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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. XII 1812

Chap. I 1778-1811
Ch. II: 1791-95
Ch. III 1795-98
Ch. IV 1798
Ch. V 1798
Ch. VI 1792-1803
Ch. VII 1803-05
Ch. VIII 1803-05
Ch. IX
Ch. X 1807
Ch. XI 1808
Ch. XII 1808
‣ Ch. XII 1812
Ch. XIV 1814-15
Ch. XV 1814-17
Ch. XVI 1818
Ch. XVII 1820
Ch. XX 1821
Ch. I 1821
Ch. II 1821-22
Ch. III 1821-22
Ch. IV 1822
Ch. V 1822
Ch. VI 1822
Ch. VII 1822-23
Ch. VIII 1822
Ch. IX 1823
Ch. X 1824
Ch. XI 1825
Ch. XII 1825
Ch. XIII 1825
Ch. XIV 1825
Ch. XV 1825
Ch. XVI 1825-27
Ch. XVII 1826-28
Ch. XVIII 1829-30
Ch. XX
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William Hazlitt settled in London (1812)—Lessee of Milton’s house in York Street, Westminster—A lecturer at the Russell Institution—Character and origin of the lectures—Country reading and contemplation turned to account at last.

The year 1812 marked an important era in the life of William Hazlitt, and it may therefore conveniently and properly stand at the beginning of a new section of these volumes.

In 1812, a few months after the birth of their second but only surviving child, my grandfather and grandmother removed from Winterslow to London, and rented number 19 York Street, Westminster, of Mr. Jeremy Bentham. It was a house which had belonged, as tradition said, to Milton; from the parlour windows was a view of Mr. Bentham’s own residence and garden, which backed upon the house of Milton. It is not improbable that originally the garden formed part of the poet’s premises.


My grandfather came to town with very little book-knowledge, with no introductions, with very small independent resources, and with shy and unsocial habits. He had thought upon many subjects, and had committed some of his notions to paper; but his books were not popular, and their sale scarcely paid the printer’s bills. He had renounced the profession of painting, because he had no hope of acquiring in it sufficient excellence and rank to please himself; and here he was, about to fight his way, and win bread for three mouths, in that to him new and strange vocation, popular authorship, which demanded just what he lacked, fluent expression and brilliant commonplace. He had a very fair stock of ideas to start with; but it was in the faculty of evolving them and clothing them in attractive phraseology that his weakness was.

These were the difficulties by which he felt that he was surrounded. Then there were certain counterbalancing advantages. His wife had a moderate competence; he knew the Lambs, the Stoddarts, and his brother’s other friends; and his former publications, if they had brought him no money, at least brought him a share of celebrity, and introduced him to two or three of the booksellers.

He had not looked very far and wide out into the world, but he had penetrated very deeply into the recesses of his own good and warm heart, and had watched for years the subtlest operations of the human mind. With him, to know himself was to know others.

Such books as he was acquainted with, he had
mastered. He had gone with the eye of an analyst through
Hobbes and through Locke. He was familiar with Chaucer and Boccaccio. He was versed in the writings of Taylor and Barrow. He was at home in Fielding and Smollett, in Richardson and Mrs. Inchbald. He had ‘The New Héloise’ by heart. But of the volumes which form the furniture of gentlemen’s libraries, he was egregiously ignorant, and at any time would have cheerfully confessed his deficiency in the kind of information which is served up to the public of all countries by its authors. Mr. Hazlitt’s resources were emphatically internal; from his own mind he drew sufficient for himself; and he had to see now, in the thirty-fourth year of his age, whether he had enough there to hold the world with, too.

The prospect did not seem, on the whole, very bright and encouraging for a man whose politics were those of the minority, who never read a book through after he was thirty, and who, in original composition, could scarcely at the outset see his way two sentences before him.

He inaugurated his change of plans, that is to say, his final settlement in the metropolis, promisingly enough. During the first year of his residence in London he delivered, at the Russell Institution, a series of lectures on the English philosophers and metaphysicians, ten in number. He was merely turning to account, of course, his early studies at home, supplemented and strengthened by later excursions, in the long winter evenings at Winterslow, into the writings of Hobbes, Locke, and other masters of the English school.


The following is an extract from the Minutes of the institution:—

“Russell Institution,
“December 19th, 1811.

“At a meeting of committee held this day, Mr. Whishaw in the chair. . . .

“Resumed* the consideration of Mr. Hazlitt’s Letter, dated ——† and Resolved that Mr. Hazlitt’s proposal for giving a course of Lectures be accepted, and a letter be written to him by the Secretary, acquainting him with this resolution, and desiring that he will transmit the Draft of an advertisement for insertion in the public newspapers, to be considered and approved by the committee.

