Autobiographical elements in Charles Lamb’s essays
Charles Lamb's attitude in his essays is autobiographical-for his essays convey such elements from where we get to know his personality, nature, character, relatives, work places and people around him. Thus the subjective note in his essays is vital. As he belongs to the romantic age, the personal “I” is prominent is his essays. In almost all the essays, we find and we learn something about his life. Thus he speaks about his life, likings, whims and feelings. Lamb talks to the reader as if he were his friend and confesses and confider in him. Lamb's own personality is the basis for most of his essays. His own memories are reflected in them.
Actually autobiography is that kind of writing in which the writer's states, life and conditions are delineated. His personal experiences are revealed in autobiography. Moreover, the facts of personal life of the writer and the activities, relatives, friends, likings, dislikings, character etc. are written by the writer himself. In Charles Lamb's essays, we find the autobiographical touch. However, the autobiographical elements that we can get from his essays are written below:-
From his essays, we, the readers, come to know about Charles Lamb's life and we learn certain facts of his life- he was born at the Inner Temple and he was schooled at Christ's Hospital and he worked at South Sea House and India House as a clerk. We know that he was a bachelor; we also know that he apparently loved but was refused by his early beloved. We get to know a great deal about his school life in the essay "Christ's Hospital Five and Thirty Years Ago". We know that he had some privileges in his school. He says about himself in the guise of Coleridge, "I remember L. at school, and can well recollect that he had some peculiar advantages, which I and others of his school fellows had not". Again he says "His friends lived in town, and were near at hand; and he had the privilege of going to see them, almost as often as he wished". Moreover, he got his "extraordinary bread and butter" "from the hot-loaf of the Temple".
The reason for why his essays appeal autobiographical is his subjective note which is predominant in all his essays. The subject of the Essays of Elia is Lamb himself. In all of them, he makes some reference to himself. And the personal "I" is so abound in his essays that readers ere sometimes fretted, although some critics consider that use as an extra charm of Lamb's essays. In almost all the essays, he talks about himself, his family, relatives, and friends. From these essays, we come to know about his personality, nature and character which are revealed by himself. After reading his essays, we know all about his stammer, his work al India House and his companions there. It is this quality of self-revelation and confidential tone that entitles Lamb to be called the "Prince of English essayists".
We also come to know about his relatives and friends. In the essay "The South Sea House”, he writes about his colleagues and gives the readers a very clear view about them. Similarly, In "Christ's Hospital", he tells about his relatives and friends. Some of his relatives and friends lived in London and who were, no doubt, very caring to him. They used to bring delicious foods for him in Christ's Hospital and used to look after him very cordially. He says in “Christ’s Hospital”, in the guise of Coleridge, "He had his hot plate of roast veal, or the more tempting griskin...., cooked in the paternal kitchen...., and bought him daily by his maid or aunt". In the same essay, we have collections about a number of other friends who studied with him. We know his friends lived in town. In “Christ’s Hospital Five And Thirty Years Ago”, he says, "His friends lived in town, and were near at hand".
From the essays like “The South Sea House”, “Christ’s Hospital Five And Thirty Years Ago”, “A Bachelors Complaint”, we got to know about his activities and the jobs that he used to do in his student and professional life. In the essay “Christ’s Hospital Five And Thirty Years Ago”, we see that he was not like his other school fellows and enjoyed much concessions than other's. We also come to know that "he was a home-seeking lad" and did not enjoy him much with other boys. Other essays tell his feelings, ideas, dreams and unfulfilled longings. But through all the essays shine the personality of a man who was alive to the absurdities of the world, sympathetic towards others' sufferings and tolerant towards shortcomings.
As we know that Charles Lamb was a bachelor and worked at The South Sea House and India House, he had experiences some bitter and humorous experiences from there. These experiences sometimes seem humorous and sometimes seem pathetic. In the essay “A Bachelors Complaint”, he tells about some of the bitter experiences and expresses his agony for the behaviour of the married people whom he thinks pretend lovers. Here he says, " What oftenest offends of at the houses of married persons where I visit, is an error of quite a description:- it is that they are too loving". He thinks that the married people generally show that they are "too loving" and they show these things to the unmarried people "so shamelessly". This type of behaviour of the married people is painful to him.
Charles Lamb is a true lover of the past. He loves past people, books, buildings and fashions, and does not care much about future. Memories of the past haunt him; recollections of events of the past are more important than the present; old familiar faces hold more attraction for him. In the essay, “The South Sea House” and “Christ’s Hospital Five And Thirty Years Ago”, Lamb is seen as a visualizer of the past memories. In “The South Sea House”, he says about the building as "it was forty years ago, when I knew it- a magnificent relic". Here he recollects the memory of the old building, its damp and dark rooms, the inner rooms which were even more sparsely peopled and the gloomy cellar which saw no light of the sun.
Although Charles Lamb loved the past things, he loved his life and was loath to die. Like all other man, he loved the sun, the breeze, solitary walks, the very green earth. He declares his love for good food and drink. He also loves the theatre, books, good company, gossip and scandal. And again from many of his essays, we come to know that he likes irony, jokes, pun and paradox. He never wanted to hide his likings, dislikings, whims and oddities. He frankly confesses all these things to the readers. He desires the friendship of his readers, and not merely their respect. He confider in them all about his own weakness, follies and foibles.
As Charles Lamb loved fun, he sometimes used to mystify the readers by declaring something true to be false, or by mischievously changing names and speaking under assumed personality. In the essay, “Christ’s Hospital Five And Thirty Years Ago” , he writer in the guise of Coleridge. And it is the last three or two paragraphs when he unveils the curtain and writes as Charles Lamb.
Lamb speaks of his personal reactions to various aspects of life in all his essays. Even in the essays like “Christ’s Hospital Five And Thirty Years Ago”, “The South Sea House” , where he is primarily concerned with other people, he is talking about them from his personal point of view. In “The South Sea House”, he delineates the characters of Evans, Thomas Tame and John Tipp by his thoughts and feelings. And the comments about them are his own. He comments about John Tipp, "He sang, certainly, with other notes than to the orphan lyre". Them again he comments about the clerks of The South Sea House, “they formed a sort of Noah's ark” .
In most of the essays, he reveals the incidents, people and glories of the past. As a result he picturizes not only other people's conditions and states, but also his own conditions, feelings and character. In fact, his own life is revealed by his essays. So, considering the subject matter of his essays, it can be said that a large portion of Lamb's biography can be written from his essays.
- Why is the essay entitled “Dream Children”?
Ans: Charles Lamb entitled the essay “Dream Children” because he never married and naturally never became the father of any children. The children he speaks of in the essay were actually the creations of his imagination or fancy.
2. Who was Field? How does Lamb present her before his dream children?
Ans: Field, pseudonym for the actual person, was Lamb’s grandmother. Lamb presents her as an ideal grandmother in an imaginary and inflated way before his “dream children”—she was extremely pious, fearless and compassionate person besides being the best dancer of the area in her youth.
3. Why is the essay entitled “A Reverie”?
Ans: The essay is subtitled as a ‘reverie’ because Lambnever married and so he never had children. In the essay he created an imaginary picture of a happy conjugal life—a picture which finally dissolves into nothing as he comes back to reality.
4. How does Lamb present his brother John L—?
Ans: Lamb’s elder brother, John L—in his youth was a handsome, high-spirited, strong and fearless person. He loved Lamb very much. But subsequently in his old age he became lame-footed and spent the rest of his life in utter hopelessness, irritation and pain.
5. Whom does Lamb refer to as “faithful Bridget” by side?
Ans: Lamb had a sister, Mary Lamb, who did not marry since she had attacks of insanity. She has been referred to here as “faithful Bridget” because she never married and was Lamb’s only companion in his life. At the sudden breakdown of his reverie, he finds her seated by his side.
6. What, according to you, is the most striking feature of the essay and why?
Ans: The chief characteristic feature of the essay is the author’s mingling of pathos and humour. Lamb begins the essay in somewhat deceptive fashion, describing the incidents, full of humour. But gradually he reduces the tone towards the end describing the tragedies of his personal life.
