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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. VI 1792-1803

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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Abandonment of the Church—Election of a profession—Determination to follow painting as a means of subsistence—Application to the new study—His early efforts—Journey to Paris—in the Louvre—Letters from the Louvre (1802).

Some time before his interview with Coleridge, in 1798, Mr. Hazlitt had, to his father’s great sorrow, relinquished all idea of the ministry. I do not think that for several years he had any fixed notion in his mind as to settlement in life; he went on, week after week, and month after month, thinking and reading. And this was his existence, these were his happiest days.

I trace him very little indeed between 1798 and 1802, except that he was at this time a reader of Coleridge’s articles in the Morning Post, and that upon some of them which appeared in February, 1800, and a few conversations which took place with the writer afterwards, he based a pamphlet published by him in 1806.

The next that we hear of him is that he has resolved, under his brother John’s encouragement and recommendation, to become an artist; and is going to Paris to study at the Louvre, after a preliminary induction into the rudiments of painting by John.


The latter had been hard at work all these years—from 1788 to 1802; his practice was rapidly increasing, and his name punctually made its appearance among the annual exhibitors at the Academy. He had moved from Holborn to 65, Margaret Street, Cavendish Square, in 1789; in 1790 he was at 139, Long Acre; and here he remained till 1795, when he went to 6, Suffolk Street, Middlesex Hospital. But in 1802 his residence was No. 12, Rathbone Place, where in fact he had been since 1799. In this year the Academy accepted and hung his portraits of Mr. Coleridge and of Mrs. Hazlitt, his mother.

I apprehend, and I am sorry that I can do nothing better, that my grandfather resided under his brother’s roof for a certain term preparatorily to his visit abroad. It was now that he first saw Holcroft and Northcote, with both of whom his brother was intimate. The first gave him a letter to Mr. Merrimee, and the latter accepted his proposal to make some copies for him at the Louvre, “as well as he could.” So through his brother, and by his own force of character besides, his circle began now to widen, and to include a few names distinguished in literature and art.

I should have liked to feel myself touching ground of a more solid description just here; but it cannot be helped. I have only to observe that my grandfather’s visit to Burleigh, about 1795, was probably the earliest occasion on which he had an opportunity of seeing any specimens of the great masters; and that the powerful bent communicated to his mind and taste in this direc-
tion may be considered as dating from his seventeenth or eighteenth year.

Let us return to firm land. He left England, with some excellent introductions, in the middle of October, 1802, and proceeded by Calais. He says:—

“Calais was peopled with novelty and delight. The confused, busy murmur of the place was like oil and wine poured into my ears; nor did the mariners’ hymn, which was sung from the top of an old crazy vessel in the harbour, as the sun went down, send an alien sound into my soul. I only breathed the air of general humanity.”

He arrived at Paris on the 15th of the month, and put up at the Hôtel Coq Heron. Of his doings while here on this, to him delightful, errand, he is his own best and indeed only historian, as in so many other cases:—

“My first initiation in the mysteries of the art was at the Orleans Gallery: it was there I formed my taste. . . . . I was staggered when I saw the works there collected, and looked at them with wondering and with longing eyes. A mist passed away from my sight: the scales fell off. . . . . .

“This was the more remarkable, as it was but a short time before that I was not only totally ignorant of, but insensible to, the beauties of art. As an instance, I remember that one afternoon I was reading the ‘Provoked Husband’ with the highest relish, with a green woody landscape of Ruysdael or Hobbima just before me, at which I looked off the book now and then, and wondered what there could be in that sort of work to satisfy or de-
light the mind—at the same time asking myself, as a speculative question, whether I should ever feel an interest in it like what I took in reading
Vanbrugh and Cibber?

“I had made some progress in painting when I went to the Louvre to study, and I never did anything afterwards. I shall never forget conning over the catalogue, which a friend lent me just before I set out. The pictures, the names of the painters, seemed to relish in the mouth. . . . .

“The first day I got there I was kept for some time in the French Exhibition-room, and thought I should not be able to get a sight of the old masters. I just caught a peep at them through the door. . . . At last, by much importunity, I was admitted, and lost not an instant in making use of my new privilege—it was un beau jour to me.”

Then we come to the correspondence which he opened with his father, and of which these letters are the sole remaining portion. They throw a light upon his character and upon his life which we should seek elsewhere in vain. Of his father’s letters to him there is no longer the slightest trace:—

“Paris, à l’Hôtel Coq Heron,
“Rue Coq Heron, pres la Palais Royal,
“16th October, 1802.
“My dear Father,

“I arrived here yesterday. . . . Calais is a miserable place in itself, but the remains of the fortifi-
cations about it are very beautiful. There are several ranges of ramparts, and ditches one within another, ‘wall within wall, mural protection intricate.’ The hand of time is very evident upon both; the ditches are filled with reeds and long grass, and the walls are very much decayed, and grown very dark coloured. (I am so perplexed with French that I can hardly recollect a word of English.) The country till within a few miles of Paris was barren and miserable. There were great numbers of beggars at all the towns we passed through. The vineyards near this have a most delightful appearance; they look richer than any kind of agricultural production that we have in England, particularly the red vines, with which many of the vineyards are covered. Paris is very dirty and disagreeable, except along the river side. Here it is much more splendid than any part of London. The Louvre is one of the buildings which overlook it. I went there this morning as soon as I had got my card of security from the police-office. I had some difficulty in getting admission to the Italian pictures, as the fellows who kept the doors make a trade of it, and I was condemned to the purgatory of the modern French gallery for some time. At last some one gave me a hint of what was expected, and I passed through. The pictures are admirable, particularly the historical pieces by
Rubens. They are superior to anything I saw, except one picture by Raphael. The portraits are not so good as I expected. Titian’s best portraits I did not see, as they were put by to be copied. The landscapes are for the most part exquisite. I in-
tend to copy two out of the five I am to do for
Railton.* I promised Northcote to copy Titian’s portrait of Hippolito de Medici for him. He had a print of it lying on the floor one morning when I called on him, and was saying that it was one of the finest pictures in the whole world; on which I told him that it was now at the Louvre, and that if he would give me leave, I would copy it for him as well as I could. He said I should delight him if I would, and was evidently excessively pleased. Holcroft is in London. He gave me a letter to Mr. Merrimee, the same painter to whom Freebairn’s letter was. I called on him this afternoon, and he is to go with me in the morning to obtain permission for me to copy any pictures which I like, and to assist me in procuring paints, canvas, &c. . . . . . . . I hope my mother is quite easy, as I hope to do very well. My love to her and Peggy.

“I am your affectionate,
“W. Hazlitt.”

“Paris, at the Hôtel Coq Heron, Rue Coq Heron,
“Thursday, October 20th, 1802.
“My dear Father,

“I have begun to copy one of Titian’s portraits. . . . . I made a very complete sketch of the head in about three hours, and have been working upon it longer this morning; I hope to finish it next week. To-morrow and Saturday I can do nothing to it;

* Of Liverpool.

there are only four days in the week in which one is allowed to, or at least able to, do anything. Friday is allotted to sweeping the rooms, and Saturday and Sunday are usually visiting days. There are great numbers of people in the rooms (most of them English) every day, and I was afraid at first that this would confuse and hinder me; but I found on beginning to copy that I was too occupied in my work to attend much to, or to care at all about what was passing around me; or if this had any effect upon me indirectly, it was to make me more attentive to what I was about. In order that I and my copy might not fall into contempt, I intend to employ the vacant days of the week in making duplicates of the copies which I do here, and in doing a picture of myself, in the same view as that of Hippolito de Medici, by Titian, which I intend to begin upon tomorrow. This, it is true, will occasion an increase in the expense, but I shall do them better here, at least the duplicates, than I could at home, and it will be necessary for me to have them as models to keep by me. The pictures I wish to copy are the following:—1st. Portrait of a young man in black, and very dark complexion, by Titian.* This is the one I am doing. 2nd. Another portrait, by Titian. 3rd. The portrait by Titian of Hippolito de Medicis.† 4th. Portrait of a lady, by
Vandyke. 5th. Portrait of the Cardinal Bentivoglio, by Vandyke also. 6th. Leo X., by Raphael. If I cannot get them removed into the room, either

