LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt IV

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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Shortly after the period of my receiving the above explanation of Hazlitt’s supposed outrage upon me, I was sitting one morning with the late John Scott, at his lodgings in York Street, Covent Garden, when he told me that he was every moment expecting Hazlitt to call on him by appointment; and knowing my then feelings about the attack in the magazine (for it was he who had furnished me with an explanation of it, and from Hazlitt’s own lips), he proposed that I should meet him—but not then—for he felt that it would not be safe to introduce Hazlitt unprepared into the room with a man whom he (Hazlitt) felt that he had outraged. In fact, so intense was Hazlitt’s sense of what was due to a man’s immediate personal feelings when face to face with him, that he would never have forgiven Scott the
indiscretion of bringing himself and me together again, without the full consent of both parties. Briefly, it was settled that we should dine with Scott the same day, if Hazlitt did not object; and accordingly we met as if nothing had happened; for Hazlitt’s sensitiveness on matters of this nature precluded the slightest allusion to the indirect occasion of our meeting, nor was it ever afterwards referred to in the most remote manner; and the rest of the day (and night) was spent in talk such as I scarcely remember to have enjoyed either before or since. I never knew Hazlitt so entertaining and brilliant, yet so subtle, penetrating, and profound. He seemed determined to make me amends for the undeserved injury he had done me. It was also, I remember, the first fair renewal of John Scott’s intimacy with him, which had been broken off for several years; and they mutually made it the occasion of such a vivid and various calling back of the scenes, characters, and histories of the then, alas! defunct coterie who were accustomed to meet at
Basil Montague’s, Charles Lamb’s, Leigh Hunt’s, and all those who had once “called
Admiral Burney friend,” that I became as familiar with them all as if I had been one among them—a boon the bestowal of which was like adding a score of years to one’s life, “without the illness should attend them.” Scott, too, who had recently returned from a lengthened residence in Italy, had many excellent things to tell, which were new to Hazlitt (who was as good a listener as he was a talker); in particular, several capital ones about Lord Byron, with whom he had been recently spending a week at Venice.

Two of these anecdotes I particularly remember. Until their meeting at Venice, there had been an estrangement between Byron and Scott, in consequence of the part the latter had taken in the “Champion,” relative to the publication of the celebrated “Farewell;” but they were now reconciled, and were on the water together in Byron’s gondola, under circumstances which led Scott to express a strong sense of danger as to their position. “Oh!” said Byron, in a tone of perfect seriousness, “you need not be afraid of anything happening to you while you are with me, for we are friends now.” And Scott
explained that Byron had the most intimate persuasion, that any of his friends who had quarrelled with him were never safe from some strange accident, until they had made it up.

The other anecdote related to one of those bonnes fortunes on which Byron so much piqued himself. He told Scott, that during the hey-day of his popularity, he was on a visit at a noble house in the country, where a large party of both sexes was assembled; and that among them was a lady of rank, beauty and immaculate reputation, with whom he fell desperately in love, and determined to urge his passion, notwithstanding the presence of her husband, to whom she was evidently attached. For several days his unwearied assiduities produced no effect beyond that of an evident desire, on the lady’s part, to avoid them without infringing the usages of society. Two or three times, during the siege and defence, Byron had taken opportunities of offering the lady a billet-doux, in which he had expressed his passion in terms not, as he thought, to be resisted by mortal woman, at least in the class of society in
which this one moved; but on every occasion she had contrived to avoid the proffered insult, without being obliged to recognise it as such. At last, as Byron declared, he grew desperate, and determined to run all risks rather than be foiled in his pursuit. Confident in what he believed to be his knowledge of the female heart, he contrived to be conversing with the lady, in a billiard-room that was situated apart from the rest of the house, at the precise moment when he knew that her husband would enter the room. The husband entered: at that moment Byron pressed into her hand his letter; in the alarm and confusion of the moment she took it—concealed it hastily—he instantly left her—and (so, at least, Byron declared) the daring ruse succeeded! She “deliberated” for an instant whether or not she should denounce to her husband the insulting outrage; and in that instant she was lost!

Such was Byron’s account of one of the many love-passages of his strange life. Let those believe it who can.