7. How does Lamb present the autobiographical elements in the essay?
Or, Why is the essay called a personal essay?
Or, What type of essay is Dream Children?
Ans: Dream Children is a personal essay. Lamb presents the characters and incidents from his own life—the sketches of his grandmother, Field, his brother—John Lamb, his sister—Mary Lamb, his tragic love-affairs with Ann Simmons. But Lamb is always playing with facts and fictions and transforms the real into the literary.
8. How does Lamb show his knowledge of child psychology?
Ans: It is surprising that without ever having children Lamb had acute sense of how children react to the happenings in the world of the adults. By deceptively referring to the meticulous reactions of his dream children, he succeeds in catching the reader immediately. The aesthetic impact of the essay becomes more effective for this reason.
9. “...till the old marble heads would seem to be live again...to be turned into marble with them”—Where does the expression occur? Explain the context.
Ans: Lamb told his “dream children” that in his boyhood he would enjoy rambling in and around the great country house in Norfolk. He would gaze at the twelve marble busts of Caesars in such an intensely meditative way that it seemed to him after some time that those were coming back to life again, or that he would be himself transformed into marble with them.
10. Where does the expression “busy-idle diversion” occur? What does the author mean by this?
Ans: Lamb told his “dream children” that in his boyhood he would enjoy rambling in and around the great country house in Norfolk more than the sweet fruits of the orchard. He would remain busy with this though he had no work to do.
11. “When he died though he had not been...died great while ago”.
Who is referred to as ‘he’? Why is he spoken of?
Ans: Lamb loved his brother John L— very much. But very shortly after his death it seemed to him that death had created such an immeasurable vacuum in his life that it made impossible for him to comprehend the significance of the difference between life and death.
12. “...such a distance there is betwixt life and death”—Explain the significance of the line in light of the context.
Ans: the immediate absence of his brother John Lamb created by his death forced Lamb to feel the gulf the difference between life and death. He understood that death created a permanent absence as the dead cannot be restored to life. Again, death is unknowable and Lamb was forced to reflect on his brother’s absence in this way.
13. “...the soul of first Alice looked out at her eyes with such reality of re-presentment that I came in doubt”—Who was Alice? What does the word ‘re-presentment’ mean here?
Ans: In the course of his day-dreaming when Lamb looked at his dream-daughter, her physical resemblance reminded him of his dream-girl Alice W—n, a fictitious name for Ann Simmons who did reciprocate his love.
14. “But John L—(or James Elia) was gone forever”—Who was James Elia? Why does the author say this?
Ans: At the end of his day-dreaming Lamb coming back to reality finds his sister (Bridget) Mary Lamb by his side; but he realises and remembers that his brother James Elia or John Lamb had died and would no more be with them. So he laments his loss thus.
15. “Here Alice put out one of her dear mother’s looks, too tender to be called upbraiding”—What does the word ‘braiding’ mean here? What makes Alice react thus?
Ans: While describing the great country house in Norfolk, lamb tells his “dream children” that the chimney piece of the great hall was decorated by the curving of the story of Robin Redbreasts. At the informationthat a foolish person pulled it down, Alice’s countenance changed, which suggested that it should not have been done. The word ‘braiding’ here means castigation or censure.
16. How does Lamb record Alice’s reactions to his story-telling?
Ans: While listening to Lamb’s personal tale, Alice reacts firs by spreading her hands when Lamb says how good, religious and graceful person Field had been. Alice reacts to it either in great astonishment or putting up some pious gesture. She also cries out When Lamb talks about his elder brother’s pain and death.
17. How does Lamb record John’s reactions to his story-telling?
Ans: At the information of the great house being stripped off its ornaments John smiled, which suggested the foolishness of the work. He was trying to look brave and impress upon his father that he would not have been afraid of the ghosts like his father. At the end of the story, when Lamb was talking of his elder brother’s pain and death, John, like Alice, began to cry.