Charles Lamb (1775-1834) was a British essayist, critic, playwright and poet. A leading figure in the Romantic Movement, he wrote in an intensely personal and emotional style. His Essays of Elia offered reminiscences of his life and was a best seller of the day. His Tales of Shakespeare, co-written with his sister Mary, presented bowdlerized versions of the plays for young people and was also very popular. Lamb was the friend of many Romantic artists: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey and William Hazlitt. He suffered greatly in his life, enduring periods of mental illness.
Lamb was greatly interested in Quakers. He called himself “an Honorary Friend” and “half a Quaker”. Widely read in Friends literature, he was especially moved by Woolman’s Journal and Penn’s No Cross, No Crown. He was also close to many Quakers, including the poets Bernard Barton and Charles Lloyd. He compared Friends to the Desert Fathers, early Christian hermits, whose contemplative practices he felt had parallels with Friends worship. Lamb was not a Friend, however. Initially he drew back from the Quakers after he heard a Friend give ministry in what he felt was a negative manner, and in the end he felt that he was unable to become a Quaker because of their cultural narrowness in that time.
Charles Lamb was an insightful writer. His writings on Quakers, especially “The Quaker’s Meeting”, remain of interest.
“Reader, would’st thou know what true peace and quiet mean; would’st thou find a refuge from the noises and clamours of the multitude; would’st thou enjoy at once solitude and society; would’st thou possess the depth of thy own spirit in stillness, without being shut out from the consolatory faces of thy species; would’st thou be alone, and yet accompanied; solitary, yet not desolate; singular, yet not without some to keep thee in countenance; a unit in aggregate; a simple in composite:—come with me into a Quaker’s Meeting”.