LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt XIII

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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Our journey home from the fight offered one of those instances which few of Hazlitt’s friends can even have conceived possible, and fewer still have enjoyed—that of seeing him for eight-and-forty hours together as happy as a boy or a bird; as free from all seeming consciousness of the ills which his “flesh,” above that of all other living men, was “heir to,” as if some kind genius had charmed his memory and imagination to sleep. Yet that no such process had taken place was clear, from the delightful manner in which both those faculties were called into play, in the Table Talk in which the pleasant hours were passed.

Having settled to proceed together on our journey home, we started immediately after the business of the day was concluded, with the intention of sleeping at a neigh-
bouring town, if we could get comfortable accommodation there, and if not, of proceeding onwards towards London, and taking the chance of anything that might present itself on the way.

We soon found that the latter was the only course; and having reconnoitred, and made our way out of the town, which resembled nothing but a place just entered pell-mell by a besieging army, the whole of its length being one mass of vehicles jammed together in a motionless state, and all the pathways and interstices filled up by pedestrians, every individual of the whole living mass presenting in their faces, more or less, evidence of the excitement of the hour,—we got upon the London road, and, soon giving the go-by to the subject, which we had now (for the present) had enough of, relapsed into that natural and self-suggestive talk which is the only thing deserving the name of “conversation,” and in which Hazlitt excelled all men I have ever known, provided he had (as in my case) a good listener, and one who could give the cue when it was wanting, without ever desiring to keep the
ball in his own hands for a moment longer than was necessary to preserve it from falling to the ground.

It was a beautiful sunshiny afternoon, I remember, with a mild sharpness in the air, which Hazlitt seemed every now and then to drink in and snuff up with a boyish delight, while he gazed and remarked on the pleasant scenery we were passing through, as if the feeling and sight of “the country” had restored to him those times and associations which it seemed to be the sole business of his ordinary every-day life (not to forget, but) to brood over with a melancholy and mortal regret. Here, however, they seemed to come back like “angel” rather than demon visits, and to bring with them nothing but a grave and quiet satisfaction.

Some remark of his on the curious manner in which smells bring back to us the scenes with which they have been associated in years long past, called for a remark from me which I was surprised to find was entirely new to him, but the truth of which he immediately admitted, namely, that certain tastes produce this effect in a still more remarkable
manner. I said that to that day (and it is the same at this) I could never taste green mustard and cress without its calling up to my mind, as if by magic, the whole scene of my first school-days, when I used to grow it in my little bit of garden in the inner playground; that every individual object there present used to start up before me with all the distinctness of actual vision, and to an extent of detail which no effort of memory could accomplish without this assistance; and that nothing but the visible objects of the scene presented themselves on these occasions.*

* I have now, while I am writing, tried the experiment in question, as a matter of intellectual inquiry not unworthy the reader’s attention. And as I sit in my little metropolitan study, thirty years after the objects in question have quitted my sight (and twenty years after they have ceased to exist!)—with nothing visible to my bodily eyes but smoke-enveloped lines of blank brickwork, cowering, as it were, beneath a dense canopy of dun-yellow vapour, and relieved only by gigantic chimneys, alternately breathing and vomiting forth volumes of black noisome smoke—on the dim face of this seeming picture, which is all that presents itself to my view as I look from my window, I see, as I taste the pungent charm, a vivid and beautiful reality projected—a sort of fata morgana, conjured up from the mysterious sea of memory, in which “nothing is but what is not,” and


