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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. IX

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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Produced by CATH
‘Free Thoughts on Public Affairs’ published—Miss Lamb’s correspondence with Miss Stoddart—William Hazlitt chiefly at Wem.

Report was rife that a life of the Rev. Joseph Fawcett, Mr. Hazlitt’s early friend, might be expected from the same quarter; but such was not the fact, although Lamb, in a letter of January 15, 1806, strenuously urged Mr. Hazlitt to enter upon it. “You might dish, up a Fawcettiad,” said he, “in three months, and ask 60l. or 80l. for it. I dare say Phillips would catch at it.” He mentions in the same place that Mrs. John Hazlitt had had to make clear to his friend Manning who Fawcett was.

Mrs. H.,” he writes, “was naming something about a ‘Life of Fawcett’ to be by you undertaken; the great Fawcett, as she explained to Manning, when he asked What Fawcett? He innocently thought Fawcett the player. But Fawcett the divine is known to many people, albeit unknown to the Chinese inquirer.”

This and a companion epistle, the latter dated Feb. 19th, 1806, are printed at length in the corre-
spondence. There is nothing in them, beyond the particulars of
Godwin’s visits to Johnson on my grandfather’s business, of a personal character. It seems from the second that Johnson had had a fire in his house, and that his nephew Hunter extinguished it; but the catastrophe delayed the publication of the Tucker.

I do not imagine that Mr. Hazlitt ever seriously entertained the project imputed to him here—of writing the life of Fawcett. It was a kind of labour, even if the materials had been at hand, which demanded more research than he was inclined to bestow, and yielded less intellectual profit than the author of the ‘Essay on Human Actions’ was apt to look for. It involved a sort of drudgery which satisfied neither his political nor his literary views.

A task infinitely more congenial to him, if not more conducive to his fame, was the digestion into an octavo pamphlet, which was printed and published this year (1806) without the writer’s name, of certain political theories he had imbibed from reading some years ago Coleridge’s contributions to the Morning Post, and from conversing with that great man on several subsequent occasions. They were notions which had been floating in his head since the beginning of 1800.

He (Mr. H.) was a person of too upright a mind to conceal his indebtedness to others, and he frankly admits, in a note, that for a portion of the contents his ‘Free Thoughts on Public Affairs’ he lay under obligations to Coleridge.

This production, to the generality of readers, is wholly
unknown, and the authorship only transpires in a footnote. Incidentally,
Lamb, writing to Wordsworth, observes, “He [H.] is, rather imprudently I think, printing a political pamphlet on his own account, and will have to pay for the paper, &c.” He gave Wordsworth, at the same time, an account of a visit he and H. had paid to some house, where H. was abashed by the presence of some pretty girls:—

W. Hazlitt is in town. I took him to see a very pretty girl, professedly, where there were two young girls—the very head and sum of the girlery was two young girls—they neither laughed, nor sneered, nor giggled, nor whispered—but they were young girls—and he sat and frowned blacker and blacker, indignant that there should be such a thing as youth and beauty, till he tore me away before supper, in perfect misery, and owned he could not bear young girls; they drove him mad. So I took him home to my old nurse, where he recovered perfect tranquillity. Independent of this, and as I am not a young girl myself, he is a great acquisition to us.”

I find no allusion to this tract anywhere in Lamb’s letters to Mr. Hazlitt; but perhaps Mr. Hazlitt may have broached the subject to Lamb in one of those the loss of which has to be lamented. From it I gather another point—that he had now taken to reading Burke. In the concluding paragraph of the ‘Free Thoughts,’ the author sums up briefly thus;—

“I have thus expressed the sentiments which occurred to me in the present situation of our affairs, and some
of the steps which led to it. I have done this as freely and unreservedly as I could; because, if they are wrong, it is not likely that they will be much attended to; but if they are right, they may have some use. And I conceive that even they who may think the view I have taken of the measures of the last administration, and the application of particular observations to our own conduct, altogether unfounded, will not deny the truth of the general principles on which they are built.”

Mr. Hazlitt was still dividing his time between Wem and Great Russell Street, still unsettled in his views, and probably not a little disconcerted and vexed at the postponement of the Tucker. He was visiting the Lambs pretty often and pretty intimately when he was up in London, but he passed the greater part of his time in Shropshire. His ‘Free Thoughts on Public Affairs’ had attracted little attention; and if he was not out of pocket by it, he probably did not gain a penny by the sale of the pamphlet. The ‘Essay on Human Actions’ had dropped stillborn from the press; but this was Johnson’s affair.

Authorship did not promise very well at present, therefore, and painting was being silently given up as a bad job—not because he could not satisfy others, but because he could not satisfy himself. To be a second-rate author he might consent; but in art he laid down, peremptorily it should appear, this rule of guidance in his own case—first-class excellence or nothing. The notion of mediocrity here was abhorrent to him.

Miss Stoddart, while matters were in this posture,
came to London, and stayed with the Lambs. But
William and she did not meet, and perhaps Mr. Turner or Mr. White stood in the way. The next letter of news and advice was sent after her, when she had returned to Winterslow.

[February 17-22,1806.]
“My dear Sarah,

“. . . . I am going to make a sort of promise to myself and to you, that I will write you kind of journal-like letters of the daily what-we-do matters, as they occur. This day seems to me like a new era in our time. It is not a birthday, nor a new year’s day, nor a leave-off-something day; but it is about an hour after the time of leaving you, our poor Phœnix, in the Salisbury stage. . . . Writing plays, novels, poems, and all such kind of vapouring and impossible schemes are floating in my head, which at the same time aches with the thought of parting from you, and is perplexed at the idea of I cannot-tell-what-about notion that I have not made you half so comfortable as I ought to have done, and a melancholy sense of the dull prospect you have before you on your return home; then I think I will make my new gown, and now I consider the white petticoat will be better candle-light worth. . . . .

“So much for an account of my own confused head, and now for yours. Returning home from the Inn, we took that to pieces, and ca[n]vassed you as you know is our usual custom. We agreed we should miss you sadly, and that you had been what you yourself discovered, not at all in our way; and although if the post-
master should happen to open this, it would appear to him to be no great compliment; yet you, who enter so warmly into the interior of our affairs, will understand and value it, as well as what we likewise asserted, that since you have been with us you have done but one foolish thing, vide Pinckhorn (excuse my bad Latin if it should chance to mean exactly contrary to what I intend). We praised you for the very friendly way in which you regarded all our whimsies, and, to use a phrase of
Coleridge’s, understood us. We had, in short, no drawback on our eulogy on your merit except lamenting the want of respect you have to yourself—the want of a certain dignity of action, you know what I mean, which, though it only broke out in the acceptance of the old justice’s book, and was, as it were, smothered and almost extinct, while you were here; yet is it so native a feeling in your mind, that you will do whatever the present moment prompts you to do, that I wish you would take that one slight offence seriously to heart, and make it a part of your daily consideration to drive this unlucky propensity, root and branch, out of your character. Then, mercy on us, what a perfect little gentlewoman you will be!!!

“You are not yet arrived at the first stage of your journey, yet have I the sense of your absence so strong upon me, that I was really thinking what news I had to send you, and what had happened since you had left us. Truly nothing, except that Martin Burney met us in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and borrowed fourpence, of the repayment of which sum I will send you due notice.


“Friday [Feb. 20, 1806]. Last night I told Charles of your matrimonial overtures from Mr. White, and of the cause of that business being at a standstill. . . .

“He wishes you success, and when Coleridge comes, will consult with him about what is best to be done. But I charge you, be most strictly cautious how you proceed yourself. Do not give Mr. W. any reason to think you indiscreet; let him return of his own accord, and keep the probability of his doing so full in your own mind; so I mean as to regulate your whole conduct by that expectation. Do not allow yourself to see, or in any way renew your acquaintance with William, nor do not do any other silly thing of that kind; for you may depend upon it he will be a kind of spy upon you, and if he observes nothing that he disapproves of, you will certainly hear of him again in time.*

“Feb. 21. I have received your letter, and am happy to hear that your mother has been so well in your absence, which I wish had been prolonged a little, for you have been wanted to copy out the farce, in the writing of which I made many an unlucky blunder. . . . I wish you had [been with] us to have given your opinion. I have half a mind to write another copy and send it to you. . . . .

