Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 November 2012
‘We would indict our very dreams.’
We have been spoilt [for enjoying Restoration comedy] with – not sentimental comedy – but a tyrant far more pernicious to our pleasures which has succeeded it, the exclusive and all-devouring drama of common life, where the moral point is everything… We dare not contemplate an Atlantis, a scheme, out of which our coxcombical moral sense is for a little transitory ease excluded. We have not the courage to imagine a state of things for which there is neither reward or punishment. We cling to the painful necessities of shame and blame. We would indict our very dreams.
Charles Lamb is an important liminal figure in the transition between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literary sentimentalism. His essay, ‘On the Artificial Comedy of the Last Century’ (1822), cited above, helped to transmit and to fix attitudes to the earlier playwrights, and it is highly significant that what he perceives to be the key difference between the two periods is the rise of judgementalism.