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George Lamb (1784-1834)

This article was written by Lloyd Charles Sanders and was published in 1892

George Lamb, a politician and writer, was the fourth and youngest son of Peniston, first viscount Melbourne. He was born 11 July 1784. His sister was the society hostess Emily Cowper. At the age of two he was painted by Maria Cosway as ‘the infant Bacchus.’ Lamb was educated at Eton, and at Trinity College, Cambridge (M.A. 1805). In the same year Lord Minto met him at dinner at Lord Bessborough's, and recorded that he was ‘merely a good-natured lad,’ something like the Prince of Wales. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn, and went the northern circuit for a short time, but soon abandoned law for literature. He was one of the earlier contributors to the Edinburgh Review, and in consequence was satirised by Byron in his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809) in the passage —

to be misled
By Jeffrey's heart, or Lamb's Beotian head.

The expression was afterwards allowed by Byron to have been unjust. Lamb was a good amateur actor and on 10 April 1807 his two-act comic opera, Whistle for it, was produced at Covent Garden, and performed some three times. It was printed in the same year, and is above mediocrity. Together with Byron and Douglas Kinnaird he was member of the committee of management of Drury Lane in 1815, and wrote the prologues to the revivals of old English plays, but almost gave up prologuising when Byron compared him to Upton, who wrote the songs for Astley's. His adaptation of Timon of Athens was produced on 28 October 1816, and published in the same year with a preface, in which it is described as ‘an attempt to restore Shakespeare to the stage, with no other omissions than such as the refinement of manners has rendered necessary’. In 1821 he tried to get Moore to write a play on ‘Lalla Rookh’. In the same year Lamb published his most important literary work, The Poems of Caius Valerius Catullus translated, with a Preface and Notes. Though it was savagely attacked in Blackwood's Magazine for 21 August, the translation has the merit of smooth versification and some pretensions to scholarship. It has been republished in Bohn's Classical Library (1854). Lamb is said to have written some minor poems, but they were never collected.

On the death of Sir S. Romilly in 1819, Lamb was persuaded to stand for Westminster in the whig interest against the radicals Hobhouse and Major Cartwright. He was elected, after a very disorderly contest, lasting fifteen days, having polled 4,465 votes, against Hobhouse's 3,861 and Cartwright's 38. At the general election of 1820 he was defeated, the numbers being: Burdett 5,327, Hobhouse 4,882, Lamb 4,436. In June 1826 he was returned for Dungarvan, co. Waterford, a borough of the Duke of Devonshire's. In 1830, on the formation of Grey's ministry, he became under-secretary of state to his brother, Lord Melbourne in the home department. He contrived to keep on good terms with O'Connell, who in 1831 offered to bring him in free of expense for co. Waterford. He continued, however, to represent Dungarvan. In December 1830 he was sent by Lord Melbourne to request Francis Place to issue a manifesto to the working classes against acts of violence. Place, a sound radical, declined to take the advice of a lukewarm reformer . He died on 2 January 1834. Lamb married, on 17 May 1809, Caroline Rosalie Adelaide St. Jules, but left no issue. His married life was one of great happiness, and he was universally popular as an amiable and kind-hearted man.

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