Charles Lamb

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What are some themes of Charles Lamb's essays?

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Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia were essays written about himself and his sister, Mary. By using the pseudonym Elia, he was able to examine his life at some distance, and many of his essays are Romantic in nature and deal with the whimsical nature of childhood and childhood memories. For example, in the essay "Old China," Elia and his cousin Bridget (who was really his mentally ill sister, Mary) discuss the set of china they purchased when they were little. Bridget thinks they enjoyed the china more when they were young and poor, and now that they are more comfortable financially, they don't enjoy these small pleasures as much. This essay is Romantic in nature, as it celebrates the virtues of innocence, childhood, and simplicity. In "Dream-Children: A Reverie," Lamb, as Elia, tells his children a story about his great-grandmother. He wakes up to realize that the children are only fragments of his imagination, as he is a bachelor. This essay also touches on the magical and fleeting nature of childhood. 

Lamb also wrote about the arts. For example, his essay "On the Artificial Comedy of the Last Century" reignited interest in Restoration comedies, such as those by Congreve. In "On the Acting of Munden," Lamb reviews a performance by Joseph Shepherd Munden, an actor of his day. 

Lamb wrote about personal experiences. In The Last Essays of Elia, in essays such as "Blakesmoor in H---shire," for example, he writes about touring an abandoned family mansion. The tour elicits a feeling of mystery in him and provokes memories of the way the mansion stood intact and imposing during his childhood. The themes in this essay are also Romantic in nature, as this essay deals with the recollections of childhood, the mystery of life, and the contemplation of decay. 

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Charles Lamb's most famous book of essays, called "The Essays of Elia," featured a gentle, domestic, good-humored bachelor named Elia, who was not unlike Lamb himself. Themes of the essay include nostalgia, the need for compassion, and regret. Although written slightly before the Victorian era, they anticipate the Victorian emphasis on home, family and heartfelt sentiments.

In "A Quaker's Meeting" Elia recalls in idealized, nostalgic terms a Quaker meeting he attended years ago. In his memory, Quakers are clean and holy, unblemished inside and out: "The very garments of a Quaker seem incapable of receiving a soil," and every Quakeress is "lily," he writes. 

In "A Dissertation of Roast Pig," he pens gentle satire that regrets that people with refined tastes dine on suckling or baby pigs, and perhaps will kill them inhumanely, questioning if that is necessary. In "The Praise of Chimney-Sweepers" he asks gentlemen to give a penny to the poor chimney sweepers, young boys who are out on cold mornings.

In "Dream Children," Elia expresses the theme of regret that he never had a family.

The essays' sweetness of style made them popular, while their themes encouraged people to practice kindness and compassion both by remembering the past and remembering the less fortunate. 


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