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Firsi Edition 1882
Reprinted 1883, 1888, 1893, 1899


The writings of Charles Lamb abound in biographical
matter. To them, and to the well-known volumes of the
late Mr. Justice Talfourd, I am mainly indebted for the
material of which this memoir is composed.

I have added a complete list of the chief works from
which information about Lamb and his sister has been
obtained. I have also had the advantage of communica-
tion with those who were personally acquainted with
Lamb and have received Irom others valuable assistance
in exploring less known sources of information

Among those to whom my acknowledgments for much
kindness are duo, I would mention Mrs. Arthur Twecn, a
daughter of that oM and loyal friend of the Lamb family,
Mr. Ifandal Xorris ; Mr. James Cro.ssley, of Manchester;
Mr. Edward FitzCiorald ; Mr. W. Aldis Wright ; and la.'^t,
not, my friend Mi. J. Iv Davis, of the Middle
Temple, whose kind interest in this little book has been

A. A.

neremher, 1881.


1. The Essays of Elia, and other writings, in prose and

verse, of Charles Lamb.

2. Letters of Charles Lamb, with a Sketch of his Life by

Thomas Noon Talfourd ......

3. Final Memorials of Charles Lamb, &c., by Thoma,s

Noon TalfoTirfl .

4. Charles Lamb : A Memoir, by Barry Cornwall

5. Charles and Jlary Lamb : Poems, Letters, and Remains

by W. Carew Hazlitt .....

6. Gillman's Life of Coleridge, vol. i. ...

7. Cottle's Early Recollections of Coleridge

8. Alflop's Letters, Conversations, and Recollections ol

Coleridf^e ........

9. My Frien<l.^ and Acquaintance, bv P. 0. Patmoro

10. Autobiography of Leigh Hm '

11. Memoirs of William Hazlitt, by W. Carew Uazlitt

12. Lih'i-nry Romin iscences, by Thomas Hood (in Hood'


13. Uaydon's Autobiography and Journnls

14. Diary of Henry Crabb Robinson .

15. Memoir of Charles Matbows (the older), by Mrs

Mathews ........

ir>. Lifr; and Correspondence of Robert Sonthey

17. Obituary Notices, RominiscencoH, EssayH, Ac, in

various magazines and roviows.









DATE. 1-AGli

Boyhood— The Temple and CiiitiST'a Hos-
pital 1775—1789 . 1

Familv Stulogles and Sokkows . 1789—1796 . 17


FlUSr E.MEKIME.STS I.\ LiTEUATlIlK . . 1790—1800 31

Dhamatk; ALTiroiLSHii' a.vd Dka.matic Cuiticism 1800—1809 . 50


Inner Te.mile Lank -Pkksonai, Cmakactekis-

T't^^" 1809—1817 . 71


Rl'bsell Htueet, Covent Oarden— The Kssavs

<"' '''''' ^ .... 1817-1823 . 90




CoLEiJuooK Row, Islington— The Controveksv
with southey, and retirement from the
India House 1823—1826 . 125

Enfield and Edmonton ... 1826 — 1834 . 150

Lamb's Placi; as a Critic . - » . . 172






" 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 hut a stream
that watered our pleasant places 1 — these are of my oldest
recollections." In this manner does Charles Lamb, in an
essay that is one of the masterpieces of English prose,
open for us tliose pas.sages of autobiograjjliy which happily
abound in lii.s writings. The words do more than fix
jilaces and dates. They strike the key in which his early
life was set — and the later life, liardly less. The genius
of Lamb was surely guided into its special channel by the
cliance that the first fourteen years of his life were passed,
as hixs been .said, "between cloister and cloister," between
the mecliiuval atnios])here of the (piiet Temple and tliat of
the busy school of Edward \'I.

