Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Unfuzzy Lamb

Charles Lamb
aka Elia
Anne Fadiman bemoans the fact that reading the essays of Charles Lamb, aka Elia, has gone out of fashion. And this from her essay on him entitled "The Unfuzzy Lamb" in her collection At Large and At Small that was published in 2005. I hate to think that even fewer people are reading him now seven years later. Maybe Ms. Fadiman and I are the only ones left.

If you love essays as I do, you will be as familiar with the name Elia as you are with Michel de Montaigne.

Lamb, born in 1775, did not have a charmed life, Fadiman writes. His sister Mary lost her mind and killed their mother, what he called "the family tragedy", when he was 21. He spent the rest of his life taking care of her and working as a clerk in a mind-numbing job that he hated and at which he was not really very good.

He began his career as an essayist to make money for Mary's keep as occasionally she would have to go back to the mental hospital for a while.  He wrote for five years - 1820-1825 - for London Magazine. When he retired from the East India House he retired from writing as well.

But what he left us, Fadiman writes, are 52 witty, sometimes dark, but always entertaining comments on books, witches, roast pig, ears, chimney sweeps. Nothing seems to have escaped his notice.

It has been a few years since I read with relish Essays by Elia, but you can be sure that I will be joining his company soon. Thanks to Anne Fadiman, fan extraordinaire.

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