A Blupete Biography Page

Charles Lamb
".... the most delightful, the most provoking,
the most witty and sensible of men ..."
-- Hazlitt.
Portrait of Lamb
[TOC] [See Further Portrait]

  • 1 - Birth & Boyhood:
  • 2 - The Madness of Mary:
  • 3 - Lamb's Writing:
  • 4 - Emma Isola:
  • 5 - Concluding Remarks:
  • Notes:
  • Dates & Events During Lamb's Life:-

  • [TOC]
    1 - Birth & Boyhood:-

    The legal neighbourhood into which Charles Lamb was born2, made a great impression on the young boy.

    "I was born, and passed the first seven years of my life, in the Temple. Its church, its halls, its gardens, its fountain, its river, I had almost said -- for in those young years, what was this king of rivers to me but a stream that watered our pleasant places? ... it is the most elegant spot in the metropolis. What a transition for a countryman visiting London for the first time -- the passing from the crowded Strand or Fleet-street, by unexpected avenues, into its magnificent ample squares, its classic green recesses!3 ... a man would give something to have been born in such places. What a collegiate aspect has that fine Elizabethan hall, where the fountain plays ... What an antique air had the now almost effaced sun-dials, with their moral inscriptions, seeming coevals with that Time which they measured, and to take their revelations of its flight immediately from heaven, holding correspondence with the fountain of light! How would the dark line steal imperceptibly on, watched by the eye of childhood, eager to detect its movement, never catched, nice as an evanescent cloud -- or the first arrests of sleep!"4
    Charles' father was John Lamb (1738-1799). John Lamb was a clerk to a London lawyer, Samuel Salt.5 Salt unruffledness was his most distinctive feature. He projected an image of "pensive gentility." He was a Whig and did not mind, in the least, the barbs from his fellow barristers who were Tories. Lamb was to write years later of his memories of his father's employer and the family's landlord:
    "Salt had the reputation of being a very clever man, and of excellent discernment in the chamber practice of the law. I suspect his knowledge did not amount to much. When a case of difficult disposition of money, testamentary or otherwise, came before him, he ordinarily handed it over with a few instructions to his man Lovel [the name that Lamb gave to his father in such writings] who was a quick little fellow, and would despatch it out of hand by the light of natural understanding, of which he had an uncommon share. ... [Salt] never knew what he was worth in the world; and having but a competency for his rank, which his indolent habits were little calculated to improve, might have suffered severely if he had not had honest people about him. Lovel took care of every thing. He was at once his clerk, his good servant, his dresser, his friend, his "flapper," his guide, stop-watch, auditor, treasurer. He did nothing without consulting Lovel, or failed in any thing without expecting and fearing his admonishing. He put himself almost too much in his hands, had they not been the purest in the world. ... [Salt was] indolent and procrastinating to the last degree. Yet men would give him credit for vast application in spite of himself. He was not to be trusted with himself with impunity. He never dressed for a dinner party but he forgot his sword -- they wore swords then -- or some other necessary part of his equipage. Lovel had his eye upon him on all these occasions, and ordinarily gave him his cue."6
    Lamb's father would be continually advising his master as to what he should say and not say, especially in respect to any social functions, which by his position, Salt was bound to attend. Salt would solemnly promise to faithfully observe the injunctions of his man, Lovel. But, by the time Salt arrived at his destination he would have forgotten Lamb's injunctions, and invariably put his foot in it to the most inappropriate person at the most inappropriate times. For example there is the time he was at dinner at the home of a client his, Miss Blandy, or rather the family of the client. That was the day that Miss Blandy was executed for a crime.
    "He [Salt] had not been seated in the parlour, where the company was expecting the dinner summons, four minutes, when, a pause in the conversation ensuing, he got up, looked out of window, and pulling down his ruffles -- an ordinary motion with him -- observed, "it was a gloomy day," and added, 'Miss Blandy must be hanged by this time, I suppose.'"7
    This early association that the Lamb family had with Mr. Salt was a beneficial one. By arrangement, the family had the use of Mr. Salt's office/house at 2 Crown Office Row, in the Inner Temple.8 The children, the surviving three of them9, took an additional advantage, as they had the use of Mr. Salt's library.10 Mary Lamb "was tumbled early, by accident or design, into a spacious closet of good old English reading, without much selection or prohibition, and browsed at will upon that fair and wholesome pasturage."11

    The eight-year old Lamb entered a famous young man's school in London, Christ's Hospital12 on October 9th, 1782, and remained there for seven years; during this time both Coleridge and Hunt were Lamb's classmates. Charles Lamb, though made of imminently good wood, did not attend university.13 He was lucky to obtain the wonderful education that he in fact did get at Christ's Hospital and his association with the members of the Inner Temple; but that was as far as any formal education for Charles would go. Alfred Ainger sets out the reasons:

    "... [Christ's Hospital's] exhibitions to the universities were given on the implied condition of the winners of them proceeding to holy orders, and that in Lamb's case his infirmity of speech made that impossible. But there were probably other reasons, not less cogent. It must have been of importance to his family that Charles should, with as little delay as possible, begin to earn his bread. There was poverty in his home ..."14
    Elizabeth Lamb, the mother, became an invalid at a comparatively young age; the only surviving daughter, Mary, bore the household chores15, much alone. In addition to caring for her ill mother, in between times, Mary did needle work to help with the household bills.

    In 1792, Samuel Salt died. It was a blow to the Lamb family as they lost their principal benefactor. The Lamb family was obliged to leave Crown Office Row. The parents, now both enfeebled, with their two adult and unmarried children were then to live at 7 Little Queen Street. It was in this year, too, that Charles Lamb was obliged to get out and help support the family. The connections that worked for his older brother John, were to work for Charles; Charles joined the India House16 as one of its many clerks, a position he occupied for the rest of his working life; 33 years he was with the India House.

    2 - The Madness of Mary:-

    I don't know that it can be said that madness ran in the Lamb Family, maybe. We know about the madness of Mary. Charles, too, was mad, viz., insanity characterized by wild excitement or extravagant delusions. For six weeks in December 1795 and January 1796, Charles was a patient in Hoxton House, a madhouse. He wrote to Coleridge and told of his experience.

