LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt V

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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Hazlitt is considered by some of his friends to have had many points of intellectual character and temperament in common with Rousseau. But I do not know how they would set about to make out the resemblance, except in one isolated feature—that of the morbid feeling which possessed Hazlitt as to the sinister effects of his personal appearance and manner, on ordinary observers. Rousseau fancied that his friends were always hatching plots and conspiracies against him: in like manner, Hazlitt fancied that everybody (except his friends) who looked upon him, perceived something about him that was strange and outré.

There was about as much and as little foundation for the feeling in the one case as the other: it was in fact the result of a con-
sciousness in both that there was something within, which each would have desired to conceal. But there was this vital difference between the two, that in the case of
Rousseau the weaknesses and errors of which he feared the discovery and promulgation, were such as all men consent to be ashamed of; whereas, in the case of Hazlitt, his extreme sensitiveness pointed at failings that could hurt nobody but himself. Moreover, what he chiefly feared from the eyes of the world was, that they should see in him, not himself, but that effigy of him which the inventions of his political and personal enemies had set up; he feared that vulgar eyes would discover in him, not the man he was, but the “pimpled Hazlitt” that his Tory critics had placarded him on every bare wall that knew no better throughout the empire.

There are few things that exercise a more marked and unequivocal influence over the lives and characters of men of great susceptibility of temperament, than any personal peculiarity, especially when it is one obvious to all the world: witness the case of Byron, to whose lameness might probably be traced
every one of the leading events and features of his strange and melancholy career. And the same might perhaps be said of
Hazlitt, with this aggravating qualification—that in his case the peculiarity was wholly imaginary, except in so far as the imagination, while acting upon his mind, made that into a fact which had else been only a figment of his own brain. If Hazlitt had not in his moody moments fancied himself a mark for vulgar and ignorant wonder “to point the slow unmoving finger at,” he might have been living among us now, one of the most delightful ornaments of social life, and the noblest examples of the advancing spirit of his day and country—the pride and pleasure of his friends, and himself the happy witness of the coming on of that glorious dawn of better things which his own writings have materially helped to bring about.

The result of this morbid imagination—this one idea which haunted him like a visible phantom—this falsehood, which, knowing it to be such, he nevertheless palmed off upon himself as a palpable truth, till at last he believed it—the result of this was, that, with
the most social disposition in the world, and with social qualities of unsurpassed amount and value,
Hazlitt, during the latter years of his life, lived almost alone in the world—simply because he could not persuade himself to seek that social intercourse which he had lost the power of purchasing at the ordinary price, of complying with all the minutiæ in the received usages of modern life and manners. He felt, in this respect, like a man who is travelling in a strange or savage country, with his pockets full of gold, for which nobody will give him bread in exchange, because his coin has not the conventional stamp of the place, or because the people he has to deal with set no value on anything but those smooth shells and glittering beads with which he has neglected to provide himself.

There can be little doubt that Hazlitt’s manner, superinduced upon him by his own morbid mistake as to his personal appearance, had more to do with his peculiar and painful destiny, as regards the private relations of life, than any one but himself would perhaps have been willing to admit. And
therefore it is that it becomes a point worthy of especial notice in these Recollections. Indeed, there probably never occurred a more striking example of the vast influence of external trifles over the moral and intellectual condition of man; nor can I conceive a finer theme for the pen of Hazlitt himself to have descanted upon and illustrated; for he was even more intensely aware of the facts of the case, and of their causes and consequences, than if any one else had been the subject of them. And this knowledge was a perpetual aggravation of the evil, without, on the other hand, contributing in the smallest degree to its cure. It was one of those fatal cases in which the sufferer “weeps the more because he weeps in vain.”

Nothing could be more curious, and at times affecting, than to observe (as those who thoroughly knew Hazlitt might often do) the working of these feelings, in his occasional intercourse with society. It might be supposed, perhaps, that the external deference and respect, not to mention the personal homage and admiration, of a man like
Hazlitt, were reserved for the distinguished philosophers, men of science, poets, scholars, and statesmen of the day. Alas! the
Chancellor Oxensteirn himself had not a more contemptuous notion of the means and materials it takes to make “a great man,” in the estimation of the world (whether of fact or of opinion), which great men are destined to govern. Accordingly, in the presence of these, even the most deservedly celebrated among them, Hazlitt felt himself perfectly at ease and on an equality. But bring him face to face with one of those sleek favourites of fortune who are supposed to find especial favour in fair eyes, or (above all) one of those happily constituted persons who combine the several attributes and peculiarities of manner, look, attire, &c., which go to form the “gentleman” of modern times, and he was like a man awe-struck, and confounded with a sense of his own comparative insignificance.

