LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
William Hazlitt XXVI

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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I scarcely know whether or not it will be thought that the proper time has arrived for explaining the true origin of the strange, and, to all but those who are more or less acquainted with its history beforehand, the utterly unintelligible work above named—the “Liber Amoris.” The prevalent opinion on such purely personal matters seems to be, that a profound silence should be preserved on them until such time as all those who know anything about them have passed from the scene; or, at all events, that those who can alone furnish the true materials for such records cannot be permitted to tell their tale; while those who avowedly know nothing about the matter may talk of and discuss it to their heart’s content. Yet the world has lately begun to feel that
Moore, for instance, having accepted, had almost as little right to destroy the autobiography that Byron entrusted to his care, to be published after his death, as he had to destroy the man himself during his life.

Hazlitt’s personal reputation has suffered more, even in the estimation of wise and good men, from the publication of the “Liber Amoris,” than from anything else that his enemies or himself have written or said or done against him. And the simple reason is, that the real history and origin of the book remain to this day a mystery, to all but a few individuals, some of whom are afraid and others ashamed to speak of it; and that, consequently, it has been made the fertile topic on which Hazlitt’s personal enemies, and the lovers of literary scandal in general, have propagated all sorts of ridiculous fictions and fabrications, all more or less discreditable to the persons to whom they relate, and none that I have ever heard having the smallest foundation in fact.

For my own part, I should have been disposed to tell the truth on this strange and interesting episode in Hazlitt’s life, whatever
that truth might have been; because the design of these pages is to furnish, so far as I possess the materials, a true, not a favourable picture of the mind and heart to which they relate. But seeing, as I do, in the materials of this little history, nothing that is morally discreditable to any of the parties connected with it, much that is honourable to all, and (in the personal details of it, as it regards Hazlitt himself) something as touching as anything I am acquainted with in the actual history of the human heart, I do not feel that I have a right wholly to suppress those materials, in deference to the false or the pretended delicacy of those who never use the word but in an indelicate sense.

The story of Hazlitt’s love for the female who is the subject of the “Liber Amoris,” could he himself have delivered it to the world in the form of “a round unvarnished tale,” would have made one of the most beautiful and affecting chapters in the Romance of Real Life, that was ever put on paper; one that it would have been impossible to peruse without the reader’s heart being softened by a sense of its own weak-
ness, while it was elevated and purified by a perception of the moral grandeur and beauty to which its affections may lift it.

There is nothing in poetry more truly poetical, nothing more ennobling by the strength of its passion, while it is no less softening and humanizing by the depth and darkness of its pathos, than much of what is contained in a series of letters written to me by Hazlitt, during the time when he was most under the influence of the devouring passion to which I am now referring. And as to the truth and reality of every word there written, none who knew him will believe that anything but the very intensity of that reality could have impelled him to write them at all. Such was his almost physical incapacity of writing a letter on any subject, however imperatively his worldly occasions might require one, that I suppose all the rest of the correspondence of his whole literary life would scarcely make up the amount of what I received from him during the three months he was absent in Scotland, in consequence of circumstances arising out of the affair in question: and this during the
period when he was employed on, and had actually completed in six weeks, an entire volume of his most remarkable Essays.

It is from these letters that I shall furnish some brief but sufficiently explanatory materials for the true history of the “Liber Amoris.” And if any one, with these materials for judgment and scrutiny before him, can entertain towards the man to whom they relate any less kindly feelings than those arising out of pain and pity, he must have formed strange notions on the constitution of, and little sympathy with, our common nature.

As the extracts I shall give will, so far as is needful, tell their own story, I shall only premise further, that the heroine of this romance of real life was the daughter of persons of respectable character and connexions, in whose house Hazlitt lodged for a considerable length of time immediately previous to the date of the following letters; and that her personal appearance and manner were scarcely overrated, even in the lover’s estimate of them which may be gathered from the letters themselves.

I give these extracts in the order in
which the letters they are taken from reached me,—so far at least as this can be made out by the post-marks; for nearly all the letters are without date.

Extracts of Letters from W. Hazlitt to P. G. Patmore (dated between March and July, 1822).

“What have I suffered since I parted with you! A raging fire in my heart and in my brain, that I thought would drive me mad. The steam-boat seemed a prison—a hell—and the everlasting waters an unendurable repetition of the same idea—my woes. The abyss was before me, and her face, where all my peace was centred—all lost! I felt the eternity of punishment in this world. Mocked, mocked by her in whom I placed my hope—writhing, withering in misery and despair, caused by one who hardens herself against me. I wished for courage to throw myself into the waters; but I could not even do that—and my little boy, too, prevented me, when I thought of his face at hearing of his father’s death, and his desolation in life.

* * * * * *

“You see she all along hated me (‘I
always told you I had no affection for you’), and only played with me.

