Charles Lamb

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Charles Lamb (1775-02-10 - 1834-12-27) was an English essayist, best known for his Essays of Elia and for the children's book Tales from Shakespeare, which he produced along with his sister, Mary Lamb.


  • I have something more to do than to feel.
    • Letter to Coleridge (September 27, 1796), after the death of Lamb's mother
  • I have had playmates, I have had companions,
    In my days of childhood, in my joyful school days—
    All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
    • Old Familiar Faces (1798)
  • For God's sake (I never was more serious), don't make me ridiculous any more by terming me gentle-hearted in print.
    • Letter to Coleridge (August 6, 1800)
  • Please to blot out gentle hearted, and substitute drunken dog, ragged head, seld-shaven, odd-ey'd, stuttering, or any other epithet which truly and properly belongs to the Gentleman in question.
    • Letter to Coleridge (August 14, 1800)
  • Separate from the pleasure of your company, I don't much care if I never see a mountain in my life.
    • Letter to Wordsworth (January 30, 1801)
  • The man must have a rare recipe for melancholy, who can be dull in Fleet Street.
    • Letter to Thomas Manning (February 15, 1802)
  • Nursed amid her [London's] noise, her crowds, her beloved smoke, what have I been doing all my life, if I have not lent out my heart with usury to such scenes?
    • Letter to Thomas Manning (February 15, 1802)
  • Gone before
    To that unknown and silent shore.
    • Hester, st. 7 (1803)
  • For thy sake, Tobacco, I
    Would do anything but die.
    • A Farewell to Tobacco (1805)
  • A good-natured woman...which is as much as you can expect from a friend's wife, whom you got acquainted with a bachelor.
    • Letter to Hazlitt (November 10, 1805)
  • Any thing awful makes me laugh. I misbehaved once at a funeral.
    • Letter to Southey (August 9, 1815)
  • This very night I am going to leave off Tobacco! Surely there must be some other world in which this unconquerable purpose shall be realized.
    • Letter to Thomas Manning (December 26, 1815)
  • [Of Coleridge] His face when he repeats his verses hath its ancient glory, an Archangel a little damaged.
    • Letter to Wordsworth (April 26, 1816)
  • I am determined my children shall be brought up in their father's religion, if they can find out what it is.
    • Letter to John Chambers (1817)
  • Fanny Kelly's divine plain face.
    • Letter to Mrs. Wordsworth (February 18, 1818)
  • Who first invented work, and bound the free
    And holyday-rejoicing spirit down?
    • Work (1819)
  • I came home for ever!
    • Letter to Bernard Barton (April 6, 1825), on leaving his "33 years' desk" at the East India House
  • Riddle of destiny, who can show
    What thy short visit meant, or know
    What thy errand here below?
    • On an Infant Dying as Soon as Born (1827)
  • When my sonnet was rejected, I exclaimed, 'Damn the age; I will write for Antiquity!'
    • Letter to Proctor (January 22, 1829)
  • Some cry up Haydn, some Mozart,
    Just as the whim bites. For my part,
    I do not care a farthing candle
    For either of them, nor for Handel.
    • Letter to Mrs. William Hazlitt (1830)
  • Can we ring the bells backward? Can we unlearn the arts that pretend to civilize, and then burn the world? There is a march of science; but who shall beat the drums for its retreat?
    • Letter to George Dyer (December 20, 1830)
  • He is no lawyer who cannot take two sides.
    • Letter to Samuel Rogers (December 21, 1833)
  • The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.
    • Table Talk. In The Athenaeum (1834)

Essays of Elia (1823)

  • The red-letter days, now become, to all intents and purposes, dead-letter days.
    • Oxford in the Vacation
  • The human species, according to the best theory I can form of it, is composed of two distinct races, the men who borrow and the men who lend.
    • The Two Races of Men
  • Your borrowers of books—those mutilators of collections, spoilers of the symmetry of shelves, and creators of odd volumes.
    • The Two Races of Men
  • I conceive disgust at those impertinent and misbecoming familiarities, inscribed upon your ordinary tombstones. Every dead man must take upon himself to be lecturing me with his odious truism, that "such as he now is, I must shortly be." Not so shortly, friend, perhaps, as thou imaginest. In the meantime I am alive. I move about. I am worth twenty of thee. Know thy betters!
    • New Year's Eve
  • A clear fire, a clean hearth, and the rigor of the game.
    • Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist
  • I have no ear.
    • A Chapter on Ears
  • Sentimentally I am disposed to harmony; but organically I am incapable of a tune.
    • A Chapter on Ears
  • I have been trying all my life to like Scotchmen, and am obliged to desist from the experiment in despair.
    • Imperfect Sympathies
  • Credulity is the man's weakness, but the child's strength.
    • Witches, and Other Night Fears
  • Not many sounds in life, and I include all urban and rural sounds, exceed in interest a knock at the door.
    • Valentine's Day
  • It is good to love the unknown.
    • Valentine's Day
  • Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.
    • The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple
  • Presents, I often say, endear absents.
    • A Dissertation upon Roast Pig

Last Essays of Elia (1833)

  • A poor relation—is the most irrelevant thing in nature.
    • Poor Relations
  • I love to lose myself in other men's minds.
    • Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading
  • Books think for me.
    • Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading
  • Things in books' clothing.
    • Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading
  • How sickness enlarges the dimensions of a man's self to himself.
    • The Convalescent
  • Your absence of mind we have borne, till your presence of body came to be called in question by it.
    • Amicus Redivivus
  • A pun is a pistol let off at the ear; not a feather to tickle the intellect.
    • Popular Fallacies: IX, That the Worst Puns Are the Best
  • A presentation a copy of a book whoch does not sell, sent you by the author, with his foolish autograph at the beginning of it; for which, if a stranger, he only demands your friendship; if a brother author, he expects from you a book of yours, which does not sell, in return.
    • Popular Fallacies: XI, That We Must Not Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth
  • The good things of life are not to be had singly, but come to us with a mixture.
    • Popular Fallacies: XIII, That You Must Love Me and Love My Dog


  • The mixture spoils two good things, as Charles Lamb (Elia) used to say of brandy and water.

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