LAMB, Charles

(1775 - 1834)
“So might we talk of the old familiar faces”

Charles Lamb was born in 1775 in London, the youngest son in an impoverished and troubled family – his father sank into early senility, his mother was an unappreciative and demanding invalid and when he was only 21 his sister Mary, chief carer of them both, was convicted of the murder of their mother and the wounding of their father.  She avoided punishment by reasons of temporary insanity and Charles spent the remainder of his life looking after her and trying to keep her from permanent incarceration in the local asylum.  In 1792 he began a 33 year career with the East India Company, working long hours but still finding time to write poetry, encouraged by his old school friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who introduced him to the London literati. His first appearance in print was in 1796, with poetic contributions to a collection by Coleridge. In 1798 he published his own collection entitled Blank Verse, which included what is probably his best known poem “Old Familiar Faces”.  He persevered with his poetry and tried his hand at plays with John Woodvil, published in 1802. He also wrote for children and in 1807, in concert with his sister Mary he produced a retelling of Shakespeare’s plays suitable for the young, which gained such success that it became known simply as Lamb’s Tales.  However he achieved lasting fame with his essays, criticism and letters, which he wrote under the pseudonym Elia for London Magazine.  Along with the poetry of Coleridge and Wordsworth, Lamb’s essays can be seen as an expression of the Romantic Movement, and they were published separately in 1823 as The Essays of Elia, and in 1833 The Last Essays of Elia.  He died in 1834 after a fall, but he had succeeded well enough to provide care for Mary for the next 14 years until her death in 1847.

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John Woodvil

LAMB, Charles