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PREFACE TO THE MEMOIR.
N my seventy-seventh year, I have been
invited to place on record my recollections of Charles Lamb.
I am, I believe, nearly the only man now surviving who knew much of the excellent “Elia.” Assuredly I knew him more intimately than any other existing person, during the last seventeen or eighteen years of his life.
In this predicament, and because I am proud to associate my name with his, I shall endeavour to recall former times, and to bring my old friend before the eyes of a new generation.
I request the “courteous reader to accept, for what they are worth, these desultory labours of a lover of letters; and I hope that the advocate for modern times will try to admit into the circle of his sympathy my recollections of a fine Genius departed.
No harm-possibly some benefit-will accrue to any one who may consent to extend his acquaintance to one of the rarest and most delicate of the Humorists of England.
B. W. PROCTER. May, 1866.
Introduction--Biography, few events—One predominant-
His devotion to it-Tendency to Literature–First Studies -Influence of Antique Dwellings-Early Friends-Humour-Qualities of Mind-Sympathy for neglected Objects — A Nonconformist - Predilections - Character Taste-Style.
WHE biography of CHARLES LAMB lies within a narrow compass.
It compre; hends only few events. His birth and
parentage, and domestic sorrows; his acquaintance with remarkable men ; his thoughts and habits; and his migrations from one home to another; constitute the sum and substance of his almost uneventful history. It is a history with one event, predominant.
For this reason, and because I, in common with many others, hold a book needlessly large to be a great evil, it is my intention to confine the present memoir within moderate limits. My aim is not to write the “Life and Times” of Charles Lamb. Indeed Lamb had no influence on his own times. He had little or nothing in common with his gene
ration, which was almost a stranger to him. There was no reciprocity between them. His contemplations were retrospective. He was, when living, the centre of a small social circle; and I shall therefore deal incidentally with some of its members. In other respects, this memoir will contain only what I recollect and what I have learned from authentic sources, of my old friend.
The fact that distinguished Charles Lamb from other men was his entire devotion to one grand and tender purpose. There is, probably, a romance involved in every life. In his life it exceeded that of others. In gravity, in acuteness, in his noble battle with a great calamity, it was beyond the rest. Neither pleasure nor toil ever distracted him from his holy purpose. Everything was made subservient to it. He had an insane sister, who, in a moment of uncontrollable madness, had unconsciously destroyed her own mother ; and to protect and save this sister-a gentlewoman, who had watched like a mother over his own infancy- the whole length of his life was devoted. What he endured, through the space of nearly forty years, from the incessant fear and frequent recurrence of his sister's insanity, can now only be conjectured. In this constant and uncomplaining endurance, and in his steady adherence to a great principle of conduct, his life was heroic.
We read of men giving up all their days to‘a single object : to religion, to vengeance, to some overpowering selfish wish ; of daring acts done to avert death or disgrace, or some oppressing misfortune. We read mythical tales of friendship; but we do not recollect any instance in which a great object has been so unremittingly carried out throughout a whole life, in defiance of a thousand difficulties, and of numberless temptations, straining the good resolution to its utmost, except in the case of our poor clerk of the India House.
This was, substantially, his life. His actions, thoughts, and sufferings were all concentred on this one important end. It was what he had to do; it was in his reach ; and he did it, therefore, manfully, religiously. He did not waste his mind on too many things ; for whatever too much expands the mind weakens it; nor on vague or multitudinous thoughts and speculations, nor on dreams or things distant or unattainable. However interesting, they did not absorb him, body and soul, like the safety and welfare of his sister.
Subject to this primary unflinching purpose, the tendency of Lamb's mind pointed strongly towards literature. He did not seek literature, however ; and he gained from it nothing except his fame. He worked laboriously at the India House from boyhood to manhood : for many years without repining ; although he must have been conscious of an intellect qualified to shine in other ways than in entering up a trader's books. None of those coveted offices, which bring money and comfort in their train, ever reached Charles Lamb. He was never under that bounteous shower which Government leaders and persons of influence direct towards the heads of their adherents. No Dives ever selected him for his golden bounty. No potent critic ever shouldered him up the hill of fame. In the absence of these old-fashioned helps, he was content that his own unassisted efforts should gain for him a certificate of capability to the world ; and that the choice reputation which he thus earned should, with his own qualities, bring round him the unenvying love of a host of friends.