“The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth and have it found out by accident.” Charles Lamb
I do notice that I spent a lot of time in London visiting people long dead and gone for at least a 100 years. It is perhaps because these are the only Londoners I seem to know very well, like friends. These are people who inspired my imagination, helped understand life a little better, these are people I smiled with and cried for – they’re friends, the characters they created are friends and yet I am guilty of not having visited Dickens who introduced me to London, which is why I should go back soon.
I think I was meant to study literature in college to know this one person I didn’t know before and couldn’t have known (maybe) otherwise. Anne Fadiman is quite right when she says …[he] is kept alive largely through the tenuous resuscitation of university English department” – the only valuable thing the English department at Maris Stella College did was to include ‘Dream Children’ in the course syllabus. Not many have heard of Charles Lamb but if you read the Essays of Elia at a pace as slow as mine, connecting his fiction with his reality, I am sure you’d take a liking to him too. Fadiman describes her crush on Lamb when she first read him as ‘monumental,’ would anyone understand me it I said I felt close to jealous on knowing that? I thought only I loved Lamb so much – so much that I celebrate his birthdays every year, have a personal party and also get him gifts and write him cards.
I don’t feel jealous anymore because I am convinced my relationship with Lamb is unlike anybody else’s with him – that’s what I felt as I sat at his grave. Another dream came true the same day (after visiting the Scott exhibit) when I found myself in Edmonton’s All Saint’s Church Graveyard, near Lamb’s tombstone after changing the Tube thrice, a train ride and a 15 minute walk around Edmonton. Catharine helped figure out the Tube for me.
On our way to Edmonton I could read the question Catharine had on her mind for me – why this fondness for a writer not many people have read? I answered that question for Catharine though she didn’t actually ask me – It’s how he lived his life and how he wrote of the same, how he made the ordinary beautiful, the painful things interesting and with such wonderful sense of humour that is unmistakably cool. Despite the heaviness of his life, Lamb believed that “a laugh is worth a hundred groans in any market. ”
“He never married. Took care of his sister who killed their mother but it’s not her fault. Mary, Charles’ sister was mentally ill and no one seemed to understand that except Lamb.”- at this Catharine shared a story personal to her. As I told Catharine this, I was reminded of these lines that Lamb wished to be removed from a work before it went for publishing
I had a mother, but she died, and left me,
Died prematurely in a day of horrors –
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
I resumed telling Catharine of Lamb through our search for the grave and while telling this part to Catharine, I realized that two other women walking their dog in the graveyard were listening to me “Though he never married he imagined a family, he imagined children and some of his essays are stories he tells to these imaginary children, of their uncle John, their great grandmother Field, their mother who never existed but was perhaps forever with him in his imagination. He wrote on his childhoon, of lying in orchards and gardens of the house where grandmother Field worked, he wrote of the oranges and apples there and how he sometimes wished to pluck and have them but he couldn’t for they weren’t his trees.” At this point I couldn’t go on for in front of me was the tomb of this very boy I imagined in my head many times, the young man who took the utmost care of his sister, struggled to keep her out of mental asylums, hated his jobs but worked hard still, went through the embarrassment of moving from house to house because they couldn’t afford rents, a man who dreamt of a wife and kids but never had any and through all this had the greatest sense of humour, the most healthy attitude to life and made life easier for all those around him. I fell silent and Catharine, the ladies, and their dog gave me utter privacy leaving me to speak with Charles Lamb.
My conversation with him remains personal but I can certainly tell you what I did. I wrote a letter, signed it ‘Me’ and left it there under a piece of rock.
While I did this Catharine spoke with this man in the picture and we left when I was ready to leave but I didn’t speak to him – I cannot understand why for I wished to speak to this man sitting alone in the graveyard of the All Saints Church in Edmonton, I should have. This stands out as my biggest lesson – ‘let there be no should haves, if you want to do something, do’
I am lucky that the Lamb’s decided to live in Edmonton for a year because I could see their cottage where they once lived without much travelling. The house is now private property which meant one couldn’t go inside – a huge disappointment but I was very excited to be at the gate which was one’s Lamb’s.c(There’s a funny website that helps you make blue plaques like the one below – I should be dead for 25 years now if that were to be any bit real 🙂 and if it was Lamb’s ghost I was meeting for coffee)
A Charles Lamb fan (in addition to being a Google fan) such as me is likely to know that somewhere in London is the ‘Elia Street’ and on it exists this pub named ‘The Charles Lamb Pub’ finding which was again a tube, a train and a bus ride, not to mention the walking into lane after lane. I am very pleased that despite my first beer in London was the Charles Lamb beer from The Charles Lamb on 16 Elia Street in London. Elia, by the way, was Lamb’s pen name when he wrote for a magazine in London.
The near perfect pilgrimage of all things ‘Charles Lamb’ ended with the purchase of this souvenir, the only Lamb souvenir one can possibly find. I went looking for the biography of Charles Lamb by EV Lucas in every bookstore of London that I passed but none had it, the only reason the pilgrimage wasn’t complete.
The Charles Lamb souvenir pint glass that travelled from 16 Elia Street to Prof. Elyas Burney Road, Hyderabad 🙂