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CHARLES LAMB

Attempt a brief critical essay on the prose style of Charles Lamb.


OR
Comment critically on Lambs prose style.
OR
Asses Lambs 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.
Lambs 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

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

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