    "Coleridge! I know not what suffering scenes you have gone through at Bristol. My life has been somewhat diversified of late. The six weeks that finished last year and began this, your very humble servant spent very agreeably in a madhouse, at Hoxton. I am got somewhat rational now, and don't bite anyone. But mad I was; and many a vagary my imagination played with me ... Coleridge, it may convince you of my regards for you when I tell you my head ran on you in my madness, as much almost as another person, who I am inclined to think was the more immediate cause of my temporary frenzy."17
    Lamb's madness was to last but the six weeks to which he referred. It would appear that Charles managed to put this particular difficulty behind him, as there is no reference in the literature to any repeat bouts as this one that he experienced, at age 21, in 1796. The same cannot be said of his sister, Mary.

    Mary was, it will be recalled eleven years older than her brother, Charles. It will be remembered too, that I mentioned that most all of the domestic affairs of the Lamb Family settled on the shoulders of young Mary, the only girl to survived more than a couple of years. Her mother was of no help, as she was invalided at a comparatively young age. Mary worked, we can be sure in saying, night and day carrying out the numerous chores of both the Lamb household and that of their bachelor master, Samuel Salt. Mary also helped -- the Lamb Family was a poor family -- with the household bills by turning to needle work18 if a few spare minutes should present themselves. When her insanity first made itself evident, is something I cannot say. At the time that the 21 year old Charles was locked up for six weeks, in 1796, Mary Lamb, the 32 year old sister, was a pot of emotions that had boiled over once too often.

    The Times, Saturday, September 24, 1796:

    "On Friday afternoon the Coroner and Jury sat on the body of a Lady, in the neighbourhood of Holborn, who died in consequence of a wound from her daughter the preceding day.
    It appeared by the evidence adduced, that while the family were preparing for dinner, the young lady seized a case-knife laying on the table, and in a menacing manner pursued a little girl, her apprentice, round the room. On the calls of her infirm mother to forbear, she renounced her first object, and with loud shrieks approached her parent. The child, by her cries, quickly brought up the landlord of the house, but too late. The dreadful scene presented to him the mother lifeless, pierced to the heart, on a chair, her daughter yet wildly standing over her with the fatal knife, and the old man her father weeping by her side, himself bleeding at the forehead from the effects of a severe blow he received from one of the forks she had been madly hurling about the room.
    For a few days prior to this, the family had observed some symptoms of insanity in her, which had so much increased on the Wednesday evening, that her brother, early the next morning, went to Dr. Pitcairn, but that gentleman was not at home. It seems the young lady had been once before deranged. The Jury of course brought in their verdict, Lunacy."
    In a letter dated September 27th, 1796, Lamb told Coleridge about Mary killing their mother:
    "White, or some of my friends, or the public papers, by this time may have informed you of the terrible calamities that have fallen on our family. I will only give you the outlines: -- My poor dear, dearest sister, in a fit of insanity, has been the death of our own mother. I was at hand only time enough to snatch the knife out of her grasp. She is at present in a madhouse, from whence I fear she must be moved to an hospital."20
    After explaining he was OK, Lamb then proceeded to tell Coleridge of his father who witnessed the event: "My poor father was slightly wounded, and I am left to take care of him and my aunt." In 1796, we add parenthetically, the mother was 56; the father was 58 and not well.21

    A plea of insanity was accepted and Mary was confined in a series of asylums for a period of time. Charles was a regular visit to his sister, and, as was usual for Mary, she improved her state of mind within a few weeks. Indeed she usually returned to regular spirits, and in between her bouts, she could be a wonderful and intelligent companion for Charles. At first the good times outnumbered the bad times, but as the years rolled by things flip flopped and the good times became increasingly rare. Charles devoted his life to Mary, who apparently did so much for him as a growing boy -- Mary was more the mother-figure rather than the sister-figure. "He set himself a task, one of the saddest and hardest that can be undertaken to act as guardian and companion to one living always on the brink of insanity. For eight-and-thirty years he was faithful to this purpose, giving up everything for it, and never thinking that he had done enough, or could do enough, for his early friend, his 'guardian angel.'"22

    In December 1796, Charles, his father, and Aunt Sarah (known as Hetty), moved to 45 Chapel Street, Pentonville. While an old Aunt, Hetty lived with the Lambs, it would not appear that she was much help in her last years, so Charles looked after his father, alone, until his father's death in April of 1799. He was buried with his wife, who had died three years earlier, in the graveyard of St Andrew's, Holborn. Later in April, Mary came to live with Charles. Alfred Ainger writes:

    "Mary Lamb returned to live with her brother, from whom she was never again parted, except during occasional returns of her malady. But rumours of this malady followed them wherever they went. They had notice to quit their rooms in Pentonville in the spring of 1799 [1800?], and they were accepted as tenants for a while by Lamb's old schoolfellow, John Mathew Gutch, then a law stationer in Southampton Buildings, Holborn. Here they remained for nine months, but the old difficulties arose, and the brother and sister were again homeless. Lamb then turned to the familiar precincts of the Temple, and took rooms at the top of King's bench Walk (Mitre Court Buildings), where he remained with his sister for nearly nine years. They then removed to Inner Temple Lane for a period of another nine years."
    December 5th, 1800: Charles Lamb to Coleridge:
    "I don't know why I write except from the propensity misery has to tell her griefs. -- Hetty died on Friday night, about 11 o Clock, after 8 days illness. . Mary in consequence of fatigue and anxiety is fallen ill again, and I was obliged to remove her yesterday. -- I am left alone in a house with nothing but Hetty's dead body to keep me company. . . . Tomorrow I bury her, and then I shall be quite alone, with nothing but a cat, to remind me that the house has been full of living beings like myself. -- My heart is quite sunk, and I don't know where to look for relief--. Mary will get better again, but her constantly being liable to such relapses is dreadful, -- nor is it the least of our Evils, that her case and all our story is so well known around us. . We are in a manner marked. --."23
    In the summer of 1800, the Lambs made their first visit to Oxford. After they returned, I suppose, the Lambs "passed two days with the family of Matthew Gutch, a law-stationer in London. Gutch had offered him a lodging at 34 Southampton Buildings, Chancery lane, and here he settled with Mary in the late summer of 1800." They lived there at the Southampton Buildings for nine months and then moved to 16 Mitre Court Buildings, Inner Temple and were there to 1809. "In the summer of 1802 Charles and his sister spent their holiday, three weeks, with Coleridge at Keswick."24 It was in March of 1803, when Coleridge was with Charles and Mary that Mary scared Coleridge. He insisted on taking her to "the" Hoxton madhouse. On April the fourth 1803, Coleridge explained this in a letter to his wife, Sara:
    "I had purposed not to speak of Mary Lamb -- but I had better write it than tell it. The Thursday before last she met at Rickman's a Mr Babb, an old friend and admirer of her mother / the next day she smiled in an ominous way -- on Sunday she told her brother that she was getting bad, with great agony -- on Tuesday morning [March 29] she layed hold of me with violent agitation, and talked wildly about George Dyer / I told Charles, there was not a moment to lose / and I did not lose a moment -- but went for a Hackney Coach, and took her to the private Madhouse at Hogsden / She was quite calm, and said -- it was the best to do so -- but she wept bitterly two or three times, yet all in a calm way. Charles is cut to the heart."
    The mother died in 1796: the father in 1799. Old aunt Hetty, the last in the Lamb's household who had kept Charles' company, died in 1800. Mary, Charles' sister, it would appear did not again live at home after she killed her mother in a fit. She was privately boarded, elsewhere. However it was not long afterward that Charles brought Mary again under his roof; and, it was where she stayed until Charles' death in 1834; though, there were periods lasting a few weeks at a time, periods which were becoming more frequent as the years passed, during which periods Mary was cared for in a private facility.

