What is reading but silent conversation, asked 18th – 19th century English essayist Charles Lamb and he’s worth reading even today for the new millennium Indian, because he speaks of things that people always need. Of these, would you agree that the gift of perspective is the best gift of all, because it puts our tiny lives into proportion and gives us a rock to stand on? I’d call it good religion. Many bad things happened to Charles Lamb, but he tried to stay cheerful and admit laughter and the love of friends into his life despite the bleakness and discouragement. He kept his sense of fun and gladness and such people, wherever they may be, cannot but inspire us.
Here’s what he wrote once in reply to a downcast letter from his friend Robert Lloyd: “O, Robert, I don’t know what you call sweet. Honey and honeycomb, roses and violets, are yet in the earth. The sun and moon yet reign in Heaven, and the lesser lights keep up their pretty twinklings. Meats and drinks, sweet sights and sweet smells, a country walk, spring and autumn, follies and repentance, quarrels and reconcilements, have all a sweetness by turns. Good humour and good nature, friends at home that love you, and friends abroad that miss you — you possess all these things, and more innumerable, and these are all sweet things. You may extract honey from everything.”
Can you resist a person who says, “A laugh is worth a hundred groans in any market”? Or not chuckle when he says, “Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense and have her nonsense respected”?
Lamb was not in denial about his own life nor did he try to pretend his troubles away. “Pain is life – the sharper, the more evidence of life,” he said. But he did try very hard to live by the precept that duty is non-negotiable and that the doing of it must not be marred by bad grace. “Our duties are to do good expecting nothing again, to bear with contrary dispositions, to be candid and forgiving, not to crave and long after a communication of sentiment and feeling...,” he wrote.
He insisted though that to stay a willing prisoner of melancholy was to shortchange life. “Let us live for the beauty of our own reality,” he said staunchly. And so we could if we would.
(Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture)