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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. XVI 1825-27

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 ‘Elegant Extracts’—‘Boswell Redivivus.’

In 1825 Mr. Hazlitt, assisted by his son, Mr. Procter, Mr. Lamb,* and somebody else, whose name I do not recall, prepared for publication a volume of Elegant Extracts from the English Poets. The selections were made from Chalmers’ large collection; and Leigh Hunt’s copy of that work was had for the purpose. Altogether it was a somewhat corporate undertaking—a book, as it were, brought out by a Limited Company. It passes commonly, however, under Mr. Hazlitt’s name, as if he had been the sole person concerned in it; whereas, I believe that his share was by no means very considerable. It was not a task to his taste, to begin with.

It happened, unluckily, that some copyright authors were included by one or other of the Co.; an injunction was procured by those interested, or at least threatened; and the copies were sent to America, or otherwise smuggled. A few had got into circulation, and may still be met with, though rarely; and the volume was reissued the same year by Mr. Tegg, with a new title

* Lamb corrected the proofs, I have heard it stated, during his friend’s absence abroad.

and a frontispiece, the name of “
W. Hazlitt, Esq.,” remaining in the forefront as the editor. The legend is that Mr. Hunt’s copy of Chalmers’s ‘Poets’ was returned to him in an indifferent plight.

An edition of John Buncle, which appeared in 1825, in three duodecimo volumes, has been given to him in some of the catalogues—I believe, without any authority. He was abroad from August, 1824, to October, 1825, and his name appears nowhere in the book. On the other hand, I have heard it stated, not as a fact, but as an impression, that his friend Lamb had to do with it. Perhaps he merely recommended it to the publisher as a work not unlikely to sell.

So far back as 1802, Mr. Hazlitt had become acquainted, through his brother John, with Mr. Northcote the artist. Northcote had seen a great deal, heard a great deal, read a great deal; he was a shrewd observer, and a person of average conversational powers; and Mr. Hazlitt and he found many common topics.

Northcote was an ill-conditioned, malevolent, mean-spirited person, for whom nobody probably ever entertained any real regard. My grandfather had a strong relish for his society, and a sort of liking for the man himself, which he would have found it rather hard to explain on any ordinary principle. It was, no doubt, Northcote’s rare vivacity, abundance of anecdote, and recollections of bygone people which drew Mr. Hazlitt to his studio so frequently, apart from any advantage in any shape which he derived from this source.

Fuseli said of Northcote’s portrait, “By Cot, he’s
looking sharp for a rat!” and here he hit off the old artist’s character to a nicety.
Colburn published his ‘Life of Titian,’ and he used to say, “That little wretch Colburn wants to rob me of all my money!” I suppose Colburn did not think the life would pay, and suggested a subsidy in aid.

It is Northcote who is pointed at, where Mr. Hazlitt says:—

“The person whose doors I enter with most pleasure, and quit with the most regret, never did me the smallest favour. I once did him an uncalled-for service, and we nearly quarrelled about it. If I were in the utmost distress, I should just as soon think of asking his assistance as of stopping a person on the highway. Practical benevolence is not his forte. He leaves the profession of that to others. His habits, his theory are against it as idle and vulgar. His hand is closed; but what of that? His eye is ever open, and reflects the universe: his silver accents, beautiful, venerable as his silver hairs, but not scanted, flow, as a river. I never ate or drank in his house; nor do I know or care how the flies or spiders fare in it, or whether a mouse can get a living. But I know that I can get there what I can get nowhere else—a welcome, as if one was expected to drop in just at that moment, a total absence of all respect of persons, and of airs of self-consequence, endless topics of discourse, refined thoughts, made more striking by ease and simplicity of manner—the husk, the shell of humanity is left at the door, and the spirit, mellowed by time, resides within!


“I asked leave,” says my grandfather, “to write down one or two of these conversations; he [Northcote] said I might, if I thought it worth while; ‘but,’ he said, ‘I do assure you that you overrate them. You have not lived enough in society to be a judge. What is new to you you think will seem so to others. To be sure, there is one thing, I have had the advantage of having lived in good society myself. I not only passed a great deal of my younger days in the company of Reynolds, Johnson, and that circle, but I was brought I up among the Modges, of whom Sir Joshua (who was certainly used to the most brilliant society of the metropolis) thought so highly that he had them at his house for weeks, and even sometimes gave up his own bedroom to receive them. Yet they were not thought superior to several other persons at Plymouth, who were distinguished, some for their satirical wit, others for their delightful fancy, others for their information or sound sense, and with all of whom my father was familiar, when I was a boy.’

