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Memoirs of William Hazlitt

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. XIX
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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An evening at the “Southampton.”

The sketch of one of the Mitre-Courtiers Wednesdays in the last chapter lets as much light into the subject as we can ever hope to get, and brings before us the men who formed that long-dissolved junto with a vividness to have been expected from one who was “both painter and author.” This view of a Wednesday-evening interior is precious from its uniqueness, for Mr. Hazlitt was the only clubman who has cut out himself and his fellows upon paper for our edification.

It is something given towards the history of a man, when we can take his likeness at different points and in various attitudes: all of them the same man, as the sea in a calm and in a hurricane is still the same sea, but with the changes of mood and circumstance.

We have tried to realize him, as he stood shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the Courtiers, not the least man of the gathering, where, however, all (so Elia had commanded) were for the time equal. Now, he has left us a companion-picture of another scene—An Evening at the “Southampton”—where he was accustomed to
give audience, and was himself the Great Observed, by right of being
Edinburgh Reviewer, London Magazineman, a person of letters who was thought big game enough, both in London and Edinburgh, for Mr. Gifford’s and Mr. Blackwood’s largest shot; and, behind all this, painter and metaphysician.

For several years Mr. Hazlitt was a very regular visitor at the Southampton Coffee-house, which still stands (with the difference of renovation) at the corner of Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane. He always came in the evening, occupied a particular place, reserved for him as scrupulously as his seat at Covent Garden, called for what he wanted, and settled the score whenever it happened to be convenient. His custom was worth something to the establishment, for several of his literary and miscellaneous acquaintance, sure of finding him there, and of hearing “good talk,” made the “Arms” their trysting-spot.

To begin with the most important personage, next, of course, to the Great Observed himself:—

“William, our waiter,” says he, “is dressed neatly in black, takes in the ‘Tickler’ (which many of the gentlemen like to look into), wears, I am told, a diamond pin in his shirt-collar, has a music-master to teach him to play on the flageolet two hours before the maids are up, complains of confinement and a delicate constitution, and is a complete Master Stephen in his way.”

This was the man who was “a sleek hand for his temper in managing an argument,” and who admired George Kirkpatrick. The members of this circle were
fond of making bets and laying wagers, “as whether,” instances
Mr. H., “Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary was originally published in quarto or folio.” George Kirkpatrick once lost a bet he had entered into, that Congreve’s play of ‘The Mourning Bride’ was Shakspeare’s! He paid in punch.

There were two Kirkpatricks in the Society. “George’s brother Roger was,” says my grandfather, “a rare fellow, of the driest humour and the nicest tact, of infinite sleights and evasions, of a picked phraseology, and the very soul of mimicry.

“I fancy,” continues Mr. Hazlitt, “I have some insight into physiognomy myself, but he could often expound to me, at a single glance, the characters of those of my acquaintance that I had been most at fault about. The account, as it was cast up and balanced between us, was not always very favourable. How finely, how truly, how gaily he took off the company at the Society! Poor and faint are my sketches compared to his!”

Mr. Barry Cornwall, Mr. Mudford, editor of the Courier, whom Mr. Hazlitt had succeeded in 1814 on the Morning Chronicle, and Martin Burney, also frequented the “Arms.”

Dr. Whittle, “a large, plain, fair-faced” man, and a Moravian preacher, was one of them, and Sarratt the chess-player. “Whittle was once sitting,” relates my grandfather, “where Sarratt was playing a game at chess without seeing the board; and after remaining for some time absorbed in silent wonder, he turned
suddenly to me, and said, ‘Do you know,
Mr. Hazlitt, that I think there is something I could do?’ ‘Well, what is that?’ ‘Why, perhaps you would not guess, but I think I could dance; I’m sure I could; ay, I could dance like Vestris!’

Sarratt, who was a man of various accomplishments (among others one of the Fancy), afterwards bared his arm, to convince us of his muscular strength, and Mrs. S., going out of the room with another lady, said, ‘Do you know, madam, the Doctor [Whittle] is a great jumper!’ Moliere could not outdo this. Never shall I forget his [Whittle’s] pulling off his coat to eat beefsteaks on equal terms with Martin Burney.

