LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt III

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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As it is of my intimacy alone with Hazlitt that I propose to treat in any detail, I shall pass hastily over that mere desultory acquaintance which ensued on his delivery of the lectures above alluded to. Two or three trifling but characteristic circumstances growing out of that acquaintance are, however, worth referring to.

I well remember, after the successful delivery of his first lecture on the Comic Writers, my walking home with Hazlitt from the institution to his house in Westminster. Let those who knew the personal bearing and habits of William Hazlitt, conceive of a man almost a stranger to him—who had only exchanged words with him in a sort of official capacity—let the intimates of Hazlitt conceive of such a person volunteering to walk home with him, for the purpose of having
a little pleasant conversation by the way! Nay, in my innocence, I actually offered him my arm, which he took! and so we walked, arm-in-arm, through the whole of Fleet Street, the Strand, Parliament Street, &c.

The “general reader” will wonder what there was extraordinary in this, but the initiated will not believe it. They can fancy him sitting sulkily in the stocks, or walking doggedly round in the pillory; for a superior physical force might have placed him there, and being there, he was too much of a logician to quarrel with necessity. But to walk straight home at ten o’clock at night, “in a respectable and gentlemanlike manner!” It cannot have been! Arm-in-arm, too, and with a very young gentleman in a point device costume! I think I hear Charles Lamb exclaim, “Why the angel Gabriel could not have persuaded Hazlitt to walk arm-in-arm with him for half the length of Southampton Buildings.” Perhaps not—but with a writer in Blackwood’s Magazine it was different;—one, too, who had tacitly engaged to give a favourable account of him in that terror and bugbear of his
coterie. The chance was not to be thrown away; for Hazlitt, with all his boasted nonconformity, piqued himself on his prudence and world-wisdom, when he thought the occasion of sufficient moment to his personal comfort to call for these. In fact, this trait formed the only serious stain in his personal character, or rather it sprang out of that quality which was so.

Let me here, once for all, get over this only painful and repugnant portion of the task I have undertaken; for that once off my conscience, I shall go forward much more to my own satisfaction, and therefore to the reader’s. In resolving to tell what I know, or have been led to feel, of William Hazlitt, I have determined to “nothing extenuate.” I at once, then, confess that the plague-spot of his personal character was an ingrained selfishness, which more or less influenced and modified all the other points of his nature.

This is a hard stone to fling at a man of whom one is proud to be deemed the friend in spite of it. But now that it cannot hurt him, the truth may be told: nay, I verily
believe that, had it been told in his lifetime, in the spirit in which it is told now, he would have had the magnanimity not merely to admit the charge, but to forgive the maker of it. And if this noble frankness is not enough to wash out the “damned spot,” it may at least serve—as, in fact, it did serve in practice—to prevent the spread of the poison to the vital parts of his character.

Let me still further guard against being mistaken by Hazlitt’s friends and misinterpreted by his enemies. The defect which I have noticed in his character was little in amount. I never knew him do a base or mean action; and I have known him do many that might fairly claim to be deemed magnanimous, in the ordinary acceptation of the term. It would be the basest of libels upon Hazlitt to describe him as a mean-souled man. But the tendency, the taint was there; though it seldom showed itself in overt acts, and never without a sort of half-struggle to overcome it; or in default of that, a half-ostentatious exposure of the weakness, as one of which he was not merely conscious, but took to himself more shame
for it than his worst enemies would have cast upon him.

I shall leave it to those enemies to collect proofs and illustrations of this “original sin” of Hazlitt’s temperament. I have done my self-prescribed duty in declaring the existence of the evil, and shall now quit the painful and ungrateful theme, after having ventured on one more remark in connexion with it. I have said that the above-named trait in Hazlitt’s character was, like Othello’s declension into the vale of years, “not much.” I will add, that like that, it was (practically) fatal to his peace of mind; for he could not choose but be deeply conscious of it, and this gave him an ever-present sense of his own comparative unworthiness, and made him listen more eagerly to the suggestions of that self-raised demon, who, Iago-like, was ever at his elbow, urging him on to insane jealousies and suspicions of the good faith of those on whom his heart and spirit yearned to rest and repose. Hazlitt had strong and burning affections, which could never find a fit object whereon to lean for support; so that, like the projections of a disease-worn frame, at
whatever points they touched external objects, they corroded, and cankered, and turned to poisonous sores. Had Hazlitt believed that any one human being (especially one of the other sex), whatever his or her station or character, could have loved him with an undivided and unfading love, he would have been a happy and a happy-making man. But the unfounded belief which beset him, that he was despised and contemned wherever he turned for sympathy, and the still stronger belief that he in some sort deserved to be so, made and kept him the most miserable of human beings.

To return to our “progress” from Blackfriars to Westminster, after Hazlitt’s first lecture on the Comic Writers. I remember he declined my offered arm at first—which I interpreted as an evidence of his excessive modesty! I pressed it, however, and he then took it—but as if it had been a bar of hot iron—holding it gingerly, with the tips of his fingers, much after the fashion in which he used to shake hands with those friends who were inadvertent or absent enough to proffer that ceremony.


