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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. VIII 1803-05

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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New acquaintances—The Stoddarts and the Lambs.

The early and successful establishment of John Hazlitt in London as the member of a liberal profession was of considerable value to his brother, when it became a question, as it really did about 1803, of the latter coming up to town, and endeavouring to support himself by his own exertions.

His father was getting old, and had never been, nor was he ever likely to be, a rich man. The modest income which his duties brought him was sufficient for his own purposes, and his family was fortunately small. John had long since been in the way of earning his own livelihood, and only Peggy and William were at home.

I do not find that William fixed his abode in London permanently so early as 1803, however; but he was beginning to spend part of his time in town with his brother, living otherwise at Wem, as before.

It was during his stays at 12, Rathbone Place, that he made the acquaintance of two families, whose subsequent intimacy was destined to exercise a very large
share of influence on his future career. These were the Stoddarts and the Lambs.

Dr. Stoddart and his sister Sarah were the only children of Lieutenant John Stoddart, R. N., a retired and disappointed navy man, who had inherited or acquired (I hardly know which) a small property near Salisbury, at a village called Winterslow. Lieutenant Stoddart lived at Salisbury upon his half-pay and the proceeds of his independence, and with him his daughter. His son had gone up to London, and become a student of the civil law. He and John Hazlitt were extreme Liberals in politics; and the late Dr. Charles Richardson used to say that he could remember Stoddart when he went all lengths in Radicalism, and wore the Phrygian cap. John Hazlitt never swerved from his faith, but Dr. Stoddart afterwards did.

In 1803 Dr. Stoddart was appointed, by the influence of Sir William Scott, king’s advocate at Malta, and upon his departure to that island his sister accompanied him on a visit.

Dr. Stoddart, through his friend John Hazlitt, knew the Lambs some time before the receipt of the Maltese appointment—how much before I have no present means of discovering.* The correspondence of Dr. Stoddart, if any such ever took place, with Charles and Mary Lamb, has not apparently been preserved; and it is only from the accidental existence of a series of letters,

* He was intimate, later on, with Dr. Dibdin, the bibliographer. He, Dibdin, and the late Sir Benjamin Brodie, were members of a club called The Lunatics.

written between the years 1803 and 1808, by Mary Lamb to
Miss Stoddart, that we glean the truth as to the relations at this period between the two families, and its origin.

It is to be regretted that the correspondence, as it now stands, pushes us, as it were, in medias res, and does not admit us to a knowledge of the sources of that intimacy which had sprang up between the sister of Dr. Stoddart and the sister of Lamb, considerably before the autumn of the year in which the Doctor sailed to take possession of his office. The first which I shall give will afford a glimpse of a new fact in William Hazlitt’s history.

[21st September, 1803.]
“My dear Sarah,

“I returned home from my visit yesterday, and was much pleased to find your letter, for I have been very anxious to hear how you are going on. I could hardly help expecting to see you when I came in; yet, though I should have rejoiced to have seen your merry face again, I believe it was better as it was, upon the whole—and, all things considered, it is certainly better you should go to Malta. The terms you are upon with your lover* does (as you say it will) appear wondrous strange to me; however, as I cannot enter into your feelings, I certainly can have nothing to say to it, only that I sincerely wish you happy in your own way, however odd that way may appear to me to be. I would begin now to advise you to drop all correspondence with

* A Mr. Turner, to whom Miss Stoddart was at this stage engaged.

William;* but as I said before, as I cannot enter into your feelings and views of things, your ways not being my ways, why should I tell you what I would do in your situation? So, child, take thy own ways, and God prosper thee in them!

“One thing my advising spirit must say—use as little Secrecy as possible, and as much as possible make a friend of your sister-in-law.† You know I was not struck with her at first sight, but upon your account I have watched and marked her very attentively; and while she was eating a bit of cold mutton in our kitchen, we had a serious conversation. From the frankness of her manner I am convinced she is a person I could make a friend of: why should not you? We talked freely about you; she seems to have a just notion of your character, and will be fond of you, if you will let her. . . . .

