Aspects of the imagination in the works of Charles Lamb and their relation to some contemporary ideas
The aim of this study is to place the writings of Charles Lamb in the context of his age. His work is assessed in relation to that of his friends and contemporaries, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats and Hazlitt, in order to ascertain how far he shared their characteristic preoccu- pations. Because of its central significance in the writings of the early English Romantics, and its problem- atic role in Lamb's own works, the concept of the imagination is employed as an unifying theme for this investigation. The introduction summarizes the history of Lamb r s reputation, and details in particular the fluctuations in critical opinion on the question of whether or not he can be considered a Romantic. In chapter one, Lamb's early relationship with Coleridge is described and its effects upon his imaginative development analyzed. The second chapter concerns itself with the damnation imagery rife throughout Lamb's work; what he makes of the theme is compared with its use in other contemporary writings. In chapter three, another characteristic subject of Lamb's, the glorification of childhood, is similarly analyzed and considered in the context of his age. The next three chapters deal primarily with Lamb's criticism. Chapter four illustrates his critical grasp and appreciation of the central Romantic concept of the imagination as an enhancer of consciousness. His strictures against the extreme 'egotistical sublime' aspects of Romanticism are detailed in the following chapter, mainly in relation to his criticisms of Wordsworth. His close involvement with another category of imaginative activity, the sympathetic imagination, is described in chapter six, and claims are made for his innovative function in its development. The final chapter relates the earlier findings to the Essays of Elia and concludes that a study of Lamb's writings may help to correct imbalances in the conventional idea of the spirit of the age.