This volume contains the work by which Charles Lamb is best known and upon which his fame will rest —Elia and The Last Essays of Elia. Although one essay is as early as 1811, and one is perhaps as late as 1832, the book represents the period between 1820 and 1826, when Lamb was between forty-five and fifty-one. This was the richest period of his literary life.
The text of the present volume is that of the first edition of each book —Elia, 1823, and The Last Essays of Elia, 1833. The principal differences between the essays as they were printed in the London Magazine and elsewhere, and as they were revised for book form by their author, are shown in the Notes, which, it should be pointed out, are much fuller in my large edition. The three-part essay on “The Old Actors” (London Magazine, February, April, and October, 1822), from which Lamb prepared the three essays; “On Some of the Old Actors,” “The Artificial Comedy of the Last Century,” and “The Acting of Munden,” is printed in the Appendix as it first appeared. The absence of the “Confessions of a Drunkard” from this volume is due to the fact that Lamb did not include it in the first edition of The Last Essays of Elia. It was inserted later, in place of “A Death–Bed,” on account of objections that were raised to that essay by the family of Randal Norris. The story is told in the notes to “A Death–Bed.” The “Confessions of a Drunkard” will be found in Vol. I.
In Mr. Bedford’s design for the cover of this edition certain Elian symbolism will be found. The upper coat of arms is that of Christ’s Hospital, where Lamb was at school; the lower is that of the Inner Temple, where he was born and spent many years. The figures at the bells are those which once stood out from the façade of St. Dunstan’s Church in Fleet Street, and are now in Lord Londesborough’s garden in Regent’s Park. Lamb shed tears when they were removed. The tricksy sprite and the candles (brought by Betty) need no explanatory words of mine.
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