    As we have seen, the pair, in 1800, moved into an apartment located in the Southampton Buildings. They stayed there for nine months, then moved to 16 Mitre Court Buildings, Inner Temple.25 In 1817, the Lambs left the Inner Temple26 and moved to 20 Russell Street, Covent Garden. They lived on Russell Street to August of 1823.

    Mary, during her sane periods (increasingly shorter and less frequent as the years wore on) could quite enjoy herself. It appears that she liked to visit new places; but, where the place was at some distance the traveling to and from, given the manner of travel in those days, played a particular hardship on Mary and those that were with her. For example, on June the 18th, 1822, Charles and Mary Lamb, with Monsieur Guichett and Sarah James, departed for France.27 They crossed from Brighton to Dieppe. At Amiens, Mary was ill. ("The poor woman who went mad in a diligence on the way to Paris." -- Thomas Moore.) She and Sarah James, her nurse, stayed at Amiens. Guichett and Charles went on alone. Mary was soon well enough to allow Sarah James to return to England leaving Mary Lamb, in time, to travel to Paris; she did so in the company of a good friend, Crabb Robinson who must have come over, in order to assist the Lambs. Mary -- presumably much better though those around her still concerned about the effect on her, given the rigours of travel -- took in all the sights of Paris with Robinson. In the meantime, Charles and Monsieur Guichett had returned to England.28

    3 - Lamb's Writing:-

    Lamb started out thinking he might write poetry, certainly he had the intimate acquaintance of a grand example: his old school chum, Coleridge. Lamb, tried his hand at poetry in 1797, but it never went anywhere.29 Disappointed, Lamb's work "dwindled into prose and criticism."30 Lamb's job at the India House was his only job31 until, in 1805, an opportunity presented itself.

    Lamb and Hazlitt first became acquainted with one another32 sometime after Hazlitt came to London in 1799. Hazlitt first stayed with his brother John. It was through John Hazlitt that a meeting of the two, Hazlitt and Lamb, came about. In turn, it was through Hazlitt, likely in 1805, that Lamb was to be introduced to Godwin. Godwin was just then determined to publish a series of children's books. A deal was struck between Godwin and the Lambs; soon, Charles and Mary were busy adapting Shakespeare's plays so that they maybe more easily understood by the young reader. Tales from Shakespeare33 was brought out by Godwin in 1807. The work was a success and a second edition came out a year later.34

    Lamb's essays, that work for which he will be most remembered, did not appear in published form until about 1821. It was then that Lamb began contributing to The London Magazine a series of essays by "Elia."35 The essays ran until 1823. Collected, they appeared under the name "Elia," in 1823. Their popularity led to a second series between 1823 and 1825, also largely published in The London Magazine. This second series was published together as a book in 1833, The Last Essays of Elia.

    4 - Emma Isola:-

    A child came into the lives of Charles and Mary Lamb. Not theirs, of course; but one which they adopted. In 1823, Charles was 48; Mary, 59. It was in that year that Charles and Mary Lamb took their autumn holiday at Cambridge. There they were to make the acquaintance of a young girl, Emma Isola. Emma was the orphan daughter of Charles and Mary Isola; the young girl's parents had died, one in 1814 and the other in 1815. In 1823, Emma was 15 years old and was then living at the home of her aunt, Elizabeth Humphreys, at Cambridge. Emma was attending Dulwich.36 When not at school, such as during holidays, Emma would stay at Aunt Elizabeth's. The Lambs took an immediate liking to Emma; and, before long there were negotiations in the works for Emma to spend some time during her next holidays with the Lambs at London. It was in 1823 that Emma moved in with Charles and Mary, and, thereafter treated her as their daughter.37 She called them uncle and aunt: they, "Our Emma." The Lambs' home was generally Emma's home, until her marriage, in 1833, to Edward Moxon (1801-1858), the publisher.38 After Emma became part of the household, the enlarged Lamb family moved to Colebrooke Cottage, Islington, a borough of London, where the Lambs lived from 1823 to 1827. During this period, in June of 1825, Charles retired from East India House. After Colebrooke Cottage, Charles and Mary, in the autumn of 1827, moved to Enfield (another borough of London). Charles' health was poor, and Mary's insane periods became longer; but Charles continued to keep himself busy, including working daily at the British Museum.39 Then, in 1833, the Lambs moved their residence for the last time. Good help had been hard to find, and hard to keep. "Their old servant, Becky, had married and left them" in 1829. "They were little contented with her successor."40 "Their furniture had been disposed of when they settled at Enfield (1827), and they now entered on an arrangement similar to the last change of residence, of boarding and lodging with another [sic] married pair -- younger, however, and more active -- a Mr. and Mrs. Walden, of Bay Cottage in the neighbouring parish of Edmonton."41

    The death of Charles Lamb came on December 12th, 1834. He had injured his face when he fell over during a walk: erysipelas or St. Anthony's fire had then set in. After Charles' death, Mary's mental health got worse. She probably continued living with the Waldens until 1841.

