LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt XVIII

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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There was one man, and one only, towards whom Hazlitt seemed to cherish a feeling of unmingled personal affection and regard: that man was the late Mr. John Hunt, the elder brother of Mr. Leigh Hunt. Of him only Hazlitt was accustomed to speak uniformly in terms of unqualified admiration and esteem, as related to his personal character, no less than to his sound judgment and singular good sense. He used to say that if there was an honest man in the world, it was John Hunt. Nor did I ever hear him speak disparagingly of him in even the smallest particular of either character or conduct, except on one occasion. “Look here,” said he, as I went in one morning as he was sitting at his breakfast, reading a letter he had just received—“Look here!”—handing me the letter, and pointing to the seal of it, on which
was a showy crest or coat-of-arms—“what d’ye think of that from John Hunt—from the reviler of aristocratic distinctions—the sturdy democrat—the only honest leveller and republican of them all—and the only one among them all who would die a martyr to his opinions, if he could propagate them by doing so?”

As some of my earliest and most vivid Recollections of Hazlitt are connected with this gentleman, I shall recur to them here.

The first evidence Hazlitt gave me of a disposition to cultivate my society—or rather to accept it—for he cultivated no one—his mind and genius were essentially contemplative, and disposed to that loneliness which contemplation asks—was his inviting me to accompany him one Sunday morning in a visit to Mr. John Hunt, who was then confined in the Coldbath Fields Prison, for a political libel which had appeared in the “Examiner” newspaper, of which the Hunts were the sole proprietors.* We went, and

* I have given, in a previous Section, some details respecting the conversation which took place on this visit, but no description of the visit itself.

found Mr. Hunt walking in the garden of the prison; and I shall not forget the impression his appearance and manner made on me—corresponding so precisely as they did with the previous notion I had entertained of his personal character. I have never seen in any one else so perfect an outward symbol or visible setting forth of the English character, in its most peculiar and distinguishing features, but also in its best and brightest aspect, as in Mr. John Hunt. A figure tall, robust, and perfectly well-formed; a carriage commanding and even dignified, without the slightest apparent effort or consciousness of being so; a head and a set of features on a large scale, but cast in a perfectly regular mould; handsome, open, and full of intelligence, but somewhat hard and severe; an expression of bland benevolence, singularly blended with a marble coldness of demeanour almost repulsive, because almost seeming to be so intended:—such were the impressions produced on me by the first abord of John Hunt, as I saw him within his prison walls.

As I afterwards became acquainted with Mr. John Hunt and his accomplished brother,
and had all my first impressions confirmed about the former, I cannot let slip this occasion of testifying my belief, that the wholesome and happy change that has taken place in our political and social institutions since the period above referred to, and is still in happy progress, is owing in no small degree to the excellent individuals just named; for I verily believe that, without the manly firmness, the immaculate political honesty, and the vigorous good sense of the one, and the exquisite genius and varied accomplishments, guided by the all-pervading and all-embracing humanity of the other, we should at this moment have been without many of those writers and thinkers on whose unceasing efforts the slow but sure march of our political, and, with it, our social regeneration as a people mainly depends. Of this I am certain—that without the writings of
Mr. Leigh Hunt himself, we should have missed a large measure of that high and pure tone of political and of social feeling from which everything is to be hoped in the way of progress towards future good; and (having which) nothing need be feared in the way of
retrogression towards past evil. Many causes may interfere to retard the coming on of that fair pageant of political and social amelioration which already shines palpable and visible in the future, even like the coming on of the heavenly host in the “
Paradise Lost.” But there, in the “clear obscure” of the distance, the embodied splendour shines, and nothing can ever again abolish or blot it out.

