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Charles Lamb
by [?]

Probably, through Mr. Salt’s interest, Charles Lamb, in the autumn of 1782, when he wanted something more than four months of completing his eighth year, received a presentation to the magnificent school of Christ’s Hospital. The late Dr. Arnold, when contrasting the school of his own boyish experience, Winchester, with Rugby, the school confided to his management, found nothing so much to regret in the circumstances of the latter as its forlorn condition with respect to historical traditions. Wherever these were wanting, and supposing the school of sufficient magnitude, it occurred to Dr. Arnold that something of a compensatory effect for impressing the imagination might be obtained by connecting the school with the nation through the link of annual prizes issuing from the exchequer. An official basis of national patronage might prove a substitute for an antiquarian or ancestral basis. Happily for the great educational foundations of London, none of them is in the naked condition of Rugby. Westminster, St. Paul’s, Merchant Tailors’, the Charter-House, etc., are all crowned with historical recollections; and Christ’s Hospital, besides the original honors of its foundation, so fitted to a consecrated place in a youthful imagination–an asylum for boy-students, provided by a boy-king–innocent, religious, prematurely wise, and prematurely called away from earth–has also a mode of perpetual connection with the state. It enjoys, therefore, both of Dr. Arnold’s advantages. Indeed, all the great foundation schools of London, bearing in their very codes of organization the impress of a double function–viz., the conservation of sound learning and of pure religion–wear something of a monastic or cloisteral character in their aspect and usages, which is peculiarly impressive, and even pathetic, amidst the uproars of a capital the most colossal and tumultuous upon earth.

Here Lamb remained until his fifteenth year, which year threw him on the world, and brought him alongside the golden dawn of the French Revolution. Here he learned a little elementary Greek, and of Latin more than a little; for the Latin notes to Mr. Cary (of Dante celebrity) though brief, are sufficient to reveal a true sense of what is graceful and idiomatic in Latinity. We say this, who have studied that subject more than most men. It is not that Lamb would have found it an easy task to compose a long paper in Latin–nobody can, find it easy to do what he has no motive for habitually practising; but a single sentence of Latin wearing the secret countersign of the “sweet Roman hand,” ascertains sufficiently that, in reading Latin classics, a man feels and comprehends their peculiar force or beauty. That is enough. It is requisite to a man’s expansion of mind that he should make acquaintance with a literature so radically differing from all modern literatures as is the Latin. It is not requisite that he should practise Latin composition. Here, therefore, Lamb obtained in sufficient perfection one priceless accomplishment, which even singly throws a graceful air of liberality over all the rest of a man’s attainments: having rarely any pecuniary value, it challenges the more attention to its intellectual value. Here also Lamb commenced the friendships of his life; and, of all which he formed, he lost none. Here it was, as the consummation and crown of his advantages from the time-honored hospital, that he came to know “Poor S. T. C.” [Greek text: ton thaumasiotaton.]

Until 1796, it is probable that he lost sight of Coleridge, who was then occupied with Cambridge, having been transferred thither as a “Grecian” from the house of Christ Church. That year, 1796, was a year of change and fearful calamity for Charles Lamb. On that year revolved the wheels of his after-life. During the three years succeeding to his school days, he had held a clerkship in the South Sea House. In 1795, he was transferred to the India House. As a junior clerk, he could not receive more than a slender salary; but even this was important to the support of his parents and sister. They lived together in lodgings near Holborn; and in the spring of 1796, Miss Lamb, (having previously shown signs of lunacy at intervals,) in a sudden paroxysm of her disease, seized a knife from the dinner table, and stabbed her mother, who died upon the spot. A coroner’s inquest easily ascertained the nature of a case which was transparent in all its circumstances, and never for a moment indecisive as regarded the medical symptoms. The poor young lady was transferred to the establishment for lunatics at Hoxton. She soon recovered, we believe; but her relapses were as sudden as her recoveries, and she continued through life to revisit, for periods of uncertain seclusion, this house of woe. This calamity of his fireside, followed soon after by the death of his father, who had for some time been in a state of imbecility, determined the future destiny of Lamb. Apprehending, with the perfect grief of perfect love, that his sister’s fate was sealed for life–viewing her as his own greatest benefactress, which she really had been through her advantage by ten years of age–yielding with impassioned readiness to the depth of his fraternal affection, what at any rate he would have yielded to the sanctities of duty as interpreted by his own conscience–he resolved forever to resign all thoughts of marriage with a young lady whom he loved, forever to abandon all ambitious prospects that might have tempted him into uncertainties, humbly to content himself with the certainties of his Indian clerkship, to dedicate himself for the future to the care of his desolate and prostrate sister, and to leave the rest to God. These sacrifices he made in no hurry or tumult, but deliberately, and in religious tranquillity. These sacrifices were accepted in heaven–and even on this earth they had their reward. She, for whom he gave up all, in turn gave up all for him. She devoted herself to his comfort. Many times she returned to the lunatic establishment, but many times she was restored to illuminate the household hearth for him; and of the happiness which for forty years and more he had, no hour seemed true that was not derived from her. Hence forwards, therefore, until he was emancipated by the noble generosity of the East India Directors, Lamb’s time, for nine-and-twenty years, was given to the India House.