Charles Lamb

Favourite Quotations

The beggar is the only person in the universe not obliged to study appearance.

Borrowers of books --those mutilators of collections, spoilers of the symmetry of shelves, and creators of odd volumes.

When I consider how little of a rarity children are -- that every street and blind alley swarms with them -- that the poorest people commonly have them in most abundance -- that there are few marriages that are not blest with at least one of these bargains -- how often they turn out ill, and defeat the fond hopes of their parents, taking to vicious courses, which end in poverty, disgrace, the gallows, etc. -- I cannot for my life tell what cause for pride there can possibly be in having them.

The greatest pleasure I know, is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.

Separate from the pleasure of your company, I don't much care if I never see another mountain in my life.

To be sick is to enjoy monarchical prerogatives.

For God's sake (I never was more serious) don't make me ridiculous any more by terming me gentle-hearted in print... substitute drunken dog, ragged head, seld-shaven, odd-eyed, stuttering, or any other epithet which truly and properly belongs to the gentleman in question.

Why are we never quite at ease in the presence of a schoolmaster? Because we are conscious that he is not quite at his ease in ours. He is awkward, and out of place in the society of his equals. He comes like Gulliver from among his little people, and he cannot fit the stature of his understanding to yours.

Don't introduce me to him," said Lamb urgently when a friend offered to present a man whom Lamb had for a long time disliked by hearsay. "I want to go on hating him, and I can't do that to a man I know."

Satire does not look pretty on a tombstone.

[On London] O! her lamps of a night! Her rich goldsmiths, printshops, toyshops, mercers, hardware men, pastrycooks, St. Paul's Churchyard, the Strand, Exeter Change, Charing Cross . . . All the streets and pavements are pure gold, I warrant you. At least I know an alchemy that turns her mud into that metal - a mind that loves to be at home in crowds.

Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.

- From "On Some Of The Old Benchers"

The measure of choosing well, is, whether a man likes and finds good in what he has chosen

I can read any thing which I call a book. There are things in that shape which I cannot allow for such. In this catalogue of books which are no books - biblia a-biblia - I reckon Court Calendars, Directories... the works of Hume, Gibbon, Robertson, Beattie, Soame Jenyns, and, generally, all those volumes which 'no gentleman's library should be without.'

- From "Detached Thoughts On Books And Reading"

"Newspapers always excite curiosity. No one ever lays one down without a feeling of disappointment."

- From "Newspapers Thirty-Five Years Ago"

The measure of choosing well, is, whether a man likes and finds good in what he has chosen.

Charles Lamb endeared himself to his friends, as William Hazlitt put it, "not less by his foibles than his virtues; he insures their esteem by the one, and does not wound their self-love by the other. He gains ground in the opinion of others by making to advances in his own."

The glory of scenic art is to personate passion, and the turns of passion; and the more coarse and palpable the passion is, the more hold upon the eyes and ears of the spectators the performer obviously possesses. For this reason, scolding scenes, scenes where two persons talk themselves into a fit of fury...have always been the most popular on our stage.

- From "On The Tragedies Of Shakespeare"

Pain is life--the sharper, the more evidence of life.

A pun is not bound by the laws which limit nicer wit. It is a pistol let off at the ear, not a feather to tickle the intellect.

He is no lawyer who cannot take two sides

I am disposed to say grace upon twenty other occasions in the course of the day besides my dinner. I want a form for setting out upon a pleasant walk, for a moonlight ramble, for a friendly meeting or a solved problem. Why have we none for books, those spiritual repasts -- a grace before Milton, a devotional exercise proper to be said before reading [Spenser]?

- From "Detached Thoughts On Books And Reading"

Nothing puzzles me more than time and space; and yet nothing troubles me less, as I never think about them.

Credulity is the man's weakness, but the child's strength.

- From "Witches And Other Night-Fears"

"What a place to be in is an old library! It seems as though all the souls of all the writers that have bequeathed their labours to these Bodleians were reposing here as in some dormitory, or middle state. I do not want to handle, to profane the leaves, their winding-sheets. I could as soon dislodge a shade. I seem to inhale learning, walking amid their foliage; and the odor of their old moth-scented coverings is fragrant as the first bloom of the sciential apples which grew amid the happy orchard."

- From "Oxford in the Vacation"

Laughter is worth a hundred groans in any state of the market.

The red-letter days now become, to all intents and purposes, dead-letter days.

- From "Oxford in the Vacation"

For with G. D., to be absent from the body is sometimes (not to speak profanely) to be present with the Lord.

- From "Oxford in the Vacation"

A clear fire, a clean hearth, and the rigour of the game.

- From Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist

Sentimentally I am disposed to harmony; but organically I am incapable of a tune.

- From "A Chapter on Ears"

It is good to love the unknown.

- From "Valentine's Day"

The pilasters reaching down were adorned with a glistering substance (I know not what) under glass (as it seemed), resembling--a homely fancy, but I judged it to be sugar-candy; yet to my raised imagination, divested of its homelier qualities, it appeared a glorified candy.

- From "My First Play"

Presents, I often say, endear absents.

- From "A Dissertation upon Roast Pig"

Your absence of mind we have borne, till your presence of body came to be called in question by it.

- From "Amicus Redivivus"

Gone before
To that unknown and silent shore.

- From Hester"

I have had playmates, I have had companions,
In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days.
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

- From "The Old Familiar Faces"

For thy sake, tobacco, I
Would do anything but die.

- From "A Farewell to Tobacco".

Who first invented work, and bound the free
And holiday-rejoicing spirit down
. . . . . . . . .
To that dry drudgery at the desk's dead wood?
. . . . . . . . .
Sabbathless Satan!


To the Editor of the Every-Day Book: I like you and your book, ingenious Hone!
In whose capacious all-embracing leaves
The very marrow of tradition 's shown;
And all that history, much that fiction weaves.

He [Captain Starkey] might have proved a useful adjunct, if not an ornament to society.

Martin, if dirt was trumps, what hands you would hold!

Returning to town in the stage-coach, which was filled with Mr. Gilman's guests, we stopped for a minute or two at Kentish Town. A woman asked the coachman, "Are you full inside?" Upon which Lamb put his head through the window and said, "I am quite full inside; that last piece of pudding at Mr. Gilman's did the business for me."

I know that a sweet child is the sweetest thing in nature... but the prettier the kind of a thing is, the more desirable it is that it should be pretty of its kind.

Anything awful makes me laugh

[said of Lamb by William Charles Macready] The last breath he drew in he wished might be through a pipe and exhaled through a pun.

If ever I marry a wife
I'll marry a landlord's daughter,
For then I may sit in the bar
And drink cold brandy and water.

Gorgons, and Hydreas, and Chimeras - dire stories of Celaeno and the Harpies - may reproduce themselves in the brain of superstition - but they were there before. They are transcripts, types - the archetypes are in us, and eternal. How else should the recital of that which we know in a waking sense to be false come to affect us all? Is it that we naturally conceive terror from such objects, considered in their capacity of being able to inflict upon us bofily injury? O, least of all! These terrors are of older standing. They date beyond body - or without the body, they would have been the same... That the kind of fear her treated is purely spiritual - that it is strong in proportion as it is objectless on earth, that it predominates in the period of our sinless infancy - are difficulties the solutions of which might afford some probable insight into our ante-mundane condition, and a peep at least into the shadowland of pre-existence.

- Witches And Other Night-Fears [used as epigraph to H.P. Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror"]

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