LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt IX

Vol I Contents
Charles Lamb I
Charles Lamb II
Charles Lamb III
Charles Lamb IV
Charles Lamb V
Charles Lamb VI
Charles Lamb VII
Charles Lamb VIII
Charles Lamb IX
Charles Lamb X
Thomas Campbell I
Thomas Campbell II
Thomas Campbell III
Thomas Campbell IV
Thomas Campbell V
Thomas Campbell VI
Thomas Campbell VII
Lady Blessington I
Lady Blessington II
Lady Blessington III
Lady Blessington IV
Lady Blessington V
R. Plumer Ward I
R. Plumer Ward II
R. Plumer Ward III
R. Plumer Ward IV
R. Plumer Ward V
R. Plumer Ward VI
Appendix vol I
Vol II Contents
R. Plumer Ward VII
R. Plumer Ward VIII
R. Plumer Ward IX
R. Plumer Ward X
R. Plumer Ward XI
R. Plumer Ward XII
R. Plumer Ward XIII
R. Plumer Ward XIV
R. Plumer Ward XV
R. Plumer Ward XVI
R. Plumer Ward XVII
R. Plumer Ward XVIII
R. Plumer Ward XIX
R. Plumer Ward XX
R. Plumer Ward XXI
R. Plumer Ward XXII
R. Plumer Ward XXIII
Horace & James Smith I
Horace & James Smith II
William Hazlitt I
William Hazlitt II
William Hazlitt III
William Hazlitt IV
William Hazlitt V
William Hazlitt VI
William Hazlitt VII
William Hazlitt VIII
Appendix vol II
Vol III Contents
‣ William Hazlitt IX
William Hazlitt X
William Hazlitt XI
William Hazlitt XII
William Hazlitt XIII
William Hazlitt XIV
William Hazlitt XV
William Hazlitt XVI
William Hazlitt XVII
William Hazlitt XVIII
William Hazlitt XIX
William Hazlitt XX
William Hazlitt XXI
William Hazlitt XXII
William Hazlitt XXIII
William Hazlitt XXIV
William Hazlitt XXV
William Hazlitt XXVI
Laman Blanchard I
Laman Blanchard II
Laman Blanchard III
Laman Blanchard IV
Laman Blanchard V
Laman Blanchard VI
Laman Blanchard VII
Laman Blanchard VIII
R & T Sheridan I
R & T Sheridan II
R & T Sheridan III
R & T Sheridan IV
R & T Sheridan V
R & T Sheridan VI
R & T Sheridan VII
R & T Sheridan VIII
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Hazlitt almost always wrote with the breakfast things on the table; for, as I have said before, they usually remained there till he went out at four or five o’clock to dinner. He wrote rapidly, in a large hand, as clear as print, made very few corrections, and almost invariably wrote on an entire quire of foolscap; contriving to put into a page of his manuscript exactly the amount (upon an average) of an octavo page of print; so that he always knew exactly what progress he had made, at any given time, towards the desired goal to which he was travelling—namely, the end of his task.


Unless what he was employed on was a review, he never had a book or paper of any kind about him while he wrote. In this respect, I imagine he stood alone among professional authors.

With respect to Hazlitt’s actual method of composition, he never, I believe, thought for half an hour beforehand, as to what he should say on any given subject; or even as to the general manner in which he should treat it; but merely, whether it was a subject on which he had thought intently at any previous period of his life, and whether it was susceptible of a development that was consistent with the immediate object he might have in view, in sitting down to write on it. Having determined on these points, and chiefly on the latter, his pen was not merely the mechanical, but (so to speak) the intellectual instrument by which he called up and worked out his thoughts, opinions, and sentiments, and even the style and language in which he clothed them; it was the magician’s wand with which he compelled and marshalled to his service the powers of his extraordinary mind, and the stores of
illustrative materials which his early life had been spent in accumulating and laying by for use or pleasure. He never considered for more than a few moments beforehand the plan or conduct of any composition that he had undertaken, or determined to write—whether it was a mere magazine paper, or a considerable work; he merely thought for a brief space more or less, till he had hit upon an opening sentence that pleased or satisfied him; and when that was achieved, he looked upon the thing as done: for everything else seemed to follow as a natural consequence. In short, his pen had become, during the last ten or twelve years of his life, a sort of inspiration to him; and he was as sure of its answering to his claims upon it, whenever he chose to make them, as if he had got all the materials on which it was to work ready arranged, labelled, and catalogued for use, in “the book and volume of his brain.”