Copy of the proposed card of Mr. Hazlitt’s Course of Lectures.
“Russell Institution,
“Dec. 26th, 1811.

“On Tuesday, the 14th of January, 1812, at this Institution, Mr. Hazlitt will commence a course of Lectures on the rise and progress of modern philosophy, containing an historical and critical account of the principal writers who have treated on moral and metaphysical subjects, from the time of Lord Racon to the present day. The Lectures will be on the following Subjects:—

* There is no record of any preceding sitting on the subject.

† The date does not appear on the minutes.


“Lecture I. On the writings of Hobbes, showing that he was the father of the modern system of philosophy.

“Lecture II. On Locke’sEssay on the Human Understanding;’ or the formation of ideas in general.

“Lecture III. On Berkeley’s principles of human knowledge, and on the nature of abstraction.

“Lecture IV. On Self-Love.

“Lecture V. Same subject continued, with an account of the writings of Hartley and Helvetius.

“Lecture VI. On Bishop Butler’s theory of man, on the love of happiness, the love of action, and the human conduct.

“Lectures VII. and VIII. On the writers on Liberty and Necessity, and on Materialism.

“Lecture IX. On the Theory of Language; as treated by Horne Tooke, by the author of ‘Hermes,’ and Lord Monboddo.

“Lecture X. On Natural Religion.

“Tickets of admission, to persons not being proprietors of the institution, two guineas. To any member of the family of a proprietor or subscriber to the lectures, one guinea. The lectures to begin at eight in the evening, and to be continued weekly.”


A perusal of the preceding syllabus must lead us to lament that the lectures exist for us at this time only in a fragmentary state. They were never printed in the author’s lifetime, and all that could be recovered of them, after his death, was a few of the discourses, mutilated and unconsecutive, in an old damp-rotted hamper.

These have been published;* and their interesting and original character makes us strongly feel the loss of the remainder. The perfect course would have been a valuable possession.

A kind of indication that the lectures at the Russell

* My father included them in the ‘Literary Remains,’ 1836. He takes occasion, in a note, which I shall copy, to give an account of their history and fate:—

“The following Essays form part of a series of Lectures delivered with very great effect by my father at the Russell Institution, in 1813 [1812] I found them with other papers in an old hamper which many years ago he stuffed confusedly full of MSS. and odd volumes of books, and left in the care of some lodging-house people, by whom it was thrown into a cellar, so damp that even the covers of some of the books were fast mouldering when I first looked over the collection. The injury to the MSS. may be imagined, Some of the Lectures, indeed, to my deep regret, are altogether missing, burnt probably, by the ignorant people of the house; and I have had the greatest difficulty in preparing those which remain for the press.”

Institution were not pecuniarily remunerative, is that
Mr. Hazlitt was induced shortly afterwards to seek an engagement on the Morning Chronicle as a parliamentary reporter. This was an occupation which was calculated to suit neither his tastes nor his health; it involved late hours, and the gallery at that time was a hotbed of intemperance. My grandfather’s health had never been robust, and the sedentary life of a hard student had still further impaired it.

Like many other reporters, he was not a short-hand writer. He had no knowledge of stenography, or at best, no competent knowledge. He took notes of a very hurried description, restricting himself to general heads and salient points; and if he was not able, after his turn, to make out what he had written very satisfactorily, yet he had a memory which was retentive and accurate enough for that purpose; and I doubt whether anything worth preserving was lost through him. The complaint which I have heard made was, that he gave speakers credit for delivering better grammar and sense than was really the case; and this is a complaint which has attached so far to all reporters in all times. My friend, Mr. John Payne Collier, has a MS. copy of Coleridge’sChristabel,’ in Miss Stoddart’s handwriting, which belonged to my grandfather, and with which were bound up, oddly enough, some blank leaves, serving him for his reporting notes. I also possess a volume of them; and very strange specimens of caligraphy they are, considering that Mr. Hazlitt, as a rule, wrote a beautifully clear hand.


He ran another danger, which was that of losing the thread of the debate, while he was listening to some favourite orator. He is said to have been so fascinated once by the eloquence of Plunket, that he omitted to take any notes at all of his speech. He himself tells a little anecdote of these days:—

“I have heard Sir Francis Burdett say things there [in the House of Commons] which I could not enough admire; and which he could not have ventured upon saying, if, besides his honesty, he had not been a man of fortune, of family, of character, ay, and a very good-looking man into the bargain!”

