple English and seems almost human.  Lamb, in speaking of the ‘undress’ of Coleridge’s mind, included the informal wear of his body with which it was associated.  On August 6th 1800, Lamb listed Coleridge’s property that he had delivered for him to Longman’s.  Along with ‘three ponderous German dictionaries’ and other such learned tomes went ‘a dressing-gown (value, fivepence), in which you used to sit and look like a conjuror, when you were translating “Wallenstein”.’[28]

       That Coleridge reciprocated Lamb’s esteem is clear, for it was shortly after leaving him that he wrote in a letter to Godwin the famous account of his friend:  ‘He has an affectionate heart, a mind sui generis, his taste acts so as to appear like the unmechanic simplicity of an Instinct – in brief, he is worth an hundred men of mere Talents…’[29]  Despite Coleridge’s assertion, ‘For these last six months I have worked incessantly’,[30] there was evidently time in the evenings for the conviviality he had so much enjoyed in London before.  He tells Godwin on 3rd March 1800,


The Punch after the Wine made me tipsy last night – this I mention, not that my head aches, or that I felt after I quitted you, any unpleasantness or titubancy – ; but because tipsiness has, and has always, one unpleasant effect – that of making me talk very extravagantly / & as when sober, I talk extravagantly enough for any common Tipsiness, it becomes a matter of nicety in discrimination to know when I am or am not affected.[31]


In case you are unfamiliar, as I was, with the word ‘titubancy’, it means ‘staggering’.  This surely shows a remarkable moment of self-knowledge.

       After Coleridge had, as Lamb put it, ‘left us to go into the north on a visit to his god Wordsworth’[32] and then himself settled at Keswick, he was occasionally still to be found haunting London.  For example, on November 18th 1801, Lamb remarks casually, ‘Coleridge is in town’[33] and on a visit to the Lambs at the end of March 1803 he had the task of taking Mary to hospital when she became ill.  Charles and Mary had visited Keswick in 1802 ‘without giving Coleridge any notice’ and ‘he received us with all the hospitality in the




world’.[34]  One remembers this when reading Coleridge’s letter to George Fricker of 9th October 1806 where he speaks of the Lambs’ ‘kind and open nature’ and goes on ‘I am never ashamed to accept of that, which (circumstances reversed) I am conscious, I should find it my duty to give’.[35]  So it comes as no surprise that on his return from Malta, feeling himself a stranger in his own land, after one night in a hotel, he had written on August 19th 1806, ‘I am now going to Lamb’s’.[36]

       He had written in 1804, when regretting that he had had a row with Godwin, ‘I would that Lamb or his Sister, whose influence over me is uncontrolled, had but said – what is the matter with you Coleridge?’[37]  So, indeed, it proved in 1806 when, after weeks of prevarication, Mary Lamb put her foot down and insisted that he write to his wife.

       In the meantime, he and Lamb were once again in London together.  A new vice had now been added to their repertoire, what Mary Lamb calls ‘Segars’.  In answer to a letter from Coleridge apologizing for leading Lamb astray when he was trying to give up smoking, Mary says, ‘If Charles had not smoked last night his virtue would not have lasted longer than tonight…’[38]  How well she knew him.  When she was well what a lovely person Mary was!  She says, ‘Your letter has put me into a greater hurry of spirits than your pleasant Segar did last night for believe me your two odd faces amused me much more than the mighty transgression vexed me.’  The letter goes straight on:

You must positively must write to Mrs. Coleridge this day, and you must write here that I may know you write or you must come and dictate a letter for me to write to her.  I know all that you would say in defence of not writing & I allow in full force everything that you can say or think, but yet a letter from me or you shall go today.


Mary’s letter is undated but I think we can safely guess at it as Coleridge wrote his first letter to his wife, a month after his landing, on September 16th.  At the end of August Mary had written to Dorothy Wordsworth about Coleridge’s marriage and said that she was in ‘low spirits , brought on by the fatigue of Coleridge’s conversation and the anxious care even to misery which I have felt since he has been here that something could be done to make such an admirable creature happy.’[39]

       Well, Of course, Lamb was quite right.  London was the place where Coleridge could find suitable employment and receive the acclaim he deserved, at least in so far as his health and temperament allowed.  In 1808 he was in London, commissioned to give a course of lectures at the Royal




Institution.  At the end of February Lamb wrote, ‘Coleridge has given 2 lectures at the Royal Institution; two more were attended but he  did not come.  It is thought he has gone sick upon them.  He a’n’t well that’s certain’.[40]  This course was interrupted and eventually ended early.  In December Mary Lamb reported to Mrs. Clarkson, ‘Coleridge in a manner gave us up when he was in town, and we have now lost all traces of him’.[41]  Perhaps the Lambs were at this time unaware of the full extent of Coleridge’s disintegration.  Rosemary Ashton writes, ‘He was so low that he even shrank from the company of the Lambs’.[42]  Mary goes on, ‘Do not imagine that I am now complaining to you of Coleridge, perhaps we are both at fault.  We expect too much and he gives too little.  We ought many years ago to have understood each other better’.  She expects him some day to reappear ‘and receive (after a few spiteful words from me) the same warm welcome as ever.  But we could not submit to sit as hearers at his lectures and not be permitted to see our old friend when school-hours were over.’

       Charles, writing to George Dyer in July of that year, reports that ‘Coleridge is not so bad as your fears have represented him; it is true that he  is Bury’d, altho’ he is not dead; to understand this quibble you must know that he is at Bury St. Edmunds, relaxing after the fatigues of lecturing and Londonizing.’[43]  Lamb takes an interest in The Friend and continues to write to Coleridge.

       After the years at Grasmere and the quarrel with Wordsworth, which Lamb among others tried to help heal, Coleridge was back in London again and visiting the Lambs, now at 4, Inner Temple Lane.  Mary Lamb writes on November 13th 1810, ‘We have had many pleasant hours with Coleridge, if I had not known how ill he is I should have had no idea of it, for he has been very cheerful’.[44]  At the end of this letter Lamb adds the account of their attempt at teetotalism, which I am sure I have read here before but I cannot resist:


I have been aquavorous now for full four days and it seems a moon.  I am full of cramps and rheumatisms, and cold internally so that fire won’t warm me, yet I bear all for virtues sake.  Must I then leave you, Gin, Rum, Aqua Vitae – pleasant jolly fellows – Damn Temperance & them that first invented it, some Ante Noahite.  Coleridge has powdered his head, and looks like Bacchus, Bacchus ever sleek and young.  He is going to turn sober, but his Clock has not struck yet, meantime he pours down goblet after goblet, the 2d to see where the first is gone, the 3d to see no harm happens to the second, a fourth to say there’s another coming, and a 5th to say he’s not sure he’s the last.[45]




It seems things have not changed much since the Salutation and Cat!  It is entertaining but sad that when in 1820 Hartley lost his fellowship his father wrote of his ‘pouring glass after glass, with a kind of St. Vitus’ nervousness – not exactly in the same way as my dear and excellent-hearted C.L. but similarly…’[46]

       In December 1813 Coleridge went down into the depths, suffering from what Holmes calls ‘the most acute opium overdose of his life’[47], alone in a hotel room in Bath from which he was rescued by good luck and the loving-kindness of his friend Josiah Wade and of two doctors, Parry and Daniel.  Meanwhile, the Lambs had not heard from him for a long time.  In 1814 Coleridge seems to have written from Bristol to Lamb as he did to Morgan: ‘If it could be said with as little appearance of profaneness, as there is feeling or intention in my mind, I might affirm, that I had been crucified, dead, and buried, descended into Hell, and am now, I humbly trust, rising again, tho’ slowly and gradually’.[48]  In writing to Coleridge in August 1814 Lamb begins ‘Dear Resuscitate’, seemingly combining in one word his friend’s own description of himself and his way of disappearing and reappearing in the Lambs’ life.  He refers to Coleridge’s letter, ‘than which I think I never read anything more moving, more pathetic   .’[49]  Then he concentrates on helping Coleridge to get the books he needs for his projected translation of Faust and keeps his own news customarily ordinary and apparently light-hearted, knowing well from experience how to treat mental distress, not with disturbing emotion, even of sympathy, but with calming anodyne.

