LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt XIV

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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On another occasion, I passed eight or ten days with Hazlitt, among scenes of peculiar interest, but not exactly of a nature to keep him in that good humour with himself which made his society so delightful, and in the absence of which, though his company was always in the highest degree interesting and instructive as a moral and intellectual study, it was not what one would have chosen purely for the sake of the companionship it afforded.

The place where I met him on this occasion was no other than Fonthill Abbey, which had just been thrown open to the public curiosity, after having remained up to that time a sealed book from the day of its mysterious creation. I was, by the favour of its new proprietor, staying in the house (with a view to a detailed description of its treasures of art, and of the beautiful domain
surrounding it, which I was preparing for the pages of a periodical work); and I found that
Hazlitt was also staying there, but was absent at the time of my arrival.

We met the next day, and were much together during the time we stayed; and though he was anything but at ease and at home in those scenes of artificial luxury and overstrained refinement which surrounded us here, yet the locality happened to be one with which many of his early associations were connected; and we made several excursions in the neighbourhood, which afforded some of the most pleasant and profitable hours I ever spent with him.

Hazlitt particularly piqued himself on his skill in cicerone-ship; and when he was in good health and spirits, there was nothing pleased him better than to accompany a friend to some celebrated collection of pictures, with which he himself was familiar, but which the party accompanying him had not seen before; and the first place he proposed that we should go to see was Sir Richard Colt Hoare’s, which is situated a few miles from Fonthill.


On these occasions it was very curious and characteristic to observe the manner in which the mere feelings and impressions of his youthful enthusiasm were blended with the critical knowledge and judgment of his after years,—each moulding and modifying the other into forms which neither could have assumed of themselves, and which, if they did not offer a very just estimate of the objects to which they were applied, offered that which was infinitely more characteristic and interesting, as illustrations of the mind and spirit in which they were generated.

Not that the actual criticisms which Hazlitt pronounced on these occasions—when he pronounced such at all—were in any material degree impaired in value by the mere impressions which had preceded them in his mind. But it was these latter that he loved chiefly to recur to, and which, to my thinking, were even more instructive and valuable than his formal criticisms; because, with him, the first impression was always the germ and the foundation of all that he might afterwards have to say or to write on any topic of this kind. It was in the astonishing
depth and quickness of his first insight into any object of art, that his unequalled critical faculty consisted; and all his written criticisms on actual objects of art consisted of the impressions thus received, long before he ever thought of becoming a critic at all. Nor did he much care to modify the impressions, by any after accessions of knowledge that might have come to him from other sources; which will account for many instances that might perhaps be pointed out in which his criticisms are erroneous or exaggerated, and some in which they must be wholly unintelligible except to those who are acquainted with the manner in which they have been produced. Conceive, for instance, a man writing a detailed notice of a picture that he had not seen for twenty years—that he then saw only once, and that he saw at a period and under circumstances when, for him, all things were attired in “the glory and the freshness of a dream;” but which he was to describe when every ray of that freshness and beauty had not merely “faded to the light of common day,” but was changed into mortal clouds and
shadows, that overhung the Present like a pestilence, and blotted out the Future as if it were a thing not to be!

The truth is, that Hazlitt’s extraordinary critical powers were available to him only by the light of the Past. His impressions on contemporary art were as little to be depended on as those on contemporary literature. The pictures that he had seen at the Louvre during the Peace of Amiens, and in the private galleries of England about the same period, he could describe with a more intimate sense of their merits and beauties than any other man; and he could convey to others that sense more vividly than even actual observation would have presented it—especially when he had the objects before him to renew his impression of those individual details by which the general impression was first created in his mind. But to all other objects of a similar kind, if he did not wilfully close his eyes, at least he opened them only to look with that vague and vacant gaze in which the perceptive powers, instead of projecting themselves outward in tangible communion, as it were, with the
thing looked upon, seem to rest idle or paralyzed within us, and convey no distinct impressions to the sensorium. He saw, yet saw them not.

In going through the various apartments at Sir Richard Colt Hoare’s, and afterwards at Burleigh House, I shall never forget the almost childish delight which Hazlitt exhibited at the sight of two or three of the chief favourites of his early days, and the way in which he expressed that delight, not so much to me as to the attendant who showed us the pictures, and on whom he seemed to look with a sort of superstitious respect,—as if the daily looking upon objects which were nothing less than sacred in Hazlitt’s eyes, had transferred something of their sanctity to him.

On another day, while at Fonthill, we walked over to Salisbury (a distance of twelve miles) in a broiling sunshine; and I remember, on this occasion in particular, remarking the extraordinary physical as well as moral effect produced on Hazlitt by the sight and feel of “the country.” In London the most inobservant person could scarcely pass him
in the street without remarking the extreme apparent debility, almost amounting to helplessness, of his air and manner. He used to go drooping and faltering along, like a man just risen from a bed of sickness, seeming scarcely able to support himself without holding by the railings or leaning against the walls; and invariably looking prone upon the ground, to which he seemed ready to fall at every step. But in the country—especially upon a vast open plain or heath, like that over which our path on the present occasion chiefly lay—he was like a being of another species; his step firm, vigorous, and rapid—his look eager and onward, as if devouring the way before it—and his whole air and manner buoyant and triumphant, as if a new sense of existence and new bodily powers had been breathed into him by the objects around.

He spoke on this occasion of having repeatedly walked from forty to fifty miles a day in that fashion formerly, and said that he could do so now with perfect ease and pleasure. Yet in London (as I have hinted elsewhere) he would sit, as if nailed to his
chair, from morning till late at night, day after day, for weeks together—merely creeping out to the theatre or the Southampton at ten or eleven o’clock at night, and there taking his seat silently again, and sitting till he was fairly warned away by the extinguished lights and the closing doors.

Another of our excursions was to that gem of English villages, Stourhead, adjoining the seat of Sir Richard Colt Hoare. I have never seen anything in its way so pretty as this village. Indeed it was too pretty, for it gave one the idea, not of a real country village, but of the imitation of one in some prince’s or nobleman’s park; and, knowing it not to be so, the effect was odd, and, in some degree, unpleasant. It reminded one of a village beauty, too well dressed to admit the belief that she had been her own tire-woman; or, in another way, it looked like one of those pretty Paris grisettes who sit for half an hour under the hairdresser’s hands before they show themselves in their shops in the morning. All the houses looked as if they had just been newly coloured and painted. The windows glittered like crystal—the
little green in the centre was like the lawn of a Londoner’s villa—and the whole picture was set in the framework of a superb laurel hedge, of immense height and depth, which ran in an unbroken line round the adjoining pleasure-grounds of Sir R. Hoare. We found, too, an exquisite little inn, with a landlady as trim and point-de-vice in all about her as the village over which she seemed to preside. Here we slept, breakfasted the next morning, and then returned to the Abbey.