LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. XVII 1820

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
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
Third Course of Lectures at the Surrey Institution—The ‘London Magazine’—Death of the Rev. Mr. Hazlitt.

The third series of lectures at the Surrey Institution was delivered in the spring of 1820. The ground taken up by this new course was the Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth; and the subject, as arranged for treatment by Mr. Hazlitt, formed eight rather considerable sections.

He was not so nervous as he had been on the two prior occasions; but a person who was present tells me that he hitched up his knee-breeches continually in a very distressing manner, for they kept slipping over his hips through the want of braces, and disclosing bits of shirt. The same eyewitness has ringing in his ear, after forty-seven years, the burden of the song in ‘Gammer Gurton’s Needle’—
Jolly good ale and old.
And he says that when the lecturer came to the last
word he dwelt upon it, till it seemed to vibrate in the air, after it had left his lips, thus—
Jolly good ale and old.

The lectures form an octavo volume, which was published the same year. In the advertisement prefixed to it, the author observes, “By the age of Elizabeth (as it relates to the history of our literature) I would be understood to mean the time from the Reformation to the end of Charles I., including the writers of a certain school or style of poetry or prose, who flourished together, or immediately succeeded one another within this period.”

This explanation may be serviceable and not wholly superfluous, as the title of the lectures, both as spoken and printed, implies a less extended range of inquiry, and does not adequately describe a survey embracing several of the prose writers of Elizabeth’s day and most of the Caroline series.

There is a review of this concluding series, with extracts, in the first volume of the London Magazine a new periodical now launched by Messrs. Taylor and Hessey.

A very notable event it was in the literary career of Mr. Hazlitt, as in that of Lamb and others, the establishment, in the year 1820, of this new organ, under the editorship of Mr. John Scott, formerly editor of the Champion. The services of some of the best living writers were secured upon liberal terms. There was Darley, Cary, De Quincey, Wainwright, Reynolds,
and more besides. My grandfather and Lamb undertook to furnish essays from time to time. My grandfather’s were to be christened ‘
Table Talk;’ Lamb proposed to write, under the pseudonym of ‘Elia,’ papers on what were to him familiar and favourite themes. Talfourd states that Lamb was indebted to my grandfather for his first introduction to the new serial, and adds that “it supplied the finest stimulus his intellect had ever received.”

To Mr. Hazlitt no channel could have been more valuable and welcome; and I date from its commencement his first genuine success as a popular writer. Under one of the most admirable men who ever occupied the editorial chair, he saw the way open to him at length of wielding his pen without constraint, and to very substantial purpose. Now his opportunity had come, it seemed, of pouring out without stint or hinderance the wealth of a capacious and prodigally-stored mind, and of treating the subjects which occurred to him “with freedom and with power.”*

During the last six or seven years, Mr. Hazlitt had been a prominent contributor to the newspapers and to the Edinburgh Review. Some of the most attractive papers in the latter are indeed—though I may be suspected of partiality, and charged with presumption, for saying so much—those which he supplied upon Dunlop, D’Arblay, Sismondi, Schlegel, and Walpole; and his industry and energy were commensurate with

* This is his own expression, but he did not make use of it till some years later.

his unquestioned abilities. For such a writer the path to fortune was surely easy and smooth enough. For such a writer it might have been.

He had been at Winterslow when the two Hunts wrote to him in September, 1819. He had begun to spend a good deal of his time there, not at the old house in the village, but at the Hut, a coaching inn on the border of Salisbury Plain.

The fact is, that the small property bequeathed by Lieutenant Stoddart to his daughter had been sold some years after Miss Stoddart’s marriage, and the money was handed over to Dr. Stoddart, her brother, in consideration of an annuity, rather exceeding in amount the sum which Mrs. Hazlitt would have realized by the ordinary rate of interest.

My grandfather was again at the Hut, when the news came to him of the death of the Rev. Mr. Hazlitt, at Crediton, in Devonshire. He had removed from Wem to Addleston, in Surrey, in 1813, from Addleston to Bath, and finally to Crediton, where he was to yield up his life. There he spent, in humble retirement and obscure monotony, the last few years of a long and honourable career. There had been scarcely anything in the whole weary time—not weary, perhaps, however, to him—to vary the sameness and dulness of a village existence. A friend now and then stayed at the house; Mrs. Hazlitt visited them sometimes. But no such incident ever brightened his path again as that which is painted to the life in ‘My First Acquaintance with Poets.’ No Samuel Taylor Coleridge dined on
mutton and turnips under that roof before or after 1798.

Winswood, the house in which he lived, was a commodious, rambling place of the old-fashioned stamp, with a good garden, and more than sufficient accommodation for his small circle. The rent was 24l. a year only, but this taxed quite severely enough his modest resources.

