LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt VII

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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Though no one could possess a more social turn of mind than Hazlitt did under ordinary circumstances, I never met with any other man who so little needed society. If ever there was a mind “sufficient to itself,” it was that of Hazlitt; and I believe that, bodily health and the appliances and means of personal comfort being supposed, he could have passed his life alone on a desert island, with perfect satisfaction, and even with high and constant intellectual enjoyment; for with him thought and contemplation were ends in themselves, not merely means to some end disjoined from them; or, at all events, they were means to the attainment of that Truth which was, in itself, the great and all-sufficing end of his intellectual being.

What is understood by “society” in its ordinary sense, Hazlitt shunned altogether;
and, above all, that “literary” society in which his admirable powers of conversation qualified him to shine so conspicuously. He had enough of books and criticism and philosophy in the way of his profession; it was the business of his life to “coin his brain for drachmas;” the pleasures of it he wisely sought from other sources, and chiefly from, calling back the feelings and recollections of the Past; for it is, I think, remarkable that, though Hazlitt’s views and sentiments respecting mankind were “as broad and general as the casing air,” he never, or very rarely, employed his thoughts upon the Future.

The reason, I believe, was, that he could not do so without including politics in his speculations; and this was an almost interdicted subject with him; it was touching upon a string that “echoed to the seat where hate is throned.” Politics offered the one point which acted on his temper like monomania. It was capable of changing him from a reasonable being into a wild beast. It stirred up the bitter and rancorous feelings that, to the very last, lay festering in his
heart, and eating into its core like some “poisonous mineral”—deposited there by the events that had terminated the French Revolution; and those feelings were still more firmly rooted by the subsequent downfal of his idol,
Napoleon, and the restoration of the Bourbons. I have heard those who knew him in his early youth say, that it was the great events of the French Revolution, and the new era of thought and of things that they seemed to create throughout Europe, which first called forth Hazlitt’s intellectual faculties from that dreamy torpor in which they might otherwise have lain for years longer, perhaps for ever. His early metaphysical work, and many remarkable features of his after character, show us that those events found his heart filled with all tender and kindly affections towards his fellow-beings, and all high and happy hopes and aspirations as to their ultimate destiny. What those events, or rather their immediate sequents, left that heart, those only can know who had for years studied it as “a book where men might read strange matters.” In brief, those events found his bosom the birth-place
of universal Love; they left it “the very heart and throne of tyrannous Hate.”

I shall have more to say on this part of my subject hereafter. At present I glance at it incidentally, because it is the pivot on which moves the whole character of Hazlitt’s actual life and destiny. Had his faculties and sensibilities opened and developed themselves at any other period, or under any other political aspect, than that of the first French Revolution, he might have been the very model of a wise and happy man. But as it was, his whole intellectual being—his temper, affections, passions, meditations, and pursuits—took a sinister turn from those events, which never afterwards left it, or at least which was never afterwards absent when its first exciting cause was recalled into action. On all matters but political ones Hazlitt’s perceptions were almost super-humanly clear and acute, and his judgment was infallible. But about the political prospects, tendencies, and events of the day, he was like a child or a woman—either utterly indifferent to them, or, when not so, regarding them in a light directly opposed to the true one.


I will give one or two remarkable instances of what I mean. The downfal of Napoleon, and the restoration of the Bourbons—which every man of ordinary political sagacity and foresight must have looked upon as the certain coming on of that natural supremacy of the many over the few, of which the first French Revolution did but furnish the rude foretaste and barbarous ante-type—Hazlitt regarded as the final consummation of the triumph of “Legitimacy” and “Divine Right,” and the utter extinction of human liberty from the earth. The writings and principles of Bentham and his friends and followers, which have already gone far towards creating a new era in human society, he looked upon and treated with utter and unmingled contempt. And as to the aristocracy of England, or of any other country, coming to feel and admit even the political expediency, much less the natural justice, of Reform and social regeneration—he would as soon have looked for the Millennium.

The truth is, that many—perhaps it may be said most—of the commanding and first-rate intellects that have been among us, have
not been so much in actual advance of their age as others of an inferior grade and a different temperament. It has seemed to be sufficient for them to produce the momentum, of which others could better feel, direct, and see the results. It was so with
Bacon. We have no evidence that he anticipated the vast consequences to which his principles of philosophising have led, and the still more vast ones to which they are now leading. Like Hazlitt in regard to morals, he was no “perfectibility” man, in respect of science and knowledge: and to anticipate that in the possible existence of which we have no faith, is a moral contradiction. Though Hazlitt would readily have admitted that the world has never been in the same moral or intellectual condition for any two centuries together, and that every nation has, from time to time, differed as much from itself as it has at all times differed from all others, yet he laughed at those who predicated for the future anything very different from that which has existed in the past. He sighed and wept over what he considered as the wreck of human liberty, its hopes, tendencies, and conse-
quences, as he might be supposed to have done over a mortal bride and her offspring; seeming to forget that principles are imperishable, that truth and justice are unchangeable and immortal; and, what is still more to the purpose, that the human mind has a natural and necessary sympathy with these, and a craving after them, which have the strength and the permanence of instincts, and therefore cannot be wholly eradicated or suppressed.

But Hazlitt’s want of hope in the future condition of his fellow-beings was more a personal than an intellectual failing; a thing arising more from his own individual circumstances and feelings than from the convictions or calculations of his understanding. He was a disappointed man; and despondency was a disease, not a natural quality, of his mind. He had nothing in after-life to look forward to for himself, and he had nothing to satisfy him in the present. The past was his only refuge; and even there he found little that was personally gratifying to him—much that was deeply painful and disappointing, no less to his hopes than to his
actual experience. And a man so placed is not likely to see too much good in prospect for his fellow-creatures; for even the least, desponding among us are but too apt to “lay the flattering unction to our souls” (for such it is) that misery is the destined lot of human nature. That we do so is at once the curse and the crime of that nature; because (like jealousy) it makes the misery on which it feeds. Hope is more than a blessing—it is a duty and a virtue; and in its absence we not only cannot accomplish the destiny that awaits us—we do not merit that destiny, and therefore shrink from admitting its existence, or even its possibility.