LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt XIX

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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It often used to occasion me no less surprise than regret to find that Hazlitt did not duly appreciate the genius and writings of Mr. Leigh Hunt; or rather let me confine the remark to Mr. Hunt’s writings; for his genius and talents were not underrated by Hazlitt. That their results were sometimes disparaged, or their merits overlooked, is to be attributed to various causes, arising out of the personal character of the two men, and their intimacy with each other. If Hazlitt had not been in habits of personal intercourse with Hunt, he would have estimated his literary efforts justly. But, with Hazlitt, “to know a man truly, was to know himself” and therefore not to know that which is but an offset and emanation from him. Probably no man ever formed a just critical estimate of the writings of his personal intimate. It is scarcely possible to do so even of one’s
contemporary, though he may be personally unknown to us. There never was a more just and enlightened critical spirit abroad than that which prevails in the present day. Yet not one of our estimates of contemporary genius will be exactly confirmed by posterity—which is the only final and infallible judge in such matters. But for a man to estimate the literary character of his personal intimate, or his personal enemy, is not in human nature. He might almost as reasonably hope to estimate his own. And yet we are apt to think we know more about our friends—not to mention ourselves—than strangers can possibly do. And so, perhaps, we do. We know too much, and therefore do not know any part accurately, still less the whole—which, to be seen and measured justly, must be seen at a certain distance, and as a whole.

Hazlitt saw in Mr. Leigh Hunt’s writings—and saw with an almost preternatural acuteness of vision—what we have no right to see at all, and what none but his personal intimates do or can see—the secret workings and results of those personal feelings (call them failings if you please—their owner is
too wise as well as too liberal in his self-knowledge to be offended at the phrase) which more or less beset and modify the mental operations of every deep and original thinker, and still more of one (as in the instance before us) whose personal feelings blend with and give colour to all his meditations.

At a very early period of Mr. Leigh Hunt’s literary career, his remarkable social qualities had gathered round him a coterie of that class of admirers who are too apt to take the form of adulators, and who, in this latter phase of their character, are not merely inclined, but impelled, to overlook the loftier qualities and attributes of their idol, in order to monster his smaller merits, or metamorphose his errors and short-comings into beauties and virtues.

The consequence for a time was, that the young and happily-constituted writer
“To persons gave up what was meant for mankind;”
never wholly deserting or misusing his high calling, but not seldom postponing its duties to the delights of social success and individual admiration; confiding (as every man
of genius is impelled and bound to do) in his own judgment and his own consciousness, as to the uses and applications of those fine qualities and capacities of his mind which his adulators failed to see or to comprehend; but believing in and abiding by them in all the rest.*

This state of things—a happy one perhaps for him whom they touched most nearly, but a sad one for those who already looked to him for the due exercise of his high and rare powers of affording mingled instruction and delight to his fellow-creatures—has long since given place to one more consonant to the nature and tendency of those powers, and their just claims to the distinctions which they confer on their possessor; and I only recur to it now to account for the insufficient impression which Hazlitt entertained of the writings of Mr. Hunt, and their future influence on the moral and intellectual character of the age. Hazlitt saw and grieved at the state of things I

* I gather these details and impressions from Hazlitt. I had not the pleasure of Mr. Leigh Hunt’s acquaintance at the time referred to.

have described; then grew vexed and angry at it; (these latter feelings being not wholly unmixed, I am afraid, with a touch of personal envy at the “earthlier happy” condition of his friend as compared with his own); till at last his personal feelings blended and interfered with all his impressions respecting the writings of his friend and fellow-labourer, and gave to his judgment that sinister bias which it was so apt to take, or rather so incapable of escaping, on all questions of contemporary merit and distinction.

It is true that Hazlitt has in numerous instances, and in various quarters, used the influence of his pen and his critical powers to disseminate opinions, just, as far as they go, respecting the literary pretensions of this delightful and accomplished writer. He, perhaps, did more for Mr. Hunt’s reputation in this respect than any other writer of his day. But, besides having done this more as a set-off against the gratuitous calumnies of his enemies and maligners than as a spontaneous tribute to the merits of the man, he has fallen miserably short, as I conceive, of conveying a clear and full impression of Mr.
Hunt’s intellectual pretensions, and still more so in estimating the actual, and anticipating the future, results of those pretensions upon the social character and condition of this country.

But it will, I fear, be felt that I am transgressing the true limits of my design. Returning to more purely personal matters, I may say, that though Hazlitt took great pleasure in Mr. Hunt’s society, it was not the kind of social intercourse he best liked. It was one in which each party sought to shine in the eyes of each other, or of the persons present, if any. And though this desire is perhaps more successful in producing the power and the result it aims at than any other means, yet to shine in conversation is not to enjoy it; to talk brilliantly, or to hear brilliant talk, is not to talk or to listen with the heart; it includes and supposes none of that effusion of individual feeling, and that exercise and interchange of human sympathy—none of that “flow of soul” in the absence of which, talk (be it even that of the brightest wits and choicest spirits of the time) is but “as a tinkling cymbal,” or as
the tittle-tattle of club-compelled exquisites and tea-drinking Abigails.

How delightful is the kind of talk I have alluded to! It is, of all intellectual enjoyments, at once the most perfect and the most ennobling; because it is of all others the least impaired by those debasing contradictions and weaknesses which blend more or less with all our pleasures—even with this—and cloud their brightness, while they weaken their force and fullness. This welling forth of the springs of affection and of passion in the human heart has always seemed to me precisely analogous to the singing of birds; a spontaneous and involuntary effusion from the hidden and mysterious sources of delight; rising in beauty and in melody with the character of its utterer, from the poor twittering of the sparrow on the house-top, to the intense and passionate warbling of the nightingale in the deep recesses of a solemn wood at midnight; but in each case created, called forth, and modified by something external from its source; sinking into and growing out of that, as the waves in water, or the sounds of a wind-swept lute; and in no case to be
thoroughly enjoyed except (as with the birds) between co-mates in kindness and in love. When the nightingale, in the antique story, sought to rival the music of the human minstrel, she put forth miracles of bright sounds, but her heart burst in the unnatural struggle. And thus it is with us “human mortals.” One man may rouse and stir an assembled nation by his eloquence; another may teach a great multitude by his knowledge; a third may “keep the table in a roar” by his wit; a fourth may lap his hearers in Elysium by his fancy or imagination; and so forth. But there is no real enjoyment of talk except in a tête-à-tête between friends or lovers; no free pouring forth of the feelings and affections that make up our intellectual being, except where there exists that frank interchange of sympathy which prompts us to listen with as eager an interest as we feel in speaking, and which at the same time satisfies us that we, in our turn, are listened to with a corresponding pleasure.