“My friend Mr. Northcote is a determined Whig. I have, however, generally taken him as my lay-figure, or model, and worked upon it, selon mon gré, by fancying how he would express himself on any occasion, and making up a conversation according to this preconception in my mind. I have also introduced little incidental details that never happened; thus, by lying, giving a greater air of truth to the scene—an art understood by most historians! In a word, Mr. Northcote is only answerable for the wit, sense, and spirit there may
be in these papers: I take all the dulness, impertinence, and malice upon myself. He has furnished the text—I fear I have often spoiled it by the commentary. Or (to give it a more favourable turn) I have expanded him into a book, as another friend* has continued the history of the Honeycombs down to the present period. My ‘Dialogues’ are done much upon the same principle as the ‘Family Journal:’ I shall be more than satisfied if they are thought to possess but half the spirit and verisimilitude.

“[I told him that] when Godwin wrote his ‘Life of Chaucer,’† he was said to have turned Papist from his having made use of something I had said to him about confession.

Northcote asked if I had sent my son to school? I said I thought of the Charter House, if I could compass it. I liked those old-established places, where learning grew for hundreds of years, better than any new-fangled experiments or modern seminaries. He inquired if I had ever thought of putting him to school on the Continent; to which I answered, No, for I wished him to have an idea of home before I took him abroad; by beginning in the contrary method, I thought, I deprived him both of the habitual attachment to the one and of the romantic pleasure in the other.

Northcote spoke in raptures of the power in Cobbett’s writings, and asked me if I had ever seen

* Leigh Hunt.

† See a droll account of this book in a letter from Sir W. Scott to George Ellis (Lockhart, ii. 177).

him. I said I had for a short time; that he called rogue and scoundrel at every second word in the coolest way imaginable, and went on just the same in a room as on paper.

“I had once, I said, given great offence to a knot of persons by contending that Jacob’s Dream was finer than anything in Shakspeare; and that Hamlet would bear no comparison with at least one character in the New Testament. A young poet had said on this occasion that he did not like the Bible, because there was nothing about flowers in it; and I asked him if he had forgot that passage, ‘Behold the lilies of the field,’ &c.

“I mentioned to Northcote the pleasure I had formerly taken in a little print of Gadshill from a sketch of his own, which I used at one time to pass a certain shop-window on purpose to look at. He said ‘it was impossible to tell beforehand what would hit the public. You might as well pretend to say what ticket would turn up a prize in the lottery.’

“I remarked that I believed corporations of art or letters might meet with a certain attention, but it was the stragglers and candidates that were knocked about with very little ceremony. . . . . Those of my own way of thinking were ‘bitter bad judges’ on this point. A Tory scribe, who treated mankind as rabble and canaille, was regarded by them in return as a fine gentleman: a reformer like myself, who stood up for liberty and equality, was taken at his word by the very journeyman that set up his paragraphs, and could not get a civil answer from the meanest shop-boy in the
employ of those on his own side of the question.
Northcote laughed, and said I irritated myself too much about such things. He said it was one of Sir Joshua’s maxims that the art of life consisted in not being overset by trifles.

“I inquired if he had read ‘Woodstock?’ He answered, ‘No, he had not been able to get it.’ I said I had been obliged to pay five shillings for the loan of it at a regular bookseller’s shop (I could not procure it at the circulating libraries); and that, from the understood feeling about Sir Walter, no objection was made to this proposal, which would in ordinary cases have been construed into an affront. I had well nigh repented my bargain, but there were one or two scenes that repaid me (though none equal to his best), and in general it was very indifferent.

“I mentioned having once had a vary smart debate with Godwin about a young lady, of whom I had been speaking as very much like her aunt, a celebrated authoress, and as what the latter, I conceived, might have been at her time of life. Godwin said, when Miss —— did anything like Evelina or Cecilia, he should then believe she was as clever as Madame D’Arblay. I asked him whether he did not think Miss Burney was as clever before she wrote those novels as she was after; or whether in general an author wrote a successful work for being clever, or was clever because he wrote a successful work?