His career as a reporter was soon terminated by his utter dislike to the employment, and by the injury which his constitution suffered from the use of stimulants, in which he followed what was an universal propensity in his day among the members of the press. Some carried it to a greater excess than others. It was not necessary that he should carry it very far; his physical strength was unequal to much indulgence of any kind.

When he gave up the gallery, he did not leave the press, but transferred his services to the critical department of the Chronicle, occasionally contributing political articles. Among these latter were the celebrated ‘Illustrations of Vetus,’ which appeared in the Chronicle at the close of 1813, and attracted considerable attention.

He experienced great difficulty in the first instance, when he began to write for the newspapers; but he found that where the strong necessity for doing a thing
was present to him, he managed to surmount all obstacles.

He says himself: “I had not till then [about 1812] been in the habit of writing at all, or had been a long time about it; but I perceived that with the necessity the fluency came. Something I did, took, and I was called upon to do a number of things all at once. I was in the middle of the stream, and must sink or swim. I had, for instance, often a theatrical criticism to write after midnight, which appeared the next morning. There was no fault found with it—at least, it was as good as if I had had to do it for a weekly paper. I only did it at once, and recollected all I had to say on the spot, because I could not put it off for three days, when perhaps I should have forgotten the best part of it. Besides, when one is pressed for time, one saves it. I might set down nearly all I had to say in my mind while the play was going on. I know I did not feel at a loss for matter—the difficulty was to compress, and write it out fast enough.”

He succeeded Mr. Mudford as theatrical critic on the Chronicle, quite at the commencement of 1814. Mr. Mudford procured a place on the Courier, of whose columns he availed himself to make known to the public that “it was impossible for any one to understand a word Mr. Hazlitt wrote.”*

* Mr. W. Mudford was at one time editor of the Courier. He is the author of a work on the Battle of Waterloo, and others. There is an account of him in Jerdan’sAutobiography.’


My grandfather’s dramatic reminiscences go no farther back than Bannister, who used to delight him excessively, he tells us, in Lenitive in the ‘Prize,’ when he was a boy. Northcote told him that Bannister was an imitator of Edwin, but at a considerable distance. Northcote spoke very well of Edwin. Liston appeared to Mr. Hazlitt to have more comic humour than any one in his time, though he was not properly an actor. Mr. Hazlitt has seen him walk along the streets with an air of melancholy—the player’s melancholy—a book in his hand, and a fixed expression, as if he had the lock-jaw.

Edmund Kean and Miss Stephens were Mr. Hazlitt’s great favourites, but there were others for whose performances he had an admiration and relish, as, for instance, Miss Kelly and Master Betty.

“I (not very long ago) had the pleasure,” he says, writing in 1821, “of spending an evening with Mr. Betty, when we had some ‘good talk’ about the good old times of acting. I wanted to insinuate that I had been a sneaking admirer, but could not bring it in. As, however, we were putting on our greatcoats downstairs, I ventured to break the ice by saying, ‘There is one actor of that period of whom we have not made honourable mention: I mean Master Betty.’ ‘Oh!’ he said, ‘I have forgot all that.’ I replied that he might, but that I could not forget the pleasure I had had in seeing him. On which he turned off, and shaking his sides heartily, and with no measured demand upon his lungs, called out, ‘Oh, memory, memory!’ in a way
that showed the full force of the allusion. I found afterwards that the subject did not offend, and we were to have drunk some Burton ale together the following evening, but were prevented.”

A young Scotchman once tried to prove to him that Miss Stephens was inferior to Mrs. Dickons, because Mrs. Dickons surpassed her in sacred music!

He has preserved some other anecdotes of his experiences as a dramatic critic, which are better related in his words than in mine:—

“I went to see him [Mr. Kean] the first night of his appearing in Shylock.* I remember it well. The boxes were empty, and the pit not half full; ‘some quantity of barren spectators and idle renters were thinly scattered to make up a show.’ The whole presented a dreary, hopeless aspect. I was in considerable apprehension for the result. From the first scene in which Mr. Kean came on, my doubts were at an end.

“I had been told to give as favourable an account as I could. I gave a true one. I am not one of those who, when they see the sun breaking from behind a cloud, stop to ask others whether it is the moon. Mr. Kean’s appearance was the first gleam of genius breaking athwart the gloom of the stage, and the public have since gladly basked in its ray, in spite of actors, managers, and critics.

“I cannot say that my opinion has much changed since that time. Why should it? I had the same eyes

* January 26, 1814, at Drury Lane.

to see with that I have now* . . . . My opinions have been sometimes called singular: they are merely sincere. I say what I think: I think what I feel. I cannot help receiving certain impressions from things; and I have sufficient courage to declare (somewhat abruptly) what they are. This is the only singularity I am conscious of. . . . . . . I did not endeavour to persuade
Mr. Perry† that Mr. Kean was an actor that would not last, merely because he had not lasted; nor that Miss Stephens knew nothing of singing, because she had a sweet voice.

