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February 10: Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb (1775)

Charles Lamb

It was on this date, February 10, 1775, that British essayist Charles Lamb was born in London. While studying at Christ's Hospital, he formed a deep friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and also befriended William Godwin. Lamb's London circle of friends favoring political reform included Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Hazlitt, Henry Brougham, Lord Byron, Thomas Barnes and Leigh Hunt. While clerking for the East India Company, Lamb wrote poems and essays in his idle time.

He found little success until he, with his older sister Mary, wrote the children's book Tales from Shakespeare (1807). In a letter to the poet Southey, Lamb says: "The last sect with which you can remember me to have made common profession were the Unitarians."* With a later work, Essays of Elia (1823-33) — Elia was a pseudonym he used at London Magazine — Lamb became famous. Biographer Edward Verrall Lucas shows that Lamb was a complete agnostic from 1801,** and from his 1829 edition of Elia included the Southey letter in his preface, explaining that he was no longer even a Unitarian.

He never married, but looked after his institutionalized sister, Mary, until his death from an infected cut on his face. Charles Lamb died on 29 December 1834.

* Volume II, p 430. ** Edward Verrall Lucas, Life of Charles Lamb, 1905, pp. 210-11.

NB: Tales from Shakespeare (1807) can be found at this link. The Essays of Elia (1823) can be found at this link.

Originally published February 2004 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer

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