Mary Lamb
Mary Ann Lamb was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 writer, the sister and collaborator of Charles Lamb.


She was born on 3 December 1764. In 1796, Mary, who had suffered a breakdown from the strain of caring for her family, killed her mother with a kitchen knife, and from then on had to be kept under constant supervision. When their senile father died, her younger brother became her official guardian. They lived together and in 1823 they met and adopted an orphan, Emma Isola, who later married Charles's publisher Edward Moxon
Edward Moxon
Edward Moxon was a British poet and publisher, significant in Victorian literature.Moxon was born at Wakefield in Yorkshire, where his father Michael worked in the wool trade. In 1817 he left for London, joining Longman in 1821...


In 1807, Mary collaborated with Charles on a children's book, Tales from Shakespeare
Tales from Shakespeare
Tales from Shakespeare was an English children's book written by Charles Lamb with his sister Mary Lamb in 1807. It was illustrated by Arthur Rackham in 1899 and 1909....

, and they produced other popular works for children in later years. On her own, Mary Lamb published an epistolary work, Mrs Leicester's School, which the poet Samuel Coleridge believed would and should be "acknowledged as a rich jewel in the treasury of our permanent English literature." It is with this book, concerning the tales of a variety of motherless and orphaned girls, that Mary Lamb seemed to deal with the personal themes of grief and guilt. Though her solo turn, critically acclaimed at the time, has not outlived its era, Tales from Shakespeare continues to be in print. It was first published by William Godwin
William Godwin
William Godwin was an English journalist, political philosopher and novelist. He is considered one of the first exponents of utilitarianism, and the first modern proponent of anarchism...

 (Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft was an eighteenth-century British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children's book...

's widower) and his second wife Mary Jane Godwin (mother of Claire Clairmont
Claire Clairmont
Clara Mary Jane Clairmont , or Claire Clairmont as she was commonly known, was a stepsister of writer Mary Shelley and the mother of Lord Byron's daughter Allegra.-Early life:...


Mary continued to suffer bouts of mental illness throughout her life. Notwithstanding these dramatic interruptions, Mary, along with her brother, was at the center of an ongoing artist's salon in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, entertaining many theatrical and literary luminaries of the day. Among other notables, Coleridge praised her for the sensibility
Sensibility refers to an acute perception of or responsiveness toward something, such as the emotions of another. This concept emerged in eighteenth-century Britain, and was closely associated with studies of sense perception as the means through which knowledge is gathered...

 and empathy
Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion. The English word was coined in 1909 by E.B...

 that characterized extended periods in which she was free of the symptoms of the bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder, historically known as manic–depressive disorder, is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a category of mood disorders defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated energy levels, cognition, and mood with or without one or...

 that she battled, often valiantly. Although contemporaries had predicted that Mary would be the first to die, it was Charles who succumbed to complications of an infected wound in 1834. Biographers have noted the irony
Irony is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or situation in which there is a sharp incongruity or discordance that goes beyond the simple and evident intention of words or actions...

 of her brother's relatively greater dependence on her and her seeming instinct for survival, but after his death, she grew increasingly frail, cared for at times by a family and at others in an asylum.

She died on 20 May 1847, and was buried next to her brother in the Edmonton Churchyard in Middlesex.


Subsequently, Mary has been depicted as the central character in The Lambs of London (2004), a novel by Peter Ackroyd
Peter Ackroyd
Peter Ackroyd CBE is an English biographer, novelist and critic with a particular interest in the history and culture of London. For his novels about English history and culture and his biographies of, among others, Charles Dickens, T. S. Eliot and Sir Thomas More he won the Somerset Maugham Award...

. She is also the subject of a recent biographical study by British writer Kathy Watson, The Devil Kissed Her. Ms. Watson credits Mary Lamb with the "better half" of the writing in Tales in terms of its vibrancy and skill.

External links

  • Works by or about Mary Lamb at Internet Archive
    Internet Archive
    The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...

  • Tales from a Muddy Island blog Extensive posting on Mrs Leicester's School and general biographical information on Mary Lamb
  • Mrs Leicester's School Additional Internet Archive link to the 1899 illustrated edition
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