Friday, April 6, 2012


Author Charles Lamb wrote a series of letters about his tenure with the British East India Company.  On April 6, 1825, he writes about his retirement.  From “The Best Letters of Charles Lamb”:

‘…a few days later, April 6, 1825, he [Charles Lamb] joyfully wrote to Barton,--

  "My spirits are so tumultuary with the novelty of my
  recent emancipation that I have scarce steadiness of hand,
  much more mind, to compose a letter, I am free, B.B.,--free
  as air!

  "'The little bird that wings the sky
  Knows no such liberty,'

  I was set free on Tuesday in last week at four o'clock. I
  came home forever!"

The quality of the generosity of the East India directors was not
strained in Lamb's case. It should be recorded as an agreeable
commercial phenomenon that these officials, men of business acting in "a
business matter,"--words too often held to exclude all such Quixotic
matters as sentiment, gratitude, and Christian equity between man and
man,--were not only just, but munificent. [16] From the path of Charles
and Mary Lamb--already beset with anxieties grave enough they removed
forever the shadow of want. Lamb's salary at the time of his retirement
was nearly seven hundred pounds a year, and the offer made to him was a
pension of four hundred and fifty, with a deduction of nine pounds a
year for his sister, should she survive him…’

Things did not work out as well for Walter Scott’s brother Robert, with regard to his experience with the same company.  The story, in Scott’s own words, is told in John Gibson Lockhart’s “Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott”.

‘…My eldest brother (that is, the eldest whom I remember to have seen) was Robert Scott, so called after my uncle, of whom I shall have much to say hereafter. He was bred in the King's service, under Admiral, then Captain William Dickson, and was in most of Rodney's battles. His temper was bold and haughty, and to me was often checkered with what I felt to be capricious tyranny. In other respects I loved him much, for he had a strong turn for literature, read poetry with taste and judgment, and composed verses himself, which had gained him great applause among his messmates. Witness the following elegy upon the supposed loss of the vessel, composed the night before Rodney's celebrated battle of April the 12th, 1782. It alludes to the various amusements of his mess:—

"No more the geese shall cackle on the poop,
No more the bagpipe through the orlop sound,
No more the midshipmen, a jovial group,
Shall toast the girls, and push the bottle round.
In death's dark road at anchor fast they stay,
Till Heaven's loud signal shall in thunder roar;
Then starting up, all hands shall quick obey,
Sheet home the topsail, and with speed unmoor."

…I have often thought how he [Robert] might have distinguished himself had he continued the navy until the present times, so glorious for nautical exploit. But the peace of Paris cut off all hopes of promotion for those who had not great interest; and some disgust which his proud spirit had taken at harsh usage from a superior officer combined to throw poor Robert into the East India Company’s service, for which his habits were ill adapted. He made two voyages to the East, and died a victim to the climate in . . .’

The last sentence is left incomplete.

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