Nevertheless, we talked bravely by the way (though every third sentence on his part was concluded by a “Sir”) till we got to that broad part of Parliament-street opposite to the Admiralty and the Horse Guards. Here, however, we met with a rather unseemly interruption, in the form of sundry petitioners; and I shall never forget the air of infantine simplicity with which Hazlitt received and answered them. That I should see anything exceptionable in the acquaintance seemed not to enter his thoughts; but his surprise and horror were extreme at the breach of etiquette committed by his unhappy protegées, in thus addressing him in the presence of a third person! And this feeling was evidently not on his own account, but on mine. His forbearance and charity for the “unfortunate” persons in question were without limits; and he did not care if all the world knew it, and witnessed the results that ensued whenever his pocket was on a par with his humanity in this particular. But it by no means followed that others might have reached the same philosophic pitch of benevolence: and, with the fewest “prejudices” of any man I
ever knew, Hazlitt was the last to shock those of other people. His consternation on the above occasion was extreme accordingly, and his uneasiness and confusion were in proportion; for he found himself between the horns of a dilemma. He must either run the risk of horrifying me by entertaining these not very creditable applicants, or he must outrage them by a harsh and unlooked-for repulse. I will not say whether his humanity was stronger than his sense of the bienséances; or whether he might not consider the incident as a fairly-earned penalty for the breach of them which I had committed, in forcing my company where the desire of companionship was evidently not mutual; not to mention that it might prove a convenient guard against a repetition of the intrusion. Certain it is, that the claimants in question were repulsed with the gentlest hand in the world.

I shall make no apology for relating this incident; for those who feel a sufficient interest in the character of the late William Hazlitt to have accompanied me thus far in my Recollections of him, are not likely to be
troubled with that false delicacy which could alone have induced or demanded the suppression of it.

I shall conclude the record of my first acquaintance with Hazlitt by referring to another incident, still more characteristic than the above, of the mind and character I would help to delineate. I had, as the reader has seen, been the occasion of securing to Hazlitt what he considered and called “the best job” he ever had as a professed author; for, besides the sum he was to receive for the delivery of the course of lectures, he had sold the copyright of them for a handsome price. I had, moreover, not merely kept his lectures from being abused in “Blackwood’s,” but had praised them there to the full amount of his expectations.* And, to crown the climax of (so-called) obligation, I had, if I remember

* In order to show that Hazlitt was not unreasonable or exigent in his requirements in cases of this nature, I subjoin the note he wrote me on the occasion of my sending him in MS. the article in question:—

Dear Sir,—I am very well satisfied with the article, and obliged to you for it. I am afraid the censure is truer than the praise. It will be of great service if they insert it entire, which, however, I hope.

“Your obliged,
“W. Hazlitt.”

rightly, at his earnest request, procured the consent of the Committee of Managers to pay him in advance the whole or part of the price of his services; a benefit, in his estimation, “worth the other two.” Such was the relative state of things between us, when, in an unfortunate article which I wrote in “Blackwood’s,” I happened to use some phrase or illustration which he (Hazlitt) had used on the same subject just before, in the “
London Magazine,” and without referring to him as the origin of the joke, or witticism, or whatever it was: for it is not worth the trouble of turning to the passage for verification.

Let the reader judge of my mingled horror and astonishment at finding, in the next number of the “London Magazine,” a ferocious personal attack on myself, almost by name, in which my innocent and unconscious adoption of a worthless phrase or word of his was characterised as an atrocious appropriation of his property, and the doer of it written down, in so many words, a “petty-larceny rascal,” and threatened with redoubled vengeance in future if he did not leave off his pickpocket proceedings!

Being totally unconscious of any other cause
of offence against
Hazlitt than the above, I confess that the savage manner in which he made his reprisals both shocked and disgusted me; and so matters rested between us for a considerable length of time, and of course without any thought on my part of the acquaintance being renewed; all the ill that I had heard of Hazlitt being thus confirmed to me by this (as I then considered it) atrocious, because wholly unprovoked act.

It is astonishing how quickly a personal proof of this kind brings conviction to one’s mind on a doubtful point, when nothing else can. I had heard repeated instances of Hazlitt committing unprovoked outrages of this description on his best friends; but knowing and feeling them to be against nature, I would not allow myself to believe them. But the moment he committed one of a similar kind against myself, I not merely believed it, but believed all the rest in virtue of it; though it was even more inexplicable, on any received principle of human action, than all the rest, and more against all my previous experience.

I hope the reader anticipates the true ex-
planation in my case, and, through it, in all the rest. The fact is,
Hazlitt (as I learned afterwards) believed that I had committed against him what he justly deemed an unpardonable offence. I had, he thought, cut him in the street! And whenever anything of this kind happened to him, there was no limit to the “wild kind of justice” which he was disposed to wreak upon the offending party. I do not believe that he could have slept in peace till he had righted himself, in any case of this kind; and when the individual was not one against whom he could use his pen, he made his tongue the medium of reprisal.

I do not know how it may have been with Hazlitt’s friends in cases similar to that which I have just referred to, or how it might have been with myself had I at that time ranked among them; though I believe that, even in that case, my angry feelings (if I had experienced any) would have arisen solely from his supposing me capable of the unspeakable meanness in question. But merely as an acquaintance, and that acquaintance sought by myself, and almost forced upon
him, I (on receiving the explanation of the act, and believing that he was satisfied as to the alleged cause for it) thought then, and think now, that he had not only a right to do what he did, but that there was a kind of magnanimity in flinging aside all the supposed claims of obligation which I have alluded to in the outset of this little history, (and which were no obligations at all, but done purely to please and satisfy myself,) and “doing himself a pleasure and a right,” out of that pure and irrepressible sense and love of abstract justice which are among the noblest and rarest attributes of the human mind, and were especially conspicuous in his. The “taste” in which the thing was done is another matter, and one which, luckily, Hazlitt cared nothing about; for had he been the man to do so, the world would have been without some of the noblest writings of their class which it can boast.