This certainty and facility were, in some degree, the result of habit and practice, no doubt; and they are, to a certain extent, enjoyed by most writers who are much accustomed to composition. But the total want
of premeditation with which
Hazlitt could produce, in a singularly short space of time, an essay full of acute or profound thought, copious, various and novel illustrations, and perfectly original views, couched in terse, polished, vigorous, and epigrammatic language, was quite extraordinary, and is only to be explained by the two facts, first, that he never by choice wrote on any topic or question in which he did not, for some reason or other, feel a deep personal interest; and secondly, because on all questions on which he did so feel, he had thought, meditated, and pondered in the silence and solitude of his own heart, for years and years before he ever contemplated doing more than thinking of them.

When Hazlitt was regularly engaged on any work or article, he wrote at the rate of from ten to fifteen octavo pages at a sitting; and never, or very rarely, renewed the sitting on the same day, except when he was at Winterslow—where, having no means of occupation or amusement in the evening part of the day, he used, I believe habitually, to write after his tea. And, doubtless, one of
his motives for going there when he had any considerable work to get through, was the knowledge that by that means alone he could persuade himself to “work double tides.”

This brings me to observe that Hazlitt hated writing, and would never have penned a line, and indeed never did, till his necessities compelled him to do so. To think was, and ever had been, the business and the pleasure of his intellectual life—though latterly it had become, on many topics, a fatality and a curse. But to promulgate his thoughts to perverse, or incapable, or unattending ears—to—
“Wear his heart upon his sleeve,
For daws to peck at ”—
seemed to him at best but a work of supererogation—the result of a silly vanity, or a shallow and empty egotism. But to do this as he did, for “certain sums of money”—to “coin his brain for drachmas,” and even to feel himself tempted, as he often did, to put off false and base coin instead of the true and good, because the latter would not pass current—daily to hawk about for sale “the immortal part of him,” merely to supply the
sordid wants of the mortal part—this was one of the troubles that (unconsciously to himself, I believe) perpetually preyed upon his mind, and helped to make him the unhappy man he was.

Hazlitt’s judgment and tact as to what would suit the public taste was such, that what he wrote was sure of certain sale, in various quarters, and at a liberal price. So that the labour of a couple of mornings in the week, upon the average, would have amply supplied all his wants, had he chosen to employ himself regularly with that view. Yet nothing could ever persuade him to set to work till his last sovereign was gone, and his credit exhausted with his landlady and his tavern-keeper; and I have repeatedly known him to leave himself without a half-crown to buy him a dinner, or, what was still more a necessary of life to him, a quarter of a pound of tea; and this at a moment, perhaps, when he had just committed some escapade, in the way of revenge for some supposed injury or slight, which had left him without a friend to whom he could persuade himself to apply for the loan of one.

And what made this habit of procrastina-
tion the more remarkable was, that he had an almost childish horror of owing money, and was always ready to pay it away, even to the last guinea, the moment he received the proceeds of any considerable work. I do not mean that he had any particularly strict notions as to the relations of debtor and creditor; but his dread of the personal consequences to which a debt to a stranger made him liable, amounted to a pitch of haunting terror and alarm, under which he could not live. Let me add, also, that he had a grateful and honourable sense of any unusual forbearance exercised towards him in this particular, which made it a pleasure to him to pay the claim in question the moment he had the means of doing so. He was also scrupulous in remembering and returning any trifling sums that he might have been induced to borrow of a friend, under any momentary pressure of the kind alluded to above—always provided the kindness was done in a manner that was agreeable to his notions of the true art of conferring obligations.*

* See his masterly essay on “The Spirit of Obligations.”


With the exception of his early metaphysical work, and his “Life of Napoleon,” all Hazlitt’s productions were written with a double view—that of their appearance in a periodical work in the first instance, in parts or numbers, and their subsequent collection into volumes. So that he got a double remuneration for nearly all of them. The whole of the “Spirit of the Age,” and the greater part of the “Table Talk” and the “Plain Speaker,” were written for and appeared anonymously in the New Monthly Magazine. Consequently the articles were written at long intervals from each other, and without any one in the work having a necessary reference to any of the others. They were also all written under the pressure of the moment, and scarcely at all altered when they appeared in a collected form. This will account for the numerous marks of haste, oversight, and even radical error, which a critical examination of all Hazlitt’s productions may detect, and which his own infallible tact would have discovered to a larger extent than that of any one else, had he been able to read them over with attention. But this
he was totally incapable of doing; and it was a remarkable peculiarity of his mental habits and temperament. He never took the smallest pleasure in reading over, in print, anything that he had written; on the contrary, he felt it to be a task and a trouble to do so, and never did it but “on compulsion;” taking all the consequences (and they were by no means trifling ones to him) of escaping from the task.

