Tag Archives: friendship

27 May, 1803: Oh, for a speaking tube!

A speaking tube in Canterbury’s Victoria Park. Not too practical at 300 miles (480 km) distance! E Morris.

Charles Lamb is in London, writing to Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the Lake District. Lamb is overseeing the publication of a volume of his friend’s collected poetry and wants to inform Coleridge of what he has decided, with the advice of the publisher, Longman, and Wordsworth, a great friend of Coleridge. He has changed a line in one poem, so that:

… Here is a new, independent, and really a very pretty poem. In fact … I have even dared to restore [the words] “If ‘neath this roof thy wine-cheer’d moments pass,” for “Beneath this roof if thy cheer’d moments pass.” “Cheer’d” is a sad general word; “wine-cheer’d” I’m sure you’d give me, if I had a speaking-trumpet to sound to you 300 miles. But I am your factotum, and that (save in this instance, which is a single case, and I can’t get at you) shall be next to a fac-nihil—at most, a fac-simile.*

I have ordered “Imitation of Spenser” to be restored on Wordsworth’s authority; and now, all that you will miss will be “Flicker and Flicker’s Wife,” “The Thimble,” “Breathe, dear harmonist” and, I believe, “The Child that was fed with Manna.”

From The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, 1796-1820, edited by E. V. Lucas.

Coleridge was not happy with all that his factotum did, and reversed some of the changes in later editions. We live in a different world! Corrections and changes can be made from 300 miles away – and much further – instantly, onto the computer application that the printer can manipulate in all sorts of ways. The 300 mile speaking tube exists as well. We should be grateful, and we should use these technologies wisely.

* Facere, Latin for make or do; fac-totum, do everything; fac-nihil, do nothing; fac-simile, make or do something similar.


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29 April: The dirty clouds having washed their faces.

A few months after yesterday’s letter, Charles Lamb is once again writing to his friend Bernard Barton (B.B.), once again trying to persuade him to slow down. The Lambs are now based in Enfield, about nine miles, 14 km from Central London, not yet carved up for railways and suburbs. The stage coach would be the means to get out to Enfield; today the suburban train or the London omnibus, stopping every few hundred yards to let travellers on and off. And little sign of pleasant farms.

And now, dear B.B., the Sun shining out merrily, and the dirty clouds we had yesterday having washd their own faces clean with their own rain, tempts me to wander up Winchmore Hill, or into some of the delightful vicinages of Enfield, which I hope to show you at some time when you can get a few days up to the great Town. Believe me it would give both of us great pleasure to show you all three (we can lodge you) of our pleasant farms and villages.

— We both join in kindest loves to you and yours.—


From “The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb — Volume 6 Letters 1821-1842

These afternoon clouds over London have yet to wash their faces, but Greenwich Park hill was worth wandering up, just to see the storm gathering! With perhaps six or seven miles of countryside in view between the top of Winchmore Hill and the great Town, the view would have been delightful, as Lamb claims.

Redivivus is a Latin word that means reborn, come back to life. Country life was a great pleasure for those with enough money not to worry . . . but . . . the best times never lasted long for Charles and Mary Lamb; indeed he heroically saw her through many harsh times due to what has now been diagnosed as bi-polar disorder. Charles nevertheless made time to spend with their friends.

It can feel heroic or burdensome to keep on visiting or contacting a particular person but doing so may be more of a lifeline than you will ever appreciate in this world. It would certainly have been difficult to visit the Lambs when Mary was undergoing one of her downs but friendships were maintained lifelong. Let’s ask the Lord to bless our friendships.

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27 April: A Straggling scrap of paper.

The Christmas lights are no mistake because on 26th December 1815, Charles Lamb was sitting by the fire, writing to his friend the explorer Thomas Manning who is in China. Since the Universal Postal Union had not yet been organised, indeed the Penny Post was still 25 years in the future, Lamb feels unsure about the fate of his letter …

I don’t know why I have forborne writing so long. But it is such a forlorn hope to send a scrap of paper straggling over wide oceans. And yet I know when you come home, I shall have you sitting before me at our fireside just as if you had never been away. In such an instant does the return of a person dissipate all the weight of imaginary perplexity from distance of time and space! I’ll promise you good oysters.

Lamb was a good letter writer, although he had periods of silence with correspondents including Coleridge and Wordsworth. I can only lay claim to the fits of silence when people might feel neglected by me! I set out to be a better letter writer this last Lent; not altogether successfully. But more letters did get written! Let’s see if I can’t carry on with writing more, after all I don’t have to worry about scraps of paper straggling over wide oceans. Emails arrive in Africa almost before I have typed them!

Who’s hoping for a letter from you?

from The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, 1796-1820, edited by E. V. Lucas.