“I miss you sadly, and but for the fidget I have been in about the farce I should have missed you still more. I do not mind being called Widow Blackacre. . . .

“Say all in your mind about your lover now Charles knows of it; he will be as anxious to hear as me. All

* These italics are mine.

the time we can spare from talking of the characters and plot of the farce, we talk of you. I have got a fresh bottle of brandy to-day: if you were here you should have a glass, three parts brandy, so you should. . . . Charles does not send his love, because he is not here.

“Yours affectionately,
“M. Lamb.
“Miss Stoddart, Winterslow, near Salisbury.
“5s. 1d. paid.”

Some coolness appears to have arisen between Miss Stoddart and Mr. White shortly after this, and Miss Stoddart provided herself with a new lover. It may be doubtful, however, whether the affair alluded to in what follows ever reached any serious stage:—

[March 13th, 1806.]
“My dear Sarah,

“No intention of forfeiting my promise, but mere want of time, has prevented me from continuing my journal. You seem pleased at the long stupid one I sent, and therefore I shall certainly continue to write at every opportunity. . . . We have had, as you know, so many teasing anxieties of late, that I have got a kind of habit of foreboding that we shall never be comfortable, that he will never settle to work, which I know is wrong, and which I will try with all my might to overcome

“We have had a letter from your brother, the same mail as yours, I suppose. . . . Why does he tease you with so much good advice? is it merely to fill up his
letters? . . . or has any new thing come out against you? . . . . I promised never more to give my advice, but one may be allowed to hope a little. And I also hope you will have something to tell me about Mr. W. Have you seen him yet? . . . .

“Do write soon. Though I write all about myself, I am thinking all the while of you, and I am uneasy at the length of time it seems since I heard from you. Your mother and Mr. White is running continually in my head, and this second winter makes me feel how cold, damp, and forlorn your solitary hours will feel to you. I would your feet were perched up again on our fender. . . .

“God bless you,
“Yours affectionately,
“M. Lamb.”

Two days later (March 15, 1806), Lamb wrote off a pretty long letter to Hazlitt, who was still at Wem, in default, it should seem, of any fixed purpose, or any plans for the future. Whether the Stoddart business lay heavily on his mind, and distracted his attention, I honestly do not know. There is not a hint anywhere as to whether he had quarrelled with Miss S., or whether it was she who broke off the correspondence in the prospect of a more advantageous match.

Lamb’s letter is printed by Talfourd, and it is of no use bringing it forward here. It does not contain an atom of home news, or of matter directly personal to the subject of these memoirs; it is all talk about
pictures and picture-auctions. He wants to know what H. can be thinking of, to be down in Shropshire, or Wales—hunting, while there is so much in his line going on in town.

Mr. White, it seems, did not respond in a proper manner, did not “return of his own accord;” and in fact it came to nothing. Mr. Turner had not been heard of. Miss Stoddart’s correspondent asks about him. Miss Lamb begins, too, to grow anxious about William, and to think it might not be such a “silly thing,” after all, to renew acquaintance with him:—

“Friday [June 2, 1806].
“My dear Sarah,

“. . . . I would wish to write you a long letter, to atone for my former offences, but I feel so languid that I am afraid wishing is all I can do. . . . . .

“We cannot come to see you this summer. Nor do I think it advisable to come and incommode you, when you for the same expense could come to us. . . . I wish it was not such a long, expensive journey, then you could come backwards and forwards every month or two.

“I am very sorry you still hear nothing from Mr. White. I am afraid that is all at an end. What do you intend to do about Mr. Turner?

William Hazlitt, the brother of him you know,* is in town. I believe you have heard us say we like him.