It must not be supposed from this fact that Hazlitt was indifferent about his literary reputation in the high and permanent sense of that phrase. He had that anxious and restless yearning for it which is perhaps indispensable to the very existence of such a reputation. And this was one of the chief causes of his bitter anger and resentment at the innumerable attacks that were made on his pretensions as a writer, knowing, as he did, the extensive effect which these must necessarily produce on the progress of any reputation, much more of one which was subject to so many disadvantages and drawbacks, even from within its own springs and sources.


But Hazlitt’s intellectual temperament had been so miserably shaken and shattered by the events of his past life, that it was physically impossible for him so to gird up his mind to the duties it owed to itself, as to enable it to take that deep and sustained interest in its own operations and movements, in the absence of which no actual and substantive literary reputation of the highest grade can ever be achieved. Hazlitt (like Coleridge) was looked upon during his life, and will, perhaps, hereafter be looked upon, much more with reference to what he might have done under happier or more favourable circumstances, than to what he actually accomplished. It will be felt, no less by posterity than it was by his contemporaries, that the writer of the “Essay on the Principles of Human Action,” might have been among the greatest metaphysicians of any age or country; that the author of the “Table Talk” and the “Plain Speakermight have given to the world a body of moral truth and wisdom that has at present no substantive existence; that the critic of Shakspeare and the Elizabethan writers might have supplied,
more effectually than any other writer we have yet had among us, that digested and enlightened estimate of our own literature which we have hitherto been left wholly without; that the critic of the “
British Picture Galleriesmight have set forth the true principles of Art, in a manner and to an effect that has never yet been accomplished, and in the absence of which we can scarcely hope to see Art rise above that elegant mediocrity at which it stands throughout Europe in the present day.

I will only add on this subject, that Hazlitt’s method of composition, even on subjects which he was accustomed to treat the most profoundly—moral or metaphysical questions—was rapid, clear, and decisive; so much so in the latter respect, that his MS. was like a fair copy, and he scarcely thought it necessary even to read it over before sending it to the press.

What is still more remarkable is, that his power of composition was but little affected by the general state of mind he might be in at the time of sitting down to his work. If he could but persuade himself to begin writ-
ing on any subject which he had himself chosen for discussion, he could so abstract his thoughts from all topics but that, as to be able to escape for the time from even the most painful and pressing of external circumstances.

As a proof of this, I may give a passage from one of his letters, written to me when he was in Scotland, whither he had gone on a matter which affected and troubled him almost to a pitch of insanity, and never relaxed its hold and influence upon his thoughts and feelings for a single moment, except when he was engaged in writing for the press. Before his departure from town, he had arranged with Mr. Colburn for a volume of “Table Talk,” which was to consist of four hundred octavo pages, and of which not a line was written when he left London. From the day he quitted home his mind had been in a state of excitement bordering (as I have said) on disease, in consequence of circumstances that I may probably refer to more particularly hereafter. Yet four or five weeks after his departure he writes me as follows, at the end of a long letter, the pre-
vious part of which offers the most melancholy evidence of what the state of his mind must have been during the whole period of his absence:—

“You may tell Colburn when you see him that his work is done magnificently; to wit—I. On the knowledge of character, 40 pp. II. Advice to a schoolboy, 60 pp. III. ‘On Patronage and Puffing,’ 50 pp. IV. and V. ‘On Spurzheim’s Theory,’ 80 pp. VI. ‘On the Disadvantages of Intellectual Superiority,’ 25 pp. VII. ‘On the Fear of Death,’ 25 pp. VIII. ‘Burleigh House,’ 25 pp. IX. ‘Why Actors should not sit in the Boxes,’ 35 pp.—in all 340 pages. To do by Saturday night:—X. ‘On Dreams,’ 25 pp. ‘On Individuality,’ 25 pp. On individuality, 25 pp.—390 pages.” He says, in a postscript, “I have been here a month yesterday.”*

During this same period, too, he had written a considerable part of another work, which was afterwards published under the title of the “Liber Amoris,” of which he

* As this letter fixes the date and place of the above-named essays, several of which are among the finest of his compositions, it may be interesting to add that it is dated from “Renton Inn, Renfrewshire,” and it bears the post-mark of March, 1822.

speaks as follows in the above-named letter: “On the road down I began a little book of our conversations, i.e. mine and the statue’s. It is called ‘
The Modern Pygmalion.’ You shall see it when I come back.”

