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Lamb

Lamb, Charles, was born in 1775, in Crown Office Row, in the Temple, where his father was clerk and servant to one of the benchers, Mr. Salt. Mr. Salt, in time, procured for him an admission to Christ's Hospital, and so he became a bluecoat boy, and a friend for life of his schoolfellow, Coleridge. On leaving school he took a clerkship at the South Sea House, but soon obtained a better position in the accountant's office at the India House. In 1796 the insanity which was in his father's family sent him for a few weeks to an asylum. He was never attacked again, but his elder sister, Mary, shortly after his recovery, in a fit of frenzy murdered their mother. He at once undertook the responsibility of her guardianship, and for the rest of his life devoted himself to her service, taking her to live with him on the death of their father in 1799. So serious a charge made a heavy demand on his purse, and he turned to literature to eke out his less than scanty income. In 1796 he published some sonnets among the Poems of Coleridge, and in 1798, in conjunction with his friend Lloyd, a volume of verse, while in the same year he brought out a short romance, A Tale of Rosamund Gray and Old Blind Margaret. Always devoted to the theatre, he composed in 1799 a tragedy, John Woodvil, which he failed to bring out on the stage. His lack of success with this was followed by a cheerful undertaking of lower work. Between 1800 and 1803 he contributed facetious paragraphs to The Morning Post and other papers, rising early to compose his jokes before breakfast. In 1806 he again attempted a play, and wrote a farce, Mr. H., which had actually a first night at Drury Lane, where it proved so complete a failure that Lamb himself contributed to the hisses amidst which the curtain fell. Success, however, was near. The Tales from Shakespeare, which he and Mary wrote together for Godwin's series of books for children, and published in 1807, obtained immediate and lasting popularity. In 1808 he gave a fine proof of his critical capacity in his Specimens of English Dramatic Poets contemporary with Shakespeare. A little later he wrote for The Reflector, unconsciously training his hand for his masterpiece, The Essays of Elia, which in 1820 he began to contribute to The London Magazine. The first series of these essays was published separately in 1823, the second two years afterwards. Their name was borrowed from an Italian who had been their author's fellow-clerk in the South Sea House thirty years before, and they were almost his last literary work, except some selections from old plays and his Popular Fallacies, published in 1828. In 1825 he retired from the India House on a pension, and two years later settled at Enfield. In 1833 he moved to Edmonton, his last home, where he died a few months after the death of his old friend Coleridge, on the 27th of December, 1834. Amidst the sadness of his devotion to his often-afflicted sister - which, perhaps, may excuse his one fault, indulgence in drink - he led an outwardly happy life, bringing merriment everywhere with the wit of his conversation and a ceaseless flow of puns. His essays, in their humour and pathos, their quaint and unforeseen turns, are the expression of the mind alike of a true humorist and a true critic.

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