LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt XXII

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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To the powers of Shelley, and to their poetical results, Hazlitt did as little justice as to those of Byron. And in this instance I could never very clearly account to myself for the personal cause of his dislike,—which in every other similar instance there was no difficulty in doing. Scott was a Tory;—Byron was a lord;—and it will be seen hereafter, that in the various other cases in which he withheld the due meed of honour from his distinguished contemporaries, there was some personal feeling or other capable of explaining, if not of excusing, the injustice. But in the case of Shelley, I could never make out any better reason than that he had seen him and did not like his looks!
“I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell;
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.”
This was a favourite mode with Hazlitt of
forming his personal opinions; and one which, in his case, was not a very dangerous one, on account of his intuitive skill in reading “the mind’s observance in the face.” But there can be no doubt that in this instance he grossly and strangely deceived himself. If ever any human being was gifted with “the vision and the faculty divine,” Shelley was so gifted. Yet all that Hazlitt chose to see in him were certain supposed corollaries from his personal appearance and physical conformation. Shelley’s figure was tall and almost unnaturally attenuated, so as to bend to the earth like a plant that has been deprived of its vital air; his features had an unnatural sharpness, and an unhealthy paleness, like a flower that has been kept from the light of day; his eyes had an almost superhuman brightness, and his voice a preternatural elevation of pitch and a shrillness of tone;—all which peculiarities probably arose from some accidental circumstances connected with his early nurture and bringing up.* But all these Hazlitt

* This description is Hazlitt’s, not mine: I never saw Shelley.

tortured into external types and symbols of that unnatural and unwholesome craving after injurious excitement, that morbid tendency towards interdicted topics and questions of moral good and evil, and that forbidden search into the secrets of our nature and ultimate destiny, into which he strangely and inconsequentially resolved the whole of Shelley’s productions. His vast and vivid insight into the possible future, as springing out of and moulded by the present and the past; his gorgeous and glowing imagination; his universal philanthropy—the patriotism of one whose all-embracing spirit could know no country but the world; his daring yet devout faith in good, as the necessary offspring and end of evil; his intense sympathy with all natural beauty, as the living type, the visible image, of that which is intellectual; his wonderful affluence and pomp of language,—altogether unrivalled by any other writer, ancient or modern:—all these Hazlitt seemed to overlook in Shelley.

There is but one intelligible explanation of this; and it is that, in fact, Hazlitt had read
little or nothing of all the various poetical wealth to which I have referred. And such I believe to have been the case; for though I have often heard him speak disparagingly of
Shelley as a poet, I never heard him refer to a single line or passage of his published writings.

For Hazlitt’s dislike and disparagement of the author of “Lalla Rookh,” there is not much difficulty in accounting. He (Moore) was understood to have discouraged, and ultimately broken off, Lord Byron’s connexion with Leigh Hunt and Hazlitt in “The Liberal;” an undertaking which, had it been cordially taken up by Byron and his friends, might, Hazlitt thought, have produced great results. Hazlitt attributed the strangling in its birth of this promising offspring of the new Spirit of the Age to the personal envy, and consequent ill-offices, of Moore—and he never forgave him—though much more, I believe, from a public than a private and personal feeling on the matter.

But what Hazlitt could forgive less was an insulting reference which Moore has made (in his “Rhymes on the Road”) to one of Hazlitt’s intellectual idols, Rousseau, who,
with the heroine of the “
Confessions,” Madame de Warens, he (Moore) calls “low people.” Referring to “Les Charmettes” he says of its former celebrated inhabitants:
“And doubtless ’mong the grave and good,
And gentle* of their neighbourhood,
If known at all, they were but known
As strange, low people, low and bad,
Madame herself to footmen prone,
And her young pauper all but mad.”

This outrage upon Hazlitt’s early associations was more than he could bear. It drove him “all but mad;” and he never after lost an opportunity, public or private, of venting his indignation against the perpetrator of it. Nor would it be easy to repel the cannonade of argument and invective by which he sought to demonstrate that it was an outrage, no less against fact and justice than against feeling and common honesty.†

I must not refrain from adding my belief, that Hazlitt’s indignation, though not engendered, was in some degree heightened, by

* Meaning well-born.

† Particularly in his Essay in the “Plain Speaker” on “The Spleen of Party.”

his Rousseau-like suspicion that the poet’s sneer at
Rousseau was partly intended to point at himself—a suspicion not wholly without plausible grounds at the time, considering that he was convinced (whether justly or not I have no means of knowing) that his (Hazlitt’s) connexion with “The Liberal” had just been dissolved by the remonstrances of Moore, on the very grounds urged against Rousseau, namely, that it was “discreditable” to his “noble” friend to have to do with people who were so “poor” as to make the connexion desirable to them in a pecuniary point of view; so “low” as to lodge in a second floor; and so “bad” as to have been seen speaking to “improper” females by the light of the gas-lamps.