LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. IV 1798

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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The same subject continued.

In digressing, in dilating, in passing from subject to subject, he appeared to me to float in air, to slide on ice. He told me in confidence (going along) that he should have preached two sermons before he accepted the situation at Shrewsbury, one on Infant Baptism, the other on the Lord’s Supper, showing that he could not administer either, which would have effectually disqualified him for the object in view. I observed that he continually crossed me on the way by shifting from one side of the footpath to the other. This struck me as an odd movement; but I did not at that time connect it with any instability of purpose or involuntary change of principle, as I have done since. He seemed unable to keep on in a straight line. He spoke slightingly of Hume (whose ‘Essay on Miracles’ he said was stolen from an objection started in one of South’s sermons—Credat Judæus Apella!). I was not very much pleased at this account of Hume, for I had just been reading, with infinite relish, that completest of all metaphysical choke-pears, his ‘Treatise on Human
Nature,’ to which the ‘
Essays,’ in point of scholastic, subtilty and close reasoning, are mere elegant trifling, light summer reading. Coleridge even denied the excellence of Hume’s general style, which I think betrayed a want of taste or candour. He however made me amends by the manner in which he spoke of Berkeley. He dwelt particularly on his ‘Essay on Vision,’ as a masterpiece of analytical reasoning. So it undoubtedly is. He was exceedingly angry with Dr. Johnson for striking the stone with his foot, in allusion to this author’s ‘Theory of Matter and Spirit,’ and saying, ‘Thus I confute him, sir.’ Coleridge drew a parallel (I don’t know how he brought about the connexion) between Bishop Berkeley and Tom Paine. He said the one was an instance of a subtle, the other of an acute mind, than which no two things could be more distinct. The one was a shop-boy’s quality, the other the characteristic of a philosopher. He considered Bishop Butler as a true philosopher, a profound and conscientious thinker, a genuine reader of nature and of his own mind. He did not speak of his ‘Analogy,’ but of his ‘Sermons at the Rolls’ Chapel,’ of which I had never heard. Coleridge somehow always contrived to prefer the unknown to the known. In this instance he was right. The ‘Analogy’ is a tissue of sophistry, of wire-drawn, theological special-pleading; the ‘Sermons’ (with the Preface to them) are in a fine vein of deep, matured reflection, a candid appeal to our observation of human nature, without pedantry and without bias. I told Coleridge I had written a few remarks, and was
sometimes foolish enough to believe that I had made a discovery on the same subject (the ‘Natural Disinterestedness of the Human Mind’)—and I tried to explain my view of it to Coleridge, who listened with great willingness, but I did not succeed in making myself understood. I sat down to the task shortly afterwards for the twentieth time, got new pens and paper, determined to make clear work of it, wrote a few meagre sentences in the skeleton-style of a mathematical demonstration, stopped half-way down the second page; and, after trying in vain to pump up any words, images, notions, apprehensions, facts, or observations, from that gulf of abstraction in which 1 had plunged myself for four or five years preceding, gave up the attempt as labour in vain, and shed tears of helpless despondency on the blank unfinished paper. . . . .

“If I had the quaint muse of Sir Philip Sidney to assist me, I would write a ‘Sonnet to the Koad between Wem and Shrewsbury,’ and immortalise every step of it by some fond enigmatical conceit. I would swear that the very milestones had ears, and that Harmer Hill stooped with all its pines, to listen to a poet, as he passed! I remember but one other topic of discourse in this walk. He mentioned Paley, praised the naturalness and clearness of his style, but condemned his sentiments; thought him a mere time-serving casuist, and said that ‘the fact of his work on “Moral and Political Philosophy” being made a text-book in our universities was a disgrace to the national character.’ We parted at the six-mile stone; and I returned homeward, pensive but
much pleased. I had met with unexpected notice from a person whom I believed to have been prejudiced against me. ‘Kind and affable to me had been his condescension, and should be honoured ever with suitable regard.’ He was the first poet I had known, and he certainly answered to that inspired name. I had heard a great deal of his powers of conversation, and was not disappointed. In fact, I never met with anything at all like them, either before or since. I could easily credit the accounts which were circulated of his holding forth to a large party of ladies and gentlemen, an evening or two before, on the Berkeleian Theory, when he made the whole material universe look like a transparency of fine words; and another story (which I believe he has somewhere told himself) of his being asked to a party at Birmingham, of his smoking tobacco and going to sleep after dinner on a sofa, where the company found him to their no small surprise, which was increased to wonder when he started up of a sudden, and rubbing his eyes, looked about him, and launched into a three hours’ description of the third heaven, of which he had had a dream. . . .

