Charles Lamb seldom more than passingly alludes to his stuttering and then with the kind of gentle humor which belies the trouble it must have caused him, but this passage appears near the end of the book "Essays of Elia." It is devastatingly sad, particularly in comparison to his usual ironic, almost jolly tone.
About that time I fell in with some companions of a different order. They were men of boisterous spirits, sitters up a-nights, disputants, drunken; yet seemed to have something noble about them. We dealt about the wit, or what passes for it after midnight, jovially. Of the quality called fancy I certainly possessed a larger share than my companions. Encouraged by their applause, I set up for a professed joker! I, who of all men am least fitted for such an occupation, having, in addition to the greatest difficulty which I experience at all times of finding words to express my meaning, a natural nervous impedient in my speech!
Reader, if you are gifted with nerves like mine, aspire to any character but that of a wit. When you find a tickling relish on your tongue disposing you to that sort of conversation, especially if you find a preternatural flow of ideas setting in upon you at the sight of a bottle and fresh glasses, avoid giving way to it as you would fly your greatest destruction. If you cannot crush the power of fancy, or that within you which you mistake for such, divert it, give it some other play. Write an essay, pen a character or description - but not as I do now, with tears trickling down your cheeks.
To be an object of compassion to friends, of derision to foes; to be suspected by strangers, stared at by fools; to be esteemed dull when you cannot be witty, to be applauded for witty when you know that you have been dull; to be called upon for the extemporaneous exercise of that faculty which no premeditation can give; to be spurred on to efforts which end in contempt; to be set on to provoke mirth which procures the procurer hatred; to give pleasure and be paid with squinting malice; to swallow draughts of life-destroying wine which are to be distilled into airy breath to tickle vain auditors; to mortgage miserable morrows for nights of madness; to waste whole seas of time upon those who pay it back in little inconsiderable drops of grudging applause, - are the wages of buffoonery and death."
from Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb, ed. Alfred Ainger, MacMillan & co N.Y.: 1896, p 339
First postd March 27, 1996