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V.

LAMB.

SOME one has said, that to have a true idea of man, or of life, one must have stood himself on the brink of suicide, or on the door-sill of insanity, at least once. It does seem impossible that easy-going people, who have been easily prosperous, who have uniformly enjoyed good health, who have always been free from distressing care, should know at all what is inevitably and perfectly known by being between the millstones. "We learn geology," says Emerson, "the morning after the earthquake, on ghastly diagrams of cloven mountains, upheaved plains, and the dry bed of the sea." It is only an experience of the awful that fully opens the eyes of the understanding upon the dread abysses of extremity and possibility. To know life, it is necessary to have struggled hard in the midst of it; to feel for the suffering, we must have suffered acutely ourselves. "Before there is wine or there is oil, the grape must be trodden and the olive must be pressed." The sweetest characters, we know, often result from the bitterest experiences. The weight of great misfortunes, and the perpetual annoyance of petty evils, only tend to make them stronger and better. Patience and resignation under multiplied ills can hardly be conceived by those who have only trodden at will, without burdens, over safe and pleasant ground in easy sandals. They look upon life and inquire, "What would the possession of a hundred thousand a year, or fame, and the applause of one's countrymen, or the loveliest and bestbeloved woman of any glory and happiness, or good

fortune, avail to a man, who was allowed to enjoy them only with the condition of wearing a shoe with a couple of nails or sharp pebbles inside of it?" Good men,

knowledge of the world teaches us, are not easily found amongst those who have never known misfortune: "the heart must be softened by sufferings, to make it constant, firm, patient, and wise." As there are fishes which are intended by nature for great sea-depths, so there are human beings to whom severe pressure seems to be suited, and who seem to thrive best when every weight is upon them. Birds of paradise, from the very nature of their plumage, cannot fly except against the wind. One of the most marvelously beautiful of all the many species of the humming-bird is only to be found in the crater of an extinguished volcano.

That Charles Lamb ever contemplated suicide, we do not know; but we do know, that he was, early in life, confined in an insane asylum for a short period. Once, alas! he not only stood upon, but passed, the door-sill of madness, and was ever after indeed wise in a wisdom unknowable but by those who dwell long enough in the midst of mental chaos for the impression of the dreadful situation ineradicably to infix itself. No wonder, knowing what we do of his wretched experiences, the best picture we have of him should show to us a face full of all endurable suffering, all possible pain, awful in its expression of wretchedness, and looking, for all the world not help saying it like a skillful limner's painstaking study of madness.

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Life very early taught him the bitter lesson that the ancient Mexicans taught their children: so soon as a child was born they saluted it, Child, thou art come into the world to endure, suffer, and say nothing." Lamb endured, and suffered, how long! and was dumb beyond comprehension. When his wretchedness voiced itself, it was unconsciously or inevitably. When the burden was

unbearable, merciless, the cry announcing it was but the creak of the timber before breaking the echo of the agony within his soul.

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Is it too much to say, that his peculiar genius was in great part a direct result of his supreme wretchedness? His humor, his wit, his wisdom, his very style, seem indeed to be, literally, expression to have been forced out of him by pressure, as juices and oils are forced from plants. We know how much mere physical suffering has had to do with the most famous productions of literature. We know that the Caudle Lectures, which, as social drolleries, set all the world laughing, were written to dictation on a bed of sickness, racked by rheumatism. We know that Scott dictated that fine love story, the Bride of Lammermoor, from a bed of torment; and that so great was his suffering that when he rose from his bed, and the published book was placed in his hands, he did not recollect one single incident, character, or conversation it contained. We know that Heine, for several years preceding his death, was a miserable paralytic. All that time he lay upon a pile of mattresses, racked by pain and exhausted by sleeplessness, till his body was reduced below all natural dimensions. The muscular debility was such that he had to raise the eyelid with his hands when he wished to see the face of any one about him; and thus in darkness, he thought, and listened, and dictated, preserving to the very last his clearness of intellect, his precision of diction, and his invincible humor. The wretchedness of Scarron, at whose jests, burlesques, and buffooneries all France was laughing, may be guessed from his own description. His form, to use his own words, "had become bent like a Z." My legs," he adds, "first made an obtuse angle with my thighs, then a right, and at last an acute angle; my thighs made another with my body. My head is bent upon my chest ; my arms are contracted as well as my legs, and my fingers as well as my arms.

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I am, in truth, a pretty complete abridgment of human misery." His days were passed in a chair with a hood, and his wife had to kneel to look in his face. He could not be moved without screaming from pain, nor sleep without taking opium. Balzac said of him, “I have often met in antiquity with pain that was wise, and pain that was eloquent; but I never before saw pain joyous, nor found a soul merrily cutting capers in a paralytic frame." He continued to jest to the last; and seeing the bystanders in tears, he said, "I shall never, my friends, make you weep as much as I have made you laugh." Pascal, we know, was pitifully feeble, and constantly in pain, at the same time that he "fixed," to use the glowing words of Châteaubriand, "the language which Bossuet and Racine spoke, and furnished a model of the most perfect wit as well as of the closest reasoning; and in the brief intervals of his pain solved by abstraction the highest problems of geometry, and threw on paper thoughts which breathe as much of God as of man." We know, too, that many of Hood's most humorous productions were dictated to his wife, while he himself was in bed from distressing and protracted sickness. His own family was the only one which was not delighted with the Comic Annual, so well thumbed in every house. “We ourselves," said his son, "did not enjoy it till the lapse of many years had mercifully softened down some of the sad recollections connected with it." It is recorded of him, that upon a mustard plaster being applied to his attenuated feet, as he lay in the direst extremity, he was heard feebly to remark, that there was "very little meat for the mustard."

Physical suffering having had so much to do with so many of the productions of genius, is it hard to believe that mental anguish may not have contributed even more and to a greater number? Literature is full of instances to enforce the conclusion. Mental wretchednesses of every

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description connect themselves inseparably with the memory of many of the most illustrious names, and with their greatest achievements. Curran, for instance, at the very time he was one of the most unhappy and melancholy of men, was one of the most delightful and wonderful. What a talker he was! Such imagination! "There never was any thing like it," said Byron, "that I ever saw or heard of. His published life, his published speeches, give you no idea of the man none at all. He was a machine of imagination. The riches of it were exhaustless. I have," said the poet, "heard that man speak more poetry than I have ever seen written, though I saw him seldom, and but occasionally. I saw him presented to Madame de Staël. It was the great confluence between the Rhone and the Saone.' Cervantes, from all accounts, dragged on a most wretched and melancholy existence. He was groaning and weeping while all Spain was laughing at the adventures of Don Quixote and the wise sayings of Sancho Panza. The great Swift, we know, was never known to smile. Butler's private history was but a record of his miseries. Burns confessed that his design in seeking society was to fly from constitutional melancholy. "Even in the hour of social mirth," he tells us, "my gayety is the madness of an intoxicated criminal under the hands of the executioner." The author of John Gilpin said of himself and that humorous poem, Strange as it may seem, the most ludicrous lines I ever wrote have been when in the saddest mood, and but for that saddest mood, perhaps, would never have been written at all." While it was being read by Henderson, in London, to large audiences, its author was mad. Jean Paul wrote a great part of a comic romance in an agony of heart-break from the death of his son. Washington Irving completed that most extravagantly humorous of all his works — The History of New York - while suffering from the death of his sweetheart, which nearly broke his

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