Charles and Mary Lamb at Hastings By Edward Preston
Published by Literatours, available from Bookbuster

REVIEW BY TIM BARTON

Friends with Coleridge, Wordsworth and Hazlitt, the Lambs, who were brother and sister, were literary darlings in their day. In 1807 the work they are best remembered for was published, Tales from Shakespeare. This has been in print continuously ever since. Today we carry the Wordsworth Editions reprint as standard stock. The volume is a reworking of some of Shakespeare’s plays for children. The book has always been presented with illustrations, the most famous edition illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

Charles was also a famed essayist, and is quoted in the preface of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird: ‘Lawyers, I suppose, were children once’. There was a recent novel by Peter Ackroyd, The Lambs of London, which reimagines their lives in that city.

For a time, they also resided here in Hastings, and local author Edward Preston has become fascinated enough with both the Lambs and the history of our, then small but fast expanding, town in that period to write a short paean to them. The book is something of a curate’s egg, presented in sections that link as much through whim and occasion literary logic as through linear narrative. This approach is odd, but also allows the author to emphasise the nuggets of information that most intrigued him without too much verbiage and iteration of dull facts. Of course dull facts are themselves fascinating to some, and rather than run them into the text they are illustrated by scans of nineteenth century documents that contain them, leaving the reader to decide whether to engage with them.

The book is illustrated throughout, and this will provide a number of insights and illuminations for those of us interested in our town and its history. There is much relating to the Church in the Woods, obviously another subject close to the authors heart.

This is a charming little volume, though should a second edition be required I’d recommend a good editor to sub the text and encourage Edward to put more meat on the bones and restructure the skeleton a little – a short volume is welcome, but here and there information is signalled not given, and wider contextualisation is needed. I hope Edward may discover some more personal letters relating to their stay, too, as Mary had an interesting psychiatric history – one wonders if that ever manifested whilst they were here, or was a significant factor in their taking the cure here, away from the capital.


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