2 Pages

Introductory Note

WithJohn Strachan

This imitation of Charles Lamb sees Patmore profiting from his enforced sojourn in France, after the 1821 duel between Scott and Christie, in his description of Elia’s impressions of a supposed trip to Calais. Elia, that devotee of old books, is here himself imitative, following the route of Sterne’s Yorick. Imitating Lamb is no easy task. ‘The style of Charles Lamb’, declares the Literary Chronicle in its review of the Rejected Articles, ‘above that of any author of the day, seems to breathe defiance to the imitator’ 1 . This is fair, though one might add that it might be easy enough to produce an ersatz version of Lamb which simply rehearses the mannerisms which are too often superficially seen as the quintessential Elian literary habits. This hypothetical imitator might ladle in puns, whimsicalities and the familiar cast of characters and places (cousin Bridget, the India House, Mackery End and so on) and label the stew ‘Elian’. However, though Patmore does all of this, his penetrative and often subtle account of Lamb does much more besides. It captures what the imitation calls Lamb’s ‘humours and oddities’, but also the underlying mournfulness and preoccupation with mortality evident in many of his essays. Patmore comments in My Friends and Acquaintance that ‘there was a constitutional sadness about Lamb’s mind’ 2 and in ‘An Unsentimental Journey’ he writes of ‘a serious joy, interfused with a still more serious melancholy’, a concept which has a wide application in the essays of Elia.