“A country gentleman happened to drop in, and thinking to show off in London company, launched into a lofty panegyric on the ‘Bard’ of Gray, as the sublimest composition in the English language. This assertion presently appeared to be an anachronism, though it was probably the opinion in vogue thirty years ago, when the gentleman was last in town. After a little floundering, one of the party volunteered to express a more contemporary sentiment, by asking, in a tone of mingled confidence and doubt—‘But you don’t think, sir, that Gray is to be mentioned as a poet in the same day as my Lord Byron?’ The disputants were now at issue; all that resulted was, that Gray was set aside as a poet who would not go down among readers of the present day; and his patron treated the works of the noble bard as mere ephemeral effusions, and spoke of poets that would be admired thirty years
hence, which was the farthest stretch of his critical imagination. His antagonist’s did not even reach so far.”

There was Mr. George Mouncey, too, of the firm of Mouncey and Gray, solicitors, Staple Inn, a gentleman who displayed his fondness for conviviality at an early stage in the proceedings, by sinking into a hopelessly nebulous frame of mind.

“Yet Hazlitt,” says Patmore, “had a great respect and even personal regard for Mouncey, and always seemed to take pleasure in addressing and listening to him, which, however, he did invariably from the opposite side of the room, and in nine cases out of ten without the possibility of making out one-half of what M. said.” The following declaration is Mr. Patmore’s, and, from its charming simplicity, must be acceptable:—“For my own part, often as I have talked and listened to Mouncey with unmingled pleasure, I have no recollection of having clearly understood a single sentence that he ever uttered.

“How I should make my friend Mouncey stare,” says Mr. Hazlitt himself, “if I were to mention the name of my still better friend, old honest Signor Friscobaldo, the father of Bellafront.” Yet his name was perhaps invented, and the scenes in which he figures, unrivalled, might for the first time have been read aloud to thrilling ears on this very spot!

“‘Don’t you think,’ says Mouncey to me, ‘that Mr. —— is a very sensible, well-informed man?’ ‘Why no,’ I say; ‘he seems to have no ideas of his own, and only to wait to see what others will say, to set himself
against it.’ Here was a rap on the knuckles for Mouncey.

“Before I had exchanged half a dozen sentences with Mouncey, I found that he knew several of my old acquaintances (an immediate introduction of itself, for the discussing the characters and foibles of common friends is a great sweetening and cement of friendship), and had been intimate with most of the wits and men about town for the last twenty years. He knew Tobin, Wordsworth, Porson, Wilson, Paley, Erskine, and many others. . . . . On my saying that I had never seen the Greek Professor but once, at the library of the London Institution, when he was dressed in an old rusty black coat, with cobwebs hanging to the skirt of it, and with a large patch of coarse brown-paper covering the whole length of his nose . . . . talking to one of the proprietors with an air of suavity, approaching to condescension, Mouncey could not help expressing some little uneasiness for the credit of classical literature. ‘I submit, sir, [he said] whether common sense is not the principal thing?’

“I remember Roger Kirkpatrick once describing three different persons together to myself and Martin Burney, namely, the manager of a country theatre, a tragic, and a comic performer, till we were ready to tumble on the floor with laughing at the oddity of their humours, and at Roger’s extraordinary powers of ventriloquism, bodily and mental; and Burney said (such was the vividness of the scene) that when he awoke the next morning, he wondered what three amusing charac-
ters he had been in company with the evening before. Oh! it was a rich treat to see him describe
Mudford, him of the Courier, the Contemplative Man, who wrote an answer to ‘Cœlebs,’ coming into a room folding up his great-coat, taking out a little pocket volume, laying it down to think, rubbing the calf of his leg with grave self-complacency, and starting out of his reverie when spoken to, with an inimitable rapid exclamation of ‘Eh!’

“We for some time took C—— for a lawyer, from a certain arguteness of voice and slenderness of neck, and from his having a quibble and a laugh at himself always ready. On inquiry, however, he was found to be a patent-medicine seller, and having leisure in his apprenticeship, and a forwardness of parts, he had taken to study ‘Blackstone’ and ‘The Statutes at Large.’

