LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt XII

Vol I Contents
Charles Lamb I
Charles Lamb II
Charles Lamb III
Charles Lamb IV
Charles Lamb V
Charles Lamb VI
Charles Lamb VII
Charles Lamb VIII
Charles Lamb IX
Charles Lamb X
Thomas Campbell I
Thomas Campbell II
Thomas Campbell III
Thomas Campbell IV
Thomas Campbell V
Thomas Campbell VI
Thomas Campbell VII
Lady Blessington I
Lady Blessington II
Lady Blessington III
Lady Blessington IV
Lady Blessington V
R. Plumer Ward I
R. Plumer Ward II
R. Plumer Ward III
R. Plumer Ward IV
R. Plumer Ward V
R. Plumer Ward VI
Appendix vol I
Vol II Contents
R. Plumer Ward VII
R. Plumer Ward VIII
R. Plumer Ward IX
R. Plumer Ward X
R. Plumer Ward XI
R. Plumer Ward XII
R. Plumer Ward XIII
R. Plumer Ward XIV
R. Plumer Ward XV
R. Plumer Ward XVI
R. Plumer Ward XVII
R. Plumer Ward XVIII
R. Plumer Ward XIX
R. Plumer Ward XX
R. Plumer Ward XXI
R. Plumer Ward XXII
R. Plumer Ward XXIII
Horace & James Smith I
Horace & James Smith II
William Hazlitt I
William Hazlitt II
William Hazlitt III
William Hazlitt IV
William Hazlitt V
William Hazlitt VI
William Hazlitt VII
William Hazlitt VIII
Appendix vol II
Vol III Contents
William Hazlitt IX
William Hazlitt X
William Hazlitt XI
‣ William Hazlitt XII
William Hazlitt XIII
William Hazlitt XIV
William Hazlitt XV
William Hazlitt XVI
William Hazlitt XVII
William Hazlitt XVIII
William Hazlitt XIX
William Hazlitt XX
William Hazlitt XXI
William Hazlitt XXII
William Hazlitt XXIII
William Hazlitt XXIV
William Hazlitt XXV
William Hazlitt XXVI
Laman Blanchard I
Laman Blanchard II
Laman Blanchard III
Laman Blanchard IV
Laman Blanchard V
Laman Blanchard VI
Laman Blanchard VII
Laman Blanchard VIII
R & T Sheridan I
R & T Sheridan II
R & T Sheridan III
R & T Sheridan IV
R & T Sheridan V
R & T Sheridan VI
R & T Sheridan VII
R & T Sheridan VIII
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The most favourable circumstances under which Hazlitt could be seen were those under which he was the most entirely himself—that is, during a few hours or days spent with him in a country ramble, at a distance from all his accustomed haunts and associations. It was then that his spirit had free leave to move and meditate at its own will, and to set forth all its finer qualities and attributes, undeteriorated by any of those peculiar habits of feeling and of thought which had been engendered by a life, the last twenty years of which had been spent in a manner anything but congenial to the tone and tendencies of its nature.

I passed much time with Hazlitt under these favourable circumstances, and will briefly refer to one or two of these passages in his life; because they will show him in a
very different light from that in which he was ordinarily seen, even by his most intimate associates; but a light, if I mistake not, in which he would always have appeared, had not the untoward events of his early years cast him for ever out of that steady current of mingled thought and action and emotion, which might and ought to have formed “the even tenor of his way” to a wise, honourable, and happy manhood, and a calm and lengthened old age.

Probably most of the readers of these Recollections are aware that Hazlitt was intended for an artist, and had studied and practised for some few years with this view. Had he persevered steadily in this line of pursuit, there can be little doubt that he would have been all that I have supposed above; and that, in being thus, the world would not have lost any material portion of those of his literary works that are worth preserving, and would have gained into the bargain one of the greatest painters that ever lived. Those artists and lovers of art who are acquainted with the half-dozen or so of extraordinary portraits from Hazlitt’s pencil
that still exist, and that were painted at the very outset of his brief career as an artist, will, I am sure, absolve me from the charge of exaggeration in the latter part of the above proposition: and those who knew the character and constitution of his mind will, I think, agree with me in opinion that, whatever else he might have been, he must have been a great and distinguished writer. This latter was a necessary consequence, from his unequalled capacity for the perception of the truth in whatever presented itself to his notice, added to his irrepressible passion for setting it forth as he saw it. In this age of writers, Hazlitt could not have helped being a writer; and his writings would probably not have possessed a single one of the faults that they do possess, if he had not been a writer by profession—a writer for his daily bread.

But this last fact was not only the fertile cause of all the errors of his writings; it was the source of all the misery of his life. Witness his two Essays on “The Pleasures of Painting.” They alone—coupled with the fact that the performances to which they
so beautifully and interestingly refer, are in their way first-rate works of art—are sufficient to bear me out in both the propositions I have hazarded above. They show at every page a heart and mind made for the reception and enjoyment of those “calm pleasures and majestic pains” which constitute the sum and substance of a wise and good man’s life, and which make the very material on which they live and grow.

That exquisite sensibility to the beauties of external nature and of high art which Hazlitt so eminently possessed, and that sympathy with and delight in them which, however, are not its necessary accompaniment, would alone have sufficed to carry him smoothly and happily down the stream of life, without the necessity for resorting to those artificial sources of excitement which do but recruit and multiply the ills they momentarily assuage.

The unfailing recurrence of occupation, both mental and bodily, which his intended profession would have furnished to him, might have wholly prevented that unwholesome pondering over its own thoughts, which
was the error and the foible of
Hazlitt’s mind. From having in early life nothing to do but to think, he used to brood over the embryo offspring of his contemplations, beyond the natural and healthful term of gestation, till they at last came forth maimed of their fair proportions, or were overlaid and killed by too much care and cherishing.