“On my way back I had a sound in my ears—it was the voice of Fancy: I had a light before me—it was the face of Poetry. The one still lingers there, the other has not quitted my side! Coleridge in truth met me half-way on the ground of philosophy, or I should not have been won over to his imaginative creed. I had an uneasy, pleasurable sensation all the time, till I was to visit him. During those months the
chill breath of winter gave me a welcoming; the vernal air was balm and inspiration to me. The golden sunsets, the silver star of evening, lighted me on my way to new hopes and prospects. I was to visit Coleridge in the Spring. This circumstance was never absent from my thoughts, and mingled with all my feelings. I wrote to him at the time proposed, and received an answer postponing my intended visit for a week or two, but very cordially urging me to complete my promise then. This delay did not damp, but rather increased my ardour. In the mean time I went to Llangollen Vale, by way of initiating myself in the mysteries of natural scenery; and I must say I was enchanted with it. I had been reading Coleridge’s description of England, in his fine ‘
Ode on the Departing Year,’ and I applied it, con amore, to the objects before me. That valley was to me (in a manner) the cradle of a new existence: in the river that winds through it, my spirit was baptized in the waters of Helicon!

“I returned home, and soon after set out on my journey with unworn heart and untried feet. My way lay through Worcester and Gloucester, and by Upton, where I thought of Tom Jones and the adventure of the muff. I remember getting completely wet through one day, and stopping at an inn (I think it was at Tewkesbury), where I sat up all night to read ‘Paul and Virginia.’ Sweet were the showers in early youth that drenched my body, and sweet the drops of pity that fell upon the books I read! I recollect a remark of Coleridge’s upon this very book,—that nothing could show the
gross indelicacy of French manners and the entire corruption of their imagination more strongly than the behaviour of the heroine in the last fatal scene, who turns away from a person on board the sinking vessel, that offers to save her life, because he has thrown off his clothes to assist him in swimming. Was this a time to think of such a circumstance? I once hinted to
Wordsworth, as we were sailing in his boat on Grasmere lake, that I thought he had borrowed the idea of his ‘Poems on the Naming of Places’ from the local inscriptions of the same kind in ‘Paul and Virginia.’ He did not own the obligation, and stated some distinction without a difference, in defence of his claim to originality. Any the slightest variation would be sufficient for this purpose in his mind; for whatever he added or altered would inevitably be worth all that any one else had done, and contain the marrow of the sentiment. I was still two days before the time fixed for my arrival, for I had taken care to set out early enough. I stopped these two days at Bridgewater, and when I was tired of sauntering on the banks of its muddy river, returned to the inn, and read ‘Camilla.’

“I arrived, and was well received. The country about Nether-Stowey is beautiful, green and hilly, and near the sea-shore. I saw it but the other day, after an interval of twenty years, from a hill near Taunton. How was the map of my life spread out before me, as the map of the country lay at my feet! In the afternoon Coleridge took me over to All-Foxden,* a romantic

* Two miles from Stowey.

old family mansion of the St. Aubins, where
Wordsworth lived. It was then in the possession of a friend of the poet, who gave him the free use of it.* Somehow that period (the time just after the French Revolution) was not a time when nothing was given for nothing. The mind opened, and a softness might be perceived coming over the heart of individuals, beneath ‘the scales that fence’ our self-interest. Wordsworth himself was from home, but his sister kept house, and set before us a frugal repast; and we had free access to her brother’s poems, the ‘Lyrical Ballads,’ which were still in manuscript, or in the form of ‘Sibylline Leaves.’ I dipped into a few of these with great satisfaction, and with the faith of a novice. I slept that night in an old room with blue hangings, and covered with the round-faced family-portraits of the age of George I. and II., and from the wooded declivity of the adjoining park that overlooked my window, at the dawn of day, could
——hear the loud stag speak.

