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THE LITERARY HISTORY OF ENGLAND.
- THOMAS DE QUINCEY.
AMID the greater forms that rose in the new flood of genius and life, in the end of the old century, to give the world assurance of a new epoch coming in, there is no attendant figure more attractive, more delightful, than that of Charles Lamb. No face can frown, no brow be overcast, when Elia—the gentle, the tender, the humorous, and ever-smiling, notwithstanding the deep dew of anguish which was never quite dried in his eyes—makes his appearance upon the scene. No man ever had a sweeter or more lightsome nature, and few men, even in this world of trouble, have been so heavily weighted. He was the schoolfellow of Coleridge at Christ's Hospital, and it is enough to warm the heart of all beholders to every wearer of the blue
gown and yellow stockings to remember the two lads, who once strayed about the narrow streets in these habiliments, and ate the poor fare and bore the hardships which, in these days, were inseparable from the lot of a Blue-coat boy. Coleridge was a Grecian, a scholar, and credit to the school, although
he prized the position so little that he desired (as is recorded) to be bound apprentice to a kind cobbler, who had been good to him, instead of going to college ; but Lamb had no such distinctions, and instead of accompanying his schoolfellow to Cambridge, entered the South Sea Office at fifteen, the little salary he received there being of importance to his family. When he was eighteen, he was received into the India Office, and there spent his life. His father was no more than the servant of Mr. Salt, a bencher in the Inner Temple, and the little household was in the humblest circumstances, though of that class so common in books, so little common in reality-nature's gentlefolks. “It is hard,” says De Quincey, with a grace of natural perception which makes his gossip and his tone of involuntary depreciation supportable, “it is hard, even for the practical philosopher, to distinguish aristocratic
graces of manner and capacities of natural feeling in people whose very hearth and dress bear witness to the servile humility of their station. Yet such distinctions, as wild gifts of nature, timidly and half consciously asserted themselves in the unpretending Lambs. . Already, in their favour there existed a silent privilege, analogous to the famous one of Lord Kinsale. He, by special grant from the Crown, is allowed, when standing before the king, to forget that he is not himself a king: the bearer of that peerage, through all generations, has the privilege of wearing his hat in the royal presence. By a general, though tacit, concession of the same nature, the rising generation of the Lambs, John and Charles