LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt VI

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’s way of life was as little adapted to the ordinary course of things in a “regular” family, as can well be conceived. He always lived (during the period of my intimacy with him) in furnished lodgings, and those of a very secondary class;—the latter not from any lack of means, for he had only to take his pen in hand to, as it were, coin money; still less was it from any parsimonious feeling, for he was profuse in his expenditure, so far as related to the personal comforts of himself and those dependent on him. But, on adopting this mode of life, he fancied that his peculiar habits would have subjected him to perpetual inconveniences and affronts, except from those to whom the moderate stipend he paid was a material object. But he was far from escaping them by this expedient, of descending in the scale of social order; for the lower
you descend in that scale, the less toleration there is for anything that does not precisely conform to the preconceived notions of the observer. In fact, this was one of the great mistakes that he made in “the act and practique part of life;” and it was the source of much bitterness and misery to him; for, strange as it may seem in such a man, it was not from the flow and current of his own thoughts, feelings, and reflections, that his daily life took its tone and colour, but from the petty events and outward accidents of the hour. And above all, it was on the personal civility and respect of those about him, that his very existence seemed to hang. Now, by keeping himself among a class of persons, to a certain degree removed from the mere vulgar, his name and pursuits would have secured him from personal disrespect, if they did not procure him the opposite; whereas, in descending two or three steps lower in the scale, the effect of his intellectual pretensions was not merely nullified, but turned against him. In the former case, the gazers at the celebrated author did but “wonder with a foolish face of praise;” but
in the latter, they shrunk from him, as if he was a wizard, or stared at him as at a wild beast. And we are sadly too apt to become what people believe us, rather than what we seek and desire to be.

Hazlitt usually rose at from one to two o’clock in the day—scarcely ever before twelve; and if he had no work in hand, he would sit over his breakfast (of excessively strong black tea, and a toasted French roll) till four or five in the afternoon—silent, motionless, and self-absorbed, as a Turk over his opium pouch; for tea served him precisely in this capacity. It was the only stimulant he ever took, and at the same time the only luxury; the delicate state of his digestive organs prevented him from tasting any fermented liquors, or touching any food but beef and mutton, or poultry and game, dressed with perfect plainness. He never touched any but black tea, and was very particular about the quality of that, always using the most expensive that could be got: and he used, when living alone, to consume nearly a pound in a week. A cup of Hazlitt’s tea (if you happened to come in for the first
brewage of it) was a peculiar thing; I have never tasted anything like it. He always made it himself; half-filling the teapot with tea, pouring the boiling water on it, and then almost immediately pouring it out; using with it a great quantity of sugar and cream.

To judge from its occasional effect upon myself, I should say that the quantity Hazlitt drank of this tea produced, ultimately, a most injurious effect upon him; and in all probability hastened his death—which took place from disease of the digestive organs. But its immediate effect was agreeable, even to a degree of fascination; and not feeling any subsequent reaction from it, he persevered in its use to the last, notwithstanding two or three attacks, similar to that which terminated his life.

To the very few who felt a real and deep interest in this extraordinary man, and to whom it was evident that his restless and resistless passions, and his entire, and even wilful, subjection to them—added to other points, to be hereafter referred to, in his moral and physical constitution—made him one of the most wretched of human beings,
it was no less curious than pleasing to see him luxuriating over his beloved tea, in a state of deep and still repose, that nothing could disturb—not even the intrusion of a mere acquaintance or a dun—events that, at other times, were but too apt to move him from his propriety.

