Lamb, a close friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Godwin and well known by Mary Shelley in her youth, worked as a clerk for the East India Company from 1792 to 1825. He began writing poetry in the 1790s; his most famous, "The Old Familiar Faces," appeared in 1798; Mary Shelley quotes it in Frankenstein, 1.2.3. Lamb's short sentimental novel, A Tale of Rosamund Gray, appeared in the same year. He later tried his hand as a playwright, but only one of his five plays (Mr. H; or, Beware a Bad Name, 1806) was produced, and that unsuccessfully.
He had greater luck with his children's books and critical writing. With his sister Mary he wrote Tales from Shakespeare (1807); he followed it with Specimens of English Dramatic Poets (1808). Among his most successful critical essays are "On the Tragedies of Shakespeare" (1811) and "On the Artificial Comedy of the Last Century" (1822). Lamb's most influential prose work, the familar essays published as Essays of Elia, first appeared in 1823, and again in an enlarged edition in 1833.