Critical Appreciation of ‘Dream children’

This is one of the most autobiographical essays of Charles Lamb. Here we get some important facts about Lamb’s boyhood and early love affairs, about his brother John, as also about his grandmother Mary Field. There is much in it that is factual, but much also that is fictitious.

Alice W. N. the name of the beloved is one of Lamb’s deliberate inventions. In the key to the initials used by him, in the essays, he explains that the name was feigned. Charles Lamb tells us that his brother John was more sympathetic and considerate than he himself. But this is not a fact for John was selfish and narrow-minded. Again, he tells us that his grandmother Mrs. The field was the housekeeper of a big house in Norfolk.

But we know from the history of the family that she was connected as a housekeeper with the Plumbers of Hertfordshire: Thus it is seen that the whole essay is a fusion of fact and fiction. The theme of the essay is a dream or reverie, this is how a dream should be a blend of fact and fiction, one’s unconscious or subconscious inundating one’s rational or conscious world. 

Delineation of Child-mind

In this essay, Charles Lamb appears as a great delineator of the child’s mind. The traits of childhood are accurately described here. “Here Alice put out one of her dear mother’s looks, too tender to be called upbraiding”.

Here John smiled as much as to say, ‘That would be foolish indeed. ‘Here little Alice spread her hands. “Here Alice’s little right foot played an involuntary movement, till, upon my looking grave, it desisted.”

“Here John expanded all his eyebrows and tried to look courageous”. “Here John slyly deposited back upon the plate stealing a bunch of grapes”.

“Here the children fell an a- crying…..and prayed to me…. to tell them some stories about their pretty dead mother”. Charles Lamb has given a new intensified vision of the wistful beauty of the dream children-their imitativeness, their facile and generous emotions, their anxiety to be correct, and their ingenuous haste to escape from grief into joy. 

Sincerity

One reason for Lamb’s success in the essay is certainly his regard for truth. As Arnold Bennett puts it: He does not falsely idealize his brother, nor the relations between them. He does not say as a sentimentalist would have said, “Not the slightest cloud ever darkened our relations”, nor does he exaggerate his solitude.

Being a sane man, he has too much common sense to assemble all his woes at once. He might have told you that Bridget was a homicidal maniac; what he does tell you is that she was faithful. 

Love of Beauty

Another reason for his success is his continual regard for beautiful things and fine actions. Charles Lamb had an eye always open for beauty. In the present essay the beauty of old houses and gardens and aged virtuous characters, the beauty of childhood, the beauty of companionships, and the softening beauty of dreams in an armchair are brought together and mingled with the grief and regret which were the origin of the mood.

Here Charles Lamb has made even his sadness beautiful. We watch him sitting in his bachelor armchair and we say to ourselves: “Yes, it was sad, but it was also absorbingly beautiful”. 

Pathos

The keynote of this essay is one of profound sadness. A. Hamilton Thompson rightly observes: “Pathos was never achieved with a lighter hand than in Dream Children, the essay suggested by the death of his brother.

It was written from Lamb’s heart, and the sincerity of his feelings echoed in the simplicity of the style in which he tells his imaginary audience the story of the old house where he spent so many happy days…

But, although the melancholy of the writer’s mood is quite apparent, although he feels with deep regret the contrast between early hopes and loves and dwindling friendships of later life, his melancholy is far removed from that of the man who concentrates upon his own sorrows and sees those of the rest of the world only in so far as they refer to himself. Such an essay could not have been written by one who was shut up in self-contemplation.” 

Style

It is a well-known fact that Charles Lamb can suit his style to those he deals with. The style of the present essay is peculiarly reminiscent and meditative. This essay is written in simple, chaste language as befits the melancholy mood of the essayist.

As Elton puts it: “For sheer purity of immortal plain English, without anything to chill or let down the spirits, it would be hard to find anything of the same length in renaissance times like Dream Children”. The plain narrative style goes on until the author’s pent-up emotions gush out when the style becomes sweetly cadential and lyrical.

In poetic prose, the passage at the closed of the essay has very few equals. Everywhere in this essay, Charles Lamb thrills his reader so deeply as to arouse not only sympathy but empathy. 

Critical Opinions

There is, perhaps, in the whole of Charles Lamb’s writing, nothing so entirely beautiful, nothing so unmistakably the product of genius, as this masterpiece of imaginative prose; it is the feeling and thought of poetry in the garb of prose, prose-poetry.

It is a vision of the ‘might have been, a vision which as it fades away with the vanishing faces of those ‘Dream Children’, leaves the reader hesitating between two conflicting emotions, admiration and pity.

The essay curiously made up of blended fact and fiction is a record of the author’s feelings, absolutely genuine. It is the wail of a deeply sympathetic, keenly loving soul, for whom fate has apportioned solitariness. 

-Mark Hunter 

Pathos was never achieved with a lighter hand than in Dream Children, the essay suggested by the death of his brother. It was written from Lamb’s heart, and the sincerity of his feeling is echoed in the simplicity of the style in which he tells his imaginary audience the story of the old house where he spent so many happy days. 

-A.H. Thompson 

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