Her education in youth was not much attended to, and she happily missed all the train of female garniture which passeth by the name of accomplishments. She was tumbled early, by accident or providence, into a spacious closet of good old English reading, without much selection or prohibition, and browsed at will upon that fair and wholesome pasturage. Had I twenty girls they should be brought up exactly in this fashion. I know not whether their chance in wedlock might not be diminished by it, but I can answer for it that it maketh (if worse comes to worst) most incomparable old maids.
—Essays of Elia
I sing the love of brother and sister. For he who tells the tale of Charles and Mary Lamb’s life must tell of a love that was an uplift to this brother and sister in childhood, that sustained them in the desolation of disaster, and was a saving solace even when every hope seemed gone and reason veiled her face.
This love caused the flowers of springtime to bloom for them again and again, and attracted such a circle of admirers that, as we read the records of their lives, set forth in the letters they received and wrote, we forget poverty, forget calamity, and behold only the radiant, smiling faces of loving, trusting, trustful friends.
The mother of Charles and Mary Lamb was a woman of fine natural endowment, of spirit and of aspiration. She married a man much older than herself. We know but little about John Lamb; we know nothing of his ancestry. Neither do we care to. He was not good enough to attract, nor bad enough to be interesting. He called himself a scrivener, but in fact he was a valet. He was neutral salts; and I say this just after having read his son’s amiable mention of him under the guise of “Lovel,” and with the full knowledge also that “he danced well, was a good judge of vintage, played the harpsichord, and recited poetry on occasion.”
When a woman of spirit stands up before a priest and makes solemn promise to live with a man who plays the harpsichord and is a good judge of vintage, and to love until either he or she dies, she sows the seeds of death and disorder. Of course, I know that men and women who make promises before priests know not at the time what they do; they find out afterwards.
And so they were married, were John Lamb and Elizabeth Field; and probably very soon thereafter Elizabeth had a premonition that this union only held in store a glittering blade of steel for her heart. For she grew ill and dispirited, and John found companionship at the alehouse, and came stumbling home asking what the devil was the reason his wife couldn’t meet him with a smile and a kiss and a’ that, as a dutiful wife should!
Elizabeth began to live more and more within herself. We often hear foolish men taunt women with inability to keep secrets. But women who talk much often do keep secrets–there are nooks in their hearts where the sun never enters, and where those nearest them are never allowed to look. More lives are blasted by secrecy than by frankness–ay! a thousand times. Why should such a thing as a secret ever exist? ‘Tis preposterous, and is proof positive of depravity. If you and I are to live together, my life must be open as the ether and all my thoughts be yours. If I keep back this and that, you will find it out some day and suspect, with reason, that I also keep back the other. Ananias and Sapphira met death, not so much for simple untruthfulness as for keeping something back.
Elizabeth Lamb sought to protect herself against an unappreciative mate by secrecy (perhaps she had to), and the habit grew until she kept secrets as a business–she kept foolish little secrets. Did she get a letter from her aunt, she read it in suggestive silence and then put it in her pocket. If visitors called she never mentioned it, and when the children heard of it weeks afterward they marveled.