What Is "Dream Children: A Reverie"?

“Dream Children: A Reverie” is an essay by English writer and critic Charles Lamb (1775-1834). The narrator tells his children the poignant story of their great-grandmother Field. The narrative drifts from memory to memory of her and her beautiful mansion, then of the children’s grandmother, their uncle, and finally their mother. Suddenly, the narrator becomes aware that he has no children and was simply lost in memory and dreams.

Lamb gives the reader clues as to the narrator’s wandering, dreamlike state. The essay itself is composed of a single block of text with no paragraph breaks to delineate the shifts in tone or subject. Lamb thus creates a perfect form to showcase his strong tribute to the power and melancholy beauty of the past.

Lamb’s decision to have the narrator tell the story to fictitious children further highlights the narrator’s longing for the past. The narrator notes that the children’s great-grandmother, in her youth, “was esteemed the best dancer” and immediately thereafter, “Alice’s little right foot played an involuntary movement.” Like any dreamer, the narrator is simply incorporating his memories into his reverie. The children react with pathos to the memories of their uncle. They cry, just as the narrator feels he should have. The very presence of the children betokens the narrator’s fierce desire to return to people and places that are forever precious and forever lost to him.