Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS

BROADWAY, LUDGATE HILL
NEW YORK: 9 LAFAYETTE PLACE

1885

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

VOLUMES ALREADY PUBLISHED.
SHERIDAN'S PLAYS.
PLAYS FROM MOLIÈRE. By English Dramatists.
MARLOWE'S FAUSTUS and GOETHE'S FAUST.
CHRONICLE OF THE CID.
RABELAIS' GARGANTUA and the HEROIC DEEDS OF

PANTAGRUEL.
THE PRINCE. By MACHIAVELLI.
BACON'S ESSAYS.
DEFOE'S JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR.
LOCKE ON CIVIL GOVERNMENT, and FILMER'S

“ PATRIARCHA."
SCOTT'S DEMONOLOGY AND WITCHCRAFT.
DRYDEN'S VIRGIL.
BUTLER'S ANALOGY OF RELIGION.
HERRICK'S HESPERIDES.
COLERIDGE'S TABLE-TALK.
BOCCACCIO'S DECAMERON.
STERNE'S TRISTRAM SHANDY.
CHAPMAN'S HOMER'S ILIAD.
MEDIÆVAL TALES.
VOLTAIRE'S CANDIDE and JOHNSON'S RASSELAS.
PLAYS and POEMS by BEN JONSON.
LEVIATHAN. By THOMAS HOBBES.
HUDIBRAS. By SAMUEL BUTLER.
IDEAL COMMONWEALTHS.
CAVENDISH'S LIFE OF WOLSEY.
DON QUIXOTE. IN Two VOLUMES.
BURLESQUE PLAYS and POEMS.
DANTE'S DIVINE CO Y. LONGFELLOW'S TRANSLATION.
GOLDSMITH'S VICAR of WAKEFIELD, PLAYS & POEMS.
FABLES and PROVERBS from the SANSKRIT.
LAMB'S ESSAYS OF ELIA.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

7

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

INTRODUCTION.

CHARLES LAMB was born in Crown Office Row on the 18th of February, 1775. His father, John Lamb, was clerk to Mr. Samuel Salt, a bencher of the Inner Temple. His mother was, before marriage, Elizabeth Field, daughter of the housekeeper to the Plumer Family at Gilston, in Hertfordshire, the Blakesmoor of one of the “Essays of Elia." Touches of Charles Lamb's grandmother, Field, were in the Sarah Battle who had sound opinions upon whist. Charles was the youngest of a family of three. He had a brother, John, who was twelve years older than himself, and a sister, Mary, who was but two years younger than John.

On the oth of October, 1782, Charles Lamb, in his eighth year, entered Christ's Hospital, to which his father had obtained for him a presentation. He remained a bluecoat boy for seven years, and left Christ's Hospital on the 23rd of November, 1789. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was among Lamb's schoolfellows, an older boy by two or three years, and the friendship between Lamb and Coleridge, begun at Christ's Hospital, was never broken.

After leaving school Lamb lived at home, and worked first as a young clerk under his brother John in the South Sea House. Thus recollections o the South Sea House as well as of Christ's Hospital are in the Essays of Elia,” which idealize with a wise practical humour the outward circumstances that shaped Lamb's inner life. On the 5th of April, 1792, his father's kindly employer, Mr. Salt, obtained for Charles Lamb, then seventeen years old, a clerkship in the Accountant's Office of the East India Company.

About three years afterwards, when Charles Lamb's age was twenty, and his home was still with his father and mother, the father, with weakened intellect, was in lodgings at No. 7, Little Queen Street, Holborn. He had been left with a little pension from Mr. Salt. The elder brother John lived by himself upon the income of his clerkship in the South Sea House. The father was failing in intellect, the mother was bedridden, Mary lived with them, nursed her mother, and earned for the little household with her needle. Charles earned at his office, and comforted his father by playing cribbage with him in the evening.