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26 April, Going Viral CX: the Bonds of Friendship

Part of the former Synagogue in Canterbury.

Did you think Covid was over and done with? Far from it! Mrs Turnstone cut short a hospital visit the other day because there were patients on our friend’s ward who were infected and potentially contagious. Nevertheless, two years after the first lockdown some reflection is in order: how did communities cope? How can we support each other and work together for common goals, challenging power where necessary? It is interesting to see the Board of Deputies of British Jews seeking a closer relationship with the Catholic church.

Deputy Director of the Catholic Union, James Somerville-Meikle, writes:

23 March will forever be associated with the day that life was turned on its head for many of us with the start of national lockdown in 2020. To mark the anniversary, I attended an event in Parliament hosted by the Board of Deputies of British Jews to highlight the work of Chevra Kadisha, Jewish burial societies during the pandemic. Honouring Jewish burial custom became extremely difficult under Covid restrictions. A reminder that Catholics were far from the only community who found our freedom to worship suspended during the darkest days of the pandemic.

While the event was a chance to share our experiences of lockdown, it also provided the opportunity to look to the future and areas of shared interest. Whether it’s promoting religious freedom at work or making our tax system fairer for families – it’s clear there are a many areas where Catholics and Jews can work together for the benefit of the common good. If the pandemic has done one thing, it has strengthened the bonds of friendship and understanding between people of different faiths. In an increasingly secular world, these bonds are becoming all the more important.
From the Catholic Union website.

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12 March, Lenten Pilgrimage VIII: Martyred for their friendship

Another extract from Fr Timothy Radcliffe:

That is our vocation too, to make friendships the world thinks impossible. When we fall in love, we surrender to the gravity of attraction, but friendships are made and sustained. Pierre Claverie was a French Dominican, the Bishop of Oran in Algeria. At his episcopal ordination, he said to his Muslim friends: “I owe to you also what I am today. With you in learning Arabic, I learned above all to speak and understand the language of the heart, the language of brotherly friendship, where races and religions commune with each other. And again, I have learned the softness of heart to believe that this friendship will hold up against time, distance and separation. For I believe that this friendship comes from God and leads to God.”

For this friendship with Muslims, he was murdered along with a young Muslim friend, Mohamed Bouchikhi. His funeral was attended by hundreds of Muslims who murmured: “He was our bishop too, he was the bishop of the Muslims.” At his beatification, a play by a young French Dominican called Pierre et Mohamed, a celebration of their friendship, was performed. Mohamed’s mother was there and she kissed the actor who played her son. 

Timothy Radcliffe

This panel from the great Martyr’s Door at St Maurice Abbey in Switzerland, bears the names of Pierre and Mohamed.

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11 March, Lenten Pilgrimage VII: the Adventure of Friendships

Fr Timothy Radcliffe is reflecting on how different friendships help us to discover different gifts – and failings – in ourselves, and to grow in friendship. We don’t have to be friends only with good people, or plus (people like us).

When I was a student in France in the late Sixties, the cry was “il faut être cohérent”. One must be coherent. No. We are fragmented people, work in progress. Coherence lies ahead, in the Kingdom. Then the wolf and the lamb in each of us shall be at peace with each other. St John says: “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he [Christ] appears, we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

If we have closed, fixed identities written in stone now, we shall never be open to the adventure of new friendships who will unfold new dimensions of who we are. I suppose that I have learnt not to worry about not fully knowing who I am. 

Jesus scandalised the world with impossible friendships. He ate and drank with prostitutes and tax collectors. I guess he enjoyed their company. Jesus reached out in friendships which overthrew all the boundaries: friendships which should not have been. At the Last Supper, he said “I call you friends” precisely to the disciples who he knew would mostly betray, deny and desert him. In the end, he was murdered for his impossible scandalous friendships.

Timothy Radcliffe in The Tablet, 4.2.23

I would not have you believe that these people here are impossible but we are all friends, all very different, but we all like cake, proper pilgrims’ fare! And we managed to keep in touch through the pandemic lockdowns, to return now to our regular gatherings.

Let’s pray that all who felt isolated during the restrictions will courageously pick up their previous friendships, and that they will be comforted in mourning loved ones who have died, especially when few people were allowed to attend funerals. May we all meet merrily in heaven.

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10 March: Lenten Pilgrimage VI, Lethargy.

We were talking about depression the other day. Two hundred years ago, Charles Lamb called it ‘Lethargy’ and described it thus to his friend Bernard Barton:

Dear B.B.—Do you know what it is to succumb under an insurmountable day mare—a whoreson lethargy, Falstaff calls it—an indisposition to do any thing, or to be any thing—a total deadness and distaste—a suspension of vitality —an indifference to locality—a numb soporifical goodfornothingness—an ossification all over—an oyster-like insensibility to the passing events—a mind-stupor,—a brawny defiance to the needles of a thrusting-in conscience—did you ever have a very bad cold, with a total irresolution to submit to water gruel processes?—this has been for many weeks my lot, and my excuse—my fingers drag heavily over this paper, and to my thinking it is three and twenty furlongs from here to the end of this demi-sheet—I have not a thing to say—nothing is of more importance than another — I am flatter than a denial or a pancake.

