LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt I

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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My acquaintance with William Hazlitt commenced before his name emerged from the “illustrious obscurity” of that private and local fame which had gathered round it, in the small coterie to which he had till then addicted himself, and just as it was rising into that “bad eminence” to which the abuse and scandal of his political and personal enemies (not unaided by his friends) soon after lifted it. My first interview with him took place in the committee-room of a literary institution, of which I was at that time one of the managers, and had been deputed by my colleagues to arrange with Hazlitt respecting the details of a course of
lectures, which it was proposed he should deliver in the theatre of the institution; an office to which he had been recommended by an influential member of the institution, the late
Mr. Alsager, of the “Times” newspaper.

Having been previously cautioned not to be surprised or repelled by any “strangeness” that I might observe in Hazlitt’s manner and personal appearance, I was shown into the room where he was by the librarian, who merely named each to the other, and then left us together.

On entering, I saw a pale anatomy of a man, sitting uneasily, half on half off a chair, with his legs tucked awkwardly underneath the rail, his hands folded listlessly on his knees, his head drooping on one side, and one of his elbows leaning (not resting) on the edge of the table by which he sat, as if in fear of its having no right to be there. His hat had taken an odd position on the floor beside him, as if that, too, felt itself as much out of its element as the owner.

He half rose at my entrance, and, without speaking a word, or looking at me, except with a momentary and furtive glance, he sat
down again, in a more uneasy position than before, and seemed to wait the result of what I might have to say to him, with the same sort of desperate indifference with which a culprit may be supposed to wait the sentence of his judge, after conviction. He was to learn from me whether his proffered services, as a lecturer, were accepted or rejected: and, to a man of his habits and temperament, and under his circumstances, either alternative took the shape of an intolerable penalty—like those to Romeo, of “Death” or “Banishment.” If the lectures he proposed to deliver were rejected, he probably did not know where to meet the claims of to-morrow. On the other hand, if they were accepted, his condition was still more trying: for I learned from him that not a line of the lectures were written, nor even their materials prepared; they had been merely thought of. It was a case, too, in which punctuality was indispensable; yet such were his uncertain and desultory habits, that the fulfilment of an engagement to be at a given place and time, on a given day, for ten successive weeks, then and there to
address a miscellaneous audience for “an hour by Shrewsbury clock,” was what few who knew him could have believed to be among possible contingencies.

The picture which Hazlitt presented when I first saw him in the little dark, dungeon-like committee-room referred to, was not unlike that of Sir Joshua’s “Ugolino.” There he sat, his anxious and highly-intellectual face looking upon vacancy; pale and silent as a ghost; emaciated as an anatomy; loose, unstrung, inanimate, as a being whose life is leaving it from sheer emptiness and inanition, And this “poor creature” (as he used sometimes to call himself)—apparently with scarcely energy enough to grapple with an infant or face a shadow—was the launcher forth of winged words that could shake the hearts of princes and potentates, and make them tremble in their seats of power; this effigy of silence was the utterer of floods of indignant eloquence, that could rouse the soul of apathy itself, and stir the blood like the sound of a trumpet; this “dish of skimmed milk” was the writer of the celebrated replies to “Vetus,”
in the “
Times” newspaper; the invectives of the “Catalogue Raisonné;” and the essays on “the Spirit of Monarchy,” and “the Regal Character.” Nay, more—he was the only man of letters, in England who had dared openly to stand by the French Revolution, through good and through evil report; and who had the magnanimity never to turn his back on its “child and champion.”

Though nothing worth particular record occurred in this my first interview with William Hazlitt, I have been tempted to dwell on it thus long, because it has left a more vivid and picturesque impression on my mind than any subsequent one, except the last, which took place when he was on his death-bed.

It was not till two or three years after the period above referred to, that a strict intimacy commenced between Hazlitt and myself, and that I had the full and fair means of appreciating his remarkable, and in all respects self-consistent character. I shall, therefore, not dwell upon the intercourse which ensued upon our first acquaintance, except to contrast the impression I gained
of him before I really knew him, with that which was the due and just result of an intimate and unrestricted insight into his mental and moral constitution—a contrast which may, in some degree, account for the strangely contradictory feelings and impressions which prevailed in the world respecting him, according to the amount of actual knowledge or ignorance possessed, concerning his character and the springs of it. I remember the time—and I remember it without shame, because the impressions under which I then felt and spoke of Hazlitt were the natural ones—that is to say, the only ones naturally resulting from the circumstances under which I had formed my judgment—I remember the time when no words could express the horror I felt at the (supposed) personal character of William Hazlitt, or were deemed too strong to openly set forth those feelings. But my first impressions were derived, not from my own observations, but from the report of those who ought to have known better, and who certainly would have known better, had not their personal feelings been enlisted into the cabal against him, either by their having
been the subject of one of those insane assaults that he was every now and then making on his best friends, under a false (or true) impression of their occasional treatment of him, or (still worse) in consequence of some “good-natured” acquaintance repeating some of those unpalatable truths which Hazlitt was in the habit of telling of all his friends in their absence. For he professed to lay no restraint upon his tongue in this particular: he considered the foibles of our friends to be as fair game as those of our enemies, always provided they were pursued and hunted down without the cognizance of the owner. He recognised no Game Laws in this particular. The axiom which bids us “never speak ill of a man behind his back” (as if one might do it with propriety before his face!), was not one of those ranked by Hazlitt among “the wisdom of nations.” On the contrary, he spoke what he thought of people, everywhere but in their hearing;—trusting (rather too implicitly, I am afraid) to that tacit compact which recognises the sacredness of social intercourse. And he cared not what you said of him in return,
nor if he heard your injurious estimate of him repeated by half the town; or if he sought to make reprisals, it was on the hawker, not the originator, of the affront. But a personal slight or incivility he held to be the most unpardonable of offences, and to be punished and avenged as such. You might think and call him a rascal or a reprobate as much as you pleased; you might “prove” him to be a bad writer and a worse man, with perfect impunity; but if you looked askance upon him in company, or “cut” him in the street, or even gave him reason to fancy that you had done so, there was (as we shall see hereafter), no limit to the revenge he would take on you, and no rest for him till he had taken it.

But I will not go further wide of my intended mark, which is that of painting William Hazlitt as I knew him; not describing or estimating his general character, but leaving the reader to form an estimate for himself, from the personal traits that I may be able to furnish, in addition to those which may be gathered from his writings.

Our first interview, as above alluded to,
lasted but a few minutes, and was concluded by an arrangement for the early delivery of a course of lectures—those on the Comic Writers; and I saw nothing more of
William Hazlitt till a day or two before the delivery of the first lecture, when I addressed a note to him, stating my intention of giving a critical notice of the lectures in “Blackwood’s Magazine,” and asking him for such facilities as he might choose to afford me, with a view to offering specimens of the matter. His reply was a request to see me at his residence in York Street, Westminster.