This paper considers the equivocal status of penmanship in the Romantic era--from one vantage point, the essence of labor in a world increasingly defined by bureaucratic paperwork, but also, at a time when print set the standards for communicational efficiency, an emblem of the resistance of the amateur. In a more literal sense than usual, Charles Lamb “wrote for a living”--doing so as a British East India Company clerk. Lamb also authored, though the over-literal relationship to writing that informed his day job perhaps explains why his bona fides as professional author have often been an uncertain thing. Another cause of that uncertainty, though, involves the other sort of work on paper for which Lamb was celebrated: those he created as a participant in the Romantic-era album culture. To parse the distinctions among Lamb’s several writing practices can, I contend, enrich our understanding of the relations of amateurs and authors and of manuscript and print.
Deidre Lynch is Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature at Harvard University. She is the author of The Economy of Character (1998), which was awarded the MLA’s Prize for a First Book, as well as Loving Literature: A Cultural History (2015). She is also an editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature.