Brother and Sister
Wednesday evenings were always important to the members of London's literary community during the early decades of the nineteenth century. For it was at this time that the famous essayist and drama critic Charles Lamb invited many of them to his home to dine and to discuss the significant events of the day. Among his regular guests, first in the Inns of Court and then later at Covent Garden, were the poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor `, and Percy Bysshe Shelley; the future poet laureate and historian Robert Southey; the journalists Leigh Hunt and Thomas De Quincey; and the publisher John Murray, the literary executor of the exiled Byron. At these gatherings, a visitor once remarked, one "might find those who had thought most deeply, felt most keenly, and were destined to produce the most lasting influences on the literature and manners of the age."1 These evenings brought Lamb great renown. But he was always quick to remind his admirers that their shows of respect must go equally to his sister, Mary, for there were few aspects of his life he did not share with her.
Mary Anne Lamb was born on 3 December 1763 at No. 2 Crown Office Row, London, in the heart of that complex of legal chambers, research libraries, lecture halls, and residential flats known as the Temple.2 It was in and around this area of the city that she and her younger brother were to spend much of their lives. Forever surrounded by vivid reminders of their nation's history and cultural accomplishments, it is perhaps not surprising they dedicated their lives to the disciplines they chose. Like nearby Gray's and Lincoln's Inn, the Temple, as its name suggests, was originally constructed during the Middle Ages as a home for religious orders, in this case for the Knights Templars of St. John of Jerusalem. Only after Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1533 was it was transformed into a legal center. At the western end of Crown Office Row was Middle Temple Lane, whose residents at the time of Mary's birth included the writers James Boswell,