The family did not know at first where to address my grandfather—he was a very bad correspondent—and I conceive it to be extremely possible that, since his removal from home, he never traced a line to his father, or mother, or sister. Then, which is equally strange, he never held any epistolary communication, if he could help it, with wife, son, or publisher; and friends of thirty years’ standing were without a scrap of his handwriting. It was an idiosyncrasy.

He lost his father on the 16th July, 1820: the venerable old man was in the eighty-fourth year of his age. It was not till Mrs. Hazlitt, my grandmother, arrived at Winswood on the night of the 27th, that William’s address could be ascertained, so that he might be apprized of the circumstances. The widow was too weak and poorly to write, and his sister Peggy wrote for her. I shall give the letter, which, by some miracle, has escaped the fate of most things of the same kind:—

“Dear William,

Sarah came here with the two boys* last night, as they could get no conveyance from Exeter to Crediton, and are gone there to-day. Harriett is gone there with them, and will be back with Sarah in the evening: let Mrs. Armstead know they are come safe and well. If we had known where to direct to you, we should not have sent Mary‡ to tell you of our father’s death, but would have written to you directly; but neither your mother nor I were well enough to write at the time, and we thought Sarah might be on the road, and have been expecting her every night since. Your father’s death was unexpected at last; for though we had been at one time doubtful of his living through the week, Mr. Nosworthy thought him much better on Saturday morning. He died on Sunday the 16th, about seven in the morning. To him his death was a release from a state of suffering: he made no complaint, nor did he give one groan, but went on talking of glory, honour, and immortality, and talking with me to the last. His senses returned the last few hours, and when he could not speak, he took my hand and put it into mother’s. He kept his bed but one day, and his appetite was very good; but he had water on his chest, and that we did not know for a long time, and we thought he might have lived many months longer. My mother is very

* Mrs. Armistead’s children. Mrs. A. was one of the residents at Winterslow. More of her, by-and-by.

John Hazlitt’s eldest daughter.

John Hazlitt’s second daughter.

weak and ill; it will be a long time before she recovers the distress and fatigue she has gone through. I am afraid I have not written very clearly, as my head is so confused for want of sleep. The habit of watching for so long a time prevents my sleeping now. I hope I shall get better soon, and be able to eat more than I do at present. Harriet had a letter from her
father this week; he still talks of going to Glasgow, but is not yet gone; her mother and the children are at Portsmouth; what she intends or can do I can’t think. Harriet had three letters from Barbadoes* last week. Mr. Stewart† talks of being here in about six weeks.

“My mother wishes to know if you intend to write anything in the ‘Repository,’ giving some account of your father? If you don’t, somebody else will, and you can do it best. Mr. Hinton‡ was asking about it, and wished to know if he could do anything for us in any way. The people here have been very kind in doing and ordering everything for us that we could not see about ourselves. Sarah intended to write some in this letter, but she will not be back time enough. We wish her to stay a week or two with us now she is here. We have got a bed to spare for you now whenever you like to come. I hope you will write to us soon: my mother wishes to hear from you, and know how you

* “Where her brother William, John Hazlitt’s only son, had settled.

† Who afterwards married Harriet Hazlitt.

‡ The Rev. G. P. Hinton, already mentioned. Mr. Hinton, and not Mr. Hazlitt, prepared the memoir, and sent it to the ‘Repository.’ See vol. xv. p. 677-9.

are. We all unite in love to you. I have no more to say, but farewell, and may God bless you.

“I am your affectionate sister,
“P. Hazlitt.
“Crediton, July 28th [1820].
[Endorsed.] ”
“W. Hazlitt, Esq.,
“At the Hut, Winterslow, near Salisbury.”

Whether he wrote, as he was asked here to do, or not, I cannot say; there is no trace of any letter of his among the papers on the present or any other occasion. But in a passage of the essay ‘On the Fear of Death,’ which does not occur in the printed copy, he says, “I did not see my father after he was dead; but I saw death shake him by the palsied hand, and stare him in the face. He made as good an end as Falstaff, though different, as became him. After repeating the name of his Redeemer often, he took my mother’s hand, and looking up, put it in my sister’s, and so expired. There was a something graceful and gracious in his nature, which showed itself in his last act. . . . .”

It must have been about the same time that Mrs. Hazlitt lost her mother, old Mrs. Loftus, of Wisbeach, who lived to be ninety-nine, and had her portrait painted at ninety-six by John Hazlitt. Mrs. Loftus lived latterly at Peterborough, where she sat for her picture, and where she died.