* Which he did. It is still in the possession »f the family,

† The same observation applies to this.

through the influence of
Mr. Merrimee or by bribing the keepers, I shall substitute either Titian’s Mistress, or a head of a Sibyl, by Guercino, a very good painter, or two landscapes in the room. The finest picture in the collection is the Transfiguration, by Raphael. This is without any exception the finest picture I ever saw; I mean the human part of it, because the figure of Christ, and the angels, or whatever they are, that are flying to meet him in the air, are to the last degree contemptible. The picture of the Taking down from the Cross, by Rubens, which I have heard John describe, is here. It is a very fine one. One of the pictures is Reynolds’ picture of the Marquis of Granby. Mr. Merrimee came to look at the [young man in] black and the old woman, which he liked very much, though they are contrary to the French style; on the other hand, without vanity be it spoken, they are very much in the style of the Flemish and Italian painters. I like them better, instead of worse, from comparing them with the pictures that are here. The modern French pictures are many of them excellent in many particulars, though not in the most material. I find myself very comfortable here.

“With my love to my mother, John, and Peggy, I am your affectionate son,

“W. Hazlitt.

“I saw Bonaparte.”

“Sunday, November 14th, 1802.
“My dear Father,

“A fortnight ago to-morrow I began a copy of a picture I had not seen before—the subject of which is described in the catalogue in this manner—‘852, by Lodovic Lana, born at Modena, in 1597; died in 1646. The death of Clorinda*—Clorinda, having been mortally wounded in battle by Tancred, is seen lying at the foot of a tree, her bosom bare, discovering the place where she was wounded. On the point of expiring she desires to receive the baptismal sacrament; and while Tancred administers it to her with the water he has brought in his helmet from a neighbouring spring, she holds out her hand to him, in token of forgiveness, and breathes her last.’ It is, in my mind, the sweetest picture in the place. My canvas is not so large as the other, but it includes both the figures, which are of the size of life. I have worked upon it forty hours, that is seven mornings, and am going over the whole of it again this week, by the end of which I intend to have it finished. I propose to complete the copy of Titian, which I began the week following, in five weeks from the time I got here. The three heads, which I shall then have to do, I shall, I think, be able to do in the same time, allowing three weeks for another portrait by Titian, and a head of Christ crowned with thorns, by Guido, and two more for Titian’s Mistress, in which the neck and arms are seen. I shall then, if I have time, do a copy of the Cardinal Bentivoglio, which is at present exhibited in the great

* He finished this task, and the picture is still in the family.

room, and probably some others. But the first five I have mentioned I have certainly fixed upon. I generally go to the Museum about half-past nine or ten o’clock, and continue there until half-past three or four.
Charles Fox was there two or three mornings. He talked a great deal, and was full of admiration. I have not yet seen Bonaparte near. He is not in Paris.

“With love to all,
“I am your affectionate son,
“W. Hazlitt.”

“Friday, November 29th, 1802.
“My dear Father,

“I received your letter on Sunday. I wrote to you that day fortnight; I am, therefore, sorry that you did not receive my letter sooner. I there gave you an account of what pictures I had been doing, and of what I intended to do. The copy of the Death of Clorinda is as good as finished, though I shall have to go over the most of it again when it is quite dry. The copy of Titian is also brought forward as much as it could be till it is dry; for, as the room is not kept very warm, the pictures do not dry fast enough to be done out and out. I have been working upon the portrait of Titian’s Mistress, as it is called, these two last days. I intend to complete this the beginning of next week, if possible; the rest of that week and the two following I shall devote to going over and completing the other two. If I succeed in this, which I am pretty confident of doing,
I shall have done eight of my pictures in eight weeks, from the time I came here. But as one of them contains two whole figures, it may be reckoned equal to two; so that I shall have gone on at the rate of a portrait in a fortnight. I shall, therefore, have a month left to do the other two heads, which will make up the whole number. I intend to give an hour a day to copying a Holy Family, by
Raphael, one of the most beautiful things in the world. Of this, and the Death of Clorinda, I shall probably be able to get prints taken in London, as this is frequently done; as my copies certainly contain all that is wanted for a print, which has nothing to do with colouring. I intend to write to Robinson about it. I was introduced this morning to Mr. Cosway, who is here, doing sketches of the pictures in the Louvre by a Mr. Pellegrini, whose pictures John knows very well, and whom I have seen with Mr. Merrimee. If Railton chooses, I will do a copy of a most divine landscape, by Rubens, for him; but it will take at least a fortnight to do it, most probably three weeks. I have heard from Loftus.* This is all I can recollect at present, except my love, &c.