“My aunt and my mother were wholly unlike you and your sister, yet in some degree theirs is the secret history I believe of all sisters-in-law. . . . When you leave your mother, and say if you never shall see her again you shall feel no remorse; and when you make a Jewish bargain with your lover, all this gives me no offence, because it is your nature and your temper, and I do not expect or want you to be otherwise than you are. I love you for the good that-is in you, and look for no change. . . . .

* After great hesitation, and a most careful comparison of dates and expressions in letters, I have arrived at the firm belief that William was my grandfather, and that Miss Stoddart was in correspondence with him thus early.

† Mrs., afterwards Lady Stoddart. She was Isabella, daughter of the Rev. Sir Henry Moncrieff, Bart.


Secrecy, though you appear all frankness, is certainly a grand failing of yours; it is likewise your brother’s, and therefore a family failing. By secrecy, I mean you both want the habit of telling each other at the moment everything that happens, where you go, and what you do—that free communication of letters and opinions, just as they arrive, as Charles and I do, and which is after all the only groundwork of friendship. . . . . . . Begin, for God’s sake [from the] first, and tell her everything that passes: at first she may hear you with indifference, but in time this will gain her affection and confidence. Show her all your letters (no matter if she does not show hers); it is a pleasant thing for a friend to put into, one’s hand a letter just fresh from the post. I would even say, begin with showing her this, but that it is written freely and loosely, and some apology ought to be made for it. . . . .

“God bless you, and grant you may preserve your integrity, and remain unmarried and penniless, and make William a good and a happy wife.

“Your affectionate friend,
“M. Lamb.

Charles is very unwell, and my head aches. He sends his love: mine, with my best wishes, to your brother and sister.

“I hope I shall get another letter from you.

“Wednesday 21st September, 1803.
“Miss Stoddart, Dr. Stoddart’s, Ryde, Isle of Wight.
“To be left at the Post-Office.”

None of Miss Stoddart’s letters to Miss Lamb has survived to my knowledge; and the unsettled and unhappy state of affairs in the Lamb family may possibly account for their disappearance. But here, in September, 1803, is Miss Stoddart, with her brother and her sister-in-law, in the Isle of Wight, preparatorily to their going to Malta together: Miss Stoddart engaged to a lover (Mr. Turner), but of two minds, whether she will have him—her brother’s choice as much as her own—or a certain W. H., who already holds letters of hers, and whose acquaintance she has formed at the Doctor’s friends in Rathbone Place!

The next letter from Miss Lamb found her fair correspondent established at Malta. It was the year 1804, and Dr. Stoddart was expecting another visitor, not a lady this time, but a gentleman, Samuel Taylor Coleridge by name:—

[Early in 1804.]
“My dearest Sarah,

“We rejoiced with exceeding great joy to hear of your safe arrival. I hope your brother will return home, in a very few years, a very rich man. . . . I want you to say a great deal about yourself. Are you happy? and do you not repent going out? . . . Rickman* wants to know if you are going to be married yet. Satisfy him in that little particular when you write. . . . .

* John Rickman, Esq., Lamb’s friend. His name will occur again.


“God bless you, and send you all manner of comforts and happinesses.

“Your affectionate friend,
“Mary Lamb.”

Miss Stoddart communicated, upon Coleridge’s arrival in the island, the acceptable intelligence to the Lambs in a letter, which Miss Lamb at once replied to. She says:—

“Your letters, my dear Sarah, are to me very, very precious ones. They are the kindest, best, most natural ones, I ever received. The letters we received a few days after from your brother were far less welcome ones. . . . I am sorry to find your brother is not so successful as he at first expected to be; and yet I am almost tempted to wish his ill fortune may send him over to us again I cannot condole with you very sincerely upon your little failure in the fortunemaking way. If you regret it, so do I. But I hope to see you a comfortable English wife, and the forsaken, forgotten William, of English partridge memory, I have still a hankering after. . . . I feel that I have too lightly passed over the interesting account you sent me of your late disappointment. It was not because I did not feel and completely enter into the affair with you. You surprise and please me with the frank and generous way in which you deal with your lovers, taking a refusal from their so prudential hearts with a better grace and more good humour than other women accept a suitor’s service. Continue this open
artless conduct, and I trust you will at last find some man who has sense enough to know you are well worth risking a probable life of poverty for. I shall yet live to see you a poor, but happy English wife.”

