LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt XVI

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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If I were required to name the person among all Hazlitt’s intimates in whose society he seemed to take the most unmingled pleasure—or I should perhaps rather say, with whom he felt himself most at ease and “comfortable”—I should say it was the late William Hone, author of the celebrated “Parodies,” &c. With almost everybody else Hazlitt seemed to feel some degree of restraint on some point or other. With some (as with Northcote for instance) he seemed to feel himself bound to listen more than he liked to listen; with others he felt called upon to talk more than it pleased him to talk. With one class of persons—the professed literati of the day—he tried to shine; with another class—the opposite of the
above—he tried not to shine, but, on the contrary, to be and to seem not a whit superior to those about him. In the company of females, whoever they might be, or of whatever class—even with those few who were uniformly kind and cordial in their reception and treatment of him, and of whose respect and good-will he could not reasonably doubt—there was always apparent a dash of melancholy and despondency; and also a resentful feeling, which showed itself from time to time, not in anything he said, but in the fearful expression which used to pass across his face, and which he never even attempted to suppress or conceal—an expression that can only be described by saying that it gave the look of an incarnate demon’s to a face that, in the absence of that look, indicated the highest and noblest attributes of the human intellect and character. In speaking of this look, I may remark that, though no obvious cause was ever apparent for it, I never remember to have once observed it without being able immediately to assign the cause, even though I may inadvertently have given it myself—for it was
always something touching more or less remotely or nearly the personal condition and circumstances of the man; and I might add, it was almost always connected with one of three topics—the downfall of
Napoleon—the abuse of some deserving writer from party motives—and (in the case where females were present) in reference to the passion of Love. On each of these topics there existed a morbid part in Hazlitt’s mind, which no one—friend, foe, or perfect stranger—could touch, or even approach, without exciting a feeling of mingled agony and resentment, that showed itself as I have just described. These topics were strings in the noble instrument of his mind which had been so early and violently overstrained, that nothing could ever restore them to their healthful temperament, or cause them to give out tones capable of making anything but “harsh discords,” or music the pathos of which was lost in the pain.

But in the company of females, the dreadful look I have spoken of (for such it was) used to come over Hazlitt’s face much more frequently than at any other time; because
the great source of those agonized feelings which called it forth was connected with that habitual and almost insane fear I have before alluded to, that no woman could look upon him without a feeling of mingled terror and distaste at least, if not disgust.

If I have been tempted to notice more at length than it may seem to deserve this singular feature in Hazlitt’s social and personal character, it is because it was fraught with an almost painfully pathetic interest, that has perhaps never been equalled, either in kind or degree, even in fictitious narrative, except in that divine Eastern story of Beauty and the Beast.

It has been my lot during the last fifteen years to associate more or less familiarly with a large proportion of the most intellectual men of an age which perhaps deserves to be characterised as the most intellectual that the world ever knew; and I confess that no part of such intercourse has connected itself with more perfectly pleasant recollections and associations than do the three or four evenings that I remember to have spent with
Hazlitt and Hone, in the little dingy wainscoted coffee-room* of the Southampton Arms, in Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane. There, after having dreamed and lingered at home over his beloved tea from five or six o’clock till ten or so at night, Hazlitt used to go every evening, for years, to take his supper (or dinner, as the case might be) of either cold roast beef or rumpsteak and apple tart; for he rarely tasted anything else but these—never by choice, unless it were a roast fowl, a pheasant, or a brace of partridges, when his funds happened to be unusually flourishing. And there you were sure to find him, in his favourite box on the right-hand side of the fireplace, sitting (if alone) upright, motionless, and silent as an effigy, brooding over his own thoughts, and, at the same time, taking in and turning to intellectual account every word that was uttered by the few persons who used at that time habitually to frequent the house, and to most of whom he was known; at the same

* Since (as I have hinted in a previous section, see vol. ii. p. 317), “improved from off the face of the earth,” for all purposes of old local association.

time, casting furtive glances at the door every time it gave intimation of opening, partly in the hope, partly in the fear, that the in-comer might be some one of his own particular intimates, who came there, as he knew, solely to seek him.

I say that he looked for a companion under these circumstances with a mixed feeling of hope and fear. In fact, it was always a moot point whether Hazlitt liked better to be alone with his own thoughts and imaginations, or interchanging them with those of other people; nor do I believe that he himself could ever have decided the point satisfactorily to himself in any given case. But when accident decided it, the result seemed sure to be the right one—always provided the party disjoining him from himself did not happen to be one of those three or four unlucky individuals towards whom he felt a sort of constitutional antipathy—as some men do to cats. But such was his humane sense of the forbearance and toleration we owe to each other, and his delicate consideration in exercising these, that even the persons in question were sure to go away with
the impression that they had made themselves peculiarly agreeable to him. And even if the truth happened to be so exactly the other way that he could bear the infliction no longer, the worst he used to do was to plead illness (as he safely might—for this sort of thing disturbed his whole system for a day or two), get up, and go away to the theatre—begging they would come and sit with him some other night!

