Tuesday, August 9, 2011


On August 9, 1815, Charles Lamb wrote to Robert Southey on his pending godfathership:

‘I am going to stand godfather; I don’t like the business; I cannot muster up decorum for these occasions; I shall certainly disgrace the font.  I was at Hazlitt’s marriage, and had like to have been turned out several times during the ceremony.  Anything awful makes me laugh.  I misbehaved once at a funeral.  Yet I can read about these ceremonies with pious and proper feelings.  The realities of life only seem the mockeries.’

That letter was included in the Folio Book of Days.  Sir Walter Scott was probably godfather to more than one child, and he writes of one instance with more apparent zeal than did Lamb.  The text below comes from a letter to John Morritt, dated January 14, 1818, now published in “Familiar Letters of Walter Scott”.

‘…But my immediate labour has been in behalf of my friend Terry, the comedian, in whom, on account of his sense, information, and modesty I take a great interest. He has named a child after me, and I am preparing a godfather's gift in the shape of a drama.1 But godfathers, as in the time of conjurors and fames, may append what conditions they please to their gifts, and mine is that as I take no concern in the merit or in the emoluments of the piece in case of success, so I shall only be damn'd by proxy if damn'd I am. In a word, Terry takes his chance, and I believe there will be no medium, for if it does not succeed very decidedly, it will be damn'd most infernally. I have tried to coax the public to relax some of the rules of criticism, and to be amused with that medley of tragic and comic which life presents us, not only in the same course of action but in the same character. To deprecate all rigidity of judgment, I introduce the marvellous, the absurd, and something like the heroic, all to make the gruel slab…


  1. Have just discovered your blog. Am reading the 'Heart of Mid-Lothian' at the moment, so was wondering if any blogs on Sir Walter Scott existed. Lamb's quote is hilarious - I can identify with quite easily. Will bookmark and return. As a question, what's your favourite Sir Walter Scott novel?

  2. Thanks for the post Richard. I'm glad you're enjoying The Heart of Midlothian. It's hard to pick an absolute favorite, and I've found something I like in all of them, though Midlothian is up there for me too. Old Mortality is on top with it. I wonder what other readers like. Any votes?