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Charles Lamb spent two periods working at the library of the British Museum, in 1804–1807 and 1826–1827, as preparation for a volume of extracts from old plays in the Garrick collection entitled Specimens of English Dramatick Poets (published 1808) and latterly a series of contributions based on the same collection that appeared in William Hone’s Table Book (1827). In the roughly twenty years separating these two periods both the library itself and Lamb’s working life changed significantly, Lamb having left the employment in the East India Office to become a ‘superannuated man’ in 1825. This chapter examines these changes in the context of the emergence of scientific and literary Institutions in the early decades of the nineteenth century. In tandem with the British Museum, the libraries of these Institutions facilitated the emergence of institutionalized reading or professional literary ‘research’, with long-term implications for the emerging literary field in the Romantic period. Lamb’s two sojourns working on the Garrick plays offer a perspective from which to gauge diversification in reading practices in the early nineteenth century, who could read in institutional contexts, and what, ultimately, such reading might be for.
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