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When in 1818 appeared the Works in two volumes, it may be that Lamb considered his literary career over.Before coming to 1820, and an event which was in reality to be the beginning of that career as it is generally known-the establishment of the London Magazine it should be recorded that in the summer of 1819 Lamb, with his sister’s full consent, proposed marriage to Fanny Kelly, the actress, who was then in her thirtieth year.It was this work which laid the foundation of Lamb’s reputation as a critic, for it was filled with imaginative understanding of the old playwrights, and a warm, discerning and novel appreciation of their great merits.
How deeply the whole course of Lamb’s domestic life must have been affected by his singular loyalty as a brother needs not to be pointed out.
Lamb’s first appearance as an author was made in the year of the great tragedy of his life (1796), when there were published in the volume of by Coleridge four sonnets by “ Mr Charles Lamb of the India House.” In the following year he contributed, with Charles Lloyd, a pupil of Coleridge, some pieces in blank verse to the second edition of Coleridge’s .
His removal on account of his sister to the quiet of the country at Enfield, by tending to withdraw him from the stimulating society of the large circle of literary friends who had helped to make his weekly or monthly “at homes” so remarkable, doubtless also tended to intensify his listlessness and helplessness.
One of the brightest elements in the closing years of his life was the friendship and companionship of Emma Isola, whom he and his sister had adopted, and whose marriage in 1833 to Edward Moxon, the publisher, though a source of unselfish joy to Lamb, left him more than ever alone.
With the help of friends he succeeded in obtaining his sister’s release from the life-long restraint to which she would otherwise have been doomed, on the express condition that he himself should undertake the responsibility for her safe keeping.
It proved no light charge: for though no one was capable of affording a more intelligent or affectionate companionship than Mary Lamb during her periods of health, there was ever present the apprehension of the recurrence of her malady; and when from time to time the premonitory symptoms had become unmistakable, there was no alternative but her removal, which took place in quietness and tears.The pseudonym adopted on this occasion was retained for the subsequent contributions, which appeared collectively in a volume of essays called , in 1823.After a career of five years the London Magazine came to an end; and about the same period Lamb’s long connexion with the India House terminated, a pension of £4 50 (£44I net) having been assigned to him.His father, John Lamb, a Lincolnshire man who filled the situation of clerk and servant-companion to Samuel Salt, a member of parliament and one of the benchers of the Inner Temple, was successful in obtaining for Charles, the youngest of three surviving children, a.presentation to Christ’s Hospital [an English boarding school], where the boy remained from his eighth to his fifteenth year (1782-1789).On the 22nd of September his sister Mary, “worn down to a state of extreme nervous misery by attention to needlework by day and to her mother at night, ” was suddenly seized with acute mania, in which she stabbed her mother to the heart.The calm self-mastery and loving self-renunciation which Charles Lamb, by constitution excitable, nervous and self-mistrustful, displayed at this crisis in his own history and in that of those nearest him, will ever give him an imperishable claim to the reverence and affection of all who are capable of appreciating the heroisms of common life.For a short time he was in the office of Toseph Paice, a London merchant, and then for twenty-three weeks, until the 8th of February 1792, he held a small post in the Examiner’s Office of the South Sea House, where his brother John was established, a period which, although his age was but sixteen, was to provide him nearly thirty years later with materials for the first of the Essays of Elia.On the 5th of April 1792, he entered the Accountant’s Office in the East India House, where during the next three and thirty years the hundred official folios of what he used to call his true “works” were produced. At the end of 1794 he saw much of Coleridge and joined him in writing sonnets in the Morning Post, addressed to eminent persons: early in 179 5 he met Southey and was much in the company of James White, whom he probably helped in the composition of the ; and at the end of the year for a short time he became so unhinged mentally as to necessitate confinement in an asylum.The establishment of the London Magazine in 1820 stimulated Lamb to the production of a series of new essays (the ) which may be said to form the chief corner-stone in the small but classic temple of his fame.The first of these, as it fell out, was a description of the old South Sea House, with which Lamb happened to have associated the name of a “gay light-hearted foreigner” called Elia, who was a clerk in the days of his service there.