“What I have said of any actor has never arisen from private pique of any sort. Indeed, the only person on the stage with whom I have ever had any personal intercourse, is Mr. Liston, and of him I have not spoken ‘with the malice of a friend.’

“I have heard that once, when Garrick was acting Lear, the spectators in the front row of the pit, not being able to see him well in the kneeling scene, where he utters the curse, rose up; when those behind them, not willing to interrupt the scene by remonstrating, immediately rose up too, and in this manner the whole pit rose up, without uttering a syllable, and so that you might hear a pin drop.

“At another time, the crown of straw which he wore in the same character fell off, or was discomposed, which would have produced a burst of laughter in any common actor to whom such an accident had happened;

* This was written in or about 1821.

James Perry, Esq., proprietor of the Morning Chronicle.

but such was the deep interest in the character, and such the power of riveting the attention possessed by this actor, that not the slightest notice was taken of the circumstance, but the whole audience remained bathed in silent tears.

“An incident in my own history, that delighted or tormented me very much at the time, I may have long since blotted from my memory, or have great difficulty in calling to mind after a certain period; but I can never forget the first time of my seeing Mrs. Siddons act—which is as if it happened yesterday; and the reason is because it has been something for me to think of ever since.

“One of the most affecting things we know is to see a favourite actor take leave of the stage. We were present not long ago, when Mr. Bannister quitted it. We do not wonder that his feelings were overpowered on the occasion: ours were nearly so, too. We remembered him in the first heyday of our youthful spirits, in the ‘Prize,’ in which he played so delightfully with that fine old croaker Suett and Madame Storace—in the farce of ‘My Grandmother,’ in the ‘Son-in-Law,’ in ‘Autolycus,’ and in ‘Scrub,’ in which our satisfaction was at its height.

“There was a dance in the pantomime at Covent Garden two years ago [1824] which I could have gone to see every night. I did go to see it every night that I could make an excuse for that purpose. It was nothing; it was childish. Yet I could not keep away from it. Some young people came out of a large twelfth-cake,
dressed in full court costume, and danced a quadrille, and then a minuet, to some divine air. Was it that it put me in mind of my schoolboy days, and of the large bunch of lilac that I used to send as a present to my partner? or of times still longer past, the court of
Louis XIV., the Duke de Nemours, and the Princess of Cleves? or of the time when she who was all grace moved in measured steps before me, and wafted me into Elysium? I know not how it was, but it came over the senses with a power not to be resisted.

Mrs. Siddons was in the meridian of her reputation, when I first became acquainted with the stage. She was an established veteran when I was an unfledged novice; and, perhaps, played those scenes without emotion which filled me and so many others with delight and awe. So far I had the advantage of her, and of myself, too I was stunned and torpid after seeing her in any of her great parts. I was uneasy, and hardly myself; but I felt (more than ever) that human life was something very far from being indifferent, and I seemed to have got a key to unlock the springs of joy and sorrow in the human heart. This was no mean possession, and I availed myself of it with no sparing hand The very sight of her name in the playbills, in ‘Tamerlane’ or ‘Alexander the Great,’ threw a light upon the day, and drew after it a long trail of eastern glory, a joy and felicity unutterable, that has since vanished in the mists of criticism and the glitter of idle distinctions.

“I fancied that I had a triumph some time ago over
a critic and connoisseur in music, who thought little of the minuet in ‘Don Giovanni;’ but the same person redeemed his pretensions to musical taste, in my opinion, by saying of some passage in
Mozart, “this is a soliloquy equal to any in ‘Hamlet.’”

“I remember a very genteel young couple in the boxes of Drury Lane being much scandalized, some years ago, at the phrase in ‘A New Way to Pay Old Debts’—‘an insolent piece of paper,’ applied to the contents of a letter: it wanted the modern lightness and indifference.”

“When I formerly had to do with these sort of critical verdicts, I was generally sent out of the way, when any débutant had a friend at court, and was to be tenderly handled. For the rest, or those of robust constitutions, I had carte blanche given me. Sometimes I ran out of the course, to be sure. Poor Perry! what bitter complaints he used to make, that by running-amuck at lords and Scotchmen, I should not leave him a place to dine out at! The expression of his face at these moments, as if he should shortly be without a friend in the world, was truly pitiable. What squabbles we used to have about Kean and Miss Stephens, the only theatrical favourites I ever had.

