Elia Essays Lamb

Charles continued to write—a ballad on a Scottish theme, poems to friends and to William Cowper on that poet's recovery from a fit of madness."A Vision of Repentance" ("I saw a famous fountain, in my dream") treats a truly Romantic theme—the hope of God's forgiveness for the sin of a repentant Psyche.By 1820 he had developed what was to be his "Elia" prose style.

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Here he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a fellow pupil who was Lamb's close friend for the rest of their lives and who helped stir his growing interest in poetry. (Because he had a severe stammer, he did not seek a university career, then intended to prepare young men for orders in the Church of England.) In September 1791 he found work as a clerk at the South Sea House, but he left the following February, and in April he became a clerk at the East India Company, where he remained for thirty-three years, never feeling fitted for the work nor much interested in "business," but managing to survive, though without promotion.

Soon after leaving school, he was sent to Hertfordshire to his ill grandmother, housekeeper in a mansion seldom visited by its owners.

On Charles (after an unpaid apprenticeship) and his elder sister, Mary, a dressmaker who had already shown signs of mental instability, fell the burden of providing for the family, and Mary took on the nursing as well.

Two of Lamb's early sonnets are addressed to her: Mary, who was ten years older than Charles, had mothered him as a child, and their relationship was always a close one.

Here he fell in love with Ann Simmons, subject of his earliest sonnets (though his first to be published, in the 29 December 1794 issue of the , was a joint effort with Coleridge to the actress Sarah Siddons—evidence of his lifelong devotion to the London theater).

His "Anna" sonnets, which appeared in the 17 editions of Coleridge's , have a sentimental, nostalgic quality: "Was it some sweet device of Faery / That mocked my steps with many a lonely glade, / And fancied wanderings with a fair-hair'd maid?(He met Wordsworth, who became a lifelong friend, through Coleridge in 1797.)" Of considerable interest are Lamb's blank-verse poems, which reveal--with passion that comes through--his spiritual struggles after the tragedy, as he sought consolation in religion.In one, he doubts whether atheists or deists (such as his friend William Godwin, novelist, philosopher, and publisher of children's books) have adequate answers for the larger questions of life; other poems dwell on the death of the old aunt whose favorite he was (she also appears in his essay "Witches and Other Night-Fears"), on his dead mother with regrets for days gone, on his father's senility, on Mary's fate, and on his growing doubts about institutional religion.She was judged temporarily insane, and Lamb at twenty-two took full legal responsibility for her for life, to avoid her permanent confinement in a madhouse.Thereafter she was most often lucid, warm, understanding, and much admired by such friends as the essayist William Hazlitt. But she was almost annually visited by the depressive illness which led to her confinement for weeks at a time in a private hospital in Hoxton."; "Methinks how dainty sweet it were, reclin'd"; "When last I roved these winding wood-walks green"; "A timid grace sits trembling in her eye." All were written after the love affair had ended, to Lamb's regret.His early novel, (1798), is also rooted in the Ann episode.It has a Keatsian charm but little lasting distinction.The tragedy of 22 September 1796—when Mary, exhausted and deranged from overwork, killed their mother with a carving knife—changed both their lives forever.(Lamb too had been confined briefly at Hoxton for his mental state in 1795, but there was no later recurrence.) Both were known for their capacity for friendship and for their mid-life weekly gatherings of writers, lawyers, actors, and the odd but interesting "characters" for whom Lamb had a weakness.For the moment Lamb "renounced" poetry altogether, but he soon took it up again and began work on a tragedy in Shakespearean blank verse, (1802), which has autobiographical elements.


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