CHARLES LAMB

Attempt a brief critical essay on the prose style of Charles Lamb.
OR
Comment critically on Lamb’s prose style.
OR
Asses Lamb’s contribution to the prose literature of the Eighteenth century.
OR
Evaluate Lamb as an essayist with emphasis on his prose style.
Answer: The essay fills so large a place in modern literature, and is so attractive a form of
composition that attention must necessarily be given to it in any course of literary study. At the
same time, its outlines are so uncertain and it varies so much in matter, purpose and style that
any systematic treatment of it seems to be almost impossible.
It is generally supposed that Montaigne is the first writer who wrote what may technically be
called essay. Bacon was the first English writer who transplanted essay into England. Among the
intimate and self-revealing essayists of whom Montaigne is the original and Cowley the first
exponent in England, Lamb has been rightly called the ‘Prince’ of English essayists. Lamb is
constantly autobiographical; his whole life may be reconstructed rom ‘The Essays of Elia’. He
takes the reader into confidence and conceals nothing from him.
Lamb’s place in literature is unique. He was a fine imaginative critic and something of a poet,
but he lives, and will live, by virtue of prose essays unsurpassed in their charm, prodigality of
fancy and literary artifice, marked by a distinguished common sense, starred with passages of
great beauty and profound insight and suffused with a kindly and capricious humour.
As a stylist, Lamb stands on the same level as the 17 th century prose masters- gathering their oldfashioned tricks and expressions. His love for word-coining, fondness of alliteration, use of
compound words, and frequent use of Latinism show that he is sufficiently associated with the
Elizabethans and Browne, Burton and Fuller. He adopts various new tricks from the prose of
Steele and Goldsmith. But whatever took from them, he made it entirely his own. It does not
mean that he was a servile copyist or a mean imitator or a borrower of words and phrases of

His study was abundant. Compton-Rickett rightly remarks: “As a stylist. and eloquent . in quietness and in grave curiosity. the modernistic technique of the periodical essay. But what he has gained from the long intervening discipline of prose. and the language of his favourite authors is closely woven into his deeper harmonies. He is amusing. He is able to write a prose poem like ‘Dream Children’. is best seen from the lightness and rightness of his more imaginative papers which are prose poetry in the lawful sense of the term. Lamb is thoroughly a romantic prose writer. the pleasant tricks and mannerism of bygone writers. Steele and Addison for his Art. In his diverse moods. the mood and the expression. we find his essay as the quiet broodings of his painful heart. He quotes with as much laxity as anyone. When serious and dignified. Sometimes.great writers. gathering to himself . he gives the brooding music of Browne as in ‘The New Year’s Eve’. poetic. He gave an entirely new colour to whatsoever passed through his receptive and assimilative mind. Anther striking feature of Lamb’s style is its allusiveness and use of quotations. touching. his pen bubbles with chaste and refined style of 18 th century prose writers as in ‘The Modern Gallantry’. He was considerably indebted to Dryden. the poet is to be found. Lamb writes in different styles. His style is a mixture. He belonged in spirit to the 17 th century. The blossoms are culled from other men’s gardens but their blending is all Lamb’s own. he does walk in the past . For his subjects. he writes in the terse and scrappy manner of Bacon as in ‘Imperfect Sympathies’. When happy and comfortable. In this connection. paradoxical. His emotion and sentiments can change his style very much. When pure and serene. a spirit akin to his own in courage. He has to his credit. just as a girl plucks flowers instinctively that blend with her looks and carriage . When he is sick and puzzled. He had an intuition deep and lively. he has a whole-hearted devotion to Art. Yet he possessed a warm hearted . Lamb’s style exhibits a harmony between the matter and the manner. The main charm of his prose is its poetic flow of the rippling stream. his prose style recalls Sir Thomas Browne. he has antiquated style and dress.His prose is modern except for a few archaic turns of expression. When he is grave and reflective. he is witty and playful like Fuller as in the first paragraph of ‘A Chapter on Ears’. It is in prose that Lamb. ingenious. Like Keats.” Hazlitt also points out that imitation was not Lamb’s job.

not a mechanical mixture.understanding of human nature. His style is a mixture. we can say in the words of J.preferably old -but at times. certainly of many styles. Powys: “Elia’s style is the only thing in English prose that can called absolutely perfect. but a chemical. C. He quotes from his favourite authors. He was a great lover of Bible and had a mastery in Biblical phrases.” ================================ . To conclude. quotes from his own poems.

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