       However, it is not long before Lamb is asking Wordsworth in December ‘Where is Coleridge?’[50]  It is not until 9th April 1816 that Lamb reports Coleridge back in London.  ‘Coleridge has been here about a fortnight.  His health is tolerable at present, though beset with temptations… Nature who conducts every creature by instinct to its best end, has skilfully directed C. to take up his abode at a Chemists Laboratory in Norfolk Street.’  He promises ‘a longer letter when C. is gone back into the Country… I am scarce quiet enough while he stays.’ [51]

       On 26th of that month Lamb writes to Wordsworth that Coleridge  ‘is at present under the medical care of a Mr Gilman (Killman?) a Highgate Apothecary, where he plays at leaving off Laud---m--  I think his essentials not touched, he is very bad, but then he wonderfully picks up another day, and his facewhen he repeats his verses hath its ancient glory, an Arch angel a little damaged…’  He speaks of Coleridge’s recitation of Kubla Khan ‘which said vision he repeats so enchantingly that it irradiates & brings heaven & Elysian bowers into my parlour while he sings or says it…’ [52]




       The long-suffering Morgan visited Coleridge daily, as he had become his indispensible amanuensis.  It is difficult to imagine taking dictation from Coleridge.  Surely Morgan deserved a medal!  The Lamb’s home became a sort of halfway house for them and for the Lambs it was all becoming a bit much.  The letter of 26th April 1816 continues:


Will Miss H. pardon our not replying at length to her kind Letter?  We are not quiet enough.  Morgan is with us every day, going betwixt Highgate & the Temple.  Coleridge is absent but 4 miles, & the neighbourhood of such a man is as exciting as the presence of 50 ordinary Persons.  Tis enough to be within the whiff & wind of his genius, for us not to possess our souls in quiet…


Nonetheless, on September 23rd Lamb tells Wordsworth,


By the way, I have seen Coleridge but once this 3 or 4 months.  He is an odd person, when he first comes to town he is quite hot on visiting, and then he turns off & absolutely never comes at all, but seems to forget there are any such people in the world.  I made one attempt to visit him (a morning call) at Highgate, but there was something in him or his Apothecary which I found so unattractively – repulsing – from any temptation to call again, that I stay away as naturally as a Lover visits.  The rogue gives you Love Powders, and then a strong horse drench to bring ’em off your stomach that they may’nt hurt you…[53]


In November 1816 Mary Lamb writes to Sara Hutchinson, ‘You ask how Coleridge maintains himself.  I know no more than you do.  Strange to say I have seen him but once since he had been at Highgate & then I met him in the street…’[54]  But by the end of December 1817 Crabb Robinson reports that it was at Lamb’s house that Coleridge was heard quoting Wordsworth’s poems and Wordsworth quoting his own.[55]  Robinson comments that ‘Miss Lamb had gone through the fatigue of a dinner party very well, and Charles was in good spirits’.[56]

       No doubt at that early time when Lamb felt repulsed Gillman was feeling the responsibility of establishing a regimen for his patient but after a while Coleridge went about a great deal and, when Gillman organized for him to have regular Thursday evening soirées, he entertained friends and strangers alike with his conversation.  The potential for a stimulating social and cultural life in London which he had glimpsed in 1794 blossomed and Lamb was a frequent sharer in it.




       On 18th February 1818 Lamb tells Mary Wordsworth, ‘S.T.C. is lecturing with success.  I have not heard either him or H. (Hazlitt) but I dined with S.T.C. at Gillman’s a Sunday or 2 since and he was well and in good spirits’.[57] On October 26th of that year Lamb writes to Southey, ‘I do not see S.T.C. so often as I could wish.  He never comes to me…’[58]  But by the Autumn of 1820, if Lucas’s dating is correct, Coleridge must have been at the Lambs’ or he could not have walked off with Charles’s (borrowed) copy of Luther’s Table Talk!


Dear C. – Why will you make your visits, which should give pleasure, matter of regret to your friends?  You never come but you take away some folio that is part of my existence. With a great deal of difficulty I was made to comprehend the extent of my loss.  My maid Becky brought me a dirty bit of paper, which contained her description of some book that Mr. Coleridge had taken away.  It was “Luster’s Tables”, which for some time I could not make out.  “What! has he carried away any of the tables, Becky?”  “No, it wasn’t any tables, but it was a book that he called Luster’s Tables.”  I was obliged to search personally among my shelves, and a huge fissure suddenly disclosed to me the true nature of the damage I had sustained.  That book, C., you should not have taken away, for it is not mine; it is indeed the property of a friend, who does not know its value, nor indeed have I been very sedulous in explaining to him the estimate of it… So you see I had no right to lend you that book; I may lend my own books, because it is at my own hazard, but it is not honest to hazard a friend’s property; I always make that distinction.  I hope you will bring it with you, or send it by Hartley;  or he can bring that and you the “Polemical Discourses”, and come and eat some atoning mutton with us one of these days shortly.  We are engaged two or three Sundays deep, but always dine at home on week-days at half-past four.  So come all four – men and books I mean – my third shelf (northern compartment) from the top has two devilish gaps, where you have knocked out its two eye-teeth.