There was something in the social and intellectual character of William Hone peculiarly suited to the simple, natural, and humane cast of Hazlitt’s mind—using the latter epithet in its broad and general sense, as implying a sympathy with all the qualities of our nature—its weaknesses no less than its strengths. His manner (I speak of him when in Hazlitt’s society—where alone I was accustomed to see him) united the most perfect freedom, familiarity, and bonhommie, with that delicate deference and respect which the extraordinary intellectual powers of Hazlitt were calculated to excite in all who were capable of duly appreciating them. He also never failed to keep Hazlitt in that active
good-humour with himself which was so indispensable to his personal comfort, and to that of all who conversed with him. And he effected this by a species of flattery which is not merely innocent in itself, but is the just meed of high intellectual superiority, and is never withheld from it but by those who either envy its pretensions or dispute them; a flattery which consists in the instant recognition and allowance of any new light thrown upon the topic of converse, or any false one dispelled, in place of that petty and paltry disputation for disputation’s sake which is the miserable characteristic of all ordinary English conversation—even of that which formally claims that name; in short, that flattery which consists in the delighted admission and reception of the Truth the instant it is made apparent to us, instead of the dogged denial of it on that very account, and because we ourselves have hitherto been blind to it, or have seen its semblance in error and falsehood.

There was also about Hone a buoyancy and joyousness of spirit which, wherever Hazlitt met with it, acted upon his memory
and imagination in a beautiful and affecting manner. Himself the very type of intellectual dejection and despondency, the mere sight of the opposites of these in others, instead of aggravating the malady, as it does in most cases, utterly dispelled it for the moment, and made him feel, not joyous himself, but as if he could become so if he chose by the mere force of those fine sympathies with his fellow-beings which kept the constitutional melancholy of his temperament from sinking into that fatal disease which it so often assumes. For the effect I speak of was not a mere association of ideas, carrying him back in imagination to the time when he himself was buoyant and happy; it was a complex action, arising, as I conceive, chiefly out of his deep and universal sympathies with human nature, but modified and blended, no doubt, by and with his unconscious recollections of that period of his life when “he too was an Arcadian.” It was an association that not merely “played round his head,” but “touched his heart” also.

In illustration of this sort of complex association of ideas, and its effect upon a
mind made up, like
Hazlitt’s, of almost equal proportions of our intellectual and our sentient natures, I will here refer to a simple fact that many of his associates must have observed as well as myself, and which never occurred without exciting in me an interest almost painful, yet blended with a peculiar and touching pleasure, precisely corresponding with that which we derive from unexpected touches of nature in lyrical or pastoral poetry. I have already stated that, from the time of my first acquaintance with him, Hazlitt had been a determined water-drinker. No temptation ever induced him to transgress his rule of life in this respect; the only rule he ever prescribed to himself, or could have been likely to keep if he had. But this rule had been imposed upon him by the moral certainty that his life would be the cost of neglecting it; for, in the early part of his literary career in London, he had been led into an intemperate use of stimulants, which had at length wholly destroyed the healthful tone of his digestive organs, and made the utmost caution necessary to prevent those attacks, under one of which he died.


Of course, in our evening meetings at the Southampton and elsewhere, a glass of grog, or something of the kind, was not wanting to give that social flavour to our table-talk which was one of its most pleasant qualities. Indeed, Hazlitt himself could never bear to see the table wholly empty of some emblem of that “taking one’s ease at one’s inn,” which was a favourite feeling and phrase with him; and immediately his supper-cloth was removed (for his corporeal enjoyment on these occasions was confined to the somewhat solid but brief one of a pound or so of rump steak or cold roast beef), he used to be impatient to know what we were each of us going to take; and, as each in turn determined the important point, he would taste it with us in imagination. It was his frequent and almost habitual practice, the moment the first glass was placed upon the table after supper, to take it up as if to carry it to his lips, then to stop for a few moments before it reached them, and then smell to the liquor and draw in the fumes, as if they were “a rich distilled perfume.” He would then put the glass down slowly, without uttering a word; and
you might sometimes see the tears start into his eyes, while he drew in his breath to the uttermost, and then sent it forth in a half sigh, half yawn, that seemed to come from the very depths of his heart. At other times he would put the glass down with a less dejected feeling, and exclaim in a tone of gusto that would have done honour to the most earnest of gastronomes over the last mouthful of his actual ortolan, “That’s fine, by G—d!” literally exhilarating, and almost intoxicating, himself with the bare imagination of it. He used almost invariably to finish this movement by falling back into a brief fit of dejection, as if stricken with remorse at the irreparable injury he had committed against himself, in having, by an intemperate abuse of a manifest good, for ever interdicted himself from the use of it; for no man ever needed more the judicious use of stimulants, or would, if he could have borne them, have found more unmingled benefit from them. But to him that which could alone have medicined his mental ills, was nothing less than deadly poison to his body.