1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Lamb

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 327.



Lamb (1775-1834) was born in London, February 10th, of humble parentage. From his seventh to his fifteenth year he was an inmate of the school of Christ's Hospital. He had an impediment in his speech, which prevented his aspiring to University honors. In 1792 he became an accountant in the office of the East India Company; and after the death of his parents devoted himself to the care of his sister Mary. A sad tragedy was connected with the early history of this devoted pair. There was a taint of hereditary madness in the family; Charles had himself, in 1795, been confined six weeks in an asylum at Hoxton; and in September of the following year, Mary Lamb, in a paroxysm of insanity, stabbed her mother to death with a knife snatched from the dinner-table. She was soon restored to her senses. Charles abandoned all thoughts of love and marriage, and at twenty-two years of age, with an income of little more than 100 a year, set out cheerfully on the journey of life. He bore his trials meekly, manfully, and with prudence as well as fortitude. The school companion of Coleridge, Lamb enjoyed the friendship of Wordsworth, Southey, Hazlitt, and other literary celebrities of his day. In 1825 he retired from the drudgery of his clerkship with a handsome pension, which gave him literary leisure and the comforts of life. His series of essays signed "Elia" established his literary reputation. His kindliness of nature, his whims, puns, and prejudices give a marked individuality to his writings. He died of erysipelas, caused by a fall with slightly cut his face. His Life and Letters, by Mr. Justice Talfourd, appeared in 1837. Lamb's poetical writings are not numerous, but what he has written shows genius and culture. His sister Mary was joint author with him of Poetry for Children (1809); republished in New York (1878).