Charles Lamb Essay Dream Children A Reverie

The theme of Lamb's essay is regret and loss: regret for unfulfilled joy, unfulfilled love, lost hope, lost opportunity and lost joys of life. There are three topics describing the theme of regret and loss at work in this essay.

The first of these is the loss of past happiness as represented by the house--with its carved mantle that a "foolish rich person pulled ... down"--and by great-grandmother Field and by the speaker's brother John.

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The theme of Lamb's essay is regret and loss: regret for unfulfilled joy, unfulfilled love, lost hope, lost opportunity and lost joys of life. There are three topics describing the theme of regret and loss at work in this essay.

The first of these is the loss of past happiness as represented by the house--with its carved mantle that a "foolish rich person pulled ... down"--and by great-grandmother Field and by the speaker's brother John.

Both great-grandmother Field and John died painful deaths while Charles Lamb watched on being then left alone without their presence, love and care: what he missed most was their presence: "I missed him all day long, and knew not till then how much I had loved him."

The second topic describing regret and loss is his beloved Alice. Lamb courted her "for seven long years" and, in the end, his suit for her love was a failure. This explains why the dream child is named Alice and this explains why he becomes confused about which Alice, younger or elder, he is really looking at:

turning to Alice, the soul of the first Alice looked out at her eyes with such a reality of re-presentment, that I became in doubt which of them stood there before me, or whose that bright hair was ...

This leads to the third thematic topic: the children who never were. In a surprise ending, in a dramatic (and at first bewildering) twist, we learn that the children he has been telling stories to--stories of loves and life-joys he regrets losing--are air, are a figment of a dream in a bachelor's sleep. These are the children that would have been, that could have been, that might have been if Alice had granted Lamb her love and if they had wed. As it is, they are but phantoms of a dream. All he really has is "the faithful Bridget [representative of Lamb's sister Mary] unchanged by my side."




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Summary of the essay DREAM CHILDREN by Charles Lamb [ from ESSAYS OF ELIA]

Children like to hear about their elders when they were children.  So, our author’s children sat around him to listen to the stories of childhood of their great grand-mother Field.  She lived in a great house in Norfolk.  The most interesting fact about this house was that the whole story of ‘the Children in the Wood’ was carved in wood upon the chimney-piece of the great hall.  But later this was replaced by a marble chimney piece by a rich person.  Great grandmother Field was not the real owner of the house but due to her behaviour, manners and her great religious devotions she was respected by everyone.  She, however, used the house as if it were her own.  But later, the ornaments were taken off from the house to the real owner’s home, which was in the adjoining country.  When Mrs. Field died, her funeral was attended by both the poor and the rich.  Men from many miles around came to show their respect for memory.  She was indeed a very gentle-hearted and pious person.  She knew the Psalms by heart and also a great part of the Testament.
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Lamb then began telling them about their great grandmother’s youth; when she was regarded as the best dancer in the country.  But she was attacked by cancer, and that desisted her from dancing any further.  Her good spirits, however, could not be broken, and she continued to be religious and kind hearted.  She used to sleep by herself in a desolate chamber of that great house.  She thought that she saw two apparitions of infants at midnight, but she was sure that were good creatures and would not hurt her.  She was also very kind to her grandchildren, who went to her during holidays.  Lamb himself used to spend hours in gazing upon old busts of the Emperors of Rome.  He used to roam around the large silent rooms of that huge house and looked through the worn-out hangings, fluttering tapestry, and carved oaken panels.  He also used to hang about the garden, gazing at the trees and flowers.  He was satisfied thus roaming about, and preferred this to the sweet flavours of peaches, nectarines, and such common habits of children.


Though great grand-mother Field loved all her grand-children, she had a special favour for their uncle John Lamb, because he was a handsome and a spirited lad.  He was dashing sort of fellow.  While others would have preferred a secluded corner, he used to mount on horses and ride around the country and join the hunters. 

Their uncle John Lamb was really a brave man.  He won the admiration of everyone as he grew up to be a man.   When our author was a lame footed boy, John, who was a few years senior to him used to carry him on his back for many miles.  In after-life John, however, became lame-footed.  Lamb now fears that he had not been considerate enough to bear the impatient pains of John, or to remember his childhood when he was carried by John.  But when John died Lamb missed him so much.  Lamb remembered his kindness and his crossness, and wished him to be alive again.      


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The children then demanded that Lamb should say about their dead mother.  Then Lamb began telling them how for seven long years he patiently courted the fair Alice Winterton.  As he was relating these experiences of his, he suddenly felt that the eyes of that old Alice were gazing from the face of the little Alice sitting before him.  As Lamb continued to look it seemed that the children, John and Alice were receding from him.  At last just two mournful features were left out of them, and they told him that they were neither of Alice nor of Lamb, that they were not children at all.  For the children of Alice have Bartram, their father.  So they were merely dreams.  At this point Lamb woke up and found himself sitting in his bachelor arm-chair, where he had fallen asleep with the faithful Bridget by his side.  
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