Lapas attēli

rare faculty of extracting from what to many would have been only a life of hardship, drudgery, and selfsacrifice, some of the highest pleasures life can afford; he had the satisfaction of doing the duty nearest at hand; he felt deeply the tragedy and the humor of life; he kept his friendships; and through his essays he won the love of posterity.

Retirement and Death. In 1825 Lamb was retired from the India Office on a pension. He was like a school-boy at Christmas. In The Superannuated Man he describes in a most humorous way his being called before the head of the firm, and his ecstasy at being free. "It was like passing from Time to Eternity," he says. Lamb's literary career was practically over by 1829. He died in 1834, his sister surviving him thirteen years. They were buried together in the churchyard of Edmonton in Middlesex.

[ocr errors]

As Critic and Essayist. Apart from his letters and a few poems such as The Old Familiar Faces, Lamb is remembered by three works. His Specimens of English Dramatic Poets Who Wrote about the Time of Shakespeare (1807), a collection of some of the best passages from the Elizabethan dramatists, did much to arouse new interest in a great body of writers then for the most part neglected. In the few modest commentaries which Lamb made upon them in the form of foot-notes, there is shown an insight, taste, and depth of suggestion which did much to put criticism on a sound and dignified basis. Lamb, Coleridge, and William Hazlitt were the first great English critics of the nineteenth century who aimed to perceive and understand the power and beauty in a work of art, and, analyzing it, to discover it to the reader.

The Essays of Elia. The Familiar Essay. - Lamb is best known, however, by his Essays of Elia, published

in the London Magazine between 1820 and 1833. In these, he is one of our greatest writers in that unconventional, intimate, conversational literary form known as the personal or familiar essay. In this kind of composition the author admits us to his library, and we get to know him personally - his tastes, his likes and dislikes, his prejudices. He dilates upon his favorite books, on his pleasure in the theater, in walking and writing, and even on the "flavor incomparable" of a well-turned roast pig. He is usually a man of the town, who knows men, women, books, plays, gossip; who casts an unique glance upon the world, and seems to have nothing in the world to do but to entertain you. He never preaches, and never has any ambition to write a philosophy; he is content to talk, to write for a moment's pastime the thoughts of the day, to record the manners of the time, and tea-table and coffee-house chat; to describe actors and characters on the stage. He warms over the claret of familiarity and confidence, and talks of his "modest virtues and amiable weaknesses." Often too he strikes a deeper note, and bares to the reader his inmost heart. The chief writers of this kind of essay in the early nineteenth century were Lamb, Leigh Hunt, and William Hazlitt. In the Essays of Elia, Lamb writes on such subjects as old china, his relations, the chimney-sweepers and beggars of the metropolis. These essays, though written on apparently trivial subjects, have gained a permanent place in English literature. They are characterized by an exquisite ripeness and manliness of thought, by much caprice and whimsicality, and by Lamb's love of joking in a quiet and richly humorous way. In them we are brought very close to a character that is no less lovable than unique.

The Tales from Shakespeare (1807) were the joint work of Charles Lamb and his sister Mary. They are prose narratives of the most important of Shakespeare's tragedies and comedies, written for the "young reader as an introduction to the study of Shakespeare." In this work the brother and sister show their mutual love of Elizabethan English, their shrewd insight into human nature, and their entire sympathy with the genius of Shakespeare. With fine discriminating taste they have preserved the spirit, and as far as possible the language, of their originals, aiming to give to children "a few hints and little foretastes of the great pleasure which awaits them in their elder years."



Thomas De Quincey was born just fifteen years after Wordsworth and just fifteen years before Macaulay,a fact suggestive of his general relation to literary history. Early admiration and affection connect him with Wordsworth and his great contemporaries. His affinity with Coleridge is especially close, and with him he was instrumental in bringing German literature and philosophy into England. On the other hand, he is associated with Macaulay in the rise of the new periodical literature. With Lamb, Hazlitt, Jeffrey, and Sydney Smith, De Quincey is also associated with that group of essay writers who were making an era in criticism.

His literary career began in 1821, with the appearance, in the London Magazine, of his Confessions of an English Opium Eater. The novelty of the subject, the unsparing frankness of these self-revelations, and their wonderful style and imagery, secured for the new writer

[ocr errors]

an immediate success. From this time De Quincey was distinctively a writer for magazines, being connected during the forty years of his literary life with Blackwood's Magazine, and others. He was a shy, obscure scholar, full of a winning grace and charm; a marvelous talker when he was in the mood; a lover of children; with all his peculiarities, a man of gentle and affectionate nature.

His Style. De Quincey's essays have a wonderful diversity in subject and style. This may be due in part to the widening interests and growing cultivation of the reading public, but it is more directly attributable to the many-sidedness of De Quincey himself. He was a born student and lover of books, but at the same time he was a close observer of the life about him. He delighted in intellectual subtleties, yet he possessed all that passion for style, that pleasure in effects of wordmelody, which is emphatically the endowment of the poet. Thus, the reminiscences of the Lake poets, or the autobiographical sketches, are, for the most part, the outcome of De Quincey's powers to observe; his essays on such widely separated subjects as theology, political economy, Greek poetry, English politics, and German metaphysics attest the range of his scholarship; while still other sides of his nature are revealed in the fantastic humor of his Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts, in the narrative skill of The Flight of a Tartar Tribe, or in the prose poetry of his Levana and our Ladies of Sorrow. The style in his essays ranges from simple, unadorned expression to the most impassioned apostrophes or delicately modulated strains of melody. Delightful in his humor, fascinating in his narratives, influential as the reviver of an impassioned and musically modulated style, De Quincey has taken his place among the masters of English prose.

[ocr errors]


The appalling plunge into murder and anarchy, which followed hard upon the triumph of the Revolutionists in France, shocked into a sudden sobriety much of the vague enthusiasm for the cause of man. Thousands who, like Wordsworth and Coleridge, had joined in the contagious outcry for liberty and equality recoiled like them in disgust from a revolution which had brought the dregs of society uppermost, and cast to the surface man's primitive baseness and cruelty. In France, the towering genius and ambition of Napoleon were hurrying the nation back into despotism; in England, the government set its face against sorely needed reforms, through an unreasoning fear that change might prove the invitation to a Reign of Terror. Yet the Revolution had none the less begun a new epoch in the history of England and of the Continent; in spite of the efforts of conservative governments, its fires still smoldered everywhere beneath the surface, ready at a breath to burst into flame. After the battle of Waterloo (1815) the great powers of Europe met at Vienna and entered into a compact known as The Holy Alliance. The ostensible object of this alliance was to promote peace and goodwill; its real purpose was to crush the spirit of democracy. It would have blotted the Revolution out of history, by reviving that older Europe which, in reality, no congress could restore. Austria, under her Prime Minister Metternich, threw her whole weight on the side of absolutism; but demonstrations among the students in the German universities (1817), insurrections in Spain and Naples, and the heroic struggles of the Greeks under Turkish oppression, showed that the revolutionary spirit was unextinguished.

[ocr errors]
« iepriekšējāTurpināt »