Your wronged friend,

C. Lamb[59]

On 5th April 1823 Lamb wrote to Bernard Barton:


I wish’d for you yesterday.  I dined in Parnassus, with Wordsworth, Coleridge, Rogers, and Tom Moore – half the Poetry of England constellated and clustered in Gloster Place!  It was a delightful Even!  Coleridge was in his finest vein of talk, had all the talk, and let ‘em talk as evilly as they do of the envy of Poets, I am sure not one there but was content to be nothing but a listener.  The Muses were dumb, while Apollo lectured on his and their fine Art.  It is a lie that Poets




are envious, I have known the best of them, and can speak to it that they give each other their merits, and are the kindest critics as well as best authors.[60]


Lucas quotes from a charming account of an evening spent at Colebrook Cottage by one Sarah Adams in company with Coleridge and the Lambs.  Hood also called in to show them some of his caricatures, which ‘were the means of exciting in Coleridge the first hearty laugh I had seen…’  But eventually


He went, and the time went, and the supper went; and at last it was time for Coleridge to go too, for he had the walk to Highgate all before him.  His friend begged earnestly that he might walk with him, but without avail.  There was an affectionate parting, as if they had been boys rather than men, and it seemed to concentrate their lives into that minute… Coleridge lingered on the threshold as if he were leaving what had been part of his heart’s home for many years; and again he who had been his companion… would fain have kept up the old companionship even though it was night… Another grasp of the hand and a kiss of affection on Mary’s cheek, and he was gone.’[61]


When in September 1827 the Lambs moved to Enfield and later, in 1833, to Edmonton, Highgate must have seemed a long way away.  But in May, 1826, Lamb was still able to report, ‘By the bye, I was at Highgate on Wensday, the only one of the party’.  He adds the P.S. ‘Summer, as my friend Coleridge waggishly writes, has set in with its usual severity’.[62]  In 1831 Lamb exerted himself on Coleridge’s behalf, when the death of George IV had brought to an end his pension, and even ‘went up to THE Treasury… and was received by the Great Man with the utmost cordiality’[63].  There he was offered a grant for Coleridge ‘renewable three-yearly’.  Lamb told Mr. Ellice that he ‘consider’d such a grant as almost equivalent to the lost pension, as from C.’s appearance and the representations of the Gilmans, I scarce could think C.’s life worth 2 years’ purchase’.   The confused history of this grant and the unco-ordinated efforts of wellwishers to help Coleridge over it, though he was eventually given £300 by the Treasury, proved less important when Frere quietly paid him an annual sum.[64]

       In October 1828 Coleridge tells Stuart that he has just paid his ‘long promised and often deferred visit to Charles Lamb and his Sister at Enfield Chace – and during my stay with them I lived temperately, and took a great deal of exercise’.[65]  Then he had to go and spoil it all by taking a twelve mile walk in




‘tight-heeled shoes’ and crocking himself up.  One is reminded of the occasion in 1808 when he made himself ill by ‘sitting in wet clothes’.  He was angered by Sara’s letter which protested, ‘Lord! how often you are ill.’  You must be more careful about COLDS!’[66]  But, while he could not be expected to overcome his opium addiction, he could surely have avoided sitting in wet clothes or going for a long walk in unsuitable shoes.  As Dykes Campbell says, ‘Poets enjoy no immunity from the penalties of such follies…’[67]

       Dykes Campbell writes that ‘In April 1832, Lamb writes to remove some sick man’s fancy’[68]:


My dear Coleridge, - Not an unkind thought has passed in my brain about you.  But I have been wofully neglectful of you, so that I do not deserve to announce to you, that if I do not hear from you before then, I will set out on Wednesday morning to take you by the hand.  I would do it this moment, but an unexpected visit might flurry you.  I shall take silence for acquiescence, and come.  I am glad you could write so long a letter.  Old loves to, and hope of kind looks from, the   Gilmans, when I come.

Yours semper idem    C.L.


