Biography of Charles Lamb

Portrait of Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb was a nineteenth century essayist.

When and Where was he Born?

12th February 1775, London, England.

Family Background:

Charles Lamb was the son of a Scrivener who was confidential clerk to Samuel Salt one of the bencher’s of the Inner Temple.

Education:

Christ’s Hospital, London, where he met and became a lifelong friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Christ's Hospital
Site of Christ’s Hospital, Newgate Street, London

Timeline of Charles Lamb:

1789: Lamb goes to work as a clerk at the South Sea House in London.

1792: Lamb transfers to India House. The death of Mr Salt leaves the family (except for his brother John, who had a well paid job at South Sea House) in reduced circumstances

1796: His sister Mary kills his mother in a fit of madness with a table knife. (Lamb looked after her for the rest of her life and she was to be his constant companion and the “Cousin Briget” of many of his essays). He contributes four sonnets to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Poems on Various Subjects”.

1798: He publishes “Blank Verse” in collaboration with his friend Charles Lloyd (of Lloyd’s Bank fame). This includes “The Old Familiar Faces” which became one of his best loved poems.

1807: Charles and Mary moved around from one set of lodgings to another and most of his literary outpourings had brought neither fame nor the much needed money. He is asked by William Godwin to help contribute to his “Juvenile Library”. To this he contributes the work by which he was to become famous, “Tales from Shakespeare”. (Charles worked on the Tragedies whilst Mary worked on the comedies).

1808: They again collaborate on a work for Children “The Adventures of Ulysses.”

1809: Lamb is commissioned by the publishers Longmans to edit and criticise selections from the Elizabethan dramatists.

1812: He publishes works on Hogarth and Shakespeare which appeare in the journal “The Reflector” edited by Hunt.

1818: His many works for various publications were brought together in the “Works of Charles Lamb” and because of this he is asked by the “London Magazine” to contribute a series of essays. These essays, under the pseudonym “Elia” (named after a fellow Clerk in India House) were to secure his fame once and for all.

1820-25: First series of “Essays of “Elia”.

1823: He leaves London and takes up a cottage in Islington now he is earning more money. Charles and Mary take with them Emma Isola a young orphan whom they looked after until she married.

Statue of Charles Lamb
Statue to Lamb in Giltspur Street, City of London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1825: Lamb retires from India House on a pension of two thirds of his salary. The Lambs go to live at Enfield and then Edmonton.

1833: Emma Isola marries the publisher E. Moxon. “The Last Essays of Elia” are completed.

1834: Dies

(1847): Death of Mary Lamb.

When and Where did he Die?

27th December 1834, Edmonton, Middlesex, England after complications to a wound suffered in a fall.

Age at Death:

58.

Written Works:

1798: “The Old Familiar Faces”. “A Tale of Rosamund Gray”.
1802: “John Woodvil”. (Drama).
1803: “Hester”.
1806: “Mr. H”. (Farce).
1807: “Tales from Shakespeare”. (With Mary Lamb, published at the invitation of William Godwin).
1808: “The Adventures of Ulysses”.
1809: “Poetry for Children”.
1811: “On the Tragedies of Shakespeare”. “A Bachelor’s Complaint on the Behaviour of Married Couples”.
1818: “Collected Works”. “Queen Oriana’s Dream”.
1819: “Valentine’s Day”.
1820: “Essays of Elia”. “The South Sea House”.
1821: “My Relations”.
1823: “Essays of Elia”. (2nd Edition). “Poor Relations”.
1825: “The Superannuated Man”.
1826: “The Genteel Style in Writing”. “Sanity of True Genius”.
1827: “Angel Help”.
1828: “On an Infant Dying as Soon as it was Born.”
1830: “To a Young Friend”. “She is Going.”
1833: “Last Essays of Elia”.
(1837): “Letters with a Life by Talfourd”.

Marriage:

Never Married as he devoted his time to looking after his sister who suffered from mental illness.

Site of Grave:

All Saint’s Churchyard, Edmonton, London, England.

Places of Interest:

LONDON:

British Library holds various works including a certificate proving his acceptability to work for the East India Company.
Statue in wall in Giltspur Street, City of London.

Further Information:

Charles Lamb Society, c/o R Healey, 80 Hull Lane, Great Chisholm, Royston, Herts, SG8 8SH.