From The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb — Volume 6 Letters 1821-1842.

‘I have not a thing to say’, but Lamb has already said it all! 23 furlongs would be nearly four miles, 4.6 kilometres, more than challenging to the depressed writer if he was expected to write that distance, but we will meet him in a few weeks enjoying walks in the Sussex countryside with his sister and friends. Perhaps the sense of humour evident in this letter to a good friend is getting the upper hand at last. Writing to Barton is an effort, but contact with a friend is helpful, or so it seems to this reader.

Let us resolve to keep in touch with friends however we can. A couple of emails per day might be a good Lenten resolution.

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12 January: Sitting by the fire.

In centrally heated, 21st Century England it’s easy to forget how comforting a fire can be. Not to mention how much work one can entail. This little 1880s house once had three hearths downstairs – one for the kitchen which was to heat the servant girl’s room above. The other two bedrooms each had a fireplace. Plenty of work hauling all that coal up and ashes down the stairs. No more of that, but we can relax around the woodburning stove, or once a year, by this thermally inefficient open fire.

In 1806 Mary Lamb was writing to her younger friend, Sarah Stoddard, who had a few major family and personal matters to sort out at some distance from London, before Rowland Hill’s Penny Post made letter writing cheap and reliable.

Do write soon: though I write all about myself, I am thinking all the while of you, and I am uneasy at the length of time it seems since I heard from you … and this second winter makes me think how cold, damp, and forlorn your solitary house will feel to you. I would your feet were perched up again on our fender.

The fender is a low barrier between the fireplace and the floor of the room, often at a good height for warming the toes.

This story made me wonder how often the one who came to bring fire to the earth sat around an open fire with his disciples, how much of his more intimate teaching was given that way. I shall have to re-imagine some of the Gospel passages next time they come up.

Mary Lamb to Sarah Stoddard, 14 March 1806, The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, 1796-1820, edited by E. V. Lucas.

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7 January: How to Help?

Tim Rowden of the Grief Project shares ways to support those left behind when somebody takes their own life. Follow the link for wise words on What suicide loss survivors need most . And do not be afraid!

Tim Rowden
When you’ve lost someone to suicide, one of the hurdles in recovery is the people near you who sympathise but don’t know what to say or do. Worse are those who don’t say anything for fear that mentioning your loved one’s name will hurt you. (Pro tip: Not saying their name hurts more.)To find out what suicide loss survivors needed after their loved one died (and what they still need in the days, weeks, months and years to follow), the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention asked its community to share one way to support someone who’s lost a loved one to suicide.

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Book Review: Hopeful Eddie is looking ahead

Many readers of this blog will recognise the name Eddie Gilmore. We’ve shared a number of his blog posts for the London Irish chaplaincy and it’s good to have a selection of them gathered together in this book, Looking Ahead with Hope.

It’s a teasing title. No human can look ahead without looking back; try it sometime. The important thing is to believe that we – and more to the point, God – can build on the past. If that’s going to happen we need to get down to the bedrock of grace at work in our lives.

That grace often manifests itself in Eddie’s life in the form of music: singing at his mother’s 90th birthday party or a L’Arche retreat in the French Alps – Eddie was with L’Arche before joining the chaplaincy, the lack of singing as church congregations returned as covid retreated.

Eddie revisits those lock-down days, learning to live with people for 24 hours a day, long walks with family members, open-air conversations with passing acquaintances, the pluses and minuses of communicating by Zoom. We got through, but looking ahead, what have we learnt?

There could have been no singing and no party for his mum’s birthday in lockdown time, which put a stop to many of the chaplaincy’s ministries. Music was important in prison ministries too. The old, well-known songs awoke something in the hearts of the captive audience members, giving hope of another life outside prison. Special food on days the chaplaincy team were able to gather people together: it was in HMP Chelmsford that Eddie learnt to enjoy bacon cabbage and potatoes! There, too, Eddie reflected, that ‘for a couple of hours we’d been fellow human beings, enjoying good food and music, and one another’s company.’ And the musicians were changed by the experience (p73).

This book will inspire you to look ahead with hope, because Eddie Gilmore knows how to look back in gratitude. A Christmas present that somebody you know will be grateful for.

Will Turnstone.

Looking Ahead with Hope, Eddie Gilmore, DLT, £9.99. See the DLT site, where there was a good discount offer as we went to press.

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