For the last four or five years of his life, Hazlitt never touched any other liquid but tea. During the previous four or five years, he used to drink large quantities of cold water. I have frequently seen him take three or four quarts while sitting after supper—which was his favourite meal. Wine, and all fermented liquors, ho had forsworn before I knew him; and he religiously kept to his resolution. This, he used to say, was the reason why Blackwood’s people called him “pimpled Hazlitt”—thus holding him up to the world as a dram-drinker!* Had they

* Lord Byron took this imputation for granted, and discovered that the epithet “pimpled” might also be applied to his writings! And so it might with about equal fitness: for, as his face was as clear and pale as marble, so was his style the most simple and transparent of the day. Sir Bulwer Lytton, in his admirable work on “England and the English,” has inadvertently adopted the invention as if it were an unquestioned fact, merely

told nothing but the truth of him, they would not have made him out to the world as anything worse than he really was; and he did not desire to pass for anything better. Whereas, by ascribing to him precisely that vice which was the farthest removed from his actual habits, they gained a great point against him. “Had I really been a gin-drinker and a sot,” I have heard him say, “they would have sworn I was a milk-sop.”

His breakfast and tea were frequently the only meals that Hazlitt took till late at night, when he usually ate a hearty supper of hot meat—either rump-steak, poultry, or game—a partridge or a pheasant. This he invariably took at a tavern—his other meals (except his dinner sometimes) being as invariably taken at home.

There were three or four houses only that

disputing the utility of alleging it. “What purpose,” he asks, “salutary to literature, is served by hearing that Hazlitt had pimples on his face?” But he had no such thing! “Throw dirt enough, and some of it will stick.” That was the axiom on which Hazlitt’s enemies proceeded; and there is no denying that, in his case, it succeeded to a miracle. Times are changed since, and the “dirt,” when flung, sticks only to the fingers of the flinger.

he frequented; for he never entered the doors of any one where his ways were not well known, or where there was any chance of his bill being asked for till he chose to offer payment of it. And when treated in a way that pleased him in this latter particular, he did not care what he paid. I have known him pay with cheerfulness accumulated sums of twenty or thirty pounds for suppers only or chiefly.

The houses Hazlitt frequented were the Southampton Coffee-house, in Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane; Munday’s, in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, and (for a short period) the Spring Garden Coffee-house. The first of these he has immortalised, in one of the most amusing of his Essays, “On Coffeehouse Politicians.” Here, for several years, he used to hold a sort of evening levee, where, after a certain hour at night (and till a very uncertain hour in the morning) he was always to be found, and always more or less ready to take part in that sort of desultory “talk” (the only thing really deserving the name of “conversation”) in which he excelled every man I have ever met with. But of
this hereafter. Here, however, in that little bare and comfortless coffee-room,* have I scores of times seen the daylight peep through the crevices of the window-shutters upon “Table-Talk” that was worthy an intellectual feast of the Gods.

When Hazlitt dined at all—which was often not more than two or three times a week—this meal seemed only a sort of preliminary to his everlasting Tea, for which he returned home as soon as he had dined, and usually sat over it for a couple of hours. Afterwards he almost invariably passed two or three hours at one or other of the large theatres, placing himself as invariably in a back corner seat of the second tier of boxes, and, if possible, shrouding himself from view, as if he felt himself “a weed that had no business there,” in such a scene of light, gaiety, and artificial seeming.

To the play itself, on these occasions, he

* No longer so now, I am sorry to add. It has recently been renovated and “improved” out of all agreeable associations and recollections; and, like the Mitre, Wills’s, Tom’s, &c., there is nothing left of “the old familiar” spot but its name.

paid scarcely any attention, even when he went there in his critical capacity as a writer for the public journals; for, notwithstanding the masterly truth and force of most of his decisions on plays and actors, I will venture to say, that in almost every case, except those of his two favourites,
Kean and Liston, they might be described as the result of a few hasty glances and a few half-heard phrases. From these he drew instant deductions that it took others hours of observation to reach, and as many more of labour to work out. In this respect his faculty was, I imagine, never before equalled or even approached; and his consciousness of, and confidence in it, led him into a few ridiculous blunders. Still, upon the whole, he was doubtless right in trusting to these brief oracles and broken revelations, rather than pursuing them to their ultimate sources—as most others must do if they would hope to expound them truly and intelligibly: for his was a mind that would either take its own course or none; it was not to be “constrained by mastery” of rule or discipline. It was a knowledge of this truth, and his habit of acting on it, which constituted the secret of his success as a writer.