"A Child's A Plaything For An Hour"

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Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 344

Context: If it had not been for a writer and publisher disliked by the Lamb family, William Godwin (1756–1836), Mary Lamb might have gone silent to the grave. Her brother Charles Lamb (1775–1834) earned his name in literature by his Essays of Elia published in the London Magazine between 1820 and 1825, observations on life set down in familiar language and delightful style. His plans for marriage were disrupted by his sister's spell of madness in which she attacked her father and killed her mother. Lamb spent the rest of his life acting as her guardian. He, too, became unbalanced and spent the years 1795–1796 in an asylum, but recovered. So did she, but their acquaintance, Godwin, suggested that to occupy Mary's mind, Charles and she should join in writing children's books for his "Juvenile Library." At that time, most books for children were simple and stupid tales, sure to bore any bright child. Mary Lamb was especially critical of them, so they began writing as a kind of protest, first King and Queen of Hearts (1805) and then the volume for which they are best remembered, Tales from Shakespear (1807), a prose retelling of his best known plays. Next came a simplified version of the Adventures of Ulysses (1808). Since both of the Lambs had written poetry, they collected eighty of their products as Poetry for Children (1809). Only internal evidence indicates which author wrote any given poem. One, called "Parental Recollections," is generally attributed to Mary, though some scholars ascribe the authorship to Charles, possibly because he quoted the first line in his Elia essay "The Old and the New Schoolmaster," and because his "Dream Children," is correlated to the whole poem.

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A child's a plaything for an hour;
Its pretty tricks we try
For that or for a longer space;
Then tire, and lay it by.
But I know one, that to itself
All seasons could controul;
That would have mock'd the sense of pain
Out of a grievèd soul.
Thou, straggler into loving arms,
Young climber up of knees,
When I forget thy thousand ways,
Then life and all shall cease.

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