    5 - Concluding Remarks:-

    William Hazlitt sums up his feelings:

    "Mr. Lamb has succeeded, not by conforming to the Spirit of the Age, but in opposition to it. He does not march boldly along with the crowd, but steals off the pavement to pick his way in the contrary direction. He prefers bye-ways to highways. When the full tide of human life pours along to some festive show, to some pageant of a day, Elia would stand on one side to look over an old book-stall, or stroll down some deserted pathway in search of a pensive description over a tottering doorway, or some quaint device in architecture, illustrative of embryo art and ancient manners. Mr. Lamb has the very soul of an antiquarian, and this implies a reflecting humanity; the film of the past hovers forever before him. He is shy, sensitive, the reverse of every thing coarse, vulgar, obtrusive, and common-place. He would fain 'shuffle off this mortal coil'; and his spirit clothes itself in the garb of elder time, homelier, but more durable. He is borne along with no pompous paradoxes, shines in no glittering tinsel of a fashionable phraseology, is neither fop nor sophist. He has none of the turbulence or froth of new-fangled opinions. ...
    Mr. Lamb has a distaste to new faces, to new books, to new buildings, to new customs. He is shy of all imposing appearances, of all assumptions of self-importance, of all adventitious ornaments, of all mechanical advantages, even to a nervous excess. It is not merely that he does not rely upon, or ordinarily avail himself of them; he holds them in abhorrence; he utterly abjures and discards them and places a great gulph between him and them. He disdains all the vulgar artifices of authorship, all the cant of criticism and helps to notoriety. He has no grant swelling theories to attract the visionary and the enthusiast, no passing topics to allure the thoughtless and the vain. ...
    The streets of London are his fairy-land, teeming with wonder, with life and interest to his retrospective glance, as it did to the eager eye of childhood; he has contrived to weave its tritest traditions into a bright and endless romance! Mr. Lamb's taste in books is also fine; and it is peculiar. It is not the worse for a little idiosyncrasy. He does not go deep into the Scotch Novels; but he is at home in Smollett or Fielding. He is little read in Junius or Gibbon; but no man can give a better account of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, or Sir Thomas Brown's Urn-Burial, or Fuller's Worthies, or John Bunyan's Holy War. ...
    Mr. Lamb excels in familiar conversation almost as much as in writing, when his modesty does not overpower his self-possession. He is as little of a proser as possible; but he blurts out the finest wit and sense in the world. He keeps a good deal in the background at first, till some excellent conceit pushes him forward, and then he abounds in whim and pleasantry. There is a primitive simplicity and self-denial about his manners and a Quakerism in his personal appearance... He is endeared to his friends not less by his foibles than his virtues; he insures their esteem by the one, and does not wound their self-love by the other. He gains ground in the opinion of others by making to advances in his own. ...
    The first Essay in the Sketch-book, that on National Antipathies, is the best; but, after that, the sterling ore of wit or feeling is gradually spun thinner and thinner, till it fades to the shadow of a shade.
    The above quote is from Hazlitt's essay, Elia, and Geoffrey Crayon. Here is another from, On Coffee-House Politicians:
    "Elia, the grave and witty, says things not to be surpassed in essence; but the manner is more painful and less a relief to my own thoughts. Some one conceived he could not be an excellent companion, because he was seen walking down the side of the Thames, passibus iniquis, after dining at Richmond. The objection was not valid. I will, however, admit that the said Elia is the worst company in the world in bad company, if it be granted me that in good company he is nearly the best that can be. He is one of those of whom it may be said, Tell me your company, and I'll tell you your manners. He is the creature of sympathy, and makes good whatever opinion you seem to entertain of him. He cannot outgo the apprehensions of the circle, and invariably acts up or down to the point of refinement or vulgarity at which they pitch him. He appears to take a pleasure in exaggerating the prejudice of strangers against him; a pride in confirming the prepossessions of friends. In whatever scale of intellect he is placed, he is as lively or as stupid as the rest can be for their lives. If you think him odd and ridiculous, he becomes more and more so every minute, à la folie, till he is a wonder gazed [at] by all -- set him against a good wit and a ready apprehension, and he brightens more and more ..."
    Thomas De Quincey:
    Lamb was "the very noblest of human beings ... [he had] the habit of hoping cheerfully and kindly on behalf of those who were otherwise objects of moral blame. .. [Lamb would come to no] final conclusions [or to] any opinions with regard to any individual which seemed to shut him out from the sympathy or the brotherly feeling of the just and good ... he would turn to the future for encouraging views of amendment, and would insist upon regarding what was past, as the accidental irregularity, the anomaly, the exception, warranting no inferences with regard to what remained; and (whenever that was possible) would charge it all upon unfortunate circumstances."42
    As we have already observed, Charles Lamb died in 1834; he was buried in the churchyard of All Saint's Church, Edmonton.43 Mary Lamb survived her brother nearly thirteen years, dying at the ripe age of 82, in 1847; she was "buried beside her brother.44


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    1 "On the Conversation of Authors."

    2 He was born on February 10th, 1775, in Crown Office Row (Inner Temple). See, http://www.innertemplelibrary.org.uk/contacts/map-of-inner-temple-library.htm : 8/11/2004

    3 "The Inner Temple is one of the four Inns of Court. The other Inns are Middle Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. These are unincorporated associations which have existed since the 14th Century. They play a central role in the recruitment, training and professional life of barristers, holding the exclusive rights to call candidates to the bar of England and Wales."
    < http://www.innertemplelibrary.org.uk/welcome.htm : 8/11/2004 >

    4 From one of the more popular essays of Charles Lamb, The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple. In addition to the Temple, as one of the early influences on the making of the intellectual Charles Lamb, his biographer, Alfred Ainger [Charles Lamb (London: MacMillan, 1882), p. 15.] mentioned two others: his seven year attendance at Christ's Hospital; and, at that place, the daily companionship of Samuel Coleridge. The Coleridge and Lamb connection might be better examined in the biographical sketch which I have completed on Coleridge; so too, I more fully treat the London preparatory school, known as Christ's Hospital.

