Confessions of a Prosaic Dreamer: Charles Lamb's Art of Autobiography

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Duke University Press, 1984 - Biography & Autobiography - 165 pages
More than Charles Lamb himself could ever know, the creation of Elia as his personal artistic voice was his way to endure the memories of September 22, 1796, a day of primal horror when his sister Mary in a fit of insanity killed their mother and destroyed the Lamb family. Throughout the rest of his life Lamb was faced with those memories , with deep-seated personal and career disillusionments. Yet through Elia he confronted his inner self to forge the essays that may be considered among the most brilliant and inimitable works in English letters.

Gerald Monsman in this study abandons the customary chronological approach to Lamb's life in favor of a more incisive, open-ended discussion of the Elia essays. By a close textual examination of Lamb's language, he relates the essayist's use of symbol and autobiographical concerns. Monsman contends and demonstrates that "as sharply and as pertinently as any artistic voice, Elia, the most celebrated persona in the nineteenth century, focuses the problems inherent in the modern literary imagination." Elia's "textual identity is a function of the author's actual life, of losses and imperfections artistically utilized and harmonized, employed against themselves to produce the rehabilitating symbol."

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Page 4 - Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede Of marble men and maidens overwrought, With forest branches and the trodden weed; Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral! When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," — that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Page 132 - I became in doubt which of them stood there before me, or whose that bright hair was; and while I stood gazing both the children gradually grew fainter to my view, receding, and still receding till nothing at last but two mournful features were seen in the uttermost distance, which, without speech, strangely impressed upon me the effects of speech:' We are not of Alice, nor of thee, nor are we children at all. The children of Alice called Bartrum father. We are nothing; less than nothing, and dreams....
Page 81 - Death came with timely care — his memory is odoriferous - no clown curseth, while his stomach half rejecteth, the rank bacon - no coal-heaver bolteth him in reeking sausages - he hath a fair sepulchre in the grateful stomach of the judicious epicure - and for such a tomb might be content to die. He is the best of sapors. Pine-apple is great. She is indeed almost too transcendent - a delight, if not sinful, yet so like to sinning, that really a tender-conscienced person would do well to pause -...
Page 135 - ... out; sometimes in the spacious old-fashioned gardens, which I had almost to myself, unless when now and then a solitary gardening man would cross me; and how the nectarines and peaches hung upon the walls, without my ever offering to pluck them, because they were forbidden fruit, unless now and then...
Page 149 - Sun, and sky, and breeze, and solitary walks, and summer holidays, and the greenness of fields, and the delicious juices of meats and fishes, and society, and the cheerful glass, and candlelight and fire-side conversations, and innocent vanities, and jests, and irony itself- — do these things go out with life...
Page 137 - ... the fresh grass, with all the fine garden smells around me — or basking in the orangery, till I could almost fancy myself ripening too along with the oranges and the limes in that grateful warmth — or in watching the dace that darted to and fro in the fish-pond, at the bottom of the garden, with here and there a great sulky pike hanging midway down the water in silent state, as if it mocked at their impertinent friskings...
Page 149 - I care not to be carried with the tide, that smoothly bears human life to eternity, and reluct at the inevitable course of destiny. I am in love with this green earth, the face of town and country, the unspeakable rural solitudes, and the sweet security of streets.
Page 100 - I cannot defend the order of preference but by saying that we have all some taste or other, of too ancient a date to admit of our remembering distinctly that it was an acquired one. I can call to mind the first play and the first exhibition that I was taken to ; but I am not conscious of a time when china jars and saucers were introduced into my imagination.
Page 51 - Is lightened ; that serene and blessed mood In which the affections gently lead us on, Until the breath of this corporeal frame, And even the motion of our human blood Almost suspended, we are laid asleep In body, and become a living soul : While with an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony and the deep power of joy, We see into the life of things.
Page 81 - See him in the dish,] his second cradle} how meek he lieth ! — wouldst thou have had this innocent grow up to the grossness and indocility which too often accompany maturer swinehood? Ten to one he would have proved a glutton, a sloven, an obstinate, disagreeable animal — wallowing in all manner of filthy conversation -r- from these sins he is happily snatched away — Ere sin could blight, or sorrow fade, Death came with timely care...

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