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[Illustration: CHARLES LAMB AT THE AGE OF FIFTY-ONE.
BY HENRY MEYER.
From the original painting at the India Office, reproduced by permission
of the Secretary of State for India in Council.]


Bell's Miniature Series of Great Writers


CHARLES LAMB


BY

WALTER JERROLD




LONDON
GEORGE BELL & SONS
1905




TABLE OF CONTENTS


THE STORY OF HIS LIFE

HIS PRINCIPAL WRITINGS:

Poetry
The Drama
Stories
Verses
Criticism
Essays
Letters

THE ESSAYS OF ELIA

HIS STYLE

CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF WORKS

POSTHUMOUS WORKS AND COLLECTED EDITION

BIOGRAPHY AND CRITICISM




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


CHARLES LAMB AT THE AGE OF 51.
_By Henry Meyer_ _Frontispiece_

CHRIST'S HOSPITAL

THE DINING HALL, CHRIST'S HOSPITAL

SKETCH OF CHARLES LAMB AT THE AGE OF 44
_By G. F. Joseph, A.R.A._

HOLOGRAPH LETTER TO JOHN CLARE THE
PEASANT POET, 31 August, 1822




CHARLES LAMB

THE STORY OF HIS LIFE


Charles Lamb's biography should be read at length in his essays and
his letters--from them we get to know not only the facts of his life
but almost insensibly we get a knowledge of the man himself such as
cannot be conveyed in any brief summary. He is as a friend, a loved
friend, whom it seems almost sacrilegious to summarize in the compact
sentences of a biographical dictionary, of whom it would be a wrong to
write if the writing were to be used instead of, rather than as an
introduction to, a literary self-portrait, more striking it may be
believed than any of the canvases in the Uffizi Gallery. When he was
six-and-twenty Charles Lamb wrote thus in reply to an invitation from
Wordsworth to visit him in Cumberland:

I have passed all my days in London ... the lighted shops of
the Strand and Fleet Street; the innumerable trades,
tradesmen and customers, coaches, waggons, playhouses; all
the bustle and wickedness round about Covent Garden; the
very women of the town; the watchmen, drunken scenes,
rattles; life awake, if you awake, at all hours of the
night; the impossibility of being dull in Fleet Street; the
crowds, the very dirt and mud, the sun shining upon houses
and pavements, the print shops, the old bookstalls, parsons
cheapening books, coffee houses, steams of soups from
kitchens, the pantomimes--London itself a pantomime and a
masquerade--all these things work themselves into my mind,
and feed me, without a power of satiating me. The wonder of
these sights impels me into night walks about her crowded
streets, and I often shed tears in the motley Strand from
fulness of joy at so much life. All these emotions must be
strange to you; so are your rural emotions to me. But
consider, what must I have been doing all my life, not to
have lent great portions of my heart with usury to such
scenes?

In whimsical exaggeration Lamb sometimes wrote of his aversion from
country sights and sounds, adopting that method partly perhaps for the
purpose of rallying his correspondents, and partly for the purpose of
accentuating his own "unrural notions." He was a Londoner of
Londoners. In London he was born and educated, and in London--with a
few of his later years in what is now but an outer suburb--he passed
the fifty-nine years of his life. Beyond some childish holidays in
pleasant Hertfordshire, a few brief trips into the country--to
Coleridge at Stowey and at Keswick, to Oxford and Cambridge, and one
short journey to Paris--he had no personal contact with the outer
world. He delighted in his devotion to London, and stands pre-eminent
as the Londoner in literature.

Charles Lamb was the son of John Lamb, who had left his native
Lincolnshire--probably from the neighbourhood of Stamford--as a child,
and who finally found himself attached to one Samuel Salt, a Bencher
of the Inner Temple, in the capacity of "his clerk, his good servant,
his dresser, his friend, his 'flapper,' his guide, stop-watch,
auditor, treasurer." Salt's chambers were at 2, Crown Office Row, and
there John Lamb lived with a family consisting of himself, his wife,
an unmarried sister, Sarah Lamb ("Aunt Hetty"), a son John, aged
twelve, and a daughter Mary, aged eleven, when on 10th February, 1775,
there was born to him another son to whom was given the now familiar
name. Seven children had been born from 1762 to 1775, but of them all
these three alone survived. The father and his employer are sketched,
unforgetably, in Lamb's essay on "The Old Benchers of the Inner
Temple," Salt, under his own name, and Lamb under that of Lovel: "I
knew this Lovel. He was a man of an incorrigible and losing honesty. A
good fellow withal and 'would strike.' In the cause of the oppressed
he never considered inequalities, or calculated the number of his
opponents." The whole passage must be read in the essay itself. From
his father Charles Lamb inherited at once his literary leanings and
his humour, both heightened to an incalculable degree. We have Elia's
word for it that John Lamb the elder "was the liveliest little fellow
breathing" with a face as gay as Garrick's, and we know further that
he published a small volume of simple verse. From the father, too,
the family derived a heavier inheritance, which was to cast its shadow
over their lives from the day of Charles's early manhood to the day
half a century later, when his sister Mary, the last survivor of the
family circle, was laid to rest.

