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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia : Study of Personality


Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia is a study of personality. A true follower of Addison is Charles Lamb, whose essays  contributed to the London Magazine between 1820 and 1825 and published in book form as Essays of Elia (1823) and Last Essays of Elia (1833), found response in the hearts of all lovers of books. The name "Elia" under which they were written was that of a fellow-clerk in the India House. The first series was printed in 1823, the second, The Last Essays of Elia, in 1833. Lamb had a particular gift for analyzing character and his sensitivity and perceptiveness made him a valuable critic and friend. Some of his best writings were in Essays of Elia. Lamb was a fine-grained romanticist, an ardent admirer of the Elizabethans, a happy observer of the humors of his own day, a man whimsical and sympathetic. Lamb is just Lamb. Through the essays shines his personality. His brave manliness, his devotion to his sister Mary, his simple pursuance of duty, his loving circle of friends must be known by a class before they appreciate the essays. His witticisms, his insight into character, his wisdom, his self-betrayal, his felicitous phrase, his tender pathos, his charm, his whimsicality, his fine ideals, his quaintness do you, for your part, help pupils to see and feel these traits in the essays?

The name Elia was taken from a clerk in the South Sea House and attached in fun to the first essay. Bridget was his sister Mary. Many of the essays have personal references, The South Sea House,for instance, The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple, Christ's Hospital Five and Thirty Years Ago, Mockery End in Hertfordshire,and Blakes more in H shire. Dream-Children is a little classic of pathos ; A Dissertation upon Roast Pig, and The Praise of Chimney Sweepers, on the other hand, are splendid examples of wit and humor. Besides these, Old China, A Chapter on Ears, Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist,Barbara S., and other favorites may be read.It spoils Lamb's essays to try to analyze them; they must simply be accepted and enjoyed. 

 Charles Lamb is essentially an essayist, but in his Essays of Elia are several
sketches that bear marks of the short-story structure. A Dissertation upon Roast Pig is a combination of essay and story. The introduction gravely announces that the art of roasting was inadvertently discovered; it then gives
the story as it is supposed to be found in an old manuscript. This story is the portion to be used in class. It begins about the third sentence and runs half-way through the essay. In reading it we find the series of events, suspense, and the changing-around of situation that mark the true short story. There is much humor. In Dream-Children: a Revery, are shown great richness of feeling and delicacy of imagination. Hardly more than a fragile sketch, this bears in it the single impression, movement, and climax of the true short story. Lamb uses beautiful art in his side remarks relative to the acts of the children; he constructs a world of boys and girls and family background and all out of fancy. These little boys and girls of Lamb's imagination are worth meeting.


The richness of his language and his wealth of ideas are well illustrated in the following paragraph from Poor Relations: "A Poor Relation is the most irrelevant thing in nature, a piece of impertinent correspondency, an odious approximation,a haunting conscience, a preposterous shadow, lengthening in the noontide of our prosperity, an unwelcome remembrancer, a perpetually recurring mortification, a drain on your purse,a more intolerable dun upon your pride, a drawback upon success, a rebuke to your rising, a stain in your blood, a blot on your 'scutcheon, a rent in your garment, a death' s head at your banquet, Agathocles' pot, a Mordecai in your gate, a Lazarus at your door, a lion in your path, a frog in your chamber, a fly in your ointment, a mote in your eye,a triumph to your enemy, an apology to your friends, the one thing not needful, the hail in harvest, the ounce of sour in a pound of sweet.Is that not an astounding procession of metaphors !"

 Ardhendu De


Ref: 1. A SHORT BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE
BY JOHN. W. COUSIN

        2. TEACHING LITERATURE IN THE GRAMMAR GRADES AND HIGH SCHOOL
BY EMMA MILLER BOLENIUS,

2 comments:

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