Charles T^amb was born on the 10th of February, 177r)
in (Jrown Ollice Row in the Tumple, the lino of buildings


2 CHARLES LAMB. [chap.

facing the garden and the river he has so lovingly com-
memorated. His father, John Lamb, who had come \ip
a country boy from Lincolnshire to seek his fortune in
the great city, was clerk and servant to Mr. Samuel Salt,
a Bencher of the Inner Temple. He had married Eliza-
beth Field, whose mother was for more than fifty years
housekeeper a't the old mansion of the Plumers, Blakes-
ware in Hertfordshire, the Blakesmoor of the Essaijs
of FAia. The irfsue of this marriage was a family of
seven children, only three of whom seem to have survived
their early childhood. The registers of the Temple
Church record the baptisms of all the seven children,
ranging from the year 1762 to 1775. Of the three who
lived, Charles was the youngest. The other two were his
brother John, who ■\\ as twelve years, and his sister Mary
Anne (better known to us as Mary), who was ten years
his senior. The marked difference in age between Charles
and his brother and sister, must never be overlooked in
the estimate of the difficulties, and of the heroism, of his
later life.

In the essay already cited — that on the Old Benchers
of the Inner Temple — Charles has drawn for us a touching
portrait of his father, the barrister's clerk, under the name
of Lovel. After speaking of Samuel Salt, the Bencher,
and certain indolent and careless ways from which he
" might have suffered severely if he had not had honest
people about him," he digresses characteristically into a
description of the faithful servant who was at hand to
protect him : —

Lovel took care of everything. 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 an\'thing expecting and fearing his


admonishing. He put himself almost too much in his hands,
had they not been the purest in the world. He resigned his
title almost to respect as a master, it Lovel could ever have
forgotten for a moment that he was a servant.

I knew this Lovel. He whs a man of an incorrigible and
losing honesty. A good fellow withal, and " would strike." In
the cause of the oppressed he never considered inequalities, or
calculated the number of his opponents. He once wrested a
sword out of the hand of a man of quality that had drawn
upon him, and pommelled him severely with the hilt of it. The
swordsman had offered insult to a female — an occasion upon
which no odds against him could have prevented the interference
of Lovel. He would stand next day bare-headed to the same
person, modestly to excuse his interference, for Lovel never for-
got rank, where something better was not concerned. Lovel
was tlie liveliest little fellow breathing ; had a face as gay as
Garrick's, whom he was said greatly to resemble (I have a por-
trait of him which confirms it) ; possessed a fine turn for
humorous poetry — next to Swift and Prior; moulded heads in
clay or jjlaster of Paris to admiration, by the dint of natural
genius merely ; turned cribbage-boards, and such small cabinet
toys, to perfection ; took a iiand at quadrille or bowls with equal
facility ; made punch better than any man of his degree in
England; had the merriest quips and conceits, and was alto-
gether as brimful of rogueries and inventions as you could
desire. He was a brother of the angle, moreover, and just sucli
a free, hearty, honest companion as Mr. Izaak Walton would
have chosen to go a-fishing with.

I saw him in his old age, and the decay of his faculties, palsy-
Hmitten, in the last sad stage of human weakness — " a remnant
most forlorn of what he was " — yet even then his eye would
light up upon the mention of his favourite Garrick. He was
greatest, he would say, in liayes— " was upon the stage nearly
throughout the whole performance, and as busy as a bee." At
intervals, too, he would speak of his former life, and how he
came up a little boy from Lincoln to go to service, imd Ikiw iiis
mother cried at parting with him. and how he returned alter

4 CHAELES LAMB. [craf.

some few years' absence in his smart new livery, to see her, and
she blessed herself at the change and could hardly be brought to
believe that it was " her own bairn." And then, the excitement
subsiding, he would weep, till I have wished that sad second-
childhood might have a mother still to lay its head upon her
lap. But the common mother of us all in no long time after
received him gently into hers.

I have digressed, in my turn, from the story of Charles
Lamb's own life, but it is not without interest to learn
from whom Charles inherited, not only something of his
versatility of gift, but his chivalry and tenderness.