Returning to my visit with Hazlitt to Mr. John Hunt, in the Coldbath Fields Prison,—after walking and conversing for some time in the prison garden, where we found Mr. Hunt, he led us to his apartment. Here the first thing that struck me was a picture over the mantelpiece, of an old countrywoman in a bonnet, which, it immediately occurred to me, was one I had heard spoken of as Hazlitt’s first attempt as an artist. Hazlitt pointed to it with great apparent satisfaction, and asked me if I had ever seen it before, or knew what it was; but he seemed to shrink from distinctly saying what it was, and I was left to learn this from inquiry of Mr. Hunt himself.
The picture, I found, belonged to Hazlitt himself. He kept it as a precious relic, not of his success, but of his failure, as a painter—to which art he had at one time intended to devote himself. The reader will, probably, call to mind some beautiful reminiscences of this picture in his essay “
On the Pleasures of Painting.” The picture itself is a striking production, evincing remarkable powers of pictorial effect, and not inferior in the force of its light and shade to some of Rembrandt’s efforts of a similar kind. I have never seen the picture since, and yet it is one of those very few which dwell in my memory, as if they were actually present to the bodily sight. It represented the head and shoulders merely of a very old countrywoman, in a plain black bonnet, which shaded the upper half of the face, so as to leave the features almost black, and only to be distinguished by fixed attention; while the lower half of the face was in a full light. The expression (which was perfect in its way) was that of the utter stillness and vacuity of extreme old age. The skin was greatly elaborated, but so as to produce the
general and uniform effect, and the oneness, of nature and of Rembrandt, not of the dry and hard detail of
Denner or Holbein. But the peculiarity of the picture consisted in the extraordinary effect of the light and shade. The handling by which this effect was produced was coarse yet elaborate—bold and forcible, yet perfectly undecided, and that of a novice. But the whole was natural and true, in a remarkable degree, and it proved to demonstration that if Hazlitt had devoted and applied himself steadily to the art, he would greatly have distinguished himself in it. It proved, too, that he would have distinguished himself in precisely that way in which the leading features of his mind enabled him afterwards to shine as a writer—namely, in the perception and setting forth of the actual and simple truth, in relation to whatever he might take in hand; but especially of the truth as to human character.

The extreme apparent diffidence of Hazlitt in pointing my attention to this picture, reminds me to observe here, that it was the same in respect to everything else that he did.
He had in his possession, at this time, two noble copies, made by himself, from two of
Titian’s finest portraits in the Louvre—the Young Venetian Nobleman with the Glove; and the Hyppolito di Medici. They used to hang in or stand about his rooms, without frames, and covered with dirt; and I had seen and spoken of them several times, before I learned (which I did by mere accident) that they were painted by himself. Not that he underrated, or took a slight interest in them. On the contrary, he made no scruple of declaring them to be the best copies of Titian that he had ever seen; and they were the only things to which I ever knew him attach any value, or feel the least desire to retain a property in. With the exception of these pictures, he never, during the whole of my acquaintance with him, possessed a single object of property—not even a favourite book. But these he cherished with a personal fondness that seemed to give them in his eyes all the character of living objects; they seemed necessary to his very existence, and to preserve, as it were, that personal identity with his early life, in the absence of
which he would scarcely have felt that he continued to live at all, at least, to any of the real and valuable purposes of life. They were like keepsakes given to him by those twin brides of his soul, the Ideals of Truth and Beauty, which he had wedded in his youth, only to love and worship for a day, and then to be widowed from for ever, and weep over their grave for the rest of his existence. For such was, in fact, the secret cause of that profound melancholy which hung upon Hazlitt’s mind like an incubus, and was the mortal disease that sunk him to a premature grave.

I afterwards possessed these two pictures, having purchased them at a sale of the property of Haydon, who valued them, and had purchased them of Hazlitt, when the latter had been forced, under some momentary pecuniary pressure, to sell them.

I do not remember anything in my intercourse with Hazlitt which gave me so much pleasure, as being thus enabled to preserve and restore these pictures to him. He used every now and then to come to me on purpose to look at them, as he had done
in the case of
Haydon when they were in his possession. I remember he would stand and gaze on them with a look of deep sadness, not unmixed with pleasure, and almost with tears in his eyes—as one may imagine a fond parent gazing on the grave of his buried hopes; but he never said anything about wishing to have them, otherwise I should have offered them to him immediately. I, on the other hand, never thought of offering them spontaneously, knowing that, with all his frankness and delicacy in appreciating an act of good-will of this kind, he would not have been able to avoid attributing it in part to the want of my setting a due value on the pictures. At last he came one day, and after looking earnestly at the pictures for some time, he began, in that roundabout, awkward, and hesitating way, which he always fell into when he was not quite sure of his ground:—

“I say, Patmore, do you care about those pictures?”

