Charles Lamb is one of the greatest English essayists whose work “Essay of Elia” is considered to be matchless on account of its naturalness and humanism. His essays are light without being frivolous and wise without being tedious. Christ’s Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago presents an account of his school life. Lamb studied there from 1782 to 1789 and enjoyed some privileges which were denied to others. His friends and relatives lived in town and he could go to see them as often as he wished. The food, that was given to the boys was not only of bad quality but also small in quantity. The boiled beef and soups were tasteless and they had only to swallow it.
The essay narrates the greed and indifference of nurses in the school. The nurses used to eat the boys share food openly on the tables without any guilt of moral conscience and there was no authority to check their practices. Recalling his sad experiences, the author says that he was utterly lonely among the six hundred boys. He had no friends and this strong sense of loneliness of aggravated his sickness for home. This home-sick lad was a witness to the mistreatment of junior students who were beaten by the senior for no reason. Thus, their life was miserable and pathetic. The school authority too was acutely harsh in punishing the boys even for the slightest aberration. For the first offense, the boy was put in fetters, for the second he was locked up in a dungeon where he had to stay for the whole day and night. After the third offense, the boy was not only expelled from the school but also unkindly flogged.
The school had a division into two sections – lower and upper sections and both were taught in a very big room with an imaginary partition. The Rev Matthew Field was a charge of the lower-section. He was a blend of the gentleman, the scholar, and the Christian. Being a kind-hearted man he never beat his students. However, he very often stayed away from school and the students used to enjoy total freedom. In contrast to him, the in charge of the upper section Rev James Boyer was a strict disciplinarian. He flogged his students mercilessly but he was a good teacher.
The writer presents a true picture of the school and tells us of things which he knew. The essay is autobiographical and egotistical as well. It gives an insight into his character likes and dislikes.
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