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Memoirs of William Hazlitt

‣ Introduction
Chap. I 1778-1811
Ch. II: 1791-95
Ch. III 1795-98
Ch. IV 1798
Ch. V 1798
Ch. VI 1792-1803
Ch. VII 1803-05
Ch. VIII 1803-05
Ch. IX
Ch. X 1807
Ch. XI 1808
Ch. XII 1808
Ch. XII 1812
Ch. XIV 1814-15
Ch. XV 1814-17
Ch. XVI 1818
Ch. XVII 1820
Ch. XX 1821
Ch. I 1821
Ch. II 1821-22
Ch. III 1821-22
Ch. IV 1822
Ch. V 1822
Ch. VI 1822
Ch. VII 1822-23
Ch. VIII 1822
Ch. IX 1823
Ch. X 1824
Ch. XI 1825
Ch. XII 1825
Ch. XIII 1825
Ch. XIV 1825
Ch. XV 1825
Ch. XVI 1825-27
Ch. XVII 1826-28
Ch. XVIII 1829-30
Ch. XX
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Charles Lamb once commenced an epic poem in blank verse, beginning—
Hail, Mackery End!——
and there he stopped.
Mr. R. H. Horne, author of several pieces of striking merit and originality in dramatic literature, was to have undertaken a memoir of Mr. Hazlitt, but got no farther than “Man is a stone!” My father at the time (it is thirty years ago) took the liberty of disapproving of the proem, and Mr. Horne threw up his, I believe, self-imposed task.

Mr. Hazlitt’s life was peculiarly an intellectual one; and such, in the main, I purpose to regard and treat it. His personal and moral infirmities were the result of several combining circumstances; and his life displayed a continual conflict between a magnificent intellect and morbid, miserly physical influences.

I do not pretend or aspire to furnish a history of the mind of my grandfather; but I cannot help looking at it as part of my business to supply the clue, where I can, to his adoption of certain subjects as the groundworks of his essays.


Not only was the ‘Essay on Human Action’ the result of an early and deep study of Helvetius and others; but other writings of his, belonging to a later epoch of his life, were more or less direct emanations of the books