“How do you mean?” said I—though I anticipated what was coming.

“Why—I mean”—said he hesitatingly—
“that is—would you like to part with them?”

“Part with them?” I said—repeating his words, and not knowing very well how to reply without the risk of hurting his self-love one way or the other—and there is nothing like awkwardness for engendering its like—“Part with them? Why I——” and I hesitated about coming to the point as much as he did.

“Ay”—continued he—“that is, not unless you like—only I”—(and here he seemed to get farther than ever from the mark) “I—that is, I think I can get you a good sum for them if you’ve a mind to part with them.”

“If that’s what you mean,” I said, “I have not a mind to part with them. I thought, perhaps, you wanted them for yourself.”

“Why, that’s it,” said he. “The fact is, so and so (naming some one whom I now forget) has been speaking to me about them. He’ll give you forty or fifty pounds down for them, I think; and will let me have them back again when I like. What do you say?”

I said—“I’ll not sell them—if that’s what you mean—but you may have them if you like.”


“Well,” said he—“what shall I give you for them?”

“Nonsense!”—I replied—“nothing—or anything you like”—for I did not like to press his acceptance of them after he had told me what he thought of doing with them.

“Well—shall I give you ten pounds for them ‘out and out,’ on the chance of getting fifty?”

“Yes—if you like.”

“But I’ve got no money.”

“Well—give it me when you like.”

“No—I’ll give you a bill at two months (I think it was). I shall have money then.”

I could hardly help smiling at this proposal: but I did not dare to do so, as he was very sensitive on points of this kind.

“But may I take them with me now?” he asked, hesitatingly—“I’ll bring you the bill by and bye.”

“To be sure,” I said—fairly smiling out at the idea of the bill, but not venturing to refuse it.

Accordingly, he took away his two favourites under his arm; evidently delighted to have them once again in his possession; for
he had more regard for them than for all his writings put together.

The next day he brought me a promissory note duly drawn—and which of course was not duly paid. That it was paid ultimately, I need not say. Had it been otherwise, the reader would have heard nothing of the details, at least, of this little story. About seven or eight months afterwards, when I had almost forgotten the bill he had given me, he called on me, and, holding out a ten-pound note, said—“Have you got that bill?” and I believe he never parted with a bank note so readily as he did on this occasion.

Returning for a moment to our visit to John Hunt, in Coldbath Fields Prison, I remember, as if it had happened but yesterday, the precise spot on which we met him in the prison garden; the dreary and prison-like look of the garden itself, without a tree or a shrub in it; with nothing alive but long rows of sickly cabbages and lettuces, that seemed to be pining for the free air that passed hundreds of feet above their heads—an “unreal mockery” of a garden—
that seemed, to a true garden, what the melancholy “liberty” of walking in it was to liberty itself. I remember, too, the extreme cleanliness of the narrow and interminable passages through which we passed to the prisoner’s cell, and that it struck me as something shocking—like the unnatural tameness of the birds and animals in the island of Juan Fernandez—a species of refinement in cruelty. The cell itself, too, I see before me as I write—with its lofty ceiling, which made the area look twice as small as it really was; its square iron-barred window, on the right-hand wall as you entered, raised out of the reach of any access either from within or without; the little blank fire-place opposite to the door; and the no-furniture, consisting of a table and two chairs. Being an optimist, I have often thought since that the statesmen of that day were the people of all others to inculcate the blessings and the love of political liberty. To imprison for two years in a place like this one of the most honest, honourable, and pure-minded men that ever lived, for expressing a political opinion that they did not approve, was a pretty sure way
of making him a patriot and an advocate of freedom, if he had not been so before. There is nothing like Evil for teaching the value and the virtue of Good—nothing like Wrong for demonstrating and confirming Right.