Born February 10, 1775, London—died December 27, 1834, Edmonton, Middlesex. Essayist and critic, best known for his series of miscellaneous “Essay of Elia,” but also among the greatest of English letter writers, and a perceptive literary critic.
Lamb’s father, a scrivener, acted as confidential clerk to Samuel Salt, a bencher of London’s Inner Temple. The boy read avidly among Salt’s books, and at the age of seven went to school at Christ’s Hospital, where he studied until 1789. He was a near contemporary there of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with whom he began what was to be a lifelong friendship, and of Leigh Hunt.
He was a good scholar, and but for a stutter would probably have proceeded to holy orders. Instead, he left school, just before the age of 15 and in 1792 found employment as a clerk at India House, remaining there until retirement in 1825. In 1796 Lamb’s sister, Mary, in a fit of madness (which was to prove recurrent) killed their mother. Lamb reacted with courage and loyalty, taking on himself the burden of looking after Mary, and being rewarded by her affectionate devotion.
Lamb’s first appearances in print were as a poet, with contributions to collections by Coleridge (1796) and by Charles Lloyd (1798). A Tale of Rosamund Gray, a prose romance appeared in 1798, and in 1802 he published John Woodvil, a poetic tragedy. None of these publications brought him much fame or fortune. “The Old Familiar Faces” (1789) remains his best known poem, although “On an Infant Dying as soon as it was born” (1828) is his finest poetic achievement.
In 1807 lamb and his sister published, at the invitation of William Godwin, Tales from Shakespear, a retelling of the plays for children. The next year came a similarly conceived version of the Odyssey, called The Adventures of Ulysses, and in 1809 Mrs. Leicester’s School, a collection of stories supposedly told by pupils of a school in Hertfordshire.
Concurrently with these collaborative works, Lamb published Specimens of English Dramatic Poets Who Lived About the Time of Shakespear, a selection of scenes, much edited, from the Elizabeth drama. The Specimens included some passages of implicit criticism, and Lamb also contributed critical papers on Shakespeare and on Hogarth to Leigh Hunt’s Reflector. The only lengthy piece of criticism that he undertook, on Wordsworth’s Excursion, was characteristically “gelded” by William Gifford, editor of the Quarterly Review, in which publication it appeared. – The New Encyclopedia Britannica