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the Elizabethans, and with the breath of Marvell's garden. He escaped into the golden age, into "antiquity,” — for he meant by that favourite phrase little older than Sackville.

It is easy to overestimate the service of Lamb and his friends in the revival of the older English literature. It was not begun by them. Throughout the eighteenth century the rill of Parnassus had been flowing, and now the stream had become broad. Lamb's group was borne on a deeper common current. But he, with Coleridge, Hazlitt, Hunt, and others of the time were agents in the diffusion of the new taste, and their critical appreciation and authority gave them a place as supporters of the innovation, sufficient to define a historical moment. Lamb is not to be regarded as the author of the revival of which he was rather a part. He felt it more than he directed it. Leadership was not in his bundle of qualities. He responded, however, to the influences of the re-discovered literature with marvellously perfect sympathy. The more recondite and esoteric portions of it were most to his taste. The humourist in him answered the most exigent demands of the occasion; and oddities of language and thought, conceits, quaintnesses, even conscious affectations, attracted him, just as the same qualities in living human nature called forth his motleyseeking wits. His originality, or native eccentricity, felt something kindred to itself in the old writers; their queernesses, worn like nature, kept his own in countenance; their affectations were a model on which his innate whimsicality could frame itself. And, possibly, more than all (yet excepting the pure charm of poetry), their sentiment, lingering on from days of chivalry and the allegorical in literature, fed a fundamental need of the emotional nature in such a life as Lamb's, perforce, was. He became an imitator of antiquated style, a mannerist after his favourites, given to artifice and fantasy as a literary method, and yet he remained himself. The disease of language does not penetrate to the thought.

Thus there were mingled in Lamb literary artifice with truth to nature, egotism with humanity, humour with sentiment, — both dashed by something melancholy; and one spark of genius, fusing this blend, has made the book of


Elia a treasure to many. It is not a great book, but it is uncommonly interesting. It is human from cover to cover. The subjects may be trivial, the company “low,” the incidents farcical; but of such is the kingdom of this world, at least it was so in London then. Lamb was a good observer; and, as in the sketches of the earlier essayists of Queen Anne literary historians point out the beginnings of the social novel of the next generation in that century, may not one find a foregleam of Dickens in these pages, of the lot of children, and the look of lives grown threadbare, and the virtues hidden in commonplace people? There is, no doubt, the trace of Smollett; but in addition is there not the spirit of humanity which, after Scott's pageant passed, took possession of our fiction and subdued it to democracy? The exaggeration, both of humour and of sentiment, in Dickens, the master of the craft, Lamb was free from; but the curious tracer of literary moods in the century would hardly hesitate to include Lamb in the succession. On other sides Lamb faced the past; but here was his one window on the times he lived in, or else he must be set down as one of those “sports" of the intellect which have no relation to their generation. In description and in character-drawing he was, of course, as simply personal as in his criticism. He might have smiled or scoffed at the idea that he was a forerunner in fiction as that he was a leader in the romantic movement. He cared nought for such things, as little as for science or music. He worked as an individual only, and told his recollections or described his friends and acquaintances just as he read his folios, because he pleased himself in doing it. But it is hard for a writer, however idiosyncratic, not to be a link between the days. The taste that classes him, in his work as a humourist, is his love of Hogarth, whom he appreciated more intelligently and fully, perhaps, than any one between Fielding and Thackeray. When it is objected that the quality of ordinary life as he presents it is “seaminess," we should recall in what company he exhibits it; and if his humour does not always hide the deformity and avoid the pain of the spectacle, our generation is probably more acutely aware of these things.

The human interest in the Essays, however, is not confined to what Lamb saw of the absurd and grotesque, the cruel and pathetic, in other lives. He is himself his best character, and best drawn. He was extraordinarily self-conscious, and the pages yield little that he did not mean to be told. One must go to the silent part of his biography to obtain that sobering correction of his whimsies and failings, that knowledge of his manliness in meeting the necessities of his situation, that sense of honesty, industry, and generosity, which he kept out of his books. The side that most men turn to the world he concealed, and he showed that which is commonly kept secret. He had been a poet in youth, and he never lost the habit of wearing his heart upon his sleeve. He was never as a poet to get beyond sentiment, which in a romantic age is but a little way; and in degenerating into prose (as he thought it) he gave no other sign of poetic endowment than this of sentiment that he could not surrender; but to what a length he carried it without exceeding the bounds of true feeling! Sentiment, like humour, needs a delicate craft; but he, though not so penetrating, was as sure of hand as Burns. Even under the temptation

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