Wells,* Mouncey, and myself, were all that remained one evening. We had sat together several hours without being tired of one another’s company. The conversation turned on the Beauties of Charles the Second’s Court at Windsor, and from thence to Count Grammont, their gallant and gay historian. . . . Jacob Hall’s prowess was not forgotten, nor the story of Miss Stewart’s garters. I was getting on in my way with that delicate endroit, in which Miss Churchill is first introduced at court, and is besieged (as a matter of course) by the Duke of York. This [passage] I contended was striking, affecting, and grand, the sublime of amorous biography. . . .

* Mr. Charles Wells, a solicitor, and author of ‘Joseph and his Brethren,’ a dramatic poem, and ‘Tales from Nature.’


Wells then spoke of Lucius Apuleius and his Golden Ass . . . . and went on to the romance of Heliodorus, Theagenes and Chariclea. . . . . The night waned, but our glasses brightened, enriched with the pearls of Grecian story. Our cup-bearer slept in a corner of the room, like another Endymion, in the pale ray of a half-extinguished lamp Mouncey sat with his hat on, and with a hectic flush in his face, while any hope remained; but as soon as we rose to go, he darted out of the room as quick as lightning, determined not to be the last that went.

Hume* was of the Pipe Office (not unfitly appointed), and in his cheerfuller cups would delight to speak of a widow and a bowling-green, that ran in his head to the last. . . . .Ӡ

A Mr. Williams, who lately died at Putney, was present on some of these occasions, and remembered well the scenes and the actors in them. I apprehend that the author of ‘Marcian Colonna’ is now the only person living who can recall both these to mind; and I hope that he will not be angry with me for mentioning his name in such a connexion.

Mr. Patmore describes very entertainingly the scene which took place one evening‡ at the “Southampton,” when he was there.

Hazlitt,” he tells us, “told some capital things

* Joseph Hume, Esq., of Bayswater, Lamb’s “not M.P.”

† The scene in the ‘Sentimental Journey’ between Uncle Toby and Widow Wadman.

‡ He is wrong in his date, however. Mr. H. was abroad on January 15, 1825.

Dawe the painter. Describing his essential and ingrained meanness of character, he said ‘He had a soul like the sole of a shoe;’ and he related some things illustrative of this character. . . . He described a capital scene that had taken place at Dawe’s. There was a man named K——, who was reckoned to be like Dawe in personal appearance, and this K. had often asked Hazlitt to introduce him to Dawe. . . . At last, Hazlitt took K. to Dawe’s house. There was a glass over the chimney-piece in Dawe’s painting-room, and on Hazlitt introducing K., he described each as giving a furtive glance at the glass and then at each other.

Hazlitt.—This is Mr. K——, Mr. Dawe.

Dawe.—Very happy to see Mr. K—— (looking first at K. and then at himself in the glass, and giving a sort of inward smile of self-congratulation ). I think they say we are like each other, Mr. K——. I can’t say I exactly see any great similarity (looking in the glass again). There is a little something, to be sure, about the mouth—a sort of—

K——.—Why, no; I don’t see much resemblance myself. There may, perhaps, be a little something in the forehead—a kind of—

“He [Hazlitt] described very admirably a scene he had witnessed at the Montagus between Mrs. Montagu and Dawe, illustrating the contrast between the flowing, graceful, queen-like style and manner of the one, and the little, peddling, pimping, snipped manner of the other.

“Speaking of Haydon to-night, he said he had just
been at Opie’s, and that
Mrs. Opie had told him how it was that her husband had been compelled to lend Haydon fifty pounds. She said, ‘Oh, sir, my husband could not help lending it to him—he would have it. . . . . .’”

It was at the “Southampton” that Mr. Hazlitt, Mr. Cruikshank, and Mr. Hone used to meet, and discuss the subjects for Hone’s next squib. I believe that my grandfather is answerable for some of the outlines of these, and for suggesting to Cruikshank what he thought was the salient point for illustration. The story goes that he was once trying to make himself understood to Cruikshank, when the latter got up, and dipping his finger in his ale-glass, traced something in beer on the table. “Is that what you mean, sir?” he asked, and my grandfather assented.

My grandfather relates that when he was at Florence in 1825 the people lifted up their hands when they were shown the caricatures in the ‘Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder,’ and asked if they were really likenesses of the king?

He was generally full the next morning, when he went to see the Reynells or some other intimates, of what Mouncey had said at the “Southampton” the night before, and what he said to him. Perhaps he was a little severe on the cod, which had come up for supper, and of which he was foolish enough to try some.