“I am a little, a very little, better to-day. Would it were quietly over, and that this form, made to be loathed, were hid out of sight of cold, sullen eyes. I thought of the breakfasts I had promised myself with her, of those I had had with her, standing and listening to my true vows; and compared them to the one I had this morning. The thought choked me. The people even take notice of my dumb despair, and pity me. What can be done? I cannot forget her, and I can find no other like what she seemed. I should like you to see her, and learn whether I may come back again as before, and whether she will see and talk to me as an old friend. Do as you think best.”

“I got your letter this morning, and I kiss the rod, not only with submission, but with gratitude. Your rebukes of me and your defence of her are the only things that save my soul from hell. She is my soul’s idol, and, believe me, those words of yours applied to the dear creature (‘to lip a chaste one and
suppose her wanton’) were balm and rapture to me.

“Be it known to you, that while I write this, I am drinking ale* at the Black Bull, celebrated in Blackwood’s. It is owing to your letter. Could I think her ‘honest,’ I am proof even against Edinburgh ale! She, by her silence, makes my ‘dark hour,’ and you dissipate it—for four-and-twenty hours.

* * * * * *

“I have seen the great little man,† and he is very gracious to me. I tell him I am dull and out of spirits, but he says he cannot perceive it. He is a person of infinite vivacity. My Sardanapalus is to be in.‡

“In my judgment, Myrrha is just like —— ——, only I am not like Sardanapalus.

“Do you think if she knew how I love her, my depressions and my altitudes, my wanderings and my pertinacity, it would not melt her? She knows it all! I don’t

* He had not for years previously touched anything but water, except his beloved tea, nor did he afterwards, up to the period of his last illness.


‡ An article in the Edinburgh Review on Byron’s tragedy so called.

believe that any human being was ever courted more passionately than she has been by me. As
Rousseau said of Madame d’Houdetot (forgive the allusion), my soul has found a tongue in speaking to her, and I have talked to her in the divine language of love. Yet she says she is insensible to it. Am I to believe her or you? You; for I wish it to madness.”

“The deed is done, and I am virtually a free man.   *   *   *   What had I better do in these circumstances? I dare not write to her—I dare not write to her father. She has shot me through with poisoned arrows, and I think another ‘winged wound’ would finish me. It is a pleasant sort of balm she has left in my heart. One thing I agree with you in—it will remain there for ever—but yet not long. It festers and consumes me. If it were not for my little boy, whose face I see struck blank at the news, and looking through the world for pity, and meeting with contempt, I should soon settle the question by my death. That is the only thought that
brings my wandering reason to an anchor—that excites the least interest, or gives me fortitude to bear up against what I am doomed to feel for the ungrateful. Otherwise, I am dead to all but the agony of what I have lost. She was my life—it is gone from me, and I am grown spectral. If it is a place I know, it reminds me of her—of the way in which my fond heart brooded over her. If it is a strange place, it is desolate, hateful, barren of all interest—for nothing touches me but what has a reference to her. There is only she in the world—‘the false, the fair, the inexpressive she.’ If the clock strikes, the sound jars me, for a million of hours will never bring peace to my breast. The light startles me, the darkness terrifies me—I seem falling into a pit, without a hand to help me. She came (I knew not how) and sat by my side, and was folded in my arms, a vision of love and joy—as if she had dropped from the heavens, to bless me by some special dispensation of a favouring Providence—to make me amends for all. And now, without any fault of mine but too much love, she has vanished from me, and I am left to wither. My heart
is torn out of me, and every feeling for which I wished to live. It is like a dream, an enchantment—it torments me, and makes me mad. I lie down with it—I rise up with it—and I see no chance of repose. I grasp at a shadow—I try to undo the past, or to make that mockery real—and weep with rage and pity over my own weakness and misery.   *   *

“I had hopes, I had prospects to come—the flattering of something like fame—a pleasure in writing—health even would have come back to me with her smile. She has blighted all—turned all to poison and drivelling tears. Yet the barbed arrow is in my heart—I can neither endure it nor draw it out, for with it flows my life’s blood. I had dwelt too long upon Truth to trust myself with the immortal thoughts of love. That —— —— might have been mine—and now never can: these are the two sole propositions that for ever stare me in the face, and look ghastly in at my poor brain. I am in some sense proud that I can feel this dreadful passion. It makes me a kind of peer in the kingdom of love. But I could have wished it had been for an object that, at least, could
have understood its value and pitied its excess.   *   *   *   The gates of Paradise were once open to me, and I blushed to enter but with the golden keys of love! I would die—but her lover—my love of her—ought not to die. When I am dead, who will love her as I have done? If she should be in misfortune, who will comfort her? When she is old, who will look in her face and bless her?   *   *   *   Oh, answer me, to save me if possible for her and from myself!

“Will you call at Mr. ——’s school, and tell my little boy I’ll write to him or see him on Saturday morning. Poor little fellow!”