The subsequent necessity of providing by his pen for his daily wants cured him of this error, so far as related to the various subjects on which he wrote; and all his best things were written under the actual and immediate pressure of this, his only motive for writing—at least latterly. But the radical error alluded to stayed by him to the last, in regard to all that concerned his merely personal opinions. He thought about things and people till the very faculty of thought left him, and he could only feel; and he always felt according to his fears, never according to his wishes or his hopes.

But I was about to speak of Hazlitt at those periods—“few and far between”—when he was, so to speak, his own man—when he was all that Nature and Contemplation had
made him; and when all that Passion and Circumstance had grafted upon his natural character remained dormant, or was laid aside.

The first time that I obtained this favourable view of him was at a very early period of our acquaintance; and I believe it contributed greatly to fix and confirm that feeling of regard and interest towards him which all that I had heretofore seen of him had called forth, while all that I had heard of him was calculated to persuade me that his character was incapable of exciting any but an opposite impression.

I had, at the period in question, the prevalent passion for prize-fighting strong upon me. (Gentle reader, it is a long while ago, and I know better now. Howbeit, it is the prize-fighters themselves who have cured me—not the preachers against them.) The famous fight between the Gas Man and Neate was to be fought in a few days, and it was the talk of the town. Hazlitt had never seen a prize-fight, and in talking with him on the subject a few nights before the appointed time, I happened to say (on his expressing
curiosity on the matter) that, if ever he meant to see one, now was his time; for that there had never been such a one before, and never would be such another. I told him that I was going; and added (half in joke, half earnest) that he could not do a better thing than go with me, and make an “article” about it for the
New Monthly. I little thought that he would take me at my word; for the time was the depth of winter, the place of meeting at least sixty miles from London, and on account of the extraordinary interest that was excited about the event, all sorts of extra difficulties and obstacles were in the way of the undertaking. Moreover, what at that period were to me (a very young man) only pleasant stimulants to the enterprise, must, as I supposed, appear to him insurmountable impediments. He talked, indeed, of going, and I promised to let him know the exact place and time. But that a man who would certainly not have stepped across the room to see a Coronation, and who would often sit silent and motionless over his breakfast-things till seven or eight o’clock at night, from pure incapa-
city to take the trouble of moving off his chair and putting on his shoes to go out, should, under any inducement, even think of travelling sixty or seventy miles on a winter’s night, with the almost certainty of meeting with no comfort or accommodation when he got there, and no probable means of getting back again, perhaps, for two or three days—to say nothing of the expense, the previous trouble of arrangement, &c.—seemed out of the question.

However, on the morning of the day before that fixed for the fight, I let him know my arrangements; and he still said he thought he should meet me at the time and place I named, which was, I remember, the Golden Cross, Charing Cross, at ten o’clock at night, to start by the Salisbury night-coach, which arrived at the nearest town to the appointed spot at about five o’clock in the morning.

As I expected, he did not make his appearance; and after a perishing ride of seven hours—a nap of two or three, on the coffee-room table (for not even a chair was to be had) of the inn where the coach put me down—with my feet (to keep them warm) in the
great-coat, pockets of one of the six or seven “strange bedfellows” with whom prize-fighting, like misery, makes a man acquainted—a hasty but hearty and healthy breakfast—and a walk of five or six miles to the spot of meeting—who should I see among the first persons I recognised on the ground but
William Hazlitt! He had wisely calculated that it would never do to arrive houseless and supperless at five o’clock on a winter’s morning; so he had lounged into Piccadilly at eight o’clock over night, found a vacant place in the Bristol mail—got into it—somehow or other lighted upon a comfortable bed at the same town where I had stopped—slept and breakfasted comfortably—and there he was, lively as a bird, gossiping gaily with his friend, Joe Parkes, whom he had just met on the ground—and as “eager for the fray” as the most interested and knowing of “the fancy.”

I was too anxious about the “great event” I had come seventy miles to see to take much notice of its effects upon Hazlitt while it was going on. But after it was over we joined company; and I then found that he
had taken the most profound metaphysical as well as personal interest in the battle; and I never heard him talk finer or more philosophically than he did on the subject—which he treated—and justly, I think—as one eminently worthy of being so considered and treated. As a study of human nature, and the varieties of its character and constitution, he looked upon the scene as the finest sight he had ever witnessed; and as a display of animal courage he spoke of the battle as nothing short of sublime. I found that he had paid the most intense attention to every part of the combat, had watched the various chances and changes of its progress with the eye and tact of an experienced amateur, and could have given (and, in fact, afterwards did give in the
New Monthly Magazine) an infinitely better, because a more characteristic and intelligible, account of its details, than the professional reporters employed for that purpose.

If I mistake not, this was the faculty in which Hazlitt exceeded any other man that perhaps ever lived—the faculty in which his genius consisted. A practical musician can
play anything “at sight,” as the phrase is. But Hazlitt could perceive and describe “at sight” the characteristics of anything, without any previous study or knowledge whatever, but by a species of intellectual intuition. Other men become acquainted with things progressively, and with more or less quickness and precision, according to their capacity and to the attention they bestow. But Hazlitt felt them at once. They did not gradually engrave themselves upon his perceptive faculties, but struck into them at once as by a single blow. This peculiarity was of universal application in respect to Hazlitt, and it was the secret of his unequalled critical faculties; for if his criticisms themselves were often (perhaps always) more or less defective, on account of the comparatively little of steady attention that he gave to the subject of them, his critical faculties have perhaps never been surpassed.