“Your affectionate son,
“W. Hazlitt.

“I would have written a longer letter if I had had time.”

* His cousin, on his mother’s side.

“December 10th, 1802.
“My dear Father,

“I yesterday morning completed my copy of the picture called The Death of Clorinda; I have been, in all, fifteen mornings about it. It is a very good copy; when I say this, I mean that it has very nearly all the effect of the picture, and will certainly make as great a figure in Railton’s parlour as the original does in the Louvre. It has been praised by some of the French painters. They have begun of late to compliment me on my style of getting on; though, at first, they were disposed to be very impertinent. This is the way of the world; you are always sure of getting encouragement when you do not want it. After I had done my picture yesterday, I took a small canvas, which I had in the place, and began a sketch of a head in one of the large historical pictures, being very doubtful if I could; not at all expecting to finish it, but merely to pass away the time: however, in a couple of hours, I made a very fair copy, which I intend to let remain as it is. It is a side face, a good deal like yours, which was one reason of my doing it so rapidly. I got on in such a rapid style, that an Englishman, who had a party with him, came up, and told me, in French, that I was doing very well. Upon my answering him in English he seemed surprised, and said, ‘Upon my word, sir, you get on with great spirit and boldness; you do us great credit, I am sure.’ He afterwards returned; and after asking how long I had been about it, said he was the more satisfied with his judgment, as he did not know I was a country-
man. Another wanted to know if I taught painting in oil. I told him that I stood more in need of instruction myself; that that sort of rapid sketching was what I did better than anything else; and that, after the first hour or two, I generally made my pictures worse and worse, the more pains I took with them. However, seriously, I was much pleased with this kind of notice, as however confident I may be of the real merit of my work, it is not always so clear that it is done in a way to please most other people. This same sketch is certainly a very singular thing, as I do not believe there are ten people in the world who could do it in the same way. However, I have said enough on the subject. I shall go on with this business, as I find it succeed. I intend to copy a composition of
Rubens in this manner, which I can do at intervals, without interfering with my regular work. The copy of Titian’s Mistress, and the other, which I began from him, I purpose finishing in the six following days, and another copy of Titian in the six after that; which will be four out of the five which I am doing for Railton. I shall want another fortnight for the copy of Guido; and it will take another fortnight, if I do that for Northcote. This will make fourteen weeks. I have been here seven already. I will now enumerate the pictures I have done, or am doing: 1. The Death of Clorinda, completed. 2. Portrait of a Man in Black, by Titian, nearly finished. 3. Titian’s Mistress; this will take four days more to finish it. 4. Portrait of another Man in black, by the same, not yet begun. 5. Christ Crowned with Thorns, by Guido, not begun.
6. Hippolito de Medici. As I have six hours to work every morning, from ten till four, I intend to give an hour to making rough copies for myself. In this way I shall make a sketch of the head I mentioned; and I propose doing a Holy Family, from
Raphael (a very small picture), and a larger copy, from Rubens, in the same way. My love to all.

“Yours affectionately,
“W. Hazlitt.”