Mrs. Billington had got some notion that Miss Stephens would never make a singer; and it was the torment of Perry’s life (as he told me in confidence) that he could not get any two people to be of the same opinion on any one point.

“I shall not easily forget bringing him my account
of her first appearance in the ‘
Beggar’s Opera.’ I have reason to remember that article; it was almost the last I ever wrote with any pleasure to myself. I had been down on a visit to my friends near Chertsey, and, on my return, had stopped at an inn at Kingston-upon-Thames, where I had got the ‘Beggar’s Opera,’ and had read it over night. The next day I walked cheerfully to town. It was a fine sunny morning in the end of autumn, and as I repeated the beautiful song, ‘Life knows no return of spring,’ I meditated my next day’s criticism, trying to do all the justice I could to so inviting a subject. I was not a little proud of it by anticipation. I had just then begun to stammer out my sentiments on paper, and was in a kind of honeymoon of authorship. . . . . I deposited my account of the play at the Morning Chronicle office in the afternoon, and went to see Miss Stephens as Polly. . . . . When I got back, after the play, Perry called out, with his cordial, grating voice, ‘Well, how did she do?’ and on my speaking in high terms, answered that ‘he had been to dine with his friend the Duke; that some conversation had passed on the subject; he was afraid it was not the thing; it was not the true sostenuto style; but as I had written the article (holding my peroration on the ‘Beggar’s Opera’ carelessly in his hand), it might pass.’

“I could perceive that the rogue licked his lips at it, and had already in imagination ‘bought golden opinions of all sorts of people’ by this very criticism; and I had the satisfaction the next day to meet Miss Stephens
coming out of the editor’s room, who had been to thank him for his very flattering account of her.”

In criticising Kemble’s King John, as it was performed at Covent Garden, December 7, 1816, Mr. Hazlitt observes: “We wish we had never seen Mr. Kean. He has destroyed the Kemble religion; and it is the religion in which we were brought up.”

Mr. Hazlitt said that he had seen some actors who had been favourites in his youth, and “cried up in the top of the compass,” treated, from having grown old and infirm, with the utmost indignity, and almost hooted from the stage. He had seen poor —— come forward under these circumstances to stammer out an apology, with the tears in his eyes (which almost brought them into Mr. Hazlitt’s), to a set of apprentice-boys and box-lobby loungers, who neither knew nor cared what a fine performer and a fine gentleman he was thought twenty years ago.

Latterly, my grandfather always had a place at Covent Garden kept for him—the seat in the second tier next to the private boxes, so that he could lean his back against the partition. But occasionally, when he went with friends, more particularly the Reynells, he would go where they did, which was into the looking-glass box, if it happened to be vacant, because my mother liked that best.

He was in a terrible way one evening, and terrified the box keeper—“Old Pantaloon,” as they called him—out of his wits, because this box (though pre-engaged)
was occupied, they arriving late. It ended by the interlopers having to clear out.

He wrote at successive periods for the Morning Chronicle, the Champion, edited by Mr. John Scott (who was afterwards editor of the London Magazine), the Examiner, and the Times.

“How I came,” he says, “to be regularly transferred from one of these papers to the other, sometimes formally and sometimes without ceremony, till I was forced to quit the last-mentioned by want of health and leisure, would make rather an amusing story, but that I do not choose to tell ‘the secrets of the prison-house.’”

He has thought fit, however, to take us a little behind the curtain in regard to the Morning Chronicle, with which the eventual severance of his connexion as a regular contributor, about 1814, appears to have been owing to unhandsome treatment on the part of the proprietary. He says:—

“A writer whom I knew very well [he is alluding to himself] cannot gain an admission to Drury Lane Theatre because he does not lounge into the lobbies or sup at the Shakespeare. Nay, the same person having written upwards of sixty columns of original matter, on politics, criticism, belles-lettres, and virtù in a respectable morning paper, in a single half-year, was, at the end of that period, on applying for a renewal of his engagement, told by the editor ‘he might give in a specimen of what he could do.’ One would think sixty columns of the Morning Chronicle were a sufficient specimen of what a man could do. But while this
person was thinking of his next answer to
Vetus, or his account of Mr. Kean’s performance of Hamlet, he had neglected ‘to point the toe,’ to hold up his head higher than usual (having acquired a habit of poring over books when young), and to get a new velvet collar to an old-fashioned greatcoat. These are ‘the graceful ornaments to the columns of a newspaper—the Corinthian capitals of a polished style.’ This unprofitable servant of the press found no difference in himself before or after he became known to the readers of the Morning Chronicle, and it accordingly made no difference in his appearance or pretensions.”