English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
CHARLES LAMB (17751834) was born in the Temple, London, where his father was a clerk to one of the benchers. He was a schoolmate of Coleridges at Christs Hospital, and shortly after leaving school he entered the Indian House, on the staff of which he worked for thirty-three years. He never married, but lived with his sister Mary as her guardian on account of her inherited tendency to insanity. His friends included (besides Coleridge) Wordsworth, Hunt, Hazlitt, Southey, and many others, and his letters as well as the works he published reveal one of the most attractive personalities in literature.
Lamb wrote a handful of poems marked by delicate sentiment, and made some rather unsuccessful attempts at drama. But his name rests on his essays,the familiar essays on a great variety of subjects, whimsical, humorous, graceful, quaint; the critical essays, sensitive, illuminating, in the best sense appreciative. He did much for the revival of interest in the Elizabethan drama; and the essay On the Tragedies of Shakespeare, is the most distinguished single piece of critical writing that came from his pen. The main thesis of the paperthat the plays of Shakespeare are less calculated for performance on a stage than those of almost any dramatist whateveris, of course, paradoxical; but Lambs method was not logical or philosophical as his friend Coleridges aimed at being. His criticism is a frank expression of his personal feelings; it is in the proper sense impressionistic criticism; and it gets its value from the quality and flavor of the authors taste and personality. It is thus pure literaturethe expression of the man himselfrather than scientific analysis; and in this branch of writing there is nothing in English more delightful.