LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt XXV

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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Among his literary contemporaries there was none to whom Hazlitt did more justice than to the exquisite writer known to the reading public as Barry Cornwall. His personal intimacy with that writer commenced, I believe, almost immediately after the appearance of the “Dramatic Scenes;” and it endured, without breach, till Hazlitt’s death—a period of pretty nearly twenty years. I doubt if the same can be said of any one other of his intimacies—I mean the unbroken continuance of it. But there is—as in what case is there not?—between the writings of that delightful poet and his personal character a beautiful correspondence and relationship, which, to those who know him, cause them to act and react upon each other, till the result is a pervading sense of gentle sweetness of temperament, and genial good-
ness of heart, which those petty pains and discrepancies that are so apt to disturb the current of our ordinary intercourse are incapable of suffering. To quarrel about trifles with a man who has added to our intellectual wealth to the extent that Barry Cornwall has, is difficult under any circumstances; but to do so when every feature of his poetry is reflected in his personal character is impossible; and not even Hazlitt could do it, who could quarrel upon a look, a movement, or a shadow. I have twenty times seen him try to do it—always by “making the meat” on which his incipient anger was to be nourished. But his efforts at self-tormenting always ended where they began—in feeling, at least, if he could not see, the error and injustice of his suspicions.

In speaking of the justice which Hazlitt rendered to the literary pretensions of Barry Cornwall, I must be understood to mean that comparative measure of it which alone he was in the habit of meting out to his contemporaries, when called upon to do so professionally as a critic, or personally when speaking of them in conversation. In re-
ferring to the characteristics of Barry Cornwall’s writings, Hazlitt was not unjust or stinting in his praise. But with the amount of his beauties as a poet, he was as little acquainted as he was with that of any other of his contemporaries—for the simple reason, as before stated, that he had not read a twentieth part of them. What he had read he fully appreciated; but beyond that he had not only nothing to say, but he felt nothing. And this is as if one should profess to understand and appreciate
Milton by reading his Lycidas, or Pope by his Epistles or his Satires.

Among all Hazlitt’s acquaintance and friends, there was not one more tolerant and considerate towards him, or more kind and generous to the last, than was Barry Cornwall. He was among the very few—some “two or one”—to whom Hazlitt knew and felt that he might always resort, at a moment of real need or difficulty, without fear of meeting with unkindness or repulse; or, what was more obnoxious to him, that miserable modicum of remonstrance and “good advice” which people are so apt to dole out as an
obligate accompaniment to the strain, whose music is thus turned into the elements of discord.

For Sheridan Knowles, Hazlitt felt great personal kindness and regard. He was never more entirely at ease than in the company of that natural and happily-constituted man. They had met very early in life, and some of Hazlitt’s least unhappy associations were connected with his intercourse with Knowles, who, having always felt an almost reverential admiration for Hazlitt’s talents and writings, was accustomed to express what he felt in no stinted terms. They seldom met—Knowles living in Scotland up to the period of Hazlitt’s death. But when the latter visited London they were a good deal together; and when Hazlitt was in Scotland, Knowles accompanied him in a short visit to the Highlands, and was his factotum in all matters and arrangements connected with a course of lectures Hazlitt delivered on Poetry, in Glasgow and elsewhere.

It was at Hazlitt’s lodgings that I first met this distinguished dramatist and excellent man; and the commencement of our
acquaintance involved so characteristic a feature of
Knowles’s mind, that I may be excused for referring to it more particularly. On my looking in at Hazlitt’s on the evening in question, he told me that Knowles was in town, and was coming to spend the evening with him; and he begged me to stay. From what Hazlitt had often said to me of Knowles, I had a great wish to see him; but it so happened that I had, not long before, written in Blackwood’s Magazine a detailed criticism on “Virginius,” which I now feel to have been much too severe in its unfavourable parts, and of which (as I learned from Hazlitt) Knowles believed me to be the writer. I therefore reminded Hazlitt of this fact, and prepared to take my departure at once—being as little disposed, on my own account as on Knowles’s, to stand the brunt of a meeting which I believed Hazlitt to have proposed in forgetfulness of the above circumstance.