    5 From the archives of the Inner Temple < http://www.innertemple.org.uk/history/lamb.html : 7/27/2004 > we learn: "Their father, John Lamb, was employed as a Hall waiter and clerk to Samuel Salt, who served as Under-Treasurer (a post subsequently known as Sub-Treasurer) to the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple from 1745 to 1768." We add, that Salt was an influential man and in his prime before Charles Lamb's birth in 1775.

    6 From Lamb's essay, The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple.

    7 From Lamb's essay, The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple.

    8 Mr. Salt's "combined chambers were deemed sufficient to house not only Salt and his office, but also his clerk and his clerk's family."
    < http://www.innertemple.org.uk/history/lamb.html : 7/27/2004 >

    9 Lamb had several brothers and sisters, but only three survived to live to maturity. The others -- Elizabeth, Samuel, Edward and William -- all died at a very young age. The three surviving children were: John (1763-1821), Mary (1764-1847) and Charles (1775-1834).

    10 Charles, I suspect for most all of his life would have had access to the principal library serving the barristers at Temple (Inner). Its "sub-treasurer and librarian was Randall Norris. Norris knew Charles from when he was but a little boy and referred to him as "Charley." Norris died in 1827. (Ainger, op. cit., p. 153.)

    11 From Lamb's essay, "Mackery End, In Hertfordshire". For a list of Lamb's more popular essays, see: http://www.angelfire.com/nv/mf/elia1/index.html : 8/11/2004.

    12 Salt was one of the governors of Christ's Hospital. I have previously directed the reader to the biographical sketch which I have completed on Coleridge, wherein I more fully treat the London preparatory school, known as Christ's Hospital.

    13 Lamb suffered from a stammer, and, thus, was unable to go on to an intellectual career as possibly might otherwise have been available to him, such as that as a teacher. So too, he was shy, not so much with friends, but out in society he always felt uncomfortable and certainly he was most uncomfortable in the company of strangers and "uncongenial acquaintance." He was very prone to "contrariness." His mood for an evening gathering of his friends was often determined by an "extra glass of wine." (Ainger, op. cit., p. 78.) Charles, we might note, drank and smoked a lot.

    14 Op. cit., p. 16.

    15 Likely for two households, the Lambs and Mr. Salt. Mr. Salt was, as a practical matter, a bachelor all his life. He "had lost his own wife in childbirth in the first year of their marriage [1747]."
    < http://www.innertemple.org.uk/history/lamb.html : 7/27/2004 >

    16 The India House was the office of the East India Company in London. The East India Company was originally founded many years before Lamb joined it as one of its many clerks. It was a trading company with, as it name denotes, its trading operations in India. Though by the time Lamb came to the company things had changed, for many years it was in charge of the British government affairs in India. The reader will not be surprised to learn that Samuel Salt was a director of the East India Company. John, it should be added, was 12 years older than Charles. John was the first to secure a position with the East India Company. John moved away from his family, and, it would seem, troubled himself very little over "his poor relations in the Temple." (Charles Lamb, Ainger, op. cit. pp. 17-8.)

    17 Letter dated May 27th, 1796, Charles Lamb to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as set out in The Life, Letters and Writings of Charles Lamb, edited by Percy Fitzgerald, vol. 1 of 6 Vols., at pp. 288-9 (London: Gibbings, 1897). Cannot say for sure who the "another person" is, likely his sister Mary who had her own distinct mental problem and which went on, as we will see, to be very serious.

    18 Mary Lamb was particularly good at making up women's mantuas, a loose gown worn by women in 17 & 18th c.; and was doing so just before she murdered her mother with a table-knife.

    19 "On 22 September 1796, driven to distraction by an apprentice who was assisting her mother with some needlework, Mary pursued the girl round the room with a knife and finally stabbed her mother who had intervened to save the girl. Mary's father was also wounded in the attack and her aunt fainted from the shock. The Coroner's inquest, held at the lodgings in Little Queen Street the next day, pronounced a verdict of murder whilst temporarily insane. Mary was confined to a private madhouse in Islington on a coroner's warrant, whilst Charles arranged for the burial of his mother in the graveyard of St. Andrew, Holborn." From the archives of the Inner Temple
    < http://www.innertemple.org.uk/history/lamb.html : 7/27/2004 >.

    20 Letter dated May 27th, 1796, Charles Lamb to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as set out in The Life, Letters and Writings of Charles Lamb, op. cit., vol. 1, p 325.

    21 Three years earlier, in January 1793, "John Lamb successfully petitioned the Inner Temple Benchers to be relieved of his duties as first waiter in the Inner Temple Hall on the grounds that: he had been a servant to the House near forty years and that he had nearly lost the use of his left hand and was otherwise very infirm and praying that he might be permitted to find a person to attend for him."
    < http://www.innertemple.org.uk/history/lamb.html : 7/27/2004 >

    22 Ainger, op. cit., p. 167. In 1800, Charles Lamb "had fallen in love (for the second and last time) with a young Quakeress." (Ainger, op. cit., p. 58.) It, apparently, came to nothing. We know more about his first love; it was the actress, Fanny Kelly (1790-1882). Johnson, op. cit. at pp. 749-50, wrote of Fanny Kelly: "By a horrible coincidence, a deranged admirer of hers, George Barnett, shot at her while she was performing at Drury Lane in February 1816, and some of the shot fell into the lap of Mary Lamb, who was in the audience. Three years later Lamb plucked up the courage to propose to Fanny, but she turned him down in a kind but firm letter, confiding to her sister Lydia that she could not bear the thought of a union 'which would bring me into that atmosphere of sad mental uncertainty which surrounds [Lamb's] domestic life.' Neither ever married."