“That morning, as soon as breakfast was over, we strolled out into the park, and seating ourselves on the trunk of an old ash tree that stretched along the ground, Coleridge read aloud, with a sonorous and musical voice,

* “I first became acquainted with your father [through meeting him] in Somersetshire, in the autumn of 1797 or the summer of 1798. He was then remarkable for analytical power and for acuteness and originality of mind; and that such intellectual qualities characterized him through life, his writings, as far as I am acquainted with them, sufficiently prove.”—Letter from W. Wordsworth to W. Hazlitt, Jun., May 23, 1831.

the ballad of ‘
Betty Foy.’ I was not critically or sceptically inclined. I saw touches of truth and nature, and took the rest for granted. But in the ‘Thorn,’ the ‘Mad Mother,’ and the ‘Complaint of a Poor Indian Woman,’ I felt that deeper power and pathos which have been since acknowledged,
In spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
as the characteristics of this author; and the sense of a new style and a new spirit in poetry came over me. It had to me something of the effect that arises from the turning up of the fresh soil, or of the first welcome breath of Spring,
While yet the trembling year is unconfirmed.
Coleridge and myself walked back to Stowey that evening, and his voice sounded high
Of Providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate,
Fix’d fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute,
as we passed through echoing grove, by fairy stream or waterfall, gleaming in the summer moonlight! He lamented that
Wordsworth was not prone enough to believe in the traditional superstitions of the place, and that there was a something corporeal, a matter-of-factness, a clinging to the palpable, or often to the petty, in his poetry, in consequence. His genius was not a spirit that descended to him through the air; it sprung out of the ground like a flower, or unfolded itself from a green spray, on which the goldfinch sang. He said, however
(if I remember right), that this objection must be confined to his descriptive pieces; that his philosophic poetry had a grand and comprehensive spirit in it, so that his soul seemed to inhabit the universe like a palace, and to discover truth by intuition, rather than by deduction. The next day Wordsworth arrived from Bristol at Coleridge’s cottage. I think I see him now. He answered in some degree to his friend’s description of him, but was more gaunt and Don Quixote-like. He was quaintly dressed (according to the costume of that unconstrained period) in a brown fustian jacket and striped pantaloons. There was something of a roll, a lounge in his gait, not unlike his own ‘Peter Bell.’ There was a severe, worn pressure of thought about his temples, a fire in his eye (as if he saw something in objects more than the outward appearance), an intense, high, narrow forehead, a Roman nose, cheeks furrowed by strong purpose and feeling, and a convulsive inclination to laughter about the mouth, a good deal at variance with the solemn, stately expression of the rest of his face.
Chantrey’s bust wants the marking traits, but he was teased into making it regular and heavy. Haydon’s head of him, introduced into the Entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, is the most like his drooping weight of thought and expression. He sat down and talked very naturally and freely, with a mixture of clear gushing accents in his voice, a deep guttural intonation, and a strong tincture of the northern burr, like the crust on wine. He instantly began to make havoc of the half of a Cheshire cheese on the table, and
said triumphantly that ‘his marriage with experience had not been so productive as
Mr. Southey’s in teaching him a knowledge of the good things of this life.’ He had been to see the ‘Castle Spectre’ by Monk Lewis, while at Bristol, and described it very well. He said ‘it fitted the taste of the audience like a glove.’ This ad captandum merit was however by no means a recommendation of it, according to the severe principles of the new school, which reject rather than court popular effect. Wordsworth, looking out of the low latticed window, said, ‘How beautifully the sun sets on that yellow bank!’ I thought within myself, ‘With what eyes these poets see nature!’ and ever after, when I saw the sunset stream upon the objects facing it, conceived I had made a discovery, or thanked Mr. Wordsworth for having made one for me! We went over to All-Foxden again the day following, and Wordsworth read us the story of ‘Peter Bell’ in the open air; and the comment made upon it by his face and voice was very different from that of some later critics! Whatever might be thought of the poem, ‘his face was as a book where men might read strange matters,’ and he announced the fate of his hero in prophetic tones. There is a chaunt in the recitation both of Coleridge and Wordsworth, which acts as a spell upon the hearer, and disarms the judgment. Perhaps they have deceived themselves by making habitual use of this ambiguous accompaniment. Coleridge’s manner is more full, animated, and varied; Wordsworth’s more equable, sustained, and internal. The one might be termed more
dramatic, the other more lyrical. Coleridge has told ine that he himself liked to compose in walking over uneven ground, or breaking through the straggling branches of a copse-wood; whereas Wordsworth always wrote (if he could) walking up and down a straight gravel-walk, or in some spot where the continuity of his verse met with no collateral interruption. Returning that same evening, I got into a metaphysical argument with Wordsworth, while Coleridge was explaining the different notes of the nightingale to his sister, in which we neither of us succeeded in making ourselves perfectly clear and intelligible.”