Charles Lamb



Charles Lamb grew up in downtown London and went to school at Christ’s Hospital where he first met lifelong friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He served in various office positions as the needs of his family required, and at age 24, with the death of his father, was placed in charge of all the family’s needs. He published his first poems in 1796 in a Coleridge collection, and published various works through the early years of the 19th century, when he had his first break with Tales of Shakespeare (1807), a joint project with his sister Mary. By this time he had gained a footing in London’s literary elite circle and had become friends with William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, and others. All his adult life he wrote for periodicals in England, particularly London Magazine, and covered everything from dreams, religion, and politics, to marriage, food, and love. Before he died he published Essays of Elia (1823), and Final Essays of Elia (1833), both collections of his contributions to London Magazine.

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Essays by Charles Lamb

All fool’s day

The more laughable blunders a man shall commit in your company, the more tests he giveth you, that he will not betray or overreach you.

A bachelor’s complaint of the behaviour of married people

Nothing is to me more distasteful than that entire complacency and satisfaction which beam in the countenances of a new-married couple.

A chapter on ears

Sentimentally I am disposed to harmony. But organically I am incapable of a tune.

A complaint of the decay of beggars in the metropolis

There was a dignity springing from the very depth of their desolation; as to be naked is to be so much nearer to the being a man, than to go in livery.

Detached thoughts on books and reading

I love to lose myself in other men's minds. When I am not walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and think. Books think for me.

A dissertation upon roast pig

Pig—let me speak his praise—is no less provocative of the appetite, than he is satisfactory to the criticalness of the censorious palate.

Dream children: A reverie

We are nothing; less than nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been, and must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have existence, and a name.

Edax on appetite

An original peculiarity of constitution is no crime; that not that which goes into the mouth desecrates a man, but that which comes out of it.

The genteel style in writing

the rank of the writer is never more innocently disclosed, than where he takes for granted the compliments paid by foreigners to his fruit-trees.

Grace before meat

The form then of the benediction before eating has its beauty at a poor man's table, or at the simple and unprovocative repasts of children. It is here that the grace becomes exceedingly graceful.

The Londoner

I was born, as you have heard, in a crowd. This has begot in me an entire affection for that way of life, amounting to an almost insurmountable aversion from solitude and rural scenes.

Mackery end, in Hertfordshire

Those slender ties, that prove slight as gossamer in the rending atmosphere of a metropolis, bind faster, as we found it, in hearty, homely, loving Hertfordshire.

Modern gallantry

He was the Preux Chevalier of Age; the Sir Calidore, or Sir Tristan, to those who have no Calidores or Tristans to defend them.

Mrs. Battle's opinions on whist

Man is not a creature of pure reason he must have his senses delightfully appealed to.

New Year’s Eve

Every man hath two birth-days: two days, at least, in every year, which set him upon revolving the lapse of time, as it affects his mortal duration.

The old and new schoolmaster

The modern schoolmaster is expected to know a little of every thing, because his pupil is required not to be entirely ignorant of any thing.

On some of the old actors

Of all the actors who flourished in my time--a melancholy phrase if taken aright, reader--Bensley had most of the swell of soul, was greatest in the delivery of heroic conceptions, the emotions consequent upon the presentment of a great idea to the fancy.

Oxford in the vacation

The mighty future is as nothing, being every thing! the past is every thing, being nothing,

Popular fallacies

Coolness is as often the result of an unprincipled indifference to truth or falsehood, as of a sober confidence in a man's own side in a dispute.

Preface to The Last Essays of Elia

Better it is, that a writer should be natural in a self-pleasing quaintness, than to affect a naturalness (so called) that should be strange to him.

A Quaker’s meeting

For a man to refrain even from good words, and to hold his peace, it is commendable; but for a multitude, it is great mastery.

Sanity of true genius

So far from the position holding true, that great wit (or genius, in our modern way of speaking), has a necessary alliance with insanity, the greatest wits, on the contrary, will ever be found to be the sanest writers.

The south-sea house

To the idle and merely contemplative, to such as me, old house! there is a charm in thy quiet:--a cessation--a coolness from business--an indolence almost cloistral--which is delightful!

The two races of men

There is a class of alienators more formidable than that which I have touched upon: I mean our borrowers of books--those mutilators of collections, spoilers of the symmetry of shelves, and creators of odd volumes.

Valentine’s day

Not many sounds in life, and I include all urban and all rural sounds, exceed in interest a knock at the door.
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