“I said, ‘I am glad to hear you speak so of Guido. I was beginning, before I went abroad, to have
a “sneaking contempt” for him as insipid and monotonous, from seeing the same everlasting repetitions of Cleopatras and Madonnas; but I returned a convert to his merits. I saw many indifferent pictures attributed to great masters; but wherever I saw a Guido, I found eloquence and beauty that answered to the “silver” sound of his name.’

“On my excusing myself to Northcote for some blunder in history by saying ‘I really had not time to read,’ he said, ‘no, but you have time to write.’ And once a celebrated critic taking me to task as to the subject of my pursuits, and receiving regularly the same answer to his queries, that I knew nothing of chemistry, nothing of astronomy, of botany, of law, of politics, &c, at last exclaimed, somewhat impatiently, ‘What the devil is it then you do know?’ I laughed, and was not very much disconcerted at the reproof, as it was just.”

“I said [to Northcote] authors alone were privileged to suppose that all excellence was confined to words. Till I was twenty, I thought there was nothing in the world but books. When I began to paint, I found there were two things both difficult to do and worth doing; and I concluded from that there might be fifty. At least I was willing to allow every one his own choice. I recollect a certain poet* saying ‘he should like to hamstring those fellows at the Opera.’ I suppose, because the great would rather see them dance than read ‘Kehama.’

Mr. Northcote enlarges with enthusiasm on the old painters, and tells good things of the new. The only

* Southey.

thing he ever vexed me in was his liking the ‘
Catalogue Raissonnée.’ I had almost as soon hear him talk of Titian’s pictures (which he does with tears in his eyes, and looking just like them) as see the originals; and I had rather hear him talk of Sir Joshua’s than see them. He is the last of that school who knew Goldsmith and Johnson. How finely he describes Pope! . . . . I never ate or drank with Mr. Northcote, but I have lived on his conversation with undiminished relish ever since I can remember; and when I leave it, I come out into the street with feelings lighter and more ethereal than I have at any other time.”

Northcote was afraid that what my grandfather had said about Sir Walter Scott might give offence; but my grandfather assured him that authors like to be talked about, and that if Sir Walter objected to having his name mentioned, he was singularly unlucky. My grandfather remarked to Northcote on this occasion: “Enough was said in his praise; and I do not believe he is captious. I fancy he takes the rough with the smooth. I did not well know what to do. You seemed to express a wish that the conversations should proceed, and yet you are startled at particular phrases; or I would have brought you what I had done to show you. I thought it best to take my chance of the general impression.”

Northcote answered that, if the conversations had been published posthumously, there would have been no harm done, for people would not care to ask ques-
tions about them. He did not see much in them himself, but he thought that might be, because they were not new to him. He expressed surprise that my grandfather, who knew so many celebrated authors, should not find anything of theirs worth recording, which gave the other occasion to observe that
Godwin was very angry at the liberty he had taken, but that Godwin was quite safe from having such freedom used with him. He [Mr. H.] should never think of repeating any of Godwin’s conversations.

Mr. Hazlitt said to Northcote that he recollected, when he was formerly trying to paint, nothing gave him the horrors so much as passing the old battered portraits at the doors of brokers’ shops, with the morning sun flaring full upon them. He was generally inclined to prolong his walk and put off painting for that day; but the sight of a fine picture had a contrary effect, and he went back and set to work with redoubled ardour.

One day, when Mr. Hazlitt went into Northcote’s, Northcote said to him, “Sir, there’s been such a beautiful murder.” The old painter was very fond of reading, and hearing, and talking of all the atrocities of this kind that occurred in his day. He regarded them, like De Quincey, from an artistic point of view.