The household in Crown Office Eow were from the
beginning poor — of that we may feel certain. An aunt
of Charles, his father's sister, formed one of the family,
and contributed something to the common income, but
John Lamb the elder was the only other bread-winner.
And a barrister's clerk with seven children born to him
in a dozen years, even if lodging were found him, could
not have had much either to save or to spend. Before
seven years of age Charles got the rudiments of education
from a Mr. William Bird, whose schoolroom looked " into
a discoloured dingy garden in the passage leading from
Fetter Lane into Bartlett's Buildings." We owe this,
and some other cm-ious information about the academy, to
a letter of Lamb's addressed in 1826 to Hone, the editor
of the Every Day Book. In that periodical had appeared
an account of a certain Captain Starkey, who was for
some time an assistant of Bird's. The mention of his old
teacher's name in this connexion called up in Lamb
many recollections of his earliest school-days, and pro-
duced the letter just named, full of characteristic matter.
The school, out of Fetter Lane, was a day-school for boys,
and an evening school for girls, and Charles and Mary had


the advantages, ■whatever they may have been, of its in-
struction, Starkey had spoken of Bird as " an eminent
writer, and teacher of languages and mathematics," e^c. ;
upon wliich Lamb's comment is, " Heaven knows what
languages were taught in it then ! I am sure that neither
my sister nor myself brought any out of it but a little of
our native English." Then follow some graphic descrip-
tions of the birch and the ferule, as wielded by j\[r. Bird,
and other incidents of school-life : —

Oh, how I remember our legs wedged into those uncom-
fortable sloping desks, where we sat elbowing each other ; and tlie
injunctions to attain a free hand, unattainable in that position ;
the first copy I wrote after, with its moral lesson, "Art improves
nature ; " the still earlier pot-hooks and the hangers, some
traces of which 1 fear may yet be apparent in this manuscript.

"VNTien Charles had absorbed such elementary leaiuing
as was to be acquired under Mr. Bird and his assistants,
his father might have been much perplexed where to iiiid
an education for liis younger son, witliin his slender
means, and yet satisfying Ids natural ambition, liad not a
governor of (Jlirist's Hospital, of the name of Yeates, ])ro-
bably a friend of Samuel Salt, odrred him a presentation to
tliat admirable charity. And on the 9th of October, 1782,
Charles I>;irab, then in his eighth year, entered the institu-
tion, and remained tluTo for the next seven years.

There is scarcely any porti<i?i of his life about which
Lamb lias not himself takr;n his readers into liisconlidpncc,
and in his essay on Wildifx nml other Nif/hf-fcrirs he
has referred to his own .sensitive and superstitious cliild-
hood, made more sensitive by the l)ooks, meat too strong
for childish digestion, to which he had free access in liis
father's collection. " I was dreadfully alive to nervous

6 CHARLES LAMB. [chap.

terrors. The nii,'lit-time solitude and the dark were my
hell. The sufl'erings I endured in this nature would
justify the expression. I never laid my head on my
pillow, I suppose, from the fourth to the seventh or eighth
year of my life — so far as memory serves in things so long
ago — without an assurance, which realized its own pro-
phecy, of seeing some frightful spectre." Lamb was fond
both of exaggeration and of mystification, as we shall see
further on, but this account of his childhood is not incon-
sistent with descriptions of it from other sources. There
was a strain of mental excitability in all the family, and
in the case of Charles the nervousness of childhood was
increased by the impediment in his speech which remained
with him for life, and made so curious a part of his uniij[ue
personality. " He was an amiable, gentle boy," wrote
one who had been at school with him, " very sensible and
keenly observing, indulged by his school-fellows and by
his master on account of his infirmity of speech. I never
heard his name mentioned," adds this same school-fellow,
Charles Valentine Le Grice, " without the addition of
Charles, although, as there was no other boy of the name
of Lamb, the addition was unnecessary ; but there was an
implied kindness in it, and it was a proof that his gentle
manners excited that kindness." Let us note here that
this term "gentle" (the special epithet of Shakspeare)
seems to have occurred naturally to all Lamb's friends, as
that which best described him. Coleridge, Wordsworth,
Landor, and Cary, recall no trait more tenderly than this.
And let us note also that the addition of his Christian
name (Lamb loved the use of it : " So Christians," he
said, " should call one another ") followed him through
life and beyond it. There is perhaps no other Englisli
writer who is so seldom. mentioned by his surname^alone.