The three or four hours a day employed by Hazlitt in composition enabled him to produce an essay for a magazine, one of his most profound and masterly Table Talks, in two or three sittings; or a long and brilliant article of thirty or forty pages for the Edinburgh Review, in about a week. But when he had an entire volume or work in hand he invariably went into the country to execute it, and almost always to the same spot—a little wayside public-house, called The Hut, standing alone, and some miles distant from any other house, on Winterslow Heath, a barren tract of country on the road to and a few miles from Salisbury. There, ensconced in a little wainscoted parlour, looking out over the bare heath to the distant groves of Norman Court, some of his finest essays were written; there, in utter solitude and silence, many of his least unhappy days were spent; there, wandering for hours over
the bare heath, or through the dark woods of the above-named domain, his shattered frame always gained temporary strength and renovation.

I have sometimes regretted that I did not go down to this place when he was there, and spend a week with him, as he two or three times pressed me to do. But I have as often pleased myself by thinking that he was much better alone at those times; for he was then comparatively happy, being absent from all the scenes and circumstances which were at least the proximate causes of his misery, and surrounded by every personal comfort and respect that a profuse expenditure could command from people wholly unaccustomed to such guests, and to whom his advent must have seemed like a godsend: for “The Hut,” though it was kept by reputable people, and afforded every needful comfort, was (as I have said) a mere way-side public-house, situated on a barren heath, and was frequented only by a few pedestrian travellers, and by the guards and coachmen of the public conveyances going that road—the high road from London to Salisbury.


The admirable things which Hazlitt wrote at this place, and the tone of mind in which some of them have evidently been composed—particularly the essay “On Living to Oneself”*—might justify one in hoping that here at least he tasted of that intellectual peace and contentment which, of all men living, he was the best able to appreciate, and (as it should therefore seem) to enjoy. But I doubt if such was really the case, and

* The following are the opening passages of this essay:—

“I never was in a better place or humour than I am at present for writing on this subject. I have a partridge getting ready for my supper; my fire is blazing on the hearth; the air is mild for the season of the year; I have had but a slight fit of indigestion to-day—(the only thing that makes me abhor myself); I have three good hours before me; and, therefore, I will attempt it.”   *   *   “As I look from the window at the wide bare heath before me, and, through the misty moonlit air, see the woods that wave over the top of Winterslow,
“‘While Heav’n’s chancel vault is blind with sleet,’
my mind takes a flight through too long a series of years, supported only by the patience of thought, and secret yearnings after truth and good, for me to be at a loss to understand the feeling I intend to write about.”

It appears by a foot note that this delightful essay was “written at Winterslow Hut, January 18th, 19th, 1821.”

whether the utmost and the best that Hazlitt could do, even here, either for himself or for others, was to imagine and describe and yearn after such a state of being. To feel and enjoy it was not within his capacity. Even had every conceivable external appliance and means for such enjoyment been at hand, the (so to speak) physical taste for it was wanting; the palate was dead, and the most exquisite flavours and most exciting viands conveyed no pleasure to the defeated and interdicted sense. Not that his sense of intellectual enjoyment had been jaded and palled by over-indulgence, or disordered by ill-applied stimulants. On the contrary, nothing could be more pure, simple, and natural than Hazlitt’s intellectual tastes and desires, so far as they preserved their existence at all. But they seemed, as it were, benumbed and paralysed into a condition of torpidity and suspended animation, that nothing could awaken into life but those violent agents which, like that of the galvanic power applied to the dead limb, animate only to convulse and distort.

The truth is, that although Hazlitt was by
nature better fitted for solitude than most men, he could not, under the actual condition and circumstances of his mind and temper, have existed for any length of time out of London, or some other great metropolis, where the world of life and action, of hope and enjoyment, that he saw about him, might be turned into passive instruments of hope and action and enjoyment to himself, in that secondary and intermediary sense in which alone he could use such instruments, or any others, to such a purpose.

I should be doing injustice to Hazlitt’s reputation if I were to quit this part of my subject without noticing a fact of which many of his literary friends must have been aware, and which, whatever may be thought of it as regards his writings themselves, and the motives and inducements of their author in producing them, should remove or nullify much of the adverse criticism that has been put forth respecting them. The truth is, that among the few faults which have been justly found with Hazlitt’s style, and the mode in which he has treated his subjects, nearly every one of them was introduced
advisedly, and with the perfect knowledge of the writer that they were justly liable to the remarks made on them. His plea was, that those faults were indispensable to the reception and success of what he wrote—to that immediate popularity, without the attainment of which he could not have written at all, because he could not have got paid for what he wrote.

Whether he was right or wrong in this theory is another question. But it was one on which he uniformly acted—at least after he had adopted literature as a profession: for the work to which he himself chiefly looked and referred with pride and pleasure—the “Essay on the Principles of Human Action”—though his earliest work, is almost wholly free from the faults imputed to his after productions. But the consequence, as he has a hundred times declared, is, that it has not been read by anybody, and is to this day almost entirely unknown.