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University Press :
HARLES LAMB really came into this
world of man under the name of Elia; as a “son of memory," so was he christened, and by it he is known, for it is the name, not of his creature-life, but of his better part. His personality finds expression in it, freed from the sad or mean accidents of his mortal career; and it recalls only what in him was touched with the light and shadow of an inconstant genius or penetrated with the simplicity of the heart, and yet leaves room for that eccentricity, that strangeness heightened to the point of quaintness, which is an element in the attractiveness of character not less than, as Bacon declared, in beautiful things. Elia is a name of the imagination; but it was borne by an old acquaintance, an Italian who was a fellow-clerk at the South-Sea House when Lamb was a boy there, thirty years before he sat down to write these Essays; and, as a piece of pleasantry, he borrowed his friend's true face to mask his own in. He went, he tells us, to see the Elia of flesh and blood, and laugh over the liberty he had taken, but found the Italian dead; and the incident - the playfulness of the odd plagiarism ending unexpectedly in a solemn moment, a pathetic close -is so in character with the moods of these pages, that even their maker could not have invented better what life gave into his hands. The name had devolved upon him now, he said; he had, as it were, unknowingly adopted a shade, and it was to go about with him thenceforth, and watch at his grave after he too should depart. For two years he used the ruse of this ghost of a name, but the uncanniness of it was his own secret; to the reader of the “London Magazine," in which he published, Elia was - what it is to us name of the eternal humourist in life's various crowd.