Comment on Charles Lamb prose style


Charles Lamb the most famous exponent of the persona English Literature is somewhat of an enigma. He did on. any formal education, having studied in Christ's Hospital after which he joined as a clerk at South-Sea-House. He was a he was a writer who received his training from the writers of the seventeen eighteenth century. Essayists like Fuller, Browne, and Burton and by Shakespeare and other dramatists of that time influenced him. The attention and admiration with which he studied them is apparent in his style of writing. Yet one cannot say that he followed any particular ney style. style or tried to establish a new style.

Charles Lamb prose style

Critics have alleged that Lamb is an imitator though some others have contradicted such opinions. Lamb's style is analyzed by Hugh Walker with the following words, 'In the style of some of Lamb's passages there is a touch of Sir Thomas Browne that 'fantastic old great man' whom Lamb loved so well and so wisely. There are many other traces of the same influence elsewhere... traces in thought in turns of expression in the use of quaint and unusual words, such as, 'periegesis.' The matter is of some importance. In point of style Lamb is not wholly modern His exquisite but mannered English was based upon the masters of the seventeenth-century men like Browne and Burton of the 'Anatomy' and Fuller. To them, he was drawn by a natural kinship. Their thoughts were largely his, their quaintness and conceits fitted in with his humour, their antique flavour pleased his critical palate. This natural affinity combined with the thoroughness of Lamb's knowledge of them made the imitation if a thing so natural can be called by that name—successful and explains the genesis of a style at once antique and for this purpose to which it is turned unsurpassed in effectiveness' According to Hallward and Hill, 'He is so well acquainted with the Elizabethan writers that when he follows their veins of thought he seems insensibly to adopt their style and the very cadence of their writing ...The result of this is a kind of mannerism which is not so much an affectation, though he calls it'a self-pleasing quaintness,' as the natural effect of his preference for the ancient authors. His mind was so saturated with what he read that he could not avoid the use of their phraseology any more than a child brought amongst his elders can avoid using what we call old-fashioned expression.'

Lamb's essays, therefore, have many devices, derived from his mentors. There are several examples of allusions, quotations, misquotations, and references. He drew freely from the Bible, Shakespeare, and Milton. Sometimes he used a full quotation, or sometimes a part-quotation and at times certain words or phrases which appealed to him or which would illustrate or suit his subject matter. Sir Thomas Browne's Religio De Medici and Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy influenced him tremendously and he owes several Latinisms, antique and archaic words, phrases and even the rhythm of sentences in his essays to them. Some phrases like 'insolent Greece' or 'haughty Rome' is from Ben Jonson; 'love forbade pride' from Spenser; 'a ram's horn blast' from The Bible are a few examples. Lamb was indebted to classical sources like Nero, Caligula, Jericho, Plato, Horace, Xenophon etc. At times, his quotations are so obscure that it requires immense effort to find their real authorship. At other times he quoted from his own poems-one of his whimsicalities. He was found to misquote at times, perhaps to show his apathy for pedantic attitudes. Lamb quoted to expound his emotion or the central mood of his essays.

Lamb's essays portray different moods and the sentime mood is reflective in 'New Year's Eve' and 'Popular Fallacies' witty in 'Poor Relations;' fantastic in 'Chapter on Ears' and modern in 'Newspapers Thirty-five years ago' as opined by Hallward and Hill. At times, he is pathetic as in 'Christ's Hospital' and humo as in 'Dissertation upon a Roast Pig.' He is rural like Wordsworth and a talkative Londoner. Lamb was endowed with poetic-sensitive and whatever he wrote, he elevated to the height of a prose poem as the essay 'Dream Children: A Reverie' reveals. A certain mood or emotion was enough for Lamb to build his essays, which gave them thematic unity.

As the titles suggest, his choice of themes and subject matter for his essays was always commonplace. A follower of Wordsworth, he learnt that a thinking heart could find a tale in everything. As opposed to the essays of Addison and Steele and others before them, he did not adopt a familiar tone for social reform or for didactic purpose. In Lamb, his tone was familiar to suit his subject matter and this was his sole purpose.

His sentences are sometimes short and sometimes very lengthy as these sentences from My Relations' illustrate. We have one sentence as short as, 'He cannot wait' and a long sentence, 'In my next, reader, I may perhaps give you some account of my cousin Bridget -- if you are not already surfeited with cousins-and take you by the hand, if you are willing to go with us, on an excursion which we made a summer or two since, in search of more cousins- through the green plains of pleasant Hertfordshire.' At times his sentences are antithetical Lamb himself is aware of this and in 'My Relations' writes 'I must limp about in my poor antithetical manner, as the fates have given me grace and talent.' He expresses one opinion only to replace it with another often within one essay. He never seems to take a single stand. This is perhaps the charm of Elia through whom Lamb writes. Interaction with Elia, entertains the reader and he remains unaware of the writer's intent, he is embroiled in the charm of Elia's conversation and the sense of intimacy he is able to create. This helps in making Elia elusive. For Lamb, the essay is not a vehicle of ideas rather it is his instrument on which he plays different tunes.

Almost all his essays are highly subjective. Not only is his tone familiar, his subject-matter commonplace, he is personally present in his essays expressing his own opinions. The personality of Elia is so charming, so attractive that he seems to become even more important than the essay itself. This is an aspect of Lamb's essays, which differentiates him from the other writers of personal essays. The French personal essayist Montaigne claimed that he had made himself the central theme of his essays, as he knew thoroughly only himself. However, in Edward Albert's view Lamb is the most egotistical of all essayists, 'No essayist is more egotistical than Lamb; but no egotist can be so artless and yet so artful, so tearful and yet so mirthful, so pedantic and yet so humane. It is this delicate clashing of humours, like the chiming of sweet bells, that affords the chief delight to Lamb's readers.' If one reads the body of Lamb's essays, he will receive a complete picture of his life, his relatives, his personality, his likes, and dislikes, his humor, wisdom and pathos He is autobiographical; yet an authentic biographer alone can expose Lamb's life. He writes under the pseudonym of 'Elia' and critics have questioned whether Elia and Lamb is the same person. Fact and fiction, both have found a place in Lamb's essays. Even while this amalgamation has added depth to his essays they have also added to the author's love for mystification. Evidently, his choice of a pen name was made to keep his identity unknown. Hamilton Thompson opines, 'Apart from personal gratification, however, his method of employing autobiography is strictly in keeping with the canons of art. The Essays of Elia is primarily a work of imagination.

A distinctive feature of his essays are his epigramm statements like 'gluttony and surfeiting are no proper occasion for thanks, giving,' 'Credulity is the man's weakness but the chiller strength,' 'Not childhood alone but the young man till thirty never feels practically that he is mortal' etc.

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