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studious tastes, a college life would have been excellently suited; no man would have more cheerfully and gracefully accepted the position of a Fellow of a college, with no particular duties to attend to beyond the daily routine of ordinary tasks. But he never had the chance of obtaining a fellowship, becoming, when he left Christ's Hospital, a clerk in the Old South Sea House, which he has so inimitably described in one of his essays. From it, at the age of seventeen, he was transferred to the service of the East India Company, in whose employ he remained till 1825, when he retired on a handsome pension. Lamb's life was uneventful, except for one great tragedy. There was a taint of insanity in his family; and one day in 1796, his sister Mary, in a paroxysm of madness, stabbed her mother to the heart. From this time Charles became the guardian of his sister, unselfishly sacrificing for her sake a passion he had conceived for a young lady mentioned in the Essays as Alice W.," and devoting himself to her care with that noble love which refuses to regard its efforts as anything praiseworthy or out of the way. It has been well remarked that the history of the long association between brother and sister, broken from time to time by a fresh accession of the fatal malady, is one of the most touching things in fact or fiction. Carlyle, whose remarks on Lamb in his “ Reminiscences" are positively cruel, would have done well to ask himself before penning them whether he, superior to the gentle Elia as he thought himself, would have been capable of such continuous self-devotion. Lamb's first publications were soine verses contributed to a volume of poems by Coleridge and Lloyd, published in 1797.
His prose tale “Rosamond Gray” followed in 1798, and in 1801 his drama, “John Woodvil,” based on Elizabethan models, which was unmercifully criticised in the Edinburgh Review—not altogether undeservedly, though it contains some fine passages. In 1807 he published his "Tales from Shakespeare," written in conjunction with his sister, They form one of the best books for intelligent youthful readers with which we are acquainted. The “Essays of Elia," those charming papers which will keep his memory alive for many Lamb's Characteristics.
367 generations, appeared from time to time in the London Magazine, from which they were reprinted in a collected form in 1823.
Lamb was a slight, nervous, excitable man, full of odd whims and fancies, and greatly given to the utterance of paradoxical remarks, made all the more strange by his stammering mode of speaking. Two or three glasses of wine were sufficient to intoxicate, or at least to elevate him ; and hence those convivial excesses, in which there is reason to fear that he indulged too íreely during the latter years of his life, were apt to be exaggerated. Before condemning him too severely for his habits of intoxication, we ought to consider how heavy and trying was the burden which he had to bear. Lamb's style, quaint, full of ingenious turns, having little affinity with that of any writer of his day, but full of resemblances to his favourite authors of bygone eras, was a reflex of himself. He disliked new books, new friends, and new fashions. For the literature of his own time, with the exception of the limited portion of it written by his own friends, he cared little; but with what delight did he hang " for the thousandth time over some passage in old Burton or one of his strange contemporaries ;” and with what enthusiasm would he point out the beauties in a play written by some forgotten Elizabethan dramatist; with what eager zest would he peruse one of the comedies of intrigue of which Charles II.'s time produced so many examples ! He was an admirable critic of what really pleased him; no one has handled some of our older authors with finer discrimination. The brief notices of the Elizabethan dramatists in his “Specimens” are perfect masterpieces in their way, full of that swift insight, that delicate appreciation of merit, which only long and loving study can give. As a humorist, Lamb is quite sui generis : he resembled no one, and has found no successful imitator. His humour had a tine literary flavour about it; no one who does not love reading is ever likely to be a thoroughgoing admirer of Lamb's. It is also intensely personal; Lamb's likes and dislikes, his whims, caprices, and fancies, figure on every page. Few great humorists have been less dramatic than Lamb ; whatever the topic on which he was writing, he could never get rid of his own idiosyncrasy. In his various essays he has left a faithful and true portrait of himself, with all his out-of-the-way humour and opinions; and irresistibly attractive the portrait is. How delightful it is, after having experienced the glitter and glare of much of our modern literature, to converse with the tranquil and gentle Elia, with his calm retrospective glance, and his love of communing with invisible things! “He would," said Leigh Hunt, “beard a superstition and shudder at the odd phantasm while he did it. One would have imagined him cracking a joke in the teeth of a ghost, and then melting into thin air himself out of sympathy with the awful.” Not many authors are held in more kindly remembrance than Lamb by those who have really learned to love his frolic and gentle spirit. “ Lamb's memory," said Southey—and hundreds of readers will re-echo the words will retain its fragrance
long as the best spice that ever was expended upon the Pharaohs.”
