Charles Lamb was the son of John Lamb,
a clerk of a barrister of the Inner Temple. Young Charles
had the opportunity to study at Christ's Hospital where
he met life long friend Samuel Coleridge. As his family
could no longer fund his education, at the age of 15 Charles
sought employment as a clerk at the South Sea House and
then at the East India House. Charles and his sister Mary
collaborated on some of Charles ? works. However, in 1796
Mary had a sudden insanity attack and killed his mother
with a table-knife. Ever since the incident, Charles gave
up plans to marry to devoted his life to taking care of
Mary. His first literary appearance was a contribution of
four sonnets to Coleridge's Poems on Various Subjects
(1796). Two years later he published, along with his friend
Charles Lloyd, Blank Verse, the little vol. including The
Old Familiar Faces, and others of his best known poems,
and his romance, Rosamund Gray, followed in the same year.
Mary was an intelligent and affectionate companion, but
the shadow of her madness continued to plague their lives.
Lamb wrote four plays, none of which were successful. In
1807 he was asked by W. Godwin (q.v.) to assist him in his
Juvenile Library, and to this he, with the assistance of
his sister, contributed the now famous Tales from Shakespeare,
Charles doing the tragedies and Mary the comedies. In 1808
they wrote, again for children, The Adventures of Ulysses,
a version of the Odyssey, Mrs. Leicester's School, and Poetry
for Children (1809). About the same time he was commissioned
by Longman to edited selections from the Elizabethan dramatists.
To the selections were added criticisms, which at once brought
him the reputation of being one of the most subtle and penetrating
critics who had ever touched the subject. Three years later
his extraordinary power in this department was farther exhibited
in a series of papers on Hogarth and Shakespeare, which
appeared in Hunt's Reflector. In 1818 his scattered contributions
in prose and verse were collected as The Works of Charles
Lamb, and the favor with which they were received led to
his being asked to contribute to the London Magazine the
essays on which his fame chiefly rests. He wove life into
his prose: his childhood, his days at Christ's Hospital,
his hours at India House, his daily experiences with Mary,
his daydreams and idle hopes, his beloved books, and his
The place of Lamb as an essayist and critic is the very
highest. His life was dramatic and instructive; it attracts
novelists, psychologists, and clergymen. His only rival
in the former department is Addison, but in depth and tenderness
of feeling, and richness of fancy Lamb is the superior.
In the realms of criticism there can be no comparison between
the two. Lamb is here at once profound and subtle, and his
work led as much as any other influence to the revival of
interest in and appreciation of our older poetry. His own
writings, which are self-revealing in a quite unusual and
always charming way, and the recollections of his friends,
have made the personality of Lamb more familiar to us than
any other in our literature, except that of Johnson. His
weaknesses, his oddities, his charm, his humor, his stutter,
are all as familiar to his readers as if they had known
him, and the tragedy and noble self-sacrifice of his life
add a feeling of reverence for a character we already love.
1796 - Poems on Various Subjects
1798 - Blank Verse (includes The Old Familiar Faces,
and others of his best
1807- Tales from Shakespeare (one of the most successful
1808 - The Adventures of Ulysses
1809- a version of the Odyssey
Mrs. Leicester's School
Poetry for Children
1818- The Works of Charles Lamb
The Charles Lamb Society- life and works
Houtchens, Carolyn W. The English Romantic Poets & Essayists.
London: New York Universitiy Press, 1966.
Barnett, George Leonard. Charles Lamb: The Evolution of
Elia. Indiana UP 1964.
Beasley, Chris ?harles Lamb?The Literature Network. 2000-2001.
< http://www.online-literature.com/lamb/ >