“Paris, January 7th, 1803.
“My dear Father,

“I finished, as far as I intend, the copy of Hippolito de Medici, for Northcote, the day after I wrote to him; and the day following I began a copy of a part of the Transfiguration, by Raphael, which had not been exhibited in the common or large room till the week before. I have nearly done the head of the boy, who is supposed to see Christ in his Ascension from the Mount, and who is the principal figure in the piece. I shall paint it in another morning. It is the best copy I have done, though I have been only fifteen hours about it. There will be two other figures included in the canvas; this is 4 feet 8 in. high, and 10 feet 8 in. in breadth. You will easily get a distinct idea of the size of the picture by measuring it on the parlour floor. Northcote’s copy, and that of the Death of Clorinda, are the same size. The Transfiguration itself is about three times as high, and three times as wide. It is by no means the
largest, though it is the finest figure-picture in the place. I am about a second copy of the de Medici for
Railton. I shall have done it in two or three days more. I have also finished, since I wrote last, the first copy which I began, from Titian.

“I am your affectionate son,
“W. Hazlitt.”

Mr. Hazlitt remained altogether four months in Paris studying, and during that time he made many copies and sketches. His Hippolito de Medici and a Young Nobleman with a Glove, both from Titian, and the Death of Clorinda, by Lana, are in the possession of the family; but the others which he executed were, of course, dispersed among those for whom he was commissioned, or their representatives.

He never ceased to look back fondly and regretfully at this epoch in his career. It was one long “beau jour” to him. His allusions to it are constant. He returned to England in January, 1803, with formed tastes and predilections, very few of which he afterwards modified, much less forsook.

In the essay on the ‘Portrait of an English Lady,’ by Vandyke, he says:—

“I have in this essay mentioned one or two of the portraits in the Louvre that I like best. The two landscapes which I should most covet, are the one with a rainbow, by Rubens, and the Adam and Eve in Paradise, by Poussin. . . . . I should be contented with these four or five pictures, the Lady, by Vandyke, the Titian
[his Mistress], the Presentation to the Temple, the Rubens, and the Poussin, or even with faithful copies of them, added to the two which I have of a young Neapolitan nobleman and the Hippolito de Medici; and which, when I look at them, recall other times and the feelings with which they were done. . . . . . .

“My taste in pictures is, I believe, very different from that of rich and princely collectors. I would not give twopence for the whole gallery at Fonthill. I should like to have a few pictures hung round the room, that speak to me with well-known looks, that touch some string of memory—not a number of varnished, smooth, glittering gewgaws. The taste of the great in pictures is singular, but not unaccountable. The King is said to prefer the Dutch to the Italian school of painting. . . . . .”

He also returned home with some very decided impressions of the French character, which accompanied him through life.

He says:—“You see a Frenchman in the Louvre copying the finest pictures, standing on one leg, with his hat on; or after copying a Raphael, thinking David much finer, more truly one of themselves, more a combination of the Greek sculptor and the French posture-master. Even if a French artist fails, he is not disconcerted; there is something else he excels in: if he cannot paint, he can dance! If an Englishman, God save the mark! fails in anything, he thinks he can do nothing. Enraged at the mention of his ability to do anything else, and at any consolation offered him, he
banishes all other thought but of his disappointment, and discarding hope from his breast, neither eats nor sleeps (it is well if he does not cut his throat), will not attend to any other thing in which he before took an interest and pride, and is in despair till he recovers his good opinion of himself in the point in which he has been disgraced; though, from his very anxiety and disorder of mind, he is incapacitated from applying to the only means of doing so, as much as if he were drunk with liquor instead of pride and passion. The character I have here drawn of an Englishman I am clear about, for it is the character of myself, and, I am sorry to add, no exaggerated one. As my object is to paint the varieties of human nature, and, as I can have it best from myself, I will confess a weakness. I lately tried to copy a
Titian (after many years’ want of practice), in order to give a friend in England some idea of the picture. I floundered on for several days, but failed, as might be expected. My sky became overcast. Everything seemed of the colour of the paint I used. Nature was one great daub. I had no feeling left but a sense of want of power, and of an abortive struggle to do what I could not do. I was ashamed of being seen to look at the picture with admiration, as if I had no right to do so. I was ashamed even to have written or spoken about the picture or about art at all: it seemed a piece of presumption and affectation in me, whose whole notions and refinements on the subject ended in an inexcusable daub. Why did I think of attempting such a thing heedlessly, of exposing my presumption
and incapacity? It was blotting from my memory, covering with a dark veil all that I remembered of those pictures formerly, my hopes when young, my regrets since; it was wresting from me one of the consolations of my life and of my declining years. I was even afraid to walk out by the barrier of Neuilly, or to recall to memory that I had ever seen the picture; all was turned to bitterness and gall: to feel anything but a sense of my own helplessness and absurdity seemed a want of sincerity, a mockery, and a piece of injustice. The only comfort I had was in the excess of pain I felt: this was at least some distinction. I was not insensible on that side. No Frenchman, I thought, would regret the not copying a Titian so much as I did, or so far show the same value for it. Besides, I had copied this identical picture very well formerly. If ever I got out of this scrape, I had received a lesson, at least, not to run the same risk of gratuitous vexation again, or even to attempt what was uncertain and unnecessary.