If you ever thought an offence, much more wrote it, against me, it must have been in the times of Noah; and the great waters swept it away.  Mary’s most kind love, and maybe a wrong prophet of your bodings! – here she is crying for mere love over your letter.  I wring out less, but not sincerer, showers.[69]


Lamb’s estimate of Coleridge’s remaining life-span was not far out and he himself survived his friend by only five months.

       Perhaps among the reciprocal benefits of the friendship, Lamb did much to reconcile Coleridge to a life in London and perhaps, in addition to his good fortune in the wonderful care given to him by the Gillmans, Coleridge found in Highgate, as it was then, the ideal combination of town and country.  He could take pleasant rural walks and yet was within easy distance of the centres of intellectual and social life.  In these favourable circumstances, despite family anxieties and his own inner struggles, he did some of his most influential prose writing.  But that is another story.

       I hope you will forgive such a deal of quotation but it seemed wise to let those concerned speak for themselves.  No one, after all, could do it better.


[1] Charles Lamb, Letters, from 1817, ed E.V.Lucas, Methuen 1912, Vol.II p.881; hereinafter, Lucas Letters.

[2] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Letters, ed. Earl Leslie Griggs, Oxford 1956, Vol.I, p.354; hereinafter, Griggs.

[3] Richard Holmes, Coleridge Early Visions (I) Hodder and Stoughton, 1989, p.24; and Darker Reflections (II) HarperCollins 1998; hereinafter Holmes I and II respectively.

[4] Charles Lamb, Elia and the Last Essays of Elia, ed. Jonathan Bate, World’s Classics, 1987, p.15; hereinafter, Bate.

[5] Rosemary Ashton, The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Blackwell, 1996, p29, quoting Gillman; hereinafter, Ashton.

[6] Holmes I 28, quoting Gillman

[7] Bate 25

[8] Memoir and Letters of Sara Coleridge, edited by her Daughter, Henry S.King & Co. 1875, p.185; hereinafter, Memoir

[9] The Life of Charles Lamb, E.V.Lucas, Methuen & Co., revised edn., 1921, Vol.I, p.67; hereinafter, Lucas Life.

[10] Lucas Life I 93

[11] Charles Lamb, Letters, to 1817, ed. Edwin Marrs, Cornell, 1975-81, Vol. I p.65; hereinafter, Marrs

[12] Marrs I 3

[13] Griggs I 227

[14] Holmes I 87

[15] Griggs I 136

[16] Essays and Studies, 1958

[17] Holmes I 115

[18] Lucas Life I 97

[19] Marrs I 18

[20] Marrs I 87

[21] Marrs I 89

[22] Marrs I 58

[23] Marrs I 117

[24] Griggs I 571

[25] Marrs I 189

[26] Griggs I 587

[27] Griggs I 583

[28] Marrs I 217

[29] Griggs I 588

[30] Griggs I 587

[31] Griggs I 579-80

[32] Marrs I 191

[33] Marrs II 35

[34] Marrs II 68

[35] Griggs II 1193

[36] Griggs II 1177

[37] Griggs II 1057

[38] Marrs II 240

[39] Marrs II 238

[40] Marrs II 274

[41] Marrs II 289

[42] Ashton 247

[43] Marrs II 284

[44] Marrs III 61

[45] Marrs III 62

[46] Griggs V 79

[47] Holmes II 350

[48] Griggs III 489

[49] Marrs III 101-2

[50] Marrs III 125

[51] Marrs III 210-11

[52] Marrs III 215

[53] Marrs III 225

[54] Marrs III 233

[55] Ashton 316

[56] Diary, Reminiscences and Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robisnosn, selected and edited by Thomas Sadler,.(3rd. edn) 1872, Macmillan and Co., I 307

[57] Lucas Letters I 540

[58] Lucas Letters I 544

[59] Lucas Letters I 573-4

[60] Lucas Letters II 651-2

[61] Lucas Life II 689-70

[62] Lucas Letters II 751

[63] Lucas Letters II 935

[64] J.Dykes Campbell  Samuel Taylor Coleridge – A Narrative of the Events of his Life  Macmillan 1894, reprinted Lime-Tree Bower Press 1970, p.272

[65] Griggs VI 765

[66] Ashton 244-5

[67] Dykes Campbell 266

[68] Dykes Campbell 273

[69] Lucas Letters II 945-6