Of Lamb's experience of school-life we are fortunate in
having a full description in his essay, entitled Recollections
of Chrisfs Hospital, published in 1818, and the sequel to
it, called Christ's Hospital Jive-and-thirtij years ago (one
of the Elia essays), published, two years later. But it
requires some familiarity' with Lamb's love of masquerading,
already referred to, to disengage fact from fancy, and
extract what refers to himself only, in these two papers.
The former is, what it purports to be, a serious tribute of
praise to the dignified and elevating character of the great
Charity by whicli he had been fostered. It speaks chiefly
of the young scholar's pride in the antiquity of the
foundation and the monastic customs and ritual which
had survived into modern times ; of the Founder, " that
godly and royal child. King Edward VL, the flower of
the Tudor name — the young flower that was untimely
cropped, as it began to fill our land with its early odours —
the boy-patron oi boys — the serious and holy child who
walked with Cranmer and Ridley," with many touching
reminiscences of the happy days spent in country excur-
sions or visits to the sights of London. But in calling up
these recollections it seems to have struck Lamb that his
old school, like other institutions, had more than one side,
and that the grievances of schoolboys, real and imaginary,
as well as the humorous side of some of the regulations
and traditions of the school, miglit sujiply material for
another picture not less interesting. Accordingly, under
the di.^guiso of the signature. Klin, he wrote a second
account of his school, purjiorting to l)C a corrective of the
over-colouring employed by " Mr. Lamb " in the former
account. The writer affects to be a second witness called
in to supplcmc^iit tlie evidence of the first. " I reiiieinlHi
L. at school," writes Lamb, under the signature ol Klia.

8 CHARLES LAMB. [chap.

" It happens very oddly that my own standing at Christ's
was nearly corresponding to his ; and with all gratitude
to him for his enthusiasm for the cloisters, I think he has
contrived to bring together whatever can be said in praise
of them, dropping all the other side of the argument most
ingeniously." Tliis other side Lamb proceeds, with charm-
ing humour, to set forth, and he does so in the character
of one, a " poor friendless boy," whose parents were far
away at " sweet Calne, in "Wiltshire," after which his heart
was ever yearning. The friendless boy whose personality
is thus assumed, was young Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who
had entered the school the same year as Lamb, though
three years his senior. Coleridge and Lamb were school-
fellows for the whole seven years of the latter's residence,
and from this early association arose a friendship as
memorable as any in English Literature. " Sweet Calne,
in Wiltshire," was thus one of Lamb's innocent mystifica-
tions. It was to the old home at " sweet Ottery St. Mary,"
in Devonshire, that young Samuel Taylor's thoughts
turned, when he took his lonely country rambles, or
shivered at the cold windows of the print-shops to while
away a winter's holiday.

In the character of Coleridge — though even here the

dramatic position is not strictly sustained — Lamb goes on

to relate, in the third person, many incidents of his own

boyish life, which differed of necessity from his friend's.

1 Charles Lamb was not .troubled how to get through a

(^ ■ winter's day, for lie had shelter and friendly faces within

^j easy reach of the school. " He had the privilege of going

to see them, almost as often as he wished, through some

/ invidious distinction which was denied to us. The pre-

V sent worthy sub-treasurer to the Inner Temple can ex-

^plain liow that happened. He had his tea and hot rolls


in the morning, while we were battening upon our quarter
of a penny-loaf moistened with attenuated small-beer, in
wooden piggins, smacking of the pitched leathern jack it
was poured from." And the writer proceeds to draw a
charming picture of some emissary from Lamb's home,
his " maid or aunt," bringing him some home-cooked
dainty, and squatting down on " some odd stone in a by-
nook of the cloisters," while he partook of it. It suggests
a pleasant and happy side to this portion of Charles
Lamb's life. Humble as his home was, still home was
near, and not unmindful of him ; and even taking into
account the severities of the discipline and other of the
schoolboy's natural grievances, it would seem as if Lamb's
school-years had a genial influence on his mind and

As to the education, in the common acceptation of the
word, which he gained during those seven years at Christ's
Hospital, we may form a very just notion. When he
left the school, in his fifteenth year, in November, 1789,
he was (according to his own statement made in more
than one passage of his writings) deputy Grecian. Leigh
Hunt, wlio entered the scliool two years after Lamb
quitted it, and knew him intimately in later life, says
the same thing. Talfourd seems to have applied to tlie
.school authorities for precise information, and gives a some-
what diffenrnt account. Ho says that " in the language
of the school" he was "in Greek form, l}ut not deputy
Grecian," No such distinction is understood l)y " lUucs"
of a later ilato, but it may possibly moan that Lamb was
doing deputy Grecians' work, though ho was in some way
technically disqualified from taking rank with llieni.
*' He had read," Talfourd goes on to Id] us, " Virgil,
Sallust, Terence, Lucian, and Xenophon, and had evinced