Hazlitt illustrated the fact by several instances in his own case, connected with smells; and he said that the observation had

yet which shuts out for the time all else that is, or was, or is to be. I see the pleasant dwelling-house by the road-side, with its white rough-cast walls looking at intervals through the various trees that embower and embosom it, even to its crimson chimney-tops; the little gateway, leading from the public road (with its overarching bar of iron and its sonorous bell), where I used to see the frequent equipage stop that might have brought my own parents to visit me; the little alley of laurel, laurestinus, and seringa, through which they would have to pass before reaching the house, stepping (one step down) into the comfortable low-roofed parlour, with its wainscoted walls and window-seats, into which visitors were ushered. I see the climbing rose-trees and honeysuckles on which those windows looked, and the distant play-ground beyond, and the long play-field beyond that, at the commencement of which were our little strips of gardens; and the long bare white-walled schoolroom, projecting from the pretty house like an ugly excrescence; and the little wicket at the further end of it, leading to the kitchen-garden; and the old yew-tree, on the right hand, close within the wicket, with its ruby and glutinous berries; and the high blank paling, which ran all along the opposite side of the play-ground, to the top of which thrice only in the year we might climb and look over without breach of orders, namely, the days of the Easter Hunt, and of Fairlop and Harlow Bush Fairs: for the road led to those still famous scenes of plebeian pleasure.

My memory falters. I taste once more of the plant

been first suggested to him by
Mr. Fearn, in whose metaphysical work, he said, the fact was first brought to bear on our mental operations. And he instanced, I remember, Mr. Fearn’s remark, that certain associations of ideas brought back to him, as if it were actually existing, the smell of a baker’s shop at Bassora, as one of the finest examples on record of the far-reaching powers of the human senses when duly connected with the imagination. He spoke, too, I remember, in the very highest terms of Mr. Fearn’s powers of metaphysical investigation, de-

“that takes the reason prisoner”—and lo! the whole vicinity expands before my sight like a panorama! The pretty low-lying church; the stately grove of elms running through the very centre of the village; “the shop;” the back-winding lane, leading to the forest, where the great pear-tree overhung the wall of “the Doctor’s” garden, and offered a portion of its yearly burthen as fair game to those who dared risk the attainment of it; the “Naked Beauties” on the hill (a noble old mansion so called). In a word, the whole scene is present to me, “in its habit as it lived;” but with it (which is curious) there returns not a single feeling connected with the places or the period in question. The association is evidently a physical one purely. Altogether the subject is well worth that attentive examination and experiment which it has never yet received.

scribing them as second to none that had ever been employed on the subject.

In talk like this, ranging from the dizzy heights of
“Fate, free-will, and reason absolute,”
down to the level of those merely “personal themes,” in discussing which
Hazlitt was equally happy and at home, we passed pleasantly over the first five or six miles of our homeward journey, by which time a return chaise overtook us, and the dusk coming on, we got into it, and, in an hour more, were snugly housed for the night at one of those most “comfortable” of all public domiciles, a third-rate country inn; and here, in a little wainscoted parlour on the ground floor, we were soon warmly and cosily ensconced by a blazing fire, with the tea-things on the table, the curtains let down, an early supper ordered of roast fowl and apple-pudding (of all things in the world—but we had had no dinner), a “neat-handed Phyllis” to wait on us (which was always a great point of comfort with Hazlitt), and an interminable evening before us, destined to engender a volume of Table Talk, at least as pleasant and instructive (on
one side, I mean) as any of those that have followed it in a more tangible form; for, as I have hinted before, Hazlitt’s familiar talk, when he was in the proper cue for talking, had all the merits of his published writings, some which those never included, and not one of their faults—the greatest of which merits (let me add), and the source of all the others that are peculiar to this kind of talk was, that not a phrase of it would bear to be set forth in the trim array of printers’ types.

Not that I remember a single one of those phrases, even had they been ever so fitted for a place in these Recollections,—which I must again take the liberty of repeating, profess to offer the results, not the details, of my intercourse with the subject of them.