In a paper on the Clerical Character in the ‘Yellow Dwarf’ of January 10, 1818, he had had his father in view, and generalized from him in these terms:—

“A dissenting minister is a character not so easily to
be dispensed with, and whose place cannot well be supplied. It is the fault of sectarianism that it tends to scepticism. . . . . It is a pity that this character has worn itself out, that that pulse of thought and feeling has ceased almost to beat in the heart of a nation. . . . But we have known some such in happier days, who had been brought up and bred from youth to age in the one constant belief of God and of his Christ, and who thought all other things but dross compared with the glory hereafter to be revealed. Their youthful hopes and vanity had been mortified in them, even in their boyish days, by the neglect and supercilious regards of the world; and they turned to look into their own minds for something else to build their hopes and confidence upon. They were true priests. They set up an image in their own minds—it was truth: they worshipped an idol there—it was justice. They looked on man as their brother, and only bowed the knee to the Highest. Separate from the world, they walked humbly with their God, and lived in thought with those who had borne testimony of a good conscience with the spirits of just men in all ages. They saw Moses when he slew the Egyptian, and the prophets who overturned the brazen images, and those who were stoned and sawn asunder. They were with Daniel in the lions’ den, and with the three children who passed through the fiery furnace, Meshech, Shadrach, and Abednego; they did not crucify Christ twice over, or deny him in their hearts, with St. Peter; the ‘Book of Martyrs’ was open to them; they read the story of
William Tell, of John Huss and Jerome of Prague, and the old one-eyed Zisca; they had Neale’sHistory of the Puritans’ by heart, and Calamy’sAccount of the Two Thousand Ejected Ministers,’ and gave it to their children to read, with the pictures of the polemical Baxter, the silver-tongued Bates, the mild-looking Calamy, and old honest Howe; they believed in Lardner’sCredibility of the Gospel History;’ they were deep-read in the works of the Fratres Poloni, Pripscovius, Crellius, Cracovius, who sought out truth in texts of Scripture, and grew blind over Hebrew points; their aspiration after liberty was a sigh uttered from the towers, ‘time-rent,’ of the Holy Inquisition; and their zeal for religious toleration was kindled at the fires of Smithfield. Their sympathy was not with the oppressors, but the oppressed. They cherished in their thoughts—and wished to transmit to their posterity—those rights and privileges for asserting which their ancestors had bled on scaffolds, or had pined in dungeons or in foreign climes. Their creed, too, was ‘Glory to God, peace on earth, good-will to man.’ This creed, since profaned and rendered vile, they kept fast through good report and evil report. This belief they had, that looks at something out of itself, fixed as the stars, deep as the firmament; that makes of its own heart an altar to truth, a place of worship for what is right, at which it does reverence with praise and prayer like a holy thing, apart and content; and feels that the greatest being in the universe is always near it, and that all things work together for the good of his creatures
under his guiding hand. This covenant they kept, as the stars keep their courses; this principle they stuck by, for want of knowing better, as it sticks by them to the last. It grew with their growth, it does not wither in their decay. It lives when the almond-tree flourishes, and is not bowed down with the tottering knees. It glimmers with the last feeble eyesight, smiles in the faded cheek like infancy, and lights a path before them to the grave! This is better than the life of a whirligig court poet.”

The Rev. Mr. Hazlitt left behind him four* volumes of sermons, excellent alike in matter and style, and also several separate discourses. Some of these appeared in the ‘Monthly Repository,’ under the pseudonyms of “Rationalis” or “Philalethes,” and one was published at Philadelphia, in 1783, 8vo. He was a correspondent of Dr. Priestley; and the editor of ‘Priestley’s Life and Letters’ prints a letter from Dr. P. to Dr. Price, in which the former quotes a passage† from one he had received from the Rev. Mr. H.

* 1. A Thanksgiving Sermon [on Psalm cvii., 8]. Boston, U.S., 1786. 8vo.

2. Discourses [x.] for the use of Families, on the advantages of a Free Inquiry, and on the Study of the Scriptures. By W. Hazlitt, M.A. London, 1790. 8vo.

3. Sermons for the use of Families. By W. Hazlitt, A.M. London, 1808. 8vo. 2 vols.

† “You may assure him [Archdeacon ——] from me, if you will, that my intelligence came neither directly nor indirectly from you. I had it first from a gentleman in the west, and afterwards from many others; so many others, that I supposed it to be universally known.”


But the Rev. Mr. Hazlitt was not a mere biblical student. He was versed in the writings of men like his friend Priestley, from whom he had the pleasure of receiving copies of every work, as it was published, from his pen. He had also a better acquaintance than has been suspected with general literature; and no better illustration of his catholic taste and of his rare benevolence of disposition can be desired than a letter I purpose to give, addressed by him to the ‘Monthly Repository’ in 1808, respecting the author of the ‘Sentimental Journey:’—

To the Editor of the ‘Monthly Repository.
“Wem, Shropshire,
[July, 1808.]

