English essayist and critic. He collaborated with his sister Mary Lamb (1764-1847) on Tales from Shakespeare (1807), and his Specimens of English Dramatic Poets Contemporary with Shakespeare, with Notes (1808) revealed him as a penetrating critic and helped to revive interest in Elizabethan plays. As ‘Elia’ he contributed essays to the London Magazine from 1820 (collected 1823 and 1833).
Lamb's essays are still widely read and admired; they include ‘A Dissertation on Roast Pig’, ‘Mrs Battle's Opinions on Whist’, ‘Dream Children’, and ‘The Supernatural Man’.
He was born in the Temple, London, and was educated at Christ's Hospital. As a friend of Coleridge, some of his poems were included in the second edition of Poems on Various Subjects (1797). He was a clerk with the East India Company at India House 1792-1825, when he retired to Enfield. His sister Mary stabbed their mother to death in a fit of insanity in 1796, and Charles cared for her between her periodic returns to an asylum.
In 1798 he issued Blank Verse, by Charles Lamb and Charles Lloyd, and his next publication was The Tale of Rosamund Gray and Old Blind Margaret the same year. Soon Lamb began to contribute to periodicals and newspapers, and in 1802 he printed his blank-verse tragedy John Woodvil. In 1806 the farce Mr H was produced at Drury Lane and condemned; but the following year the Tales from Shakespeare was an instant success. After publishing his Specimens of English Dramatic Poets, Lamb gradually began to develop his own style, writing for Leigh Hunt's Reflector and for the Gentleman's Magazine. A new periodical, the London Magazine, was started in 1820 and Lamb was an early contributor, his first article, ‘Recollections of the South Sea House’, being signed ‘Elia’, and he continued to write for the magazine regularly.
Lamb had great personal charm and included among his friends and correspondents Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge, William Hazlitt, and Leigh Hunt.
In 1825 he was retired with a pension from India House on the grounds of ill health. He did miscellaneous work during his last years, including Album Verses (1830), Satan in Search of a Wife (1831), and The Last Essays of Elia (1833).
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