* Miss Lamb seems to have forgotten that William Hazlitt had been in correspondence with her friend a long time, and that she had mentioned him in some of her former letters as being so.

He came in good time, for the loss of
Manning made Charles very dull, and he likes Hazlitt better than anybody except Manning. My toothache mopes Charles to death; you know how he hates to see people ill.*

“What is Mr. Turner? and what is likely to come of him? and how do you like him? and what do you intend about it? I almost wish you to remain single till your mother dies, and then come and live with us; and we would either get you a husband, or teach you how to live comfortably without. I think I should like to have you always, to the end of our lives, living with us; and I do not know any reason why that should not be, except for the great fancy you seem to have for marrying, which, after all, is but a hazardous kind of affair; but, however, do as you like, every man knows best what pleases himself best

“I say we shall not come to see you, and I feel sure we shall not; but if some sudden freak was to come into our wayward heads, could you at all manage?

“Farewell. Yours affectionately,
“M. Lamb.
“Miss Stoddart,
“Winterslow, near Salisbury.”

A month passed without any letters that we know of. William Hazlitt had put himself outside the stage, and was up in town again, in and out of Lamb’s more than

* He mentioned this once, however, as a peculiarity he had observed in Mr. Hazlitt’s character.

ever; reconciling Lamb to the loss of
Manning, as Mary tells us, but domiciled, as usual, at his brother John’s in Great Russell Street.* Miss Stoddart had not ventured to London, nor had the Lambs gone down to see her at Winterslow, as was talked about. Mary’s next shows that Mr. Turner’s star was still in the ascendant, and that Sarah was not quite explicit enough about him to please her friend. The letter opens with “Hazlitt” and Charles starting for Sadler’s Wells together. The former could almost count upon his fingers as yet the times he had seen the inside of a playhouse; but not so his companion:—

“July 2, 1806.
“My dear Sarah,

Charles and Hazlitt are going to Sadler’s Wells, and I am amusing myself in their absence with reading a manuscript of Hazlitt’s, but have laid it down to write a few lines to tell you how we are going on. Charles has begged a month’s holiday, of which this is the first day, and they are all to be spent at home. We thank you for your kind invitations, and are half inclined to come down to you; but after mature deliberation, and many wise consultations, such as you know we often hold, we came to the resolution of staying quietly at home. . . . .

“The reason I have not written so long is that I worked and worked in hopes to get through my task before the holidays began; but at last I was not able,

* His house, No. 109, formed part of old Tavistock House: it has been long demolished.

Charles was forced to get them now, or he could not have had any at all. . . . I have finished one [tale] to-day, which teased me more than all the rest put together. They sometimes plague me as bad as your lovers do you. How do you go on? and how many new ones have you had lately? . . . . .

“I am sorry you are altogether so uncomfortable. I shall be glad to hear you are settled at Salisbury; that must be better than living in a lone house companionless, as you are. . . . .

“Let me hear from you soon. . . Charles’s love, and our best wishes that all your little busy affairs may come to a prosperous conclusion.

“Yours affectionately,
“M. Lamb.”


“They (Hazlitt and Charles) came home from Sadler’s Wells so dismal and dreary dull on Friday, that I gave them both a good scolding—quite a setting to rights; and I think it has done some good, for Charles has been very cheerful ever since.

“Write directly, for I am uneasy about your lover. I wish something was settled.

“God bless you. Once more, yours affectionately,

“M. Lamb.

“Sunday morning.—I did not put your letter in the post, hoping to be able to write a less dull letter, but I have been prevented, so it shall go as it is. . . . . .


“I am cooking a shoulder of Lamb (Hazlitt dines with us); It will be ready at two o’clock, if you can pop in and eat a bit with us.

“Miss Stoddart,
“Winterslow, near Salisbury.”

