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The Text

Charles Lamb 1775 (Inner Temple, London) – 1834 (Edmonton, London)

One Sunday eve a grave old man,
Who had not been at church, did say,
'Eliza, tell me, if you can,
What text our Doctor took to-day?'

She hung her head, she blushed for shame,
One single word she did not know,
Nor verse nor chapter she could name,
Her silent blushes told him so.

Again said he, 'My little maid,
What in the sermon did you hear?
Come tell me that, for that may aid
Me to find out the text, my dear.'

A tear stole down each blushing cheek,
She wished she better had attended;
She sobbing said, when she could speak,
She heard not till 'twas almost ended.

'Ah! little heedless one, why what
Could you be thinking on? 'tis clear
Some foolish fancies must have got
Possession of your head, my dear.

'What thoughts were they, Eliza, tell,
Nor seek from me the truth to smother.'-
'O I remember very well,
I whispered something to my brother.

'I said, 'Be friends with me, dear Will;'
We quarrelled, sir, at the church door,-
Though he cried, 'Hush, don't speak, be still,'
Yet I repeated these words o'er

'Seven or eight times, I have no doubt.
But here comes William, and if he
The good things he has heard about
Forgets too, sir, the fault's in me.'

'No, sir,' said William, 'though perplext
And much disturbed by my sister,
I in this matter of the text,
I thank my memory, can assist her.

'I have, and pride myself on having,
A more retentive head than she.'-
Then gracefully his right hand waving,
He with no little vanity

Recited gospel, chapter, verse-
I should be loth to spoil in metre
All the good words he did rehearse,
As spoken by our Lord to Peter.

But surely never words from heaven
Of peace and love more full descended;
That we should seventy times seven
Forgive our brother that offended.

In every point of view he placed it,
As he the Doctor's self had been,
With emphasis and action graced it:
But from his self-conceit 'twas seen

Who had brought home the words, and who had
A little on the meaning thought;
Eliza now the old man knew had
Learned that which William never caught.

Without impeaching William's merit,
His head but served him for the letter;
Hers missed the words, but kept the spirit;
Her memory to her heart was debtor.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

2:03 min read

Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb was an English essayist, poet, and antiquarian, best known for his Essays of Elia and for the children's book Tales from Shakespeare, co-authored with his sister, Mary Lamb (1764–1847). Friends with such literary luminaries as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and William Hazlitt, Lamb was at the centre of a major literary circle in England. He has been referred to by E. V. Lucas, his principal biographer, as "the most lovable figure in English literature". more…

All Charles Lamb poems | Charles Lamb Books

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