I can do no more than extract such passages as more or less immediately illustrate these memoirs; but there is a great deal in the correspondence of more general interest, if space could be found for it.

Miss Stoddart returned home as she had gone, unmarried. The next letter was directed to her at Salisbury; like the last, it is undated, but it was most probably written in the commencement of September, 1805:—

“My dear Sarah,

“Certainly you are the best letter-writer (besides writing the best hand) in the world. I have just been reading over again your two long letters, and I perceive they make me very envious.

“All I can gather from your clear, and I have no doubt faithful history of Maltese politics, is that the good Doctor, though a firm friend, an excellent fancier of brooches, a good husband, an upright advocate, and in short all that they say upon tombstones—for I do not recollect that they celebrate any fraternal virtues there—yet is he but a moody brother. That your sister-inlaw is pretty much like what all sisters-in-law have been since the first happy invention of the happy marriage state . . . and that you, my dear Sarah, have proved yourself as unfit to flourish in a little proud garrison
town as I did shrewdly suspect you were before you went there.

“If I possibly can, I will prevail upon Charles to write to your brother by the conveyance you mention; but he is so unwell, I almost fear the fortnight will slip away before I can get him in the right vein. . . . .

“I rejoice to hear of your mother’s amendment: when you can leave her with any satisfaction to yourself, which, as her sister, I think I understand by your letters, is with her, I hope you may soon be able to do, let me know upon what plan you mean to come to town. Your brother proposed your being six months in town and six with your mother, but he did not then know of your poor mother’s illness. By his desire I inquired for a respectable family for you to board with, and from Captain Burney* I heard of one I thought would suit you at that time. He [Dr. S.] particularly desired I would not think of your being with us; not thinking, I conjecture, the house of a single man respectable enough. Your brother gave me most unlimited orders to domineer over you, to be the inspector of all your actions, and to direct and govern you with a stern voice and a high hand; to be, in short, a very elder brother over you. Does not the hearing of this, my meek pupil, make you long to come to London? . . . . . . But to speak seriously, I mean when we mean [meet] that we will lay our heads together, and consult and contrive the best way of making the best girl in the world the

* Captain, afterwards Admiral, James Burney, Southey’s Capitaneus. His name will recur often enough.

fine lady her brother wishes to see her; and believe me,
Sarah, it is not so difficult a matter as one is sometimes apt to imagine. . . . .

“Has the partridge season opened any communication between you and William? As I allow you to be imprudent till I see you, I shall expect to hear you have invited him to taste his own birds. Have you scratched him out of your will yet?

“I do long to see you. God bless and comfort you.

“Yours affectionately,
“M. Lamb.
“Miss Stoddart, Salisbury.”

The next letter was written “after a very feverish night:” the writer had just returned from “banishment.” There is no date, but there is sufficient to show that it was sent very late in October, 1805, and perhaps not till the commencement of November. It appears from it that she had been trying to write for some time, but at last had let Charles write for her (his letter, if sent, is lost); and then, after all, that she made up her mind to let the few lines she had written go. “I am resolved,” she says, “now, however few lines I write, this shall go, for I know, my kind friend, you will like once more to see my own handwriting.” The sheet is filled for the most part with general news, with nothing specially pertinent, but there is this noteworthy passage: “I want to know if you have seen William, and if there is any prospect in future there. All you said in your letter from Portsmouth that related to him was burnt
so in the fumigating,* that we could only make out that it was unfavourable, but not the particulars. Tell us again how you go on, and if you have seen him. I conceit affairs will somehow be made up between you at last.”