“Your letter raised me a moment from the depths of despair; but, not hearing from you yesterday or to-day (as I hoped), I am gone back again. You say I want to get rid of her. I hope you are more right in your conjectures about her than in this about me. Oh, no! believe it, I love her as I do my own soul: my heart is wedded to her, be she what she may; and I would not hesitate a moment between her and an angel from heaven. I
grant all you say about my self-tormenting madness; but has it been without cause? Has she not refused me again and again with scorn and abhorrence?   *   *   *   ‘She can make no more confidences!’ These words ring for ever in my ears, and will be my death-watch. My poor fond heart, that brooded over her, and the remains of her affections, as my only hope of comfort upon earth, cannot brook or survive this vulgar degradation. Who is there so low as I? Who is there besides, after the homage I have paid her, and the caresses she has lavished on me, so vile, so filthy, so abhorrent to love, to whom such an indignity could have happened? When I think of this (and I think of it for ever, except when I read your letters), the air I breathe stifles me. I am pent up in burning impotent desires, which can find no vent or object. I am hated, repulsed, bemocked, by all I love. I cannot stay in any place, and find no rest or interruption from the thought of her contempt, and her ingratitude. I can do nothing. What is the use of all I have done? Is it not that my thinking beyond my
strength, my feeling more than I ought about so many things, has withered me up, and made me a thing for love to shrink from and wonder at? Who could ever feel that peace from the touch of her hand that I have done; and is it not torn for ever from me? My state is, that I feel I shall never lie down again at night, nor rise up of a morning in peace, nor ever behold my little boy’s face with pleasure while I live, unless I am restored to her favour. Instead of that delicious feeling I had when she was heavenly kind to me, and my heart softened and melted in its own tenderness and her sweetness, I am now enclosed in a dungeon of despair. The sky is marble, like my thoughts; nature is dead without me, as hope is within me; no object can give me one gleam of satisfaction now, or the prospect of it in time to come. I wander, or rather crawl, by the seaside; and the eternal ocean, and lasting despair, and her face, are before me. Hated, mocked by her on whom my heart by its last fibre hung. I wake with her by my side, not as my sweet companion, but as the corpse of my love, without a heart
in her—cold, insensible, or struggling from me; and the worm gnaws me, and the sting of unrequited love, and the canker of a hopeless, endless sorrow. I have lost the taste of my food by feverish anxiety; and my tea, which used to refresh me when I got up, has no moisture in it. Oh! cold, solitary, sepulchral breakfasts, compared to those which I made when she was standing by my side; my Eve, my guardian angel, my wife, my sister, my sweet friend, my all.   *   *   *   Ah! what I suffer now, shows only what I have felt before.

“But you say, ‘The girl is a good girl, if there is goodness in human nature.’ I thank you for those words, and I will fall down and worship you, if you can prove them true; and I would not do much less to him that proves her a demon.

“Do let me know if anything has passed; suspense is my greatest torment. I am going to Renton Inn, to see if I can work a little.”

“I ought to have written you before; but since I received your letter I have
been in a sort of hell. I would put an end to my torments at once, but that I am as great a coward as I am a fool. Do you know that I have not had a word of answer from her since? What can be the reason? Is she offended at my letting you know she wrote to me? or is it some new amour? I wrote to her in the tenderest, most respectful manner—poured my soul at her feet—and this is the way she serves me! Can you account for it, except on the admission of my worst suspicion? God! can I bear to think of her so—or that I am scorned and made a sport of by the creature to whom I have given my very heart? I feel like one of the damned. To be hated, loathed as I have been all my life, and to feel the utter impossibility of its ever being otherwise while I live, take what pains I may! I sit and cry my eyes out. My weakness grows upon me, and I have no hope left, unless I could lose my senses quite. I think I should like this. To forget—ah! to forget—there would be something in that—to be an idiot for some few years, and then wake up a poor, wretched,
old man, to recollect my misery as past, and die! Yet, oh! with, her, only a little while ago, I had different hopes—forfeited for nothing that I know of.”

“I was in hopes to have got away by the steam-boat to-morrow, but owing to   *   *   *   I cannot, and may not be in town till another week, unless I come by the mail, which I am strongly tempted to do. In the latter case, I shall be there on Saturday evening. Will you look in and see, about eight o’clock? I wish much to see you, and her, and John Hunt, and my little boy, once more; and then, if she is not what she once was to me, I care not if I die that instant.”

Many of the letters in the “Nouvelle Héloise” are among the most beautiful and affecting effusions which exist in those works of fiction that concern themselves with sentiment and passion, rather than with incident and action. But, I venture to say, that there
is nothing in the “Nouvelle Héloise” equal in passion and pathos to the foregoing extracts. And the reason is, that the latter are actual and immediate transcripts from the human heart. In this respect, the letters from which these extracts are taken are, perhaps, more beautiful and touching than anything of their kind that was ever given to the world. But I am far from doubting that innumerable others exist, equalling them in all the qualities in which they excel; for real and intense passion levels all ranks of intellect, laughs learning and worldly wisdom to scorn, and invests the common-places of life with the highest attributes of poetry and eloquence.

Perhaps the published writings most resembling these letters in the depth and intensity of the passion they embody and convey, are the celebrated letters addressed by Mary Woolstoncraft to Imlay.