I remember once gaining his leave to introduce to him a person whose only error in these respects was, that he carried them all to the verge of coxcombry; but who, en revanche, had the most earnest and sincere
admiration for
Hazlitt, and was, in all other respects, a cultivated and accomplished man. My friend had long solicited me to bring about this meeting; and though, in the early part of my acquaintance with Hazlitt, I had avoided it, as a service of danger to all parties, I soon found that it might be effected, not only without any peril to my friend, but with real gratification to Hazlitt himself, who had the most unmingled admiration for the qualities in question, unimpaired by the slightest touch of envy towards the owner of them.

The meeting took place at Hazlitt’s chambers; and after a little of the same sort of blank embarrassment and schoolboy shyness that one may fancy a country recluse might have exhibited on being called upon to sustain a personal interview with George the Fourth, I never knew Hazlitt spend a happier evening, or one more entirely free from those occasional fallings back into his other and less natural self, which were at once the sin and the curse of his social life. With the exception of this one occasion, I do not know that I have ever passed an evening with him,
the intellectual enjoyment of which was not at intervals broken in upon by looks passing over his noble countenance, which, where they did not move the observer to terror or wonder, could not fail to excite the deepest pain and pity. But on the evening I am referring to, I particularly remarked that nothing of this kind occurred.

The reason of this, on after reflection, became obvious to me. Our talk was, almost without exception, on the ordinary topics of the passing hour—the public and social events of the day, the theatres, the actors and actresses, our mutual friends (not forgetting their weaknesses), a little “scandal about Queen Elizabeth”—in short, anything and everything but books, book-making, book-learning, and those exclusively literary themes which Hazlitt liked less than any others that could be started. The consequence was, that old associations and painful recollections never once came back to him; broken friendships and buried affections found no unoccupied place in his mind on which to cast their shadows; present annoyances were crowded out of doors; fu-
ture contingences were as if they could never happen; and the too often moody, gloomy, constrained, and taciturn recluse, was (to the no small astonishment of my other friend) free and fresh-hearted as a schoolboy among his mates—gay and voluble as a bird in spring—making the room echo with those shouts of laughter, in the thorough heartiness of which no one surpassed him.

The strange and unhappy mistake of Hazlitt, respecting the effect of his manner and bearing on casual observers, was peculiarly active in regard to women; nor could any evidences, however strong and unequivocal (and the reader will see hereafter that such were far from wanting), remove or weaken this feeling, which amounted to nothing short of monomania. In proof of this I could, if the nature of the case permitted, allege numerous instances in which the most indisputable marks of female favour and distinction (whether accorded to his intellectual pretension or not, no matter), were looked upon and resented by him as personal affronts! In his numerous “affairs of the heart” (for, like his favourite, John Buncle, he was
always in love with somebody or other), to the fair one’s indifference he was indifferent, and continued to love on: if she recognised his homage and was angry at it, he accepted the token as a kind of involuntary compliment; but if she smiled on him, he was confounded and cured! It was clear that she meant, first to entangle, and then to laugh at and insult him!

I may have some singular matter to unfold in connexion with this part of my subject hereafter. In the mean time, the curious reader is growing anxious for the removal of the veil which hides this supposed Mokanna from view. What will he or she say, when, in dropping it, I exhibit a form of excellent symmetry, surmounted by one of the noblest heads and faces that ever symbolled forth a refined, lofty, capacious, and penetrating intellect.

The truth is, that for depth, force, and variety of intellectual expression, a finer head and face than Hazlitt’s were never seen. I speak of them when his countenance was not dimmed and obscured by illness, or clouded and deformed by those fearful indications of
internal passion which he never even attempted to conceal. The expression of Hazlitt’s face, when anything was said in his presence that seriously offended him, or when any peculiarly painful recollection passed across his mind, was truly awful—more so than can be conceived as within the capacity of the human countenance; except, perhaps, by those who have witnessed
Edmund Kean’s last scene of Sir Giles Overreach from the front of the pit. But when he was in good health, and in a tolerable humour with himself and the world, his face was more truly and entirely answerable to the intellect that spoke through it, than any other I ever saw, either in life or on canvas; and its crowning portion, the brow and forehead, was, to my thinking, quite unequalled, for mingled capacity and beauty.