From this night it was that my intimacy with Hazlitt commenced. Henceforward,
with the exception of two or three brief intervals, when either Hazlitt or I was abroad, we met almost daily; and although our intercourse was wholly free from conventional restraint, neither of us ever disguising or concealing an opinion or a sentiment in deference to those of the other, our intimacy was never broken, or even jarred or disturbed, from the above-named period to that of his death—an interval of more than twelve years! This fact may well bear a note of admiration for those who knew the nature of Hazlitt’s mind and temperament, and the doubts, suspicions, and misgivings to which they perpetually made him a prey, and the total incapacity that he laboured under, of abstaining from acting upon those doubts and suspicions as if they were demonstrated truths.

On the other hand, it is proper for me to caution the reader against supposing that, at any period of our intercourse, anything like a friendship subsisted between Hazlitt and myself, in the “sentimental” sense of the phrase. It was a melancholy defect of his mind, that it was wholly incapable of either
exciting or entertaining any such sentiment. I have (with deep reluctance) glanced at one of the natural reasons of this sad deficiency. Others of an adventitious character, but more than sufficient to account for it, will develope themselves hereafter. In the meantime, it is no less true than it may seem paradoxical, that, with the most social disposition of any man I ever met with, and an active and ever-present sympathy with the claims, the wants, and the feelings of every human being he approached, Hazlitt was, even by nature, but by circumstances still more so, a lone man, living, moving, and having his being, for and to himself exclusively; as utterly cut off from fulfilling and exercising the ordinary pursuits and affections of his kind, and of his nature, as if he had been bound hand and foot in a dungeon, or banished to a desert. And so, indeed, he was—bound in the gloomiest of all dungeons—that built for us by our own unbridled passions—banished to that dreariest of all deserts, spread out for us by seared hopes and blighted affections.

We are told that on the summit of one of those columns which form the magnificent
ruins of
Hadrian’s Temple, in the plain of Athens, there used to dwell a hermit, who never descended from his strangely-chosen abode; owing his scanty food and support to the mingled admiration and curiosity of the peasants who inhabited the plain below. Something like this was the position of William Hazlitt, from the period at which I first became acquainted with him. Self-banished from the social world, no less by the violence of his own passions, than by those petty regards of custom and society which could not or would not tolerate the trifling aberrations from external form and usage engendered by a mind like his; at the same time, those early hopes, born of the French Revolution, which first awakened his soul from its ante-natal sleep, blighted in their very fruition, and the stream that fed them flung back upon its source, to stagnate there, and turn into a poisonous hatred of the supposed causes of their disappointment; his spirit refused to look abroad or be comforted. Such being the melancholy condition of his intellectual being at the period I am speaking of, he became, as regarded himself
personally, heedless of all things but the immediate gratification of his momentary wants or wishes; careless of personal character, indifferent to literary fame, forgetful of the past, reckless of the future; and yet so exquisitely alive to the claims and the virtues of all these, that the abandonment of his birthright in every one of them opened a separate canker in his heart, and made his life a living emblem of that early death which it foretokened.

Thus (like the hermit alluded to above) perpetually surrounded by objects of interest, beauty, and grandeur, and enabled by the elevated position which his noble intellect gave him, to look abroad over them all with the ken of an almost superhuman intelligence, he yet dwelt amidst them all “a man forbid;”—self-exiled from that social intercourse which he was born to brighten and to love; rejected and reviled by his own heart and affections; dreaded, and therefore hated, by his foes; feared, and therefore not loved, even by his (so called) “friends:”—with such a man, so constituted and so circumstanced, there could exist no reciprocity of personal
sentiment, no fair interchange of affection, and, therefore, no true friendship. So that (recurring to the immediate occasion of the foregoing remarks) I repeat, these Recollections must not be received as the blind tribute of an overweening affection, seeking to defend from obloquy a sort of other self; but, as a free-will offering, urged by a sense of justice towards a man whose errors and weakness have been “monstered” into the attributes of a demon; while his many rare and excellent qualities—his noble simplicity of heart and mind—his irrepressible love of truth and justice—and his almost sublime hatred of that oppression and wrong which a systematic violation of those had so long spread abroad over human hopes and institutions throughout the world: all these were overlooked or disregarded, or, when not so, were held up to the world as their direct opposites—as themes for obloquy, rather than claims to admiration.