“I am not so much surprised as probably some of your readers at the mortifying account which has been published in your work (p. 9) of the brutality of Sterne to his mother. For, above forty years ago, as I was travelling in a coach from Bath to London, my companion, a Dr. Marriot, who was his near neighbour, gave me such a character of the man as filled me with unfavourable impressions of him ever since. Being then a young man, and, like most other young men, being too forward to show my opinion of men and books, I began to express my high admiration of the writings of Sterne, and to pass unqualified eulogiums upon him, as a man possessed of the finest feelings and philanthropy.

“As soon as I had ended my frothy declamation, the Doctor very placidly told me that I did not know the man as well as he did; that he was his very near neigh-
bour; and that of all the men he ever knew he was the most devoid of the feelings of humanity, or of everything that we call sympathy.

“As one proof of this, the Doctor told me that his daughter had some acquaintance with Miss Sterne, and therefore that she frequently passed an afternoon at his house; that Miss Sterne was subject to violent epileptic fits; that she had been lately seized with one of these, which was accompanied with such alarming symptoms, as made him and his daughter apprehend that she was dying; that they therefore sent to Mr. Sterne to apprize him of the circumstance, and to come to them immediately.

“After waiting for some time in anxious expectation, the gentleman made his appearance, and seeing his daughter agonized upon the floor, and seemingly ready to expire, he coolly observed that she would be well again presently, and that he could not stop a moment, being engaged to play the first fiddle at York that night. Thus he took his leave, and hastily hurried out of the house.

“We cannot therefore conclude with any certainty what a man feels from the pathos of his writings, unless we have an intimate acquaintance with the man himself; unless we can prove from his actions that his high-wrought descriptions are the index of his mind. It is even possible, as the philosopher Moies asserted, that a man of no feeling may succeed best in giving us a finished picture of distress.

“How is this to be accounted for, unless it be, that because they have no interest in what they deliver, they are not hurried on by any real passion—they take
time to dress it to the popular taste, by ornamenting it with all the nick-nackery which it will bear?

“The man, however, who feels and suffers in a high degree, must express himself strongly on a subject which affects him, though he does not go out of his way to introduce any artful embellishment.

“I intended to have attempted an explanation of this, but rather wish to have this done by some of your ingenious correspondents. I shall only observe, that notwithstanding all the admiration which Sterne’s ‘Maria’ has produced, he could not, to save his life, have written anything equal to David’s lamentation over Absalom. He would, like Dr. Swift, if in his situation, have been proud and witty, even when deploring the death of his lovely Stella.

“W. Hazlitt.”

This letter is to my mind admirable, and almost good enough for the author of ‘Table Talk.’

I could relate some singular tales of that household at Winswood, if I had the slightest hope that they would interest anybody but those who are immediately connected with me: of the old gentleman being once nearly killed by a swan; of his love for snuff and barley-sugar, and of his keeping both in the same waistcoat-pocket; of his occasional playfulness, and of his wife’s little jealousies; of Peggy’s sexagenarian girlhood; and of their boarder, Miss Emmet, a sister of Robert Emmet, the Irish insurgent. I am not sure that some of these anecdotes would not illustrate usefully the English country life of half a century ago.

270 A LINK.  

The clergyman’s widow had been in her young days a very handsome person. She was a wife at twenty, and a mother at twenty-one; but almost as many years afterwards, when she went with her husband, “my Mr. Hazlitt,” to America, the captain of the vessel was more pressing in his attentions than the minister found agreeable.

So she had not parted with her good looks at forty, and she lived to be over ninety, to get a third set of teeth, and to thread Peggy’s needles.

Old Mrs. Hazlitt and her mother, Mrs. Loftus, were certainly a very remarkable couple. Mrs. Loftus was born in the reign of George I., and might have very well known a person who had seen Charles I., and remembered the Revolution of ’88; and she survived till her great-grandson, who is not fifty-six yet, was a boy of eight or nine. Mrs. Hazlitt herself was born in 1746, and witnessed the accession of Queen Victoria.

I have been unconsciously wandering very far from the main subject; but the occasion was too seductive to be resisted. Besides, the space will not have been ill-bestowed, if I have succeeded in showing that the Rev. Mr. Hazlitt was not merely the father of his son William, but the parent of his son’s genius; and that the seeds, which only came to full maturity a generation later, were in that “poor Irish lad” who left the cradle of the Hazlitts’ to seek a better fortune—and who lived to win a respect, from all who were admitted to his acquaintance, which few men of any rank gain, and even fewer perhaps deserve.