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Yet these poems are among his most "prosy," with only an occasional impressive passage; their grammatical complexities are hard to follow.
Here he fell in love with Ann Simmons, subject of his earliest sonnets (though his first to be published, in the 29 December 1794 issue of the , was a joint effort with Coleridge to the actress Sarah Siddons—evidence of his lifelong devotion to the London theater).
His "Anna" sonnets, which appeared in the 17 editions of Coleridge's , have a sentimental, nostalgic quality: "Was it some sweet device of Faery / That mocked my steps with many a lonely glade, / And fancied wanderings with a fair-hair'd maid?
While Lamb was an occasional journalist, a playwright (of small success), a writer for children, and a poet, it is his prose which has endured.
He early realized that poetry was not his vocation; his best poetry was written in youth.
Watts, another of Lamb's contemporaries, wrote a jingle on Lamb that includes these lines: "For what if thy Muse will be sometimes perverse, / And present us with prose when she means to give verse? Barnett, and William Kean Seymour, however, find in much of it charm, honesty, strength of feeling, and originality.
" He noted that Lamb's is often admirably poetic, so that "we miss not the rhyme." In the twentieth century A. Ward has effectively demonstrated that Lamb's poetry lacks both the inspiration and discipline of his prose, concluding that in his poetry "his intensity of emotion is never once matched with an intensely personal manner of expression: he does not find the one perfect mould, and hardly ever lights upon the miraculous right word...." (For "never once" one should substitute "rarely.") E. "His poetry," Seymour concludes, "makes a pendant to his Essays, and it is a lustrous and significant pendant." The roles of artist and critic, of course, demand very different abilities: Lamb was, in correspondence, an able critic of the poetry of Coleridge and Wordsworth, who sometimes took his advice.It has a Keatsian charm but little lasting distinction.The tragedy of 22 September 1796—when Mary, exhausted and deranged from overwork, killed their mother with a carving knife—changed both their lives forever.After the death of Samuel Salt in 1792 the Lambs were in straitened circumstances, mother and father both ill.The elder brother, John, was living independently and was not generous to his family.(Lamb too had been confined briefly at Hoxton for his mental state in 1795, but there was no later recurrence.) Both were known for their capacity for friendship and for their mid-life weekly gatherings of writers, lawyers, actors, and the odd but interesting "characters" for whom Lamb had a weakness.For the moment Lamb "renounced" poetry altogether, but he soon took it up again and began work on a tragedy in Shakespearean blank verse, (1802), which has autobiographical elements.The son of John and Elizabeth Field Lamb, Charles Lamb, a Londoner who loved and celebrated that city, was born in the Temple, the abode of London lawyers, where his father was factotum for one of these, Samuel Salt.The family was ambitious for its two sons, John and Charles, and successful in entering Charles at Christ's Hospital, a London charity school of merit, on 9 October 1782.Here he met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a fellow pupil who was Lamb's close friend for the rest of their lives and who helped stir his growing interest in poetry. (Because he had a severe stammer, he did not seek a university career, then intended to prepare young men for orders in the Church of England.) In September 1791 he found work as a clerk at the South Sea House, but he left the following February, and in April he became a clerk at the East India Company, where he remained for thirty-three years, never feeling fitted for the work nor much interested in "business," but managing to survive, though without promotion.Soon after leaving school, he was sent to Hertfordshire to his ill grandmother, housekeeper in a mansion seldom visited by its owners.