One little circumstance, however, I will mention, because I think it is peculiarly characteristic of that wise and happy balance between all his various faculties and mental endowments, which so greatly contributed to give that almost oracular character to Hazlitt’s decisions on moral and intellectual questions, which, when unbiassed by personal feelings and prejudices, they possessed beyond
those of any man that I ever knew. Almost all the evidences of mental weakness that we observe in distinguished men, and often much of their mental strength also, arise from some one class of faculties prevailing and predominating over all the rest. The understanding, the imagination, the sensibilities, the passions—one or other of these hold almost undivided sway in the great majority even of highly gifted and highly cultivated minds; and they not merely give the tone and colour, but modify the form and substance, of all their conceptions and operations. But with Hazlitt all these qualities were so equally blended and balanced, that they enabled him to see and appreciate, with a most “learned spirit of human dealing,” the relative value and virtue even of the opposite qualities and attributes that presented themselves to his notice and observation.

But I am making a magnificent preface to a tale that many of my readers may deem not worth the telling. What I was going to relate was, that, during a momentary interregnum in our talk, I had taken from my pocket and laid on the table a volume of
—what does the reader imagine, of all books in the world, to make one’s travelling companion to a prize-fight? The “
Nouvelle Héloise!”

Gentle reader! let me repeat, as before, it is a long while ago, and in the one case equally as in the other, the passion has become a thing of memory merely. I do not go a hundred miles to see a prize-fight now; and, if I did, the “Nouvelle Héloise” would not be the book I should take with me.

I put the book aside,—not thinking of looking into it; for I had removed it from my pocket only because it incommoded me. But Hazlitt asked—“What’s that?” I handed the book to him, with a smile; and I shall not forget the burst of half-comic, half-pathetic earnestness with which he read the title—the “Nouvelle Héloise!” And then his countenance fell as he turned over the pages silently, and the tears came into his eyes as he looked, for the first time, perhaps, for twenty years, on words, thoughts, and sentiments on which his soul had dwelt and banquetted in its early days, with a passionate ecstasy only equalled by that in
which they had been conceived and written; for the “Nouvelle Héloise” was the idol of Hazlitt’s youthful imagination, and he himself resembled its writer more curiously and remarkably than, perhaps, any one distinguished man ever resembled another.

But what I was chiefly about to remark was, the delight Hazlitt expressed at meeting with the work under such circumstances, and at the sort of feeling which he must have for it who could make it his companion to such a scene as we had just left. “Why, then,” he said, “you actually had the ‘Nouvelle Héloise’ in your pocket all the while you were watching those fellows this morning, mauling and hacking at each other, like devils incarnate! Well, I confess, that’s a cut above me. I can ‘applaud the deed;’ but to have done it is beyond me. In putting the book into my pocket, I should have had some silly scruples—some indelicate feelings of delicacy, come across me, and I should have left it at home. It’s the highest thing I remember—a piece of real intellectual refinement, by G—d! and I congratulate you upon it.”


That this was to consider the matter too curiously, the reader will perhaps think, as I thought then, or the incident would not have made so strong an impression on me. I am not so sure I think so now. If not, however, it is, perhaps, that our thoughts grow ripe as our feelings fade away.

The above incident led, I remember, to some beautiful remarks of Hazlitt on the “Nouvelle Héloise,” and on the intellectual and personal character of Rousseau; but I shall not even attempt to detail them, for the same reason which has excluded almost all similar details from these Recollections—namely, that it is morally impossible to relate them without blending them (whether consciously or not) with the feelings and opinions of the relator, in a way that must divest them of all specific character, and also of that authenticity which constitutes the only real value of such details, or keeps them from degenerating into a deception and an impertinence.

I shall conclude my, perhaps, too lengthened notice of this excursion, by adding that, after a hearty supper, an early bed
(which was a novelty to both of us), and a gossiping breakfast the next morning, we mounted the first coach that passed for London, arrived there in the evening, and
Hazlitt (at my suggestion) wrote in the next New Monthly a capital description of “The Fight,” signed “Phantastes.” I mention this, as the paper does not appear among his collected Essays; the title and subject being deemed unsuitable to the “ears polite” of Mr. Colburn’s book customers, and only to be tolerated in the ephemeral pages of a periodical miscellany.