10 CHARLES LAMB. [crap.

considerable skill in the niceties of Latin composition."
Latin, not Greek, was certainly his strong point, and with
Terence especially he shows a familiar acquaintance. He
wrote colloquial Latin with great readiness, and in turning
nursery rhymes into that language, as well as in one or
two more serious attempts, there are proofs of an ease of
expression very creditable to the scholarship of a boy of
fourteen. And if (as appears certain) Lamb, though not
in the highest form at Christ's Hospital, had the benefit
of the teaching of the head-master, the Rev. James Boyer,
we have good reason for knowing that, pedant and tyrant
though Boyer may have been, he was no bad trainer for
such endowments as Coleridge's and Lamb's.

Coleridge, in his BiograpMa Literaria, has drawn a
companion picture of the better side of Christ's Hospital
discipline, which may judiciously be compared with
Lamb's. " At school I enjoyed the inestimable advantage
of a very sensible, though at the same time, a very severe
master. He early moulded my taste to the preference of
Demosthenes to Cicero, of Homer and Theocritus to
Virgil, and again of Virgil to Ovid. He habituated me
to compare Lucretius (in such extracts as T then read),
Terence, and above all, the chaster poems of Catullus, not
only with the Roman poets of the so-called silver and
brazen ages, but with even those of the Augustan era ;
and on grounds of plain sense and universal logic, to see
and assert the superiority of the former, in the truth and
nativeness both of their thoughts and diction. At the
same time tliat we were studying the Greek tragic poets,
he made us read Shakespeare and Milton as lessons ; and
they were the lessons, too, which required most time and
trouble to hring up, so as to escape his censure. I learnt
from him that poetry, even that of the loftiest, and seem-


ingly that of the wildest odes, had a logic of its own as
severe as that of science, and more difficult, because more
subtle, more complex, and dependent on more and more
fugitive causes. In the truly great poets, he would say,
there is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but
for the position of every word ; and I well remember that,
availing himself of the synonymes to the Homer of Didy-
mus, he made us attempt to show, with regard to each,
why it would not have answered the same purpose,
and wherein consisted the peculiar fitness of the word in
the original text." Such a teacher, according to Coleridge,
was the guiding spirit of Christ's Hospital ; and even
allowing for Coleridge having in later life looked back
with magnifying eyes upon those early lessons, and read
into Boyer's teaching something that belonged rather to
the learner than the teacher, we need not doubt how
great were the young student's obligations to his master.
Lamb, who was three years younger, and never reached
the same position in the school, may not have benefited
directly by this method of lioyer's, but he was the
intimate companion of the elder schoolboy, and whatever
Boyer taught we may be sure was handed on in some
form or other to Lamb, tinged tliough it may have been
by the wondrous individuality of his friend.

For tlic influence of Coleritlgc over Lamb, during these
school-days and afterwards, is one of tlic important
elements a biographer of Lamb has to take account of.
The boy, Samuel Taylor, had entered the school, as wo
have seen, in the same year. He was a lonely, dreamy
lad, not living wliolly apart fnjin the, pastimes of his
companions, wandering with them into the country, and
bathing in the New Kiver, on the holidays of summer,
but taking his pleasure on the whole sadly, loving above

12 CHARLES LAMB. [chap

all things knowledge, and greedily devouring whatever
of that kind came in his way. Middleton, afterwards
Bishop of Calcutta, at the time a Grecian in the school,
found him one day reading Virgil in his play -hour, for his
own amusement, and reported the circumstance to Boyer,
who acted upon it by fostering henceforth in every way
his pupil's talent. A stranger who met the boy one day
in the London streets, lost in some day-dream, and moving
his arms as one who *' spreadeth forth his hands to swim,"
extracted from him the confession that he was only think-
ing of Leander and the Hellespont. The stranger, im-
pressed with the boy's love of books, subscribed for him
to a library in the neighbourhood of the school, and
young Coleridge proceeded, as he has told us, to read

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