LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt XVII

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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I might here offer the reader some pleasant reminiscences connected with those evenings at the Southampton to which I have incidentally referred above. But the theme is so tempting, that, if I were to enter upon it formally, it would lead me too far from what I desire to keep before me as the chief object of attention. Besides which, Hazlitt himself has treated of those evenings in so delightful a manner (in his paper on “Coffee-house Politicians,” in vol. ii. of the “Table Talk”), that I may not venture to touch them after him. But there are three or four individuals who used to form part of those pleasant symposii, to whom the nature of these Recollections calls upon me to refer more particularly than in a passing paragraph. The most distinguished of these was the amiable
and gifted poet, so universally known to the reading world under the name of
Barry Cornwall. This gentleman used but seldom to grace our simple feasts (“of reason,” or of folly, as the case might be); but when he did look in by accident, or was induced by Hazlitt’s request to come, everything went off the better for his presence; for, besides the fact of Hazlitt’s being fond of his society, and, at the same time, thinking so highly of his talents as always to talk his best when he (P——r) was a partaker in the talk, there is an endearing something in the personal manner of that exquisite writer, an appearance of gentle and genial sympathy with the feelings of those with whom he talks, which has the effect of exciting towards him that personal interest from which it seems itself to spring, and in the absence of which the better feelings and mental characteristics incident to social converse are seldom if ever called forth. In P——r Hazlitt always found a man of fine and delicate intellectual pretensions, who was nevertheless eager and pleased to listen, with attention and interest, to all the little insignificant details of his daily life
which so often made up the favourite theme of his conversation, and which must have seemed, to ordinary hearers, the most utter and empty common-place; but from which Hazlitt (when encouraged by the interest I have spoken of, or not stilled into silence by its absence) used to extract materials for constructing the most subtle and profound theories of the human character, or themes for conveying the most deep-thoughted wisdom, or the most pure and touching morality. And, above all other themes, to P——r, and to him alone (except myself) Hazlitt could venture to relate, in all their endless details, those “affairs of the heart” in one of which his head was always engaged, and which happily always (with one fatal exception) evaporated in that interminable talk about them of which he was so strangely fond.

Not that Hazlitt confined his confidences on this head to P——r and myself. On the contrary, he extended them to almost every individual with whom he had occasion to speak, if he could, by hook or by crook, find or make the occasion of bringing in the topic. But, in general, he did this from a sort of
physical incapacity to avoid the favourite yet dreaded theme of his thoughts; and he did it with a perfect knowledge that his confidential communications were a bore to nine-tenths of those who listened to them, and consequently that the pleasure of the communication was anything but mutual. In fact, it must be confessed that the details of Hazlitt’s dreamy amourettes had as little interest for anybody but the dreamer, as those of any other dreams have. But still they were his dreams, related and expounded by his own subtle and profound intellect; and, for my own part, I must say that I never listened to his accounts of them without learning something new and worth knowing of the human mind or heart, and often not without gaining glimpses and guesses into the most secret and sacred of their recesses, that I might have sought in vain elsewhere, or under any other circumstances whatever. I am therefore the less disposed to doubt, that the interest which P——r seemed to take in the same study was not an assumed one, merely put on to please the humour of one who, in the particular now in
question, was looked upon and often treated as a child, even by some of his most admiring friends. The truth is, that Hazlitt was a child in this master; yet at the same time he was a metaphysician, a philosopher, and a poet: and hence the (in my mind) curious and unique interest which attached to his mingled details and dissertations on this the most favourite of all his themes of converse, at least in a tête-à-tête; for he rarely, if ever, brought up the subject under any other circumstances.

Another of Hazlitt’s favourite companions at the Southampton was a Mr. M——y, of whom he has made such pleasant mention in the essay noticed above, on “Coffee-house Politicians;” among which latter class, however, M——y was by no means included. M——y was (and is, I hope) a solicitor, of good practice, residing in a neighbouring Inn of Court, who never failed, when in town, to escape at night from the grave vacuity and bustling nonentity of the law, to enjoy, in his own quiet little box at the Southampton, over his interminable goes of gin-and-water, the occasional converse that
the chances of the evening might offer; and it was there that Hazlitt became acquainted with him, and their acquaintance never extended beyond the scene of its origination. Yet Hazlitt had a great respect and even personal regard for M——y, and always seemed to take pleasure in addressing and listening to him, which, however, he did invariably from the opposite side of the room, and, in nine cases out of ten, without the possibility of making out one-half of what M. said, partly from the very low tone of voice in which he was accustomed to speak (as if addressing himself or his glass of gin-and-water), but chiefly on account of the hour of Hazlitt’s arrival being usually late enough to have allowed the aforesaid goes to effect their desiderated end, of so blending together into a pleasing confusion the confines of dream-land and reality, that the happy borderer used to murmur inwardly precisely like a man who talks in his sleep.