“A French gentleman formerly asked me what I thought of a landscape in their Exhibition. I said I thought it too clear. He made answer that he should have conceived that to be impossible. I replied, that what I meant was, that the parts of the several objects were made out with too nearly equal distinctness all over the picture; that the leaves of the trees in shadow were as distinct as those in light, the branches of trees at a distance as plain as of those near. The perspective arose only from the diminution of objects, and there was no interposition of air. I said one could
not see the leaves of a tree a mile off; but this, I added, appertained to a question in metaphysics. He shook his head, thinking that a young Englishman could know as little of abstruse philosophy as of fine art, and no more was said. I owe to this gentleman (whose name was
Merrimee,* and who I understand is still living) a grateful sense of many friendly attentions and many useful suggestions, and I take this opportunity of acknowledging my obligations.

“I myself have heard Charles Fox engaged in familiar conversation. It was in the Louvre. He was describing the pictures to two persons that were with him. He spoke rapidly, but very unaffectedly. I remember his saying—‘All these blues and greens and reds are the Guercinos; you may know them by the colours.’ He set Opie right as to Domenichino’s Saint Jerome. ‘You will find,’ he said, ‘though you may not be struck with it at first, that there is a great deal of truth and good sense in that picture.’

“I remember being once driven by a shower of rain into a picture-dealer’s shop in Oxford Street, where there stood on the floor a copy of Gainsborough’s Shepherd boy, with the thunder-storm coming on. What a truth and beauty were there! He stands with his hands clasped, looking up with a mixture of timidity and resignation, eyeing a magpie chattering over his head, while the wind is rustling in the branches. It was like a vision breathed on the canvas. [From that day dated Mr. Hazlitt’s fondness for Gainsborough.]

* See ante, pp. 83, 87, 89.


“I confess I never liked W[estal]l. It was one of the errors of my youth that I did not think him equal to Raphael and Rubens united, as Payne Knight contended; and I have fought many a battle with numbers (if not odds) against me on that point.”

Mr. Hazlitt thought it was no satisfaction, but rather a double annoyance, to witness a change of opinion on this subject. It was no consolation to him, he said, that an individual was overrated by the folly of the public formerly, and that he suffered from their injustice and fickleness at present. He instanced the case of the Rev. Edward Irving, who had risen into public favour so suddenly, and then fallen from it with equal suddenness.

“I never, in the whole course of my life, heard one artist speak in hearty praise of another. . . . I once knew a very remarkable instance of this. A friend of mine had written a criticism of an exhibition. In this were mentioned, in terms of the highest praise, the works of two brothers; sufficiently so, indeed, to have satisfied, one would have thought, the most insatiate. I was going down into the country to the place where these two brothers lived, and I was asked to be the bearer of the work in which the critique appeared. I was so, and sent a copy to each of them.

“Some days afterwards I called on one of them, who began to speak of the review of his pictures. He expressed some thanks for what was said of them, but complained that the writer of it had fallen into a very common error—under which he had often suffered—the
confounding, namely, his pictures with his brother’s. ‘Now, my dear sir,’ continued he, ‘what is said of me is all very well; but here,’ turning to the high-wrought panegyric on his brother, ‘this is all in allusion to my style; this is all in reference to my pictures; this is all meant for me!’ I could hardly help exclaiming before the man’s face.”