Speaking of Lord Byron’s opinions, especially his notions about Shakspeare, Mr. Hazlitt once observed to Northcote, “I do not care much about his opinions.” Northcote remarked that they were evidently capricious, and taken up in the spirit of contradiction. Mr. Hazlitt continued, “Not only so (as far as I can judge),
but without any better founded ones in his own mind. They appear to me conclusions without premises or any previous process of thought or inquiry. I like old opinions with new reasons, not new opinions without any; not mere ipse dixits. He was too arrogant to assign a reason to others or to need one for himself. It was quite enough that he subscribed to any assertion to make it clear to the world, as well as binding on his valet.”

Mr. Hazlitt asked Northcote if he remembered the name of Stringer at the Academy, when he first came up to town. Northcote said he did, and that he drew very well, and once put the figure for him in a better position to catch the foreshortening. Northcote then inquired if Mr. Hazlitt knew anything about him; and Mr. H. said he had once vainly tried to copy a head of a youth by him, admirably drawn and coloured, and in which he had attempted to give the effect of double vision by a second outline accompanying the contour of the face and features. Though the design might not be in good taste, it was executed in a way that made it next to impossible to imitate.

Mr. Hazlitt was grateful to Northcote for admiring ‘No Song, no Supper,’ which was the first play he (Mr. H.) had ever seen. Northcote remarked that it was very delightful, but that the players had cut a good deal out.

Mr. Hazlitt once said to Northcote, in answer to a question, that he liked Sir Walter Scott “on this side of idolatry and Toryism.” Scott reminded him of Cobbett, with his florid face and scarlet gown, like the other’s red face and scarlet waistcoat.


When Mr. Hazlitt was at Calais in 1825, he was offended at a waiter who had misbehaved; and while the fellow was out of the room he tried to “call up a look” against the time he returned. But he found this sort of “previous rehearsal” of no use. When the waiter came back Mr. H. assumed an expression involuntarily or spontaneously, which made it unnecessary to say anything; and he mentioned afterwards to Northcote that it seemed to him this was just the difference between good acting and bad, between face-making and genuine passion. For, “to give the last,” he remarked, “an actor must possess the highest truth of imagination, and must undergo an entire revolution of feeling.”

Mr. Hazlitt says:—

“He asked me if I had seen anything of Haydon? I said yes, and that he had vexed me; for I had shown him some fine heads from the cartoons done about a hundred years ago (which appeared to me to prove that since that period those noble remains have fallen into a state of considerable decay), and when I went out of the room for a moment, I found the prints thrown carelessly on the table, and that he had got out a volume of Tasso.”

Some of the conversations possess even now considerable interest. My grandfather has been thought unjust to Wordsworth. Now, in his lectures, he spoke handsomely enough of him, at a time when he was only just rising into notice; in his ‘Spirit of the Age,’ 1825, he does the same; and in the last place where he had an
opportunity of giving expression to such criticisms—these conversations—he has set down for us the arguments which
Northcote used against Wordsworth, and his own remarks in vindication of that poet. Mr. Hazlitt, however, certainly feared that the want of popularity which Wordsworth suffered in his lifetime, would militate against his future fame; and he gave his reasons; which were these:

“Few persons,” he said, “made much noise after their deaths, who did not do so while they were living. Posterity could not be supposed to rake into the records of past times for the illustrious Obscure; and only ratified or annulled the lists of great names handed down to them by the voice of common fame. Few people recovered from the neglect or obloquy of their contemporaries. The public would hardly be at the pains to try the same cause twice over, or did not like to reverse its own sentence, at least when on the unfavourable side.”

Northcote was of opinion that my grandfather abandoned too hastily the profession of a painter. He said to him, at an early stage of their acquaintance, “I wanted to ask you about a speech you made the other day; you said you thought you could have made something of portrait, but that you never could have painted history. What did you mean by that?”

Whereupon Mr. Hazlitt observed: “Oh, all I meant was, that sometimes when I see a Titian or Rembrandt, I feel as if I could have done something of the same kind with proper pains, but I have never the same
feeling with respect to
Raphael. My admiration there is utterly unmixed with emulation or regret. In fact, I see what is before me, but I have no invention.”

But Northcote thought differently, and considered that his companion might have succeeded, if he had tried.

My grandfather, having received permission from Mr. Northcote, printed in Colburn’sNew Monthly Magazine,’ at intervals, notes of these conversations, under the title of ‘Boswell Redivivus.’ Four sections appeared in the course of 1826.