While Mr. Turner and Mr. White were still wavering and uncertain, and Miss Stoddart—disappointed in the hope held out to her by the Doctor of a Maltese husband—was still resident with her mother at Salisbury, another person all at once started up, a Mr. Dowling, the owner or lessee of a farm in the neighbourhood. The matter was progressing in a highly satisfactory manner, when Miss Lamb wrote to her old friend on the 22nd October, 1806:—

“My dear Sarah,

“ . . . . . . I have received a long letter from your brother on the subject of your intended marriage. I have no doubt but you also have one on this business. I am well pleased to find that upon the whole he does not seem to see it in an unfavourable light. He says that if Mr. D. is a worthy man he shall have no objection to become the brother of a farmer; and he makes an odd request to me, that I shall set out to Salisbury to look at, and examine into the means of, the said Mr. D., and speaks very confidently as if you would abide by my determination. A pretty sort of an office, truly. Shall I come?

“The objections he starts are only such as you and I
have already talked over, such as the difference in age, education, habits of life, &c.

“You have gone too far in this affair for any interference to be at all desirable; and if you had not, I really do not know what my wishes would be. When you bring Mr. Dowling at Christmas, I suppose it will be quite time for me to sit in judgment upon him; but my examination will not be a very severe one. If you fancy a very young man, and he likes an elderly gentlewoman:* if he likes a learned and accomplished lady, and you like a not very learned youth, who may need a little polishing, which probably he will never acquire, it is all very well; and God bless you both together, and may you be both very long in the same mind.

“I am to assist you too, your brother says, in drawing up the marriage settlements—another thankful office! I am not, it seems, to suffer you to keep too much money in your own power, and yet I am to take care of you in case of bankruptcy, &c.; and I am to recommend to you, for the better management of this point, the serious perusal of Jeremy Taylor, his opinion on the marriage state, especially his advice against separate interests in that happy state

“My respects to Corydon [Dowling], mother, and aunty. Farewell. My best wishes are with you.

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

* Miss Stoddart was only thirty-one or thirty-two, however.

  LAMB’S ‘MR. H.’ 143

Corydon Dowling was a Wiltshire man, and so a countryman of Miss Stoddart and her family. I cannot help suspecting that Corydon had an unpastoral eye to certain messuages in the village of Winterslow, appertaining to the new lady of his heart. For the present, adieu to Mr. Dowling, and let us see what is passing somewhere else.

My grandfather was still, or at all events again, in London, when Lamb’s farce of ‘Mr. H.’ was brought out on the 10th December, 1806, at Drury Lane. The first piece was the opera of ‘The Travellers.’ My grandfather and Lamb had placed themselves in the first row of the pit. There was a good deal of applause at the conclusion of the prologue, and among the applauders Lamb himself was not the least vociferous. But the thing was hopelessly damned. Gentleman Lewis was there, and said that he could have made a good piece of it by a few judicious curtailments—“the most popular little thing that had been brought out for some time.” But it was agreed on all sides (Lamb himself was the only dissentient voice) that if a tragedy had preceded, instead of ‘The Travellers,’ it might have done well.

It is said that the author joined in the hissing as he had done in the applause. We know that Horace Smith once did the same thing exactly on a first night. I am tempted to print the letter which the author wrote to Miss Stoddart the very next day, communicating the news of his failure. It is given by Talfourd, but not so accurately as could have been wished:—

144 FAILURE OF ‘MR. H.’  

“Don’t mind this being a queer letter. I am in haste, and taken up by visitors, condolers, &c. God bless you.

“11 Dec. [1806].
Dear Sarah,

Mary is a little cut at the ill success of ‘Mr. H.,’ which came out last night and failed. I know you’ll be sorry, but never mind. We are determined not to be cast down. I am going to leave off tobacco, and then we must thrive. A smoking man must write smoky farces.

Mary is pretty well, but I persuaded her to let me write. We did not apprize you of the coming out of ‘Mr. H.,’ for fear of ill luck. You were much better out of the house. If it had taken, your partaking of our good luck would have been one of our greatest joys. As it is, we shall expect you at the time you mentioned. But whenever you come you shall be most welcome.

“God bless you, dear Sarah,
“Yours most truly,
“C. L.

Mary is by no means unwell, but I made her let me write.”