Mary Lamb

1764–1847

British Poet and anthologist Mary Lamb worked as a seamstress for 10 years to support her ailing family. She suffered from bipolar disorder and, during an episode in 1796, killed her mother with a kitchen knife. Her younger brother Charles, a poet and essayist who worked for the East India Company, agreed to serve as Mary’s caretaker rather than consign her to lifelong institutionalization. They lived together for nearly 40 years, save for Mary’s annual manic episodes, during which she was institutionalized.

Despite her illness, the siblings developed a collaborative writing relationship and produced many well-known collections of poetry and prose for children, including Tales from Shakespeare (1807), Mrs. Leicester’s School (1809), and Poetry for Children (1809). The books they wrote together were published anonymously or under Charles’s name in order to shield Mary from unwanted publicity. 

Charles and Mary were forced to move often due to Mary’s notoriety. In 1823 they adopted an orphan, Emma Isola, who lived with them for a decade until marrying their publisher. Charles died in 1834, and Mary was cared for by family members and a nurse, and at times placed in asylums, until her death in 1847.

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Articles About MARY LAMB

Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Romantic

LIFE SPAN 1764–1847

Biography

British Poet and anthologist Mary Lamb worked as a seamstress for 10 years to support her ailing family. She suffered from bipolar disorder and, during an episode in 1796, killed her mother with a kitchen knife. Her younger brother Charles, a poet and essayist who worked for the East India Company, agreed to serve as Mary’s caretaker rather than consign her to lifelong institutionalization. They lived together for nearly 40 . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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