Hazlitt’s mode,” observes Mr. Patmore, “of turning Northcote’s conversation to a business account, while the ‘Boswell Redivivus’ was appearing in the ‘New Monthly Magazine,’ was sufficiently curious and characteristic. . . . When the time was at hand for preparing a number of the papers, he used to ask me, ‘Have you seen Northcote lately? Is he in talking cue? for I must go in a day or two, and get an article out of him.’ . . . . The simple truth in this matter is, that it was the astonishing acuteness and sagacity of Hazlitt’s remarks that called into active being, if they did not actually create, much of what was noticeable in Northcote’s conversation.”

“He was sure to be unusually entertaining after a morning in Argyll Street,” says the same writer, and I know that he would go round to Broad Street on these occasions, and retail to the Reynells all that he had heard—all that Northcote had said to him, and what he said to Northcote back.

“In regard to the facts and anecdotes,” Mr. Patmore
continues, “related in these conversations, I believe
Hazlitt to have been scrupulously exact in his reports.” But it so happened that in ‘Boswell Redivivus,’ No. 6, the reporter carried his exactitude and portrait-painting propensity too far, and published some disparaging remarks of Northcote’s upon Dr. Mudge and his family—the same Mudges who had been so intimate with Reynolds.

“The crime of Hazlitt,” as Mr. Patmore puts it very well, “was not to have known, as if by instinct, what Hazlitt, so far from being bound to know, could not possibly have been acquainted with, except through the direct information of Northcote himself—namely, that he (Northcote) had particular and personal reasons for desiring not to be suspected of being the expositor of these obnoxious truths. . . . .”

The old painter, however, was furious, and almost hysterical with indignation against the diabolical Hazlitt. He sent over for Mr. Colburn, the publisher of the magazine, and Mr. Colburn would not come. He called upon Mr. Colburn, and Mr. Colburn would not see him. He wrote to Mr. Campbell, the editor, a letter expressing his amazement and disgust at the conduct of the diabolical Hazlitt, and Mr. Campbell wrote back to say, yes, it was disgusting, and he was amazed too; and “the infernal Hazlitt should never write another line in the magazine during his management of it.”*

* He does not seem to have been aware of Campbell’s state of feeling respecting him, or to have made light of it, for see his handsome tribute to that writer’s genius in the ‘Spirit of

Mr. Northcote returned an answer to say he was greatly relieved, adding, “I have only to beg of you that my name, as having interfered in those, to me, awful papers, may never be mentioned in your magazine, because it would be avowing a connection with them which I wish to avoid.”

The soul of the jest is in the threefold fact, that Mr. Hazlitt and Mr. Northcote saw just as much of each other as before; that Mr. Hazlitt took notes of Mr. Northcote’s conversations, with the artist’s perfect privity, as before; and that these conversations were printed, as Mr. Hazlitt chose to send them in, in Colburn’s NewMonthly,’ as before!*

It appears that Northcote consulted my grandfather about his ‘Fables,’ of which there were two series published. Northcote once showed Mr. Hazlitt a note he had received from his bookseller about them, which pleased him (Mr. H.), but when Northcote afterwards showed it to Godwin, Godwin did not see it in the same light.†

the Age.’ Certainly Campbell does not come very creditably out of these editorial combats. A letter, signed Veritas, appeared in the Examiner of May 4, 1833, stating that “all the ill nature in the book is Northcote’s, and all, or almost all, tho talent, Hazlitt’s.”

* Anybody desirous of gaining a more perfect insight into Northcote’s share in this business, may consult A. Cunningham’sLives of the Painters,’ vii. 107-16. Mr. Northcote’s behaviour was characteristically hypocritical and paltry throughout.

† It may be here just mentioned that my grandfather helped Northcote with what is called ‘The Life of Titian,’ a strange


jumble, which was printed in 1830, in two volumes octavo, and of which N. did some, my grandfather some, and my father the rest! The total result is not, it must be confessed, highly satisfactory; but the appendices contain, inter alia, a reprint of the article originally printed in the Champion of 1814: ‘Whether the Fine Arts are promoted by Academies?’ With this, however, should have been given the letter of Mr. H. to the Champion of October 2, 1814, in vindication of what he had written.