A few days later Miss Lamb put pen to paper again. She felt more composed and collected.

[9th November, 1805.]
“My dear Sarah,

“After a very feverish night I writ a letter to you, and I have been distressed about it ever since. In the first place I have thought I treated too lightly your differences with your brother—which I freely enter into, and feel for, but I rather wished to defer saying much about [them] till we meet. But that which gives me most concern is the way in which I talked about your mother’s illness, and which I have since feared you might construe into my having a doubt of your showing her proper attention without my impertinent interference. . . . . .

“Your kind heart will, I know, even if you have been a little displeased, forgive me, when I assure you my spirits have been so much hurt by my last illness, that at times I hardly know what I do. I do not mean to alarm you about myself, or to plead an excuse, but I am very much otherwise than you have always known me.

“Write immediately, my dear Sarah, but do not notice this letter, nor do not mention anything I said relative to your poor mother. Your handwriting will

* For disinfecting purposes.

convince me you are friends with me; and if
Charles, who must see my letter, was to know I had first written foolishly, and then fretted about the event of my folly, he would both ways be angry with me.

“I would desire you to direct to me at home, but your hand is so well known to Charles, that that would not do. . . .

“Pray write directly, and believe me, ever

“Your affectionate friend,
“M. Lamb.

Nov. 14. I have kept this by me till to-day, hoping every day to hear from you. If you found the seal a clumsy one, it is because I opened the wafer. . . . I do not mean to continue a secret correspondence, but you must oblige me with this one letter. In future I will always show my letters before they go, which will be a proper check upon my wayward pen.

“Miss Stoddart, Salisbury.”

More than enough has been adduced to show that in 1803 and the following years the connection between the Lambs and the Stoddarts was most intimate; and that through John Hazlitt a tie, which was promising to get stronger, had arisen between Dr. Stoddart’s sister and my grandfather. At the same time that Miss Lamb was writing letters to “my dear Sarah” at Salisbury. Lamb himself was writing letters to “William” at Wem.

It is nearly as bad with the one as with the other. I
know that we have not
Miss Lamb’s earliest letters to her friend. I more than conjecture, I am all but sure, that the beginning of Charles’s correspondence with Hazlitt is missing.

My grandfather had made the acquaintance of Lamb himself at the house of his brother’s friend Godwin; where he found, one day, Godwin, Holcroft, and Coleridge in a hot controversy, as to whether it was best to have man as he was, or as he is to be. “Give me man,” said Lamb, “as he is not to be!” It was the first time the two had met; it was the commencement of a life-long friendship, which met with few interruptions. The first letter I find from Lamb is of the 18th November, 1805, four days later in date than the last which I quoted of his sister’s. It evidently arose out of a letter of my grandfather’s, no longer extant; but it is mainly an assemblage of fine-art and miscellaneous gossip. Lamb says that they were going to take supper at John Hazlitt’s in the evening: he had migrated from 12, Rathbone Place, to 109, Great Russell Street. He asks my grandfather to remember to send St. John’sLetters from an American Farmer,’ though he supposes the book is not so good as H. makes out; and he begs him to look into Tucker’sLight of Nature Pursued,’ for the new art of colouring. There is really nothing more to the purpose; the rest is tittle-tattle; and so I leave the letter, which is in all the editions of Lamb’s correspondence for the benefit of those who want to see it whole. The letter is long enough, to be sure. But there is no allusion to Miss Stoddart from beginning
to end, and merely a passing one to the Doctor and his guest Coleridge.

It appears that Mr. Hazlitt had requested Lamb to use his good offices in regard to an abridgment of Abraham Tucker’s large work, in seven octavo volumes, on the ‘Light of Nature,’ which is incidentally referred to above; and hereupon Lamb, through the medium of Mr. Godwin, opened a negotiation with the publisher of the ‘Essay on Human Actions,’ Johnson of St. Paul’s Churchyard. It ended by Johnson’s undertaking the book, on what terms has not transpired. It was ready for the printer in January, 1806, but it did not appear till the succeeding year.