Lamb's mother, Elizabeth Field, is--for obvious reasons--the only
member of the immediate family circle whom we do not meet in his
writings. His maternal grandmother--the grandame who is to be met in
his verses and in some of his essays--was for over half a century
housekeeper at Blakesware in Hertfordshire, and with her, as a small
boy, Charles spent pleasant holidays.

Little Charles Lamb was sent for a time to "a humble day-school, at
which reading and writing were taught to us boys in the morning, and
the same slender erudition was communicated to the girls, our sisters,
etc., in the evening." In a letter to Coleridge (5th July, 1796) we
have a hint that Lamb may have had yet earlier teaching in an infant
school in the Temple for he writes: "Mr. Chambers lived in the Temple;
Mrs. Reynolds, his daughter, was my schoolmistress"; though it may be
that the lady referred to was employed in Mr. Bird's school. This
school, kept by William Bird "in the passage leading from Fetter Lane
into Bartlett's Buildings," was the one to which Mary Lamb appears to
have owed her regular training; but Samuel Salt had a goodly
collection of old books in his chambers, and among these the brother
and sister browsed most profitably, to use his own expressive word,
acquiring an early liking for good literature and learning to take
their best recreation in things of the mind. But if from the "school
room looking into a discoloured dingy garden" Mary Lamb was presumed
to be able to acquire a sufficiency of knowledge, it was seen that her
younger brother needed something more than Mr. Bird could give to fit
him for a life in which he would have to take an early place as
bread-winner. John Lamb's friendly employer--whom lovers of Lamb can
never recall but to honour--secured a nomination for the boy to
Christ's Hospital, and thither in his eighth year the little fellow
was transferred from the home in the Temple.

Should a zealous compiler seek to arrange an autobiography of Charles
Lamb from his writings he would not have a difficult task, and he
would find two delightful essays devoted to the famous school--so long
the distinguishing feature of Newgate Street--where "blue-coat boys"
passed the most importantly formative period of their lives.
Handicapped somewhat by a stuttering speech Charles Lamb did not
perhaps join in all the boyish sports of his fellows, though there are
many testimonies to the regard in which he was held by his
school-mates, and the fact is stressed that though the only one of his
surname at Christ's Hospital, he was never "Lamb" but always "Charles
Lamb," as though there were something of an endearment in the constant
use of his Christian name. "The Christ's Hospital or Blue-coat boy,
has a distinctive character of his own, as far removed from the abject
qualities of a common charity-boy as it is from the disgusting
forwardness of a lad brought up at some other of the public schools."
In the essay from which this is quoted, Charles Lamb, looking back a
quarter of a century after leaving the old foundation, summed up the
characteristics of his school as reflected in the character of its
boys of whom he and the close friend he made there are the two whose
names are the most commonly on the lips of men. It is, indeed, worthy
of remark that from amid the countless boys educated at Christ's
Hospital since it was founded three centuries and a half ago by "the
flower of the Tudor name ... boy patron of boys," the names that stand
out most prominently are those of the two who were at the school
together--Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was at that old
"Hospital," recently, alas, demolished, that these men, so different
in genius, so similar in many of their intellectual tastes, began a
memorable friendship that was only to be broken by death more than
half a century later.

A schoolfellow's description of him may help us to visualize the
elusive figure of which we have no early portraits, and the later
portraits of which are understood to be wanting in one regard or
another. His countenance, says this early observer, was mild; his
complexion clear brown, with an expression that might lead you to
think that he was of Jewish descent. His eyes were not each of the
same colour: one was hazel, the other had specks of grey in the iris,
mingled as we see red spots in the bloodstone.



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