Friday, March 11, 2011

Charles Lamb

Anna and I studied Charles Lamb today. His short personal essay, "Dream Children; A Reverie," is just about my favorite thing that we study in British literature -- better than Shakespeare, better than Milton or Chaucer. Browning's "My Last Duchess" runs it a close second. (And I don't really like Browning.)

But I love Lamb. What an interesting man! A family history of mental illness kept him from marrying for most of his life. His sister, in a fit of mania, stabbed their mother to death. Yet the two siblings lived happily together for many years, and joined in several literary endeavors. He was, by all accounts, a friendly, happy, congenial man. And he is considered the finest personal essayist in the English language.

That means he would probably have made an excellent blogger.

I have a large red book called Prose of the British Romantic Movement. If you know much about Romanticism, you know those fellows were poets. And when they weren't writing poetry, they were writing stories. But Lamb's forte was in neither of these genres. So he is sometimes neglected by lovers of Romanticism, who immerse themselves in Shelley or Byron. And since he was lover of city life, I don't think Lamb was really much of a "Romantic" at all.

For you book lovers, here is a rich passage from his "Oxford in the Vacation," about being in a library:

"What a place to be in is an old library! It seems as though all the souls of all the writers, that have bequeathed their labors to these Bodleians, were reposing here, as in some dormitory, or middle state. I do not want to handle, to profane the leaves, their winding-sheets. I could as soon dislodge a shade. I seem to inhale learning, walking amid their foliage; and the odour of their old moth-scented coverings is fragrant as the first bloom of those sciential apples which grew amid the happy orchard."

Such a familiar, warm, friendly style. I love reading him.

Here is a link to "Dream Children; A Reverie," if you'd like to read it. I'm sorry there are no paragraph divisions. After I finish the one about Oxford, I'm going to read about the huge, ancient country house where his grandmother lived, where he used to roam and play as a boy. I can't wait!


  1. Very cool, MK! I think my students need a little break from Shakespeare. I shall share some Lamb with them. THANKS!

  2. Thank you! I love your thought about how he would have been a good blogger.
    Now you've got me wondering if disdain for city life is really a requirement for being a Romantic....well, maybe...but not for being a romantic...?


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