There was a taint of insanity in the family. Charles Lamb himself spent six weeks at and after the end of 1795 in a lunatic asylum at Hoxton. Mary was liable to sudden attacks, in which she became violent. In her an attack of insanity had been slowly coming on, which broke into frenzy on the 23rd of September, 1796. On that day Charles Lamb came home from his office work to find that his sister had wounded her father in the forehead and had stabbed her mother to the heart. The inquest next day on the mother was closed with a verdict of insanity. Mary Lamb was placed in a lunatic asylum. A month afterwards Lamb wrote: My poor, dear, dearest sister, the unhappy and unconscious instrument of the Almighty's judgment on our house, is restored to her senses; to a dreadful sense of what has passed, awful to her mind, but tempered with a religious resignation. She knows how to distinguish between a deed committed in a fit of frenzy and the terrible guilt of a mother's murder.” John Lamb, the elder brother, offered no aid to the family. Charles loved his sister, and he gave to her his life with a beautiful devotion. The father's pension and the son's clerkship in the India House produced together £170 or £180, out of which, said Charles Lamb, we can spare £ 50 or £60 at least for Mary while she stays in an asylum. If I and my father and an old maid-servant can't live, and live comfortably, on £130 or £120 a year, we ought to burn by slow fires. I almost would, so that Mary might not go into an hospital. Other members of the family, especially her brother John, opposed Mary's discharge from a lunatic asylum. Charles obtained her release by giving a solemn undertaking that he would take care of her thereafter. First he placed her in a lodging at Hackney, and spent all his Sundays and holidays with her. Then they lived together, he watching the moods that foreshadowed a mad fit, and taking her when needful, a willing patient, to the Hoxton asylum till the fit was over. He filled her life with his love. He put away his own desire to marry, burnt what he called, in writing to Coleridge, the “ little journal of his foolish passion.” “I am wedded to the fortunes of my sister and my poor old father.” The father died, and his pension no longer aided the housekeeping. An old aunt came back to die under Charles Lamb's care, and then the brother, with an income of not more than £100 a year, gave his whole care to his sister. “God love her," he said, “ may we two never love each other less.” She lived to be eighty. She was his Bridget Elia. In the last year of his life he said of her, when she is not violent, her rambling chat is better to me than the sense and sanity of the world." Charles Lamb's life was a poem. Few in his own time knew the secret strength of selfdevotion within that life of easy, unaffected kindliness. Under the playful ripple of his talk were depths that gave it lasting power. No utterance is weaker than a shallow jest. After Charles Lamb's death, Wordsworth, among the nearer friends who knew his story, wrote :

“Of that fraternal love, whose heaven-lit lamp

From infancy, through manhood, to the last
Of threescore years, and to thy latest hour
Burnt on with ever-strengthening light, enshrined
Within thy bosom.

[ocr errors][merged small]

Was as the love of mothers; and when years,
Lifting the boy to mau's estate, had called
The long protected to assume the part
Of the protector, the first filial tie
Was undissolved ; and, in or out of sight,
Remained imperatively interwoven
With life itself,

O gift divine of quiet sequestration !
The hermit exercised in prayer and praise,
And feeding daily on the hope of heaven,
Is happy in his vow, and fondly cleaves
To life-long singleness; but happier far
Was to your souls, and, to the thoughts of others,
A thousand times more beautiful appeared

Your dual loneliness!" The dual loneliness was only in those thoughts between them upon which the world might not intrude; the sequestration was only that avoidance of the larger stir of life which both fortune and nature forced on them. Both needed, for the mind's health, restful lives. But never were lives more tenderly associated with the charities and affections of true human fellowship.

Charles Lamb began as a writer with grave verse in a volume of poems by Coleridge, published at Bristol in 1797, which included, also, verses by his friend Charles Lloyd : “Poems by S. T. Coleridge, to which are added Poems by Charles Lamb and Charles Lloyd.” This was instead of a separate publication, planned the year before, of “Poems by Charles Lamb of the India House." In 1797 Lamb also visited Coleridge at Nether Stowey, by the Bristol Channel, after he had been with his friend Lloyd to visit Southey, who was then living near Christchurch in Hampshire. In 1798 appeared a little volume of “Blank Verse by Charles Lloyd and Charles Lamb," and in the same year Lamb's "Tale of Rosamund Grey, and Old Blind Margaret." In 1799, visiting Cambridge with his friend Lloyd, Lamb formed intimate friendship with Thomas Manning, a mathematical tutor there. When Charles Lamb visited Nether Stowey again in 1801, he had an opportunity of adding Wordsworth to the number of his friends.

In 1802 Charles Lamb published his Tragedy of John Woodvil, with pieces of his own professing to be “ Fragments of Richard Burton, Author of the *Anatomy of Melancholy.'" He had left Little Queen Street at the beginning of the century, and moved first to Chapel Street, Pentonville, then to Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, and then to No. 16, Mitre Buildings, in the Temple, where he remained nine years. In 1802 Charles Lamb visited Coleridge at his new home by Keswick, and first saw the Lake Country; and when he came back, Wordsworth, on his way back from France through London to be married, paid a visit to Lamb.

In 1804 William Hazlitt was added to the happy circle of Lamb's friends. The "Tales from Shakespeare ” were written in 1806 by Charles and Mary Lamb, Charles taking the tragedies; and Charles Lamb wrote his farce of Mr. H-

« PreviousContinue »