    23 As quoted by http://www.mdx.ac.uk/www/study/ylamb.htm : 7/22/2004.

    24 Ainger, op. cit., p. 58.

    25 In a letter from Charles Lamb to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, dated June 7th, 1809, we read: "I have been turned out of my Chambers in the Temple by a Landlord who wanted them for himself, but I have got other at No. 4 Inner Temple Lane, far more commodious and roomy. I have two rooms on the third floor and five rooms above, with an inner staircase to myself, and all new painted etc. and all for £30 a year. I came into them on Saturday week, and on Monday following Mary was taken ill, with the fatigue of moving, and affected I believe by the novelty of the Home she could not sleep, and I am left alone with a Maid quite a stranger to me, and she has a month or two's sad distraction to go through. What sad large pieces it cuts out of life, out of her life who is getting rather old and we may not have many years to live together. I am weaker and bear it worse than I ever did. But I hope we shall be comfortable by and bye. The rooms are delicious and the best look backwards into Hare Court where there is a Pump always going. Just now it is dry. Hare Court Trees come in at the window, [so] that it's like living in a Garden. I try to persuade myself it is much pleasanter than Mitre Court -- but alas! the Household Gods are slow to come in a new Mansion, They are in their infancy to me, I do not feel them yet -- no hearth has blazed to them yet--. How I hate and dread new places!."

    26 Ainger writes, "In the autumn of 1817, Lamb and his sister left the Temple, their home for seventeen years, for lodgings in Great Russell Street, Covent Garden, the corner of Bow Street ..." (op. cit., p. 96.) Lamb writes Wordsworth about this event: "We have left the Temple. I think you will be sorry to hear this ... Our rooms were dirty and out of repair, and the inconveniences of living in chambers became every year more irksome, and so, at last, we mustered up resolution enough to leave the good old place, that so long had sheltered us, and here we are, living at a brazier's shop No. 20, in Russell Street, Covent Garden, a place all alive with noise and bustle; Drury Lane Theatre in sight from our front, and Covent Garden from our back windows. The hubbub of the carriages returning from the play does not annoy me in the least ..." (Letter from Lamb to Miss Wordsworth dated 1817 (likely during November), as set out in The Life, Letters and Writings of Charles Lamb, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 119.) "Here we are transplanted from our native soil. I thought we never could have been torn up from the Temple. Indeed it was an ugly wrench, but like a tooth, now 'tis out, and I am easy. We can never strike root so deep in any other ground. (Charles Lamb to Miss Wordsworth, 21 November 1817, Ibid.)

    27 Charles himself was not much of a traveler; he made an exception this time to see Paris. "I [Charles Lamb] never read books of travels, at least not farther than Paris and Rome. I can just endure Moors, because of their connection as foes with Christians; but Abyssinians, Ethiops, Esquimaux, Dervises, and all that tribe I hate. I believe I fear them in some manner. A Mohammedan turban on the stage, though enveloping some well-known face, ... does not give me unalloyed pleasure. I am a Christian, Englishman, Londoner, Templar. God help me when I come to put off these snug relations, and to get abroad into the world to come." (Dowden's biography of Southey, a book from the "English Men of Letters Series," edited by John Morley (New York: Harper, nd) at p. 191.)

    28 "They left England in the middle of June, and two months later we find Mary Lamb still in Paris, and seeing the sights under the direction of their friend, Crabb Robinson." (Ainger, op. cit., pp. 126-7.)

    29 Coleridge brought his first book of poetry out in 1796 by the efforts of the publisher, Joseph Cottle. Though it is claimed that Cottle made no money with this first edition, he nonetheless brought out a second edition the following year, 1797. It was in this second edition, I have in my notes, that there appeared a poem, maybe a few which were contributed by Lamb. Lamb continued to submit poems to Coleridge, but it would not appear that Coleridge gave them much attention. These were The Alfoxden Days and Coleridge was in full collaborative flight with Wordsworth which resulted in one of the milestones of literature, Lyrical Ballads: the poems to be found in Lyrical Ballads were those only by Wordsworth and Coleridge.

    30 Ainger, op. cit., p. 99.

    31 While Lamb had a full time job clerking at the India House, he had ample opportunity to write every morning. (Ainger, op. cit., p. 51.) Lamb rose early and he did not have to be at work until 11 a.m., as we learn from Paul Johnson [The Birth of the Modern ... (New York: HarperCollins, 1991) we might add too, that if they came in earlier than 11 a.m. they were seated for breakfast in the dinning room of India House. The clerks, incidently, were allowed to go home at 4 P.M unless there was pressing office business that needed to be done. This is quite unlike the image to which we are stuck, thanks to Charles Dickens.

    32 Ainger, op. cit., at p. 66, wrote that Lamb first met Hazlitt in 1805.

    33 "The following Tales are meant to be submitted to the young reader as an introduction to the study of Shakespeare, for which purpose his words are used whenever it seemed possible to bring them in; and in whatever has been added to give them the regular form of a connected story, diligent care has been taken to select such words as might least interrupt the effect of the beautiful English tongue in which he wrote: therefore, words introduced into our language since his time have been as far as possible avoided." (From the Preface.)

    34 Ainger, op. cit., p. 67.

    35 "Elia" was the name Charles signed his first essay. This essay was about where he worked for many years, The South Sea House. Lamb worked with a man by the name, "Elia." (Ainger, op. cit., p. 101.) Lamb's second essay, Oxford In The Vacation, published in October, was sent unsigned to his editor, and, his editor simply assigned the name, "Elia" as the author. It was a pen name "to which Charles became attached. There seems, however to have been no secret about the author's identity." < http://www.mdx.ac.uk/www/study/ylamb.htm : 7/13/2004 >

    36 I believe this to be Dulwich Preparatory School at Cranbrook (Kent).

    37 It seemed that good relations with Aunt Elizabeth continued; she was a witness at Emma's wedding in 1833.

    38 Ainger, op. cit., p. 153.

    39 Ainger, op. cit., p. 158.

    40 Ainger, op. cit., p. 143.

    41 Ainger, op. cit., pp. 161-2.

    42 Literary Reminiscences vol 1. (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1865) at pp. 80-1.

    43 Autobiography of Leigh Hunt (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1870) p. 27.; and Ainger, op. cit., p. 165. "In her [Mary Lamb's] very old age it was her habit, so Mr Carew Hazlitt [grandson] remembers, to visit the houses of her friends with three or four snuff-boxes, which she brought empty and carried away full. She bought also several large silk pocket-handkerchiefs, one of which became the receptacle of some article from the table to which she took a fancy, and this she carried home with her. Mr. Hazlitt tells us that it was the custom to humour the old lady's whims." ("Arbuckle, J. 1881" as citedhttp://www.mdx.ac.uk/www/study/ylamb.htm )

    44 At the time of her death, Mary Lamb was living at Alpha Road, St John's Wood. (Ainger, op. cit., p. 167.)


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    Dates & Events During Lamb's Life:-

    § February 10th: Charles Lamb is born in Crown Office Row (Inner Temple).