For my own part, often as I have talked and listened to M——y with unmingled pleasure, I have no recollection of having clearly understood a single sentence that he
ever uttered. Yet when you did catch a glimpse of opinion or a glance of meaning, it was invariably of a nature to impress you with that personal respect for the speaker which is one of the rarest of all the results of desultory conversation—most of all, of coffee-house conversation. In fact, M——y was a singular example of that rara avis in the Inns of Court, a man of the purest simplicity and the strictest honesty of mind, directed by sterling good sense, and modified by those high sentiments of personal honour, and that humane and liberal consideration for the feelings of others, which constitute the better part of the true “gentleman.”

Another of the circumstances which made the society of this person so agreeable to Hazlitt, was the fact of his having been formerly acquainted with the friends and associates of Hazlitt’s early life—Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge,—his (M.’s) family having lived, and being then still living, I believe, in the neighbourhood of the Cumberland lakes. The opportunity thus afforded Hazlitt of comparing notes, as it were, on the personal characters of those distinguished men, with one who had no
literary prejudices either for or against them (for M——y made no pretensions to a literary taste), was what he had never met with elsewhere; and he used it often and freely.

Another of the Southampton companions of Hazlitt, during my acquaintance with him, was a Mr. W——e, of the India House, a friend also of Charles Lamb’s, and therefore associated by Hazlitt with some of his most pleasant recollections of that coterie the breaking up of which he so often regretted. W——e was (and I hope still is) a man of much shrewdness of observation, and considerable delicacy of taste, in matters both of literature and art; but so fastidious in his demands for every sort of perfection, that Hazlitt looked upon an evening spent with him as a kind of discipline of his critical faculties and judgment. For W——e had no more respect for an opinion or a dictum merely because it was Hazlitt’s, than if it had been anybody else’s. If it struck him as just and true, he at once admitted and appreciated it; but if not, he contested it as freely and pertinaciously, coming from the first critical authority of
his day, (as he believed and acknowledged Hazlitt’s to be—perchance with a modest mental reservation in favour of one other person!) as if it came from a mere novice or a nobody. And this habit of social intercourse, instead of piqueing Hazlitt, pleased and often excited him to an earnestness of discussion and illustration that we might else have been without. Accordingly, I have never heard Hazlitt talk better—by which I mean at once more amusingly and more instructively—than when W——e formed one of the talkers and listeners. W——e, too, had a taste (of his own, like all his other tastes and opinions) for pictures—which often furnished occasion for the display of Hazlitt’s exquisite judgment in respect to the higher branches of art, and his profound insight into the principles on which their power of affecting us rests. W——e’s fastidiousness, too (for he was the “Man of Refinement” of our little knot of talkers), was not seldom a pleasant topic of examination in his absence; though it was never treated of in terms that he himself might not have been present to hear.


This latter fact reminds me to remark on what was deemed by many of Hazlitt’s friends a crying defect in his intellectual character; I mean his disposition to discuss, in their absence, the qualities and characteristics of his friends and acquaintance, with a freedom, and even severity, of criticism, which were in no degree modified by the fact of the parties treated of being numbered among his intimate associates. This complaint against Hazlitt was, I am afraid, founded on something worse than a mistake. It was the result of a self-deception, at the best; in some cases it originated in a desire meanly to deceive others. Those who call speaking the truth of our friends behind their backs an act of treachery, and consider the treating of their vices, errors, and weaknesses as if they were facts or abstract propositions, as a traducing of them, will not be likely to see anything worse in inventing or propagating falsehoods of them for our sport or profit. Hazlitt discussed the characters of his friends and acquaintance simply as if they were not his friends and acquaintance, and because they were so;—in other words, because they were
the only persons whose characters he could discuss with any foundation of fact and truth to go upon. If we desire to know and to make known the human heart and mind, are we to study it only in the dark, and state what we learn of it only when everybody is out of hearing? It is only our friends and acquaintance of whom we can by possibility know anything, of our own actual knowledge and observation: and
“What can we reason but from what we know?”

Hazlitt carried this open and free discussion of the moral and intellectual qualities and characteristics of our friends and intimates to a pitch that perhaps it never before reached: but I do not call to mind that he ever carried it beyond the legitimate bounds which it has a right to claim for itself. He used it purely as an instrument of mental exercise and entertainment; he never sacrificed what he believed to be the truth in the use of it. Moreover, he used it in reference to friends and foes alike; he used it as readily in favour of those to whom it referred as against them; and he never expected or de-
sired that anybody should feel any scruple in using it, to the utmost extent of the truth, about himself.

At all events, what nobody who knew Hazlitt will deny is, that of all the various sources of social converse that he was accustomed to open and draw upon, no other furnished so admirable a mixture of instruction and amusement as the one in question. Get him to talk upon these “personal themes,” and his fund of facts and illustrations was only surpassed by the unequalled sagacity and acuteness with which he applied them.