But Hazlitt would not hear of my going, and agreed to take the consequences of the meeting upon himself. Accordingly I stayed, and presently Knowles came. Almost im-
mediately after mentioning my name, Hazlitt alluded to the criticism in question; and I can never forget the frank, cordial, and manly manner in which Knowles treated the thing; for he took it up at once, as a stumbling-block necessary to be moved out of the way before we could make any approach to that hearty communion and good-fellowship which became the company in which we met. There was not a word of that cant of common-place authorship which pretends to bow to the justice of severe criticism, and to deprecate that which is otherwise. On the contrary, he told me frankly, and at once, that until Hazlitt had told him who the article was written by, he had always looked upon it as the effusion of some personal enemy, who wished and sought to do him all the harm they could in his new career of authorship; but that since Hazlitt had assured him that such was anything but the case, he had taken a totally different view of the remarks—that he now believed most of the censure to be just, and did not feel anything like anger or resentment on the subject.

The cordial and hearty terms and tone in
which this feeling and belief were expressed made it impossible to doubt their sincerity, or to withhold one’s esteem for the frank good-nature from which they sprang. Nor has a cordial acquaintance and intimacy, subsisting up to the present time, tended in any degree to change this impression; while the subsequent writings of this distinguished man have convinced me that my first impressions of his talents as a dramatic writer did him manifest injustice in some particulars, and fell far short of his merits in others.

There was no one in whose welfare and success as a writer Hazlitt seemed to feel more personal interest than in those of Sheridan Knowles; and this interest was heightened, rather than repressed, by an impression he entertained, that there was a singular absence in Knowles of that mental and moral correspondence between the writer and his productions which we are so apt to expect, and so disappointed and perplexed at not finding. I never knew Hazlitt wholly at fault as to the intellectual qualities of any man, or unable to assign some reasonable or
plausible explanation of the results of those qualities, except in the case of Sheridan Knowles. He says, in his “
Spirit of the Age:”—“We should not feel that we had discharged our obligations to truth and friendship if we were to let this volume go without introducing into it the name of the author of ‘Virginius.’ This is the more proper, inasmuch as he is a character by himself, and the only poet now living that is a mere poet. If we were asked what sort of a man Mr. Knowles is, we could only say, he is the writer of ‘Virginius.’ His most intimate friends see nothing in him by which they could trace the work to the author.”

I know of nothing more unlike Hazlitt’s usual sagacity and penetration than this unmeaning and, at the same time, contradictory award. Knowles, he says, is “a mere poet;” by which it is impossible to guess what he means. Then he is, essentially and by way of distinction, “the sort of man” that you would describe as “the writer of ‘Virginius.’” And, finally, “his most intimate friends” cannot discover any correspondence between the author so designated and the work from
which the designation is derived! What follows, too, though more just, is not much more specific or discriminative. “Virginius,” says Hazlitt, is “the best acting tragedy that has been produced on the modern stage;” and “Mr. Knowles is the first tragic writer of the age;” but “in other respects he is a common man.”

What is the explanation of all this contradiction? For if we can find one, it will unquestionably involve a characteristic feature in the extraordinary mind that it is the chief business of these pages to illustrate. That explanation, as it seems to me, is to be found in the following words, which conclude Hazlitt’s hasty glance at the author of “Virginius:”—“We have known him almost from a child, and we must say he appears to us the same boy-poet that he ever was.”

Now, Sheridan Knowles is not many years younger than Hazlitt would have been were he alive now—perhaps six or seven; consequently, the very earliest of the associations of Hazlitt’s opening intellect were connected with the idea of “the boy-poet;” and he neither would nor could consent to dissipate
those early associations, a single train of which was worth the whole sum and substance of his after-life. For Knowles’s benefit and pleasure Hazlitt would have had the world regard him as another
Shakspeare, if it pleased. But for him (Hazlitt) Knowles could never be anything higher or better than the frank and warm-hearted friend and companion of those few opening years of his life which he could alone recall with any feelings of satisfaction.