Dream Children by Charles Lamb
Charles Lamb(1774-1834) didn’t live long, but he made stellar contribution to English literature through his essays, short stories, and poems. His personal life was beset with many problems. A lunatic elder sister, a futile romance, and his struggle with mental illness didn’t, however, dim his creativity with the pen. He courted a girl named Ann Simmons for seven long years, but she broke his heart by marrying a silversmith. The broken affair cast a long shadow over Lamb’s life, and he decided to remain a bachelor for the rest of his life. His sister Mary, older than him by eleven years, was bit of a mentally deranged woman. In a feat of rage, she once impelled a kitchen knife into her mother’s chest, killing her on the spot. Charles Lamb, despite his meager earnings, never left his sister Mary t fend for herself. He took good care of her arranging for her treatment from time to time as she swung between normalcy and instability periodically. Even Charles Lamb had a six-week stint in a mental hospital to rid himself of his partial lunacy.
He worked for a living in East India House as a clerk. In his free hours he wrote his pieces.
Charles Lamb was fortunate to have literary icons like Samuel Taylor Coleridge as his close friend. Lamb poured out his grief to Coleridge through many pensive letters.
About ‘Dream Children’ ….Dream Children is a short that formed part of Lamb’s ‘The Essays of Elia’. Lamb wrote under the pen name of Elia. It is an autobiographical account of the author’s life that was riddled with so many tragedies. As the name of the story suggests, it is a ‘reverie’, meaning that it is nothing but a short day dream conjured by the author. The dream comes to an abrupt and sad end. Almost all characters are real except Alice, who is none other than Ann Simmons, who married another man leaving Charles in a sea of agony.
The characters .. Mrs. Field .. Charles Lab’s great grandmother
Uncle John … The elder brother of the author who was older than him by about 14 years
Alice .. An imagnary girl, through whose eyes Lamb saw her beloved Ann.
John .. A boy imagined by the author
Background to the story and Lamb’s character sketch .. Charles Lamb was undoubtedly a benign man. He bore his misfortune with remarkable fortitude. To see one’s mother fatally stabbed by one’s own sister for no great reason would devastate anyone. Lamb, too, was shaken by this grim tragedy, but, far from being vengeful towards his sister Mary, he strove to see that the minimum punishment was awarded to her. Later, he took Mary to the mental treatment clinic multiple times to nurse her back to normal life. Even Lamb had his bouts of mental illness followed by a short stay in a hospital. Although the girl he loved so much ditched him after seven long years, he showed no vengfulness. He dedicated his time, money and energy to serve his sister Mary. He chose to remain a bachelor — a great sacrifice for such a talented young man.
Charles Lamb yearned to marry, raise a family and lead a full life, but fate ordained otherwise. Obviously, he loved children and must have spent countless nights pining for a wife, and his own children. This reverie bears testimony to the cravings of his heat and the trauma of his soul.
The story (A fictional one) .. In the opening lines, Charles Lamb finds himself surrounded by two lovely children, Alice and John. The duo pleaded with their father Lamb to narrate a story about his ancestors and his bygone days.
Lamb talks about his great grandmother Mrs. Field. She was a devout Christian and a woman of great piety. Due to her sterling character, a wealthy man had asked her to live like a caretaker in one of his sprawling villas in Norfolk. Field, lived in just a lonely corner of the huge use, but attended to the upkeep of the house with attention and sincerity.
The house had some connection to a horrible episode of a very cruel uncle who had smothered some children, sometime in the past. The details of this horrific massacre were carved as ‘ballad of the woods’ in the body of a wooden chimney inside the Norfolk mansion. Sadly, the owner of the house chose to have the wooden chimney replaced by a marble one. With the renovation, the wooden chimney was gone, so was the inscription of the tragic story.
Alice and John were listening to their father’s (Lamb’s) account with attention. Lamb spoke eloquently about his great grandmother Ms. Field. When she passed away, her admirers from far and wide converged on her house to pay their tributes.
After her death, the owner of the house had all the ornate fixtures and furniture removed to another house of his. These items ill fitted the new house, looking so incongruous, and out-of-place. John, listening to the story seemed to appreciate the fact that the decision to cart away the furniture to a new house had not been a wise one.
Ms. Field was a gifted dancer too. Unfortunately, she was afflicted with cancer, and her zest for dancing took a beating. This crippling disease, however, failed to diminish Grandma Field didn’t allow her spirits to droop. She was a brave lady who slept in a solitary room in the large house. Even John chose to sleep beside the maid to ward off fear. Ms. Field saw dreams, but there was nothing to fear. In the dreams she saw two babies with wings gliding down the stairs. The nocturnal visitors had no bellicose intent.
Ms. Field’s affection towards her grandchildren had still remained vivid in his memory. She allowed them a free run over the house garden that had fruit trees of many types. There were peach trees, nectarine and orange trees, and many others. The house had busts of Roman royalty, which Lamb loved to observe with interest. The visiting children didn’t pluck any fruit from the trees perhaps because they were advised not to. Hearing this account, Alice and John seated near their father desisted from partaking of the oranges kept before them. The story appeared to have a great sway over them.
Lamb told his listeners Alice and John that his brother John L (their uncle) was a handsome, well-built, and athletic young lad. He was the favoured grand child of Ms. Field. When other children roamed around in the mansion and the garden, John L would go horse riding to nearby woods. He lavished his affection on his younger brother (the narrator and the two children’s father). At times, John L would carry his younger brother (the narrator) in his back despite an injury in his foot. His death made the narrator very sad indeed.
Soon, Alice and John lost interest in the sad account of their father’s earlier years. They prodded him to talk about days of his childhood instead of going so far down the memory lane. Particularly, they wanted to hear about their mother.
Charles Lamb proceeded to name her. She was Alice W—n. The narrator held back the true name ‘Anna Simmons’. He rued that he had courted her for seven long years, but the romance and the effort were futile. He made no effort to conceal his dismay at her refusing to marry him. Just around this time, Charles Lamb, in the role of the father of his two imaginary children Alice and John, saw some uncanny resemblance n the faces of Ann Simmons and Alice. It seemed as though Ann as speaking to him through Alice.
At this point, the story takes an abrupt turn. Lamb wakes up from his sleep and finds himself lying on his arm chair. Curtains come down on the author’s lovelorn past. Hard reality prevails. Charles Lamb honestly states that James Elia, the author, no longer lives in this world.