In "The Superannuated Man" Elia, Lamb's alter-ego, discusses his retirement after 36 years of work in a business, a situation similar to Lamb's own retirement from the East India House. In this essay, pathos and humor are woven together: we laugh and cry at the same time, but perhaps most strongly feel the pathos of Elia's situation in which both work and retirement have their price.
Elia first talks eloquently about how he longed for time off when he worked. We feel the pain of the brevity of his vacations and the irony of how difficult a time he had enjoying them because they were so short. He writes of his week's annual holiday:
its recurrence, I believe, alone kept me up through the year, and made my durance tolerable. But when the week came round, did the glittering phantom of the distance keep touch with me? or rather was it not a series of seven uneasy days, spent in restless pursuit of pleasure, and a wearisome anxiety to find out how to make the most of them? Where was the quiet, where the promised rest? Before I had a taste of it, it was vanished. I was at the desk again, counting upon the fifty-one tedious weeks that must intervene before such another snatch would come.
As he gets older, he worries at home about making a mistake at work, poking gentle fun at himself for the night terrors he experiences, but more fully, revealing to us the pathos of what it's like to take work home with him.
After he retires, pathos and humor mix. He has his desired freedom and finds it overwhelming:
I wandered about, thinking I was happy, and knowing that I was not. I was in the condition of a prisoner in the old Bastile, suddenly let loose after a forty years’ confinement.
More pathos and humor emerge as he visits his former workplace. He had wanted nothing more than escape from this job, which he compared to prison, then, ironically feels displaced when "my old desk; the peg where I hung my hat, were appropriated to another."
There's humor but truth in his observations of what happens when we get what we most wish for: we often don't know what to do with it, and we often experience a sense of loss along with the gain. Elia manages to adjust to retirement and the wealth of time he has each day, every day. But he lets us know in his quiet way that the change isn't entirely easy.