Wednesday, August 11, 2021

524. Unpublished: the Vale Press edition of Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia

In a letter to the American publisher F. Holland Day (dated October 1894), Charles Ricketts disclosed his intention to publish an edition of Charles Lamb's The Essays of Elia. It would be a quarto volume, with decorations and initials, issued in 300 copies.

Portrait of Charles Lamb
[National Portrait Gallery]

Lamb (1775-1834), is now best known for his Tales from Shakespeare (written with his sister Mary Lamb). However, his essays - including The Essays of Elia - were quite influential, and remained popular within certain circles because of their authentic style. Although Lamb was opposed to atheism, Ricketts liked his essays.

Which passages would have attracted him and which lines fascinated him? What made Ricketts think they were interesting enough to include in the Vale Press series of editions? Why a Lamb edition was not published in the end is a question we cannot answer.

Here are two suggestions for a posthumous Vale Press edition of the works of Charles Lamb.

Deputy, under Evans, was Thomas Tame. [...] His intellect was of the shallowest order. It did not reach to a saw or a proverb. His mind was in its original state of white paper. A suckling babe might have posed him. 

Antiquity! thou wondrous charm, what art thou? that, being nothing, art everything! When thou wert, thou wert not antiquity - then thou wert nothing, but hadst a remoter antiquity, as thou calledst it, to look back to with blind veneration; thou thyself being to thyself flat, jejune, modern! What mystery lurks in this retroversion? or what half Januses are we, that cannot look forward with the same idolatry with which we for ever revert! The mighty future is as nothing, being everything! the past is everything, being nothing!