From the placid and sweet-tempered Elia we pass to the vindictive and irascible William Hazlitt (1778–1830), a writer of very remarkable but ill-regulated powers. The son of a dissenting minister, he was educated with a view to adopting his father's profession. When seventeen years of age, however, he determined to become a painter, and spent some years in artistic labour, till he finally turned aside to literature. His first publication was a tiny volume on the “Principles of Human Action.” This work, which found feiy to admire it except its author, who regarded it with a parent's love, was followed by many pieces of literary journey-work -- abridgments, translations, compilations, and the like. The first performance of his which attracted attention was his lectures at the Surrey Institution on the "English Poets” (1818), after which came his lectures on “English Comic Writers," on the “Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth," and on the " Characters of Shakespeare's Plays ”-volumes containing much sound and striking criticism, but often misleading as containing judgments based on imperfect acquaintance with the works of the writer criticised. Hazlitt, it must be ownel, William Hazlitt.
369 was by no means sufficiently impressed with the truth of the great fact that before writing about an author it is desirable to read his works. For example, he did not begin to write his lectures on the Elizabethan dramatists till within six weeks of the time when they had to be delivered, and his judgments on their qualities were based on his hasty study of their works within that very limited period. His other chief works are his “ Table-Talk" (1821–22), a series of miscellaneous essays; his “Spirit of the Age” (1825), containing criticisms on contemporary authors; the “ Plain Speaker" (1826), another collection of miscellaneous essays, and his “Life of Napoleon” (1828–30), which is his most ambitious performance. It is a characteristic and not altogether useless production, in which he takes the side of the Emperor as strongly as a French writer could have done, and has nothing but contempt and hatred for his opponents. It did not sell, and poor Hazlitt died in poverty after a struggling, restless, unhappy life. Most of his mischances were more or less due to himself; his disposition was such that it is impossible to imagine him happy and contented, however prosperous had been his fortunes.
Hazlitt had a genuine gift for style ; he was no mere mechanical stringer together of phrases. His chief characteristics as a writer are well pointed out by Mr. Leslie Stephen. “Readers," he says, “who do not insist upon measuring all prose by the same standard will probably agree that if Hazlitt is not a great rhetorician, if he aims at no gorgeous effects of complex harmony, he has yet an eloquence of his own. It is indeed an eloquence which does not imply quick sympathy with many modes of feeling, or an intellectual vision at once penetratirg and comprehensive. It is the eloquence characteristic of a proud and sensitive nature, which expresses a very keen if narrow range of feeling, and implies a powerful grasp of one, if only one side of the truth. Hazlitt harps a good deal upon one string, but that string vibrates forcibly. His best passages are generally an accumulation of short, pithy sentences, shaped in strong feeling and coloured by picturesque associations, but repeating rather than corroborating each other. Each blow goes home, but falls on the same place. He varies the phrase more than the thought; and sometimes he becomes obscure, because he is so absorbed in his own feelings that he forgets the very existence of strangers who require explanation. Read through Hazlitt, and the monotony becomes a little tiresome; but dip into them at intervals, and you will often be astonished that so vigorous a writer has not left some more enduring monument of his remarkable powers." As a critic, Hazlitt's judgments, whether on contemporary or on former writers, must be accepted with reserve. He could always clothe his opinions in fitting words, but he was not always equally caresul to see that his estimates were not marred by personal prejudice or by the desire of saying a striking thing, whether applicable to the subject in hand or not. His accounts of the eminent writers of his day, much abused though they were at the time of their publication, are perhaps the most interesting and valuable portions of his works. Often vindictive and splenetic, they are always graphic and incisive, and rarely fail to call our attention to traits in the character of those under notice which might otherwise have escaped us.
The essays of Leigh Hunt cannot be pronounced equal in value to those of Hazlitt and Lamb. But besides being an essayist, he was a poet of powers considerably superior to mediocrity. James Henry Leigh Hunt was born in 1784, the son of a lawyer, and, like Lamb, was educated at Christ's Hospital. His genius was precocious, and in 1802 his father published a collection of his verses under the title of "Juvenilia.” In 1808 he became connected with his brother in conducting the Examiner, in which he resolved to speak out his mind upon men and measures without fear and without favour. This resolution he carried out so vigorously as to expose himself to several prosecutions for libel; for the Government of that day looked with a jealous eye on the press, and free discussion and ventilation of public grievances were frowned on as much as possible. In 1813 for a certainly rather trenchant but perfectly just comment on the Prince