I. Charles, an English author, born in London, Feb. 18, 1775, died in Edmonton, Dec. 27, 1834. His father was servant and friend to one of the benchers of the Inner Temple, and published a volume of occasional verses which evince his humor and taste. His character is happily drawn under the name of Lovel in the essay of Elia on "The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple." In the Inner Temple Charles passed the first seven years of his life, and was then sent to the school of Christ's hospital, where he remained till his 15th year. Coleridge was his schoolfellow, and one of his earliest and most esteemed friends. But for a slight impediment in his speech he would have acquired a university education and taken orders. He was employed in the South sea house from 1789 to 1792, when he obtained an appointment in the accountant's office of the East India company, which he held until his retirement with a pension in 1825. To meetings with Coleridge on his visits to London, when they used to sap together at an inn, and sit in conversation nearly through the night, he attributed the first quickening of his intellect to literary activity, saying in a letter to him: " You first kindled in me, if not the power, yet the love of poetry, and beauty, and kindliness." There was a tendency to insanity in his family.
He himself at the age of 20 was confined six weeks in a madhouse. He was not again affected, but the tendency was more strongly marked in his sister Mary. On Sept. 22, 1796, she killed her mother in a paroxysm of madness, and from this time she was subject to attacks of insanity. She always had premonition of them, and would indicate the moment when her brother should take her to the asylum. He devoted himself only to her, and admitted no connection which could interfere with his single care to sustain and comfort her. His first compositions were in verse, written slowly and at long intervals. His earliest printed poems are contained in a volume published conjointly with Coleridge and Charles Lloyd in 1797, and republished only in conjunction with Lloyd in 1798. In that year he produced also his prose tale of "Rosamund Gray," was associated with Coleridge and Southey in preparing a volume of fugitive poetry under the title of the "Annual Anthology," and was engaged in writing the tragedy of "John Woodvil," which was rejected by the managers, but was published in 1801. He made one other dramatic attempt, " Mr. H.," a pleasant farce, which was produced at Drury Lane theatre in 1806, with Mr. Elliston in the principal character.
It was damned on the first night, and Lamb, who sat with his sister in the front of the pit, gave way to the common feeling, hissed and hooted as loudly as any one, and henceforth made a jest of the wreck of his dramatic hopes. He had already begun his studies of the old English authors, whom he always preferred to later writers with one or two exceptions, and published in 1808 his " Specimens of English Dramatic Poets who lived about the Time of Shakespeare," with appreciative and suggestive notes, which was more favorably received than his preceding works. To the " Reflector," a shortlived quarterly magazine edited by Leigh Hunt in 1810, he contributed some of his finest pieces, as the essay " On Garrick and Acting," which contains his character of Lear, the " Essays on Hogarth," and the " Farewell to Tobacco." His celebrity as an author and the circle of his literary friends had greatly increased when the establishment of the "London Magazine" in 1820 occasioned the compositions by which he acquired his most brilliant reputation, the " Essays of Elia," first collected in 1823, to which the "Last Essays of Elia" were added in 1833. In 1825 occurred one of the principal events of his uneventful life, his retirement from his clerkship, which is described in his essay " The Superannuated Man." His salary had then become £700 a year, and he was allowed a life annuity of £450. Great consideration had uniformly been shown him by his superiors.
So highly did he value the independence thus obtained by drudgery, that he advised one of his friends rather to seek-five consolatory minutes between the desk and the bed, or even to throw himself " from the steep Tarpeian rock, slapdash, headlong upon iron spikes," than to rely solely upon literary labor for support. His exultation on his release appears in his letters: "I came home for ever on Tuesday in last week. The incomprehen-sibleness of my condition overwhelmed me. It was like passing from life into eternity." Coleridge, Lloyd, Southey, Godwin, Manning, Wordsworth, George Dyer, Hazlitt, Talfourd, Bernard Barton, Leigh Hunt, Cary, Procter, De Quincey, and Hood were among those who shared his intimacy. Many of these were wont to meet at the "Wednesday evening parties of Charles and Mary Lamb in his chambers in Inner Temple lane, which would occupy a large space in a literary history of his epoch, and which his biographer elaborately compares with the evenings of Holland house. Lamb presided over the motley group, stammering out puns, witticisms, and fine remarks, while his countenance is described as presenting a sort of quivering sweetness, "deep thought striving with humor, the lines of suffering wreathed into cordial mirth;" and his whole appearance resembled his own characterization of another person, " a compound of the Jew, the gentleman, and the angel." Though many of his curious sayings have been recorded, it is affirmed that they give no idea of the singular traits, the verbal felicities, and happy thoughts of his conversation.
His single frailty was the eagerness with which from an early period of life he would quaff exciting liquors, snatching a fearful pleasure "between the acts of his distressful drama." He made a final abandonment of tobacco, though he had learned to smoke the strongest preparations of the weed, saying to Dr. Parr that he had toiled after this power as some men toil after virtue. His large intellectual tolerance, cherishing among his intimate associates men of every variety of philosophical, religious, and political opinions, has rarely been equalled. He delighted especially in individual peculiarities and oddities, and in all striking displays of human nature. During the last six years of his life he resided with his sister successively at Is-lington, Enfield, and Edmonton, often visiting his old associates in London, heavily afflicted by the deaths of Coleridge and Hazlitt, and with little disposition to write anything hut verses and essays that were given to his friends. While taking his daily morning walk he accidentally fell, slightly wounding his face, and erysipelas ensued, which terminated fatally.
In his last moments, when nearly insensible to things around him, his mind seemed intent on hospitable purposes, and he proposed in broken sentences some meeting of his friends. Beneath all his inconsistencies, his fantastic ideas, subtle perceptions, absurd fancies, and mingling of jest with seriousness, the most constant and prominent feature of his character was amiability. The " Essays of Elia " hold a peculiar place in English literature. The style is a model of quaint and graceful elaboration, showing both his original genius and his familiarity with the fine sayings of the Elizabethan age; and they abound as well in profound thoughts as in the rarest fancies and felicities of expression. His works were edited, with a biography consisting largely of his letters, which are among the most delightful in the language, by Thomas Noon Talfourd (1 vol. 8vo, London, 1840; 4 vols., 1850; with addition of the "Final Memorials," 1 vol., 1852; 4 vols., 1855). The " Specimens of English Dramatic Poets," and other writings of his, are not included.
The " Essays of Elia" have been published separately (Boston, 1860), and a volume of the uncollected writings of Charles Lamb, edited by J. E. Babson (Boston, 1864), since incorporated with several complete editions.
II. Mary Anne, an English authoress, sister of the preceding, born in London in 1765, died in St. John's Wood, May 20, 1847. She resided constantly with her brother until his death, except when fits of insanity obliged her removal to the asylum. She wrote a few slight poems, and in conjunction with him the " Tales from Shakespeare" (1807) and a collection of juvenile tales entitled "Mrs. Leicester's School" (1808). The stories by her are, as Charles delighted to insist, the best of the collection. When well, she was remarkable for the sweetness and placidity of her disposition. On Charles Lamb's death the East India company granted to her the pension to which a widow was entitled, and her brother had besides made her comfort secure by his own savings. A volume of poems, letters, and remains of Mary and Charles Lamb, with reminiscences and notes, edited by W. Carew Hazlitt, was published in 1874.