For those who desire a more particular description, I will add, that Hazlitt’s features, though not cast in any received classical mould, were regular in their formation, perfectly consonant with each other, and so finely “chiselled” (as the phrase is), that they produced a much more prominent and striking
effect than their scale of size might have led one to expect. The forehead, as I have hinted, was magnificent; the nose precisely that (combining strength with lightness and elegance) which physiognomists have assigned as evidence of a fine and highly cultivated taste; though there was a peculiar character about the nostrils, like that observable in those of a fiery and unruly horse. The mouth, from its ever-changing form and character, could scarcely be described, except as to its astonishingly varied power of expression, which was equal to, and greatly resembled, that of
Edmund Kean. His eyes, I should say, were not good. They were never brilliant, and there was a furtive and at times a sinister look about them, as they glanced suspiciously from under their overhanging brows, that conveyed a very unpleasant impression to those who did not know him. And they were seldom directed frankly and fairly towards you; as if he were afraid that you might read in them what was passing in his mind concerning you. His head was nobly formed and placed; with (until the last few years
of his life) a profusion of coal-black hair, richly curled; and his person was of the middle height, rather slight, but well formed and put together.

Yet all these advantages were worse than thrown away, by the strange and ungainly manner that at times accompanied them. Hazlitt entered a room as if he had been brought back to it in custody; he shuffled sidelong to the nearest chair, sat himself down upon one corner of it, dropped his hat and his eyes upon the floor, and, after having exhausted his stock of conventional small-talk in the words, “It’s a fine day” (whether it was so or not), seemed to resign himself moodily to his fate. And if the talk did not take a turn that roused or pleased him, thus he would sit, silent and half-absorbed, for half an hour or half a minute, as the case might be, and then get up suddenly, with a “Well, good morning,” shuffle back to the door, and blunder his way out, audibly muttering curses on his folly, for willingly putting himself in the way of becoming the laughing-stock of—the servants! for it was of that class and intellec-
tual grade of persons that Hazlitt alone stood in awe. Of the few private houses to which his inclinations ever led him, he perfectly well knew that, even if there had been (which, as we have seen, there was not) anything unusual or outré in his appearance, his intellectual pretensions would alone have been thought of. But there was no reaching the drawing-room without running the gauntlet of the servants’ hall; and this it was that crushed and confounded him. I am satisfied that Hazlitt never entered a room—scarcely even his own—that he was not writhing under the feelings engendered during his passage to it; and that he never knocked at a door without fearing that it might be opened by a new servant, who would wonder what so “strange” a person could want with their master or mistress.

To those who are not accustomed to the mental vagaries of men of genius, this must seem like a species of insanity. But there would, I think, be no difficulty in accounting for it on perfectly rational principles; at least, I am sure he would have found no dif-
ficulty in doing so, even in his own case, much less in that of another person. I shall not myself attempt this explanation; but I will venture to hint at the grounds of it, because they belong to the subject of which I have undertaken to treat. Those grounds are to be sought, as I conceive, first, in that radical defect in
Hazlitt’s moral conformation, at which I have reluctantly glanced in the outset of these Recollections. Secondly, in that intensely vivid state of excitability in which his intellectual faculties, and especially his imagination, at all times existed, and that consequent intense perception of all things within and about him, which showed him, as with a microscopic eye, a thousand trifles that were invisible to ordinary observation. Thirdly, that oppressive and overweening self-consciousness which, as it were, projected the shadows and lights of his own mind upon all things on which he looked, and caused external objects to reflect back to him his own thoughts and sensations, as if they were bodily images; thus creating an intellectual world which blended itself with the physical one, and prevented him from being wholly pre-
sent in or occupied with either. Lastly, that despairing abandonment of all attempt at self-control, which (being fully and intensely conscious of it) made him stand in perpetual dread of himself,—uncertain that, from moment to moment, he might not be tempted to commit some incredible outrage against those rules and usages of civilized life, which, nevertheless, he was the last person in the world to hold in contempt.

The reader will, I hope, not suppose that I offer the above as anything more than the materials for an explanation of one of the most curious and interesting phenomena that ever arose out of the condition and operations of the human mind. The explanation itself might (as I have hinted) have formed an admirable theme for Hazlitt’s own pen; but I scarcely think there is another left among us capable of handling it to any satisfactory result. For myself, I will not venture to pursue it further. But I will say, that, however the weakness in question used to pain and even shock me, I never felt the least surprise at it. On the contrary, it always struck me as a natural and intelligible commentary on
the peculiar mental condition from which it sprang—a sort of physiognomical expression, as easy to be interpreted as those of the face itself: the only singularity of the case being, that whereas most other men are able to conceal all external evidences of what is passing or has passed in their minds except those which are written on their faces, Hazlitt was “all face.”