    § At the age of 7 years, Charles Lamb is presented to the school of Christ's Church, London.

    § January 26th: First convicts (and free settlers) arrive in New South Wales — the 'First Fleet'
    § Law passed requiring that chimney sweepers be a minimum of 8 years old (not enforced).
    § First slave carrying act, the Dolben Act of 1788, regulates the slave trade.

    § The French court, the envy of and model for foreign courts, was, both literally and figuratively, - bankrupt; States General (like our parliament) is called into session, it had not assembled since 1610 (France, in the intervening years, was ruled by an absolute monarch). The French Revolution ensued; the absolute monarchy and its attending aristocratic order collapses. Through metamorphic leadership: - States General, the National Assembly, the Jacobins, the Revolutionary tribunal, the guillotine, Napoleon - in these years (between the execution of Louis XVI, 1793; and the Battle of Waterloo, 1815) blood, death and misery flow over France, and over onto the neighboring countries, and into every other part of the world that had been tainted by European "colonizers."

    § The family's employer, Samuel Salt dies.
    § The Lamb family move from Salt's house at Crown Office Row to 7 Little Queen Street.
    § The fourteen years from the outbreak of the French Revolution to the Peace of Amiens -- from 1789 till 1802 -- formed an almost unbroken succession of bad harvests, and that of 1792 was one of the worst of the series.
    § September massacres in Paris.
    § Charles Lamb, now 17 years old, is appointed to the accounting office of the East India Company. (Undoubtedly, to the great relief of the Lamb family.)

    § The fifteen year old William Hazlitt attends the Unitarian New College at Hackney, London.

    § Throughout England there is a fear of invasion.
    § A simple device for separating cotton lint from seeds is patented by Eli Whitney.

    § For six weeks in December 1795 and January 1796, Charles was a patient in Hoxton House, a madhouse.

    § The French conquer Italy and Austria deserts Britain in her struggle against France.
    § Jenner discovers vaccination.
    § The family was still living at 7 Little Queen Street.
    § Mary kills her mother.
    § In December 1796, Charles, his father, and Aunt Sarah (known as Hetty), moved to 45 Chapel Street, Pentonville.

    § January: The twenty year old Hazlitt walks ten miles from his home at Wem to hear Coleridge preach at the Unitarian church at Shrewsbury.
    § Wordsworth and Coleridge publish Lyrical Ballads.

    § In Great Britain taxes are needed to run the war: income tax is imposed at 10% and consumer taxes continue on such necessities as window glass, malt, coals, meat, butter, sugar, soap, candles, etc.
    § April, the father, John Lamb dies.
    § Late April: Mary comes home to live with Charles.

    § February: In England: A bill is passed making it unlawful for any baker, or any person, "to sell, or offer to expose for sale, any bread, until the same have been baked twenty-four hours at the least ... however, new bread might be lawfully sold to soldiers on the march."
    § Summer: The Lambs made their first visit to Oxford.
    § Late Summer: The pair settled in an apartment located in the Southampton Buildings, London.
    § December: Aunt Hetty dies and with Mary temporarily locked up, Charles is feeling quite alone, just him and his cat.

    § Spring: After a nine month stay at the Southampton Buildings, Charles and Mary move back to the Temple, King's Bench Walk (16 Mitre Court Buildings), where they remained for nearly nine years.

    § Summer: Charles and his sister spend their holiday, three weeks, with Coleridge at Keswick.
    § Lamb first meets Hazlitt through Hazlitt's brother John. Not sure of the year, but it was between 1799 and 1804.

    § March: Coleridge, while visiting with Charles and Mary, was quite frightened by Mary's acts of aggression.

    § Hazlitt completes portraits of his father and of Charles Lamb.

    § Sarah Stoddart (Hazlitt's future wife) returns from Malta (she had been visiting with her brother); she goes to live in a cottage at Winterslow; her father is dead and her mother is mad.
    § Lamb and Godwin first meet through Hazlitt.
    § March: Lamb sends off to Hazlitt, by "the Wem coach," a package containing "a book and a rare print."
    § In anticipation of being published by Godwin, Charles and Mary are busy adapting Shakespeare's plays so that they maybe more easily understood by the young reader.

    § By a proclamation, dated Berlin, November 21st, 1806, Napoleon declares that the British Isles to be in a state of blockade; further, that all letters going to, or coming from England, are not to be forwarded,and all those written in English are to be suppressed; and further, that trade in English goods is to be rigorously prohibited.
    § December 10th: Hazlitt, together with Lamb, his sister, Mary, and Crabb Robinson, go to the theatre at Drury Lane to watch a play written by Lamb, Mr. H.
    § Tales from Shakespeare is brought out by Godwin. The work was a success and a second edition came out a year later.

    § Hazlitt moves into rooms of his own at 34 Southampton Buildings.
    § Hazlitt during this time was one of Lamb's circle, the members of which met weekly for discussion, cribbage and whist.
    § Hazlitt is now corresponding with Sarah Stoddart.
    § Hazlitt writes "Edmund Burke."
    § Hazlitt writes "Reply to Malthus."

    § April: On visit to the Lambs at London Wordsworth meets, "unluckily," William Hazlitt and Sarah Stoddart.
    § May 1st, Sunday, at St. Andrew's Church, Holborn, William Hazlitt and Sarah Stoddart are married.

    § January 15: The Hazlitts, who now live at Winterslow, some seven miles from Salisbury welcome the birth of their first born (the child dies that July).
    § On June 7th, Charles and Mary move from their "Chambers in the Temple" (Mitre Court Buildings) to another "at No. 4 Inner Temple Lane, far more commodious and roomy"; there they lived for the next nine years.
    § October: Lamb, his sister and "others of their circle" come to visit the Hazlitts at Winterslow.

    § Summer: Charles and Mary Lamb pay a visit to the Hazlitts at Winterslow.

    § Spring: Hazlitt meets Leigh Hunt at Lamb's place.

    § January 14: Crabb Robinson, now engaged in his legal studies, tells us in his diary that he visits with the Lambs "where he found the Hazlitts, &c., and chatted pleasantly enough with them."
    § January 23 - Coleridge's Remorse is playing at Drury Lane.
    § February 3rd: The Hunts are convicted of libeling the Prince Regent.
    § November 10th: "Took tea with Lamb. I also called and supped with Godwin. The Lambs were there... Kenney was there." (Henry Crabb Robinson's Diary.)

    § Hazlitt writes an article on Wordsworth's new poem, Excursion. Hazlitt had an advance copy of it, in a book which was meant to go to Lamb. Lamb treated Hazlitt for a period of time thereafter with coolness.
    § November: We see from Crabb's diary that the gang is still meeting at Lamb's, though the parties are now only once a month. "I played a couple of rubbers pleasantly and afterwards chatted with Hazlitt till one o'clock."

    § May: Wordsworth is in London during this time as his "first collected Edition of his works" was just then coming out. During this time Wordsworth visits Hunt and Lamb.

    § April 16th: Coleridge becomes a patient and guest in the household of Dr James Gillman in Highgate.
    § November 1816: In a letter from Mary Lamb to Sara Hutchinson: "We have passed ten, I may call them very good weeks at Dalston, for they completely answered the purpose for which we went. -- Reckoning our happy month at Calne we have had quite a rural summer & have obtained a very clear idea of the great benefit of quiet -- or early hours and time entirely at ones own disposal, and no small advantages these things are, but the return to old friends -- the sight of old familiar faces round me has almost reconciled me to occasional headaches and fits of peevish weariness -- even London streets, which I sometimes used to think it hard to be eternally doomed to walk through before I could see a green field, seem quite delightful."

    § August: The Lambs leave the Inner Temple and move to 20 Russell Street, Covent Garden, at the corner of Bow Street, as Lamb writes, "living at a brazier's shop No. 20, in Russell Street."
    § December 28th: Benjamin Haydon, the painter, has a dinner party in the presence of his unfinished canvas Christ's Entry into Jerusalem. In addition to Charles Lamb, the guests include John Keats and William Wordsworth. "... a tipsy Lamb ... recited nursery rhymes until he was dragged from the room."

    § January 5th: John Keats writes his brothers who were then staying at Teignmouth: "On Saturday I called on Wordsworth before he went to Kingston's and was surprised to find him with a stiff collar. I saw his spouse and I think his daughter. I forget whether I had written my last before my Sunday Evening at Haydon's ... then there was Wordsworth, Lamb, Monkhouse, Landseer, Kingston, and your humble servant. Lamb got tipsey and blew up Kingston -- proceeding so far as to take the Candle across the Room hold it to his face and show us what-sort-of-fellow-he-was." ("Keats Letters.")

    § "I see a good deal of Lamb, Hazlitt, Coulson, the Novellos, etc. but as much at their own houses as at mine, or rather more just now. We give no dinners as we used." (Leigh Hunt's Autobiography.)

    § Lamb began contributing to The London Magazine a series of essays by "Elia". Benjamin Robert Haydon's writes in his journal, "Sir Walter Scott, Lamb, Wilkie, and Procter have been with me all the morning, and a delightful morning we have had..." (7.3.1821)
    § October 26th: John Lamb, brother of Mary and Charles, died. At the time Mary "was incapable of feeling it." By late November she was "perfectly recovered" and "pretty well resigned." From a catalogue we see re the estate of John Lamb "... A Small but Valuable Collection of Italian, French, Flemish and Dutch Pictures, the genuine property of John Lamb ... Also, a collection of high-finished ... pictures ... the genuine property of a man of taste ... : which will be sold by auction, by Mr. Christie ... on Thursday, March 14, 1822, and following day, etc Ten pages. (Microfiche in the British Library -- http://www.mdx.ac.uk/www/study/ylamb.htm )

    § June 18th: Charles and Mary Lamb, with Monsieur Guichett and Sarah James, left England for France.
    § July 8th: Shelley dies.

    § Lamb had been contributing essays to The London Magazine since 1821. The series were collected up and, I believe, came out, in 1823, as a book. The popularity of this first series led to a second series between 1823 and 1825. This second series was published together as a book in 1833, The Last Essays of Elia.
    § August: The Lambs move out of 20 Russell Street, Covent Garden.
    § Charles and Mary Lamb take their autumn holiday at Cambridge, and there they meet the fifteen year old Emma Isola whom they adopt.
    § The Lambs with Emma, move to Colebrooke Cottage, Islington, a borough of London, where the Lambs lived from 1823 to 1827.

    § June: Charles retires from East India House.

    § "The New Monthly now had the services of the three best essayists in England -- Lamb, Hazlitt and Hunt."

    § The Lambs move out of Colebrooke Cottage, where they had lived since 1823, to Enfield (another borough of London).
    § Charles now filling in his time by working at the British Museum.

    § An entry in the official visitors register for Normand House, Fulham reads: "309 Lamb, Mary Ann of Chase Side, Enfield, certified 21 and 22 May 1829 by W. Ritchie and C.B. Kauf admitted May 20 by Charles Lamb, Brother discharged cured August 12 1829" -- http://www.mdx.ac.uk/www/study/ylamb.htm

    § An entry in the official visitors register for Normand House, Fulham reads: -- "787 Lamb, Mary age 37 [67?] of Southampton Buildings certified 5 July 1830 by W.S. Ritchie and H.C. Field admitted 6 July 1830 by Charles Lamb, Brother discharged 13 October 1830 well" -- http://www.mdx.ac.uk/www/study/ylamb.htm
    § September 18th: Hazlitt dies at London in his lodgings at Frith Street, Soho. Lamb, Mr. White, Mr. Hessey, and the younger Hazlitt were in the room when he died.

    § Lamb's book comes out, The Last Essays of Elia.
    § Emma, the 25 year old adopted daughter of the Lambs, marries the publisher, Mr. Moxon.
    § The Lambs move their residence for the last time. They board with a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Walden, of Bay Cottage in the neighbouring parish of Edmonton.

    § December 12th: Lamb dies. He is buried in the churchyard of All Saint's Church, Edmonton.

    § Mary Lamb, at age 82, dies; she is buried along side her brother.


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    2011 (2019)

    Peter Landry