Lamb as an Essayist

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CHARLES LAMB (1775-1834), an original and delightful English essayist and critic, was born in Crown Office Bow, Inner Temple, London, February 10, 1775. His father, John Lamb, a Lincolnshire man, who filled the situation of clerk and servant companion to Mr Salt, one of the benchers of the Inner Temple, was successful in obtaining for Charles, the youngest of three children, o presentation to Christ's Hospital, where the boy remained from his eighth to his fifteenth year (1782-1789). Here he was fortunate enough to have for a schoolfellow the afterwards famous Samuel Taylor Coleridge, his senior by rather more than two years, and a close and tender life-long friendship began which had a singularly great influence on the whole of his after career. When the time came for leaving school, where he had learned some Greek and acquired considerable facility in Latin composition, Lamb, after a brief stay at home (spent, as his school holidays had often been, over old English authors in the library of Mr Salt), was condemned to the labours of the desk,—an "unconquerable impediment" in his speech disqualifying him for a school exhibition, and thus depriving him of the only means by which he could have obtained a university education. For a short time he held a clerkship in the South Sea House under his elder brother John, and in 1792 he entered the accountant's office in the East India House, where during the next three and thirty years the hundred folios of what he used to call his true "works" were produced. A dreadful calamity soon came upon him, which seemed to blight all his prospects in the very morning of life. There was insanity in the family, which in his twenty-first year had led to his own confinement for some weeks in a lunatic asylum; and, a few months afterwards, on the 22d of September 1796, his sister Mary, "worn down to a state of extreme nervous misery by attention to needlework by day and to her mother by night," was suddenly seized with acute mania, in which she stabbed her mother to the heart. The calm self-mastery and loving self-renunciation which Charles Lamb, by constitution excitable, nervous, and timid, displayed at this crisis in his own history and in that of those nearest him, will ever give him an imperishable claim to the reverence and affection of all who are capable of appreciating the heroisms of common life. His sister was of course immediately placed in confinement, and with the speedy return of comparative health came the knowledge of her fatal deed; himself calm and collected, he knew how to speak the words of soothing and comfort. With the help of friends he succeeded in obtaining her release from the life-long restraint to which she would otherwise have been doomed, on the express condition that he himself should undertake the responsibility for her safe keeping. It proved no light charge; for, though no one was capable of affording a more intelligent or affectionate companionship than Mary Lamb during her long periods of health, there was ever present the apprehension of the recurrence of her malady; and, when from time to time the premonitory symptoms had become unmistakable, there was no alternative but her removal, which took place in quietness and tears. How deeply the whole course of Lamb's domestic life must have been affected by his singular loyalty as a brother need not be pointed out; for one thing, it rendered impossible his union with Alice Winterton, whom he appears to have truly loved, and to whom such touching reference was made long afterwards in Dream Children, a Reverie.

Lamb's first appearance as an author was made in the year of the great tragedy of his life (1796), when there were published in the volume of Poems on Various Subjects by Coleridge four sonnets by "Mr Charles Lamb of the India House." In the following year he also contributed along with Charles Lloyd some pieces in blank verse to Coleridge's new volume of Poems. In 1798 he published a short and pathetic...
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