1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Lamb

Allan Cunningham, in "Biographical and Critical History of the Literature of the last Fifty Years" The Athenaeum (16 November 1833) 769-70.



Critics are said to have checked some poetic spirits, and if this be true of any, it is of Charles Lamb, who was handled so rudely by the critics of the Edinburgh Review, that he forsook the Muses, and, directing his mind to prose, acquired a reputation, under the name of ELIA, not destined soon to be forgotten. There is, nevertheless, much quaint feeling in his verses; he has used the style of the good old days of Elizabeth in giving form and utterance to his own emotions; and, though often unelevated and prosaic, every line is informed with thought, or with some vagrant impulse of fancy. He was born in 17[7]5, and educated in the school of Christ's Hospital, where he was the companion of Coleridge, and distinguished for a quick apprehension and a facility in acquiring knowledge. In his earlier days he became acquainted with Southey and Wordsworth, which induced some critic, more ingenious than discerning, to number him as a follower of what is erroneously called the Lake School. The tone and impulse of the Lakers are all of our own times; the hue and impress of Lamb's verse is of another age: they are of the country, he is of the town: they treat of the affections of unsophisticated life; he gives portraits of men whose manners have undergone a city-change; records sentiments which are the true offspring of the mart and the custom-house, and attunes his measure to the harmony of other matters than musical breezes and melodious brooks. His prose essays, and sketches of men and manners, are in a bolder and happier spirit; there is a quaint vigour of language, a fanciful acuteness of observation, and such true humanities and noble sensibilities sparkling everywhere, as rank him among the most original critics of the age. Nor is he otherwise in company than he is on paper — his wit is unwearied, and his gentleness of heart ever uppermost, save when he chooses to be sarcastic, and then he soothes whomever he offends, by some happy and unhoped for compliment.