LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt XX

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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If there was any general subject on which the critical opinions of Hazlitt were to be distrusted, it was that of the merits and defects of his distinguished contemporaries in literature and art. In fact, most of what he had to say on these topics was so moulded and modified by the personal feelings and prejudices engendered by his early associations, and by the position in which those placed him in reference to the rest of the world, that they scarcely deserved the name of deliberate opinions. During the latter years of his life Hazlitt laboured under a total incapacity of reading any work, however brief, consecutively and completely. He had spent, he used to say, the first half of his life in doing nothing but read; and it was hard if he might not employ the remainder in turning his reading to account. He
used to say, too, that after he began to write, reading became a task instead of an enjoyment; and he never pretended to do anything voluntarily but what it pleased him to do.

This was all very well for a man of leisure, and competence to afford that leisure; but it was an awkward propensity for one to indulge in who undertook to review the writings of those who did not begin to write till their reviewer had left off reading.

I do not believe Hazlitt ever read the half of any one work that he reviewed—not even the Scotch novels, of which he read more than of any other modern productions, and has written better, perhaps, than any other of their critics. I am certain that of many works that he has reviewed, and of many writers whose general pretensions he has estimated better than anybody else has done, he never read one tithe; and even what he did read was not the most characteristic portion, or that best calculated to afford ground for a fortunate guess. No wonder then that his “Spirit of the Age” should be disfigured by such a copious mixture of false criticism and personal prejudice. But then, on the
other hand, where else is to be found, in the same space and on a similar subject, such an amount of happy illustration, sound criticism, and searching truth.

The fact is that Hazlitt’s half-random guesses, founded on a furtive and momentary glance, went nearer to the pith of the matter in question, whatever it might be, than the elaborate and lengthened examinations of ordinary men. And in this respect there was a remarkable conformity between his mental and his bodily perceptions. He never fairly looked at anybody; and yet, having once seen a person, he not only never forgot them afterwards, but could describe them to others with all the effect of an actual picture, and could trace “the mind’s observance in the face” with a sagacity almost superhuman. I never knew him mistaken even in his physiognomical guesses, much less in his deliberate estimates,—on which, by the bye, if on anything, he especially piqued himself. “I am infallible (I have heard him say) in reading a face.”

The only one among his contemporaries with whose writings Hazlitt was really
acquainted was
Sir Walter Scott; and for him he felt a degree of admiration as a writer, that, so far from being equalled, was scarcely shared, even in kind, by that called forth in the case of any other writer of the present or the last age. Indeed Scott only needed to have been born a hundred years ago to have held, in Hazlitt’s estimation, a rank second only to that of Shakspeare; for in that case he would not have been compelled to mix up with his feelings of love and admiration those counteracting ones arising out of Scott’s politics, and their results upon his position in society. He would only then have seen in him what the world will see a hundred years hence—a Shakspeare in the universality of his sympathies with human nature and human life, though not in the profounder points of his poetry and his philosophy. As it was, Hazlitt saw what there was for love and admiration, but he saw it in the pet of the Tories, the patron of Blackwood’s and the Beacon, the upholder of the divine right of kings, the disparaging biographer of Napoleon, and (“though last, not least in his dear hate”) the Scotchman.


There was something singularly interesting, and even affecting, in the perpetual struggle which took place in Hazlitt’s mind on the subject of this great man—who was now scarcely below a divinity, and the next hour almost a shame and a blot upon humanity, according to the view from which he was contemplated; now drawing all human hearts together in one bond of mutual sympathy—now trampling upon the best feelings and affections of them all for the imaginary benefit and aggrandisement of one, or half-a-dozen!—squandering the “birth-right” of the human race for the miserable “mess of pottage” that was to keep alive for a little longer the bedridden dotage of “divine right” and “legitimate” authority!

True it is that Scott did not
“To party give up what was meant for mankind;”
he did but give up the tithe to his party, devoting the great body of the harvest of his intellect to the instruction, delight, and benefit of the whole human race; nay, putting forth as beautiful and subtle an effort of his genius to vindicate the right of a poor
fish-wife to enjoy her dram as ever he did to make good the title of a legitimate monarch to his throne. Yet Hazlitt hated him for reserving that tithe almost as much as if he had bestowed the whole. But he did this on the principle, that a single ill word from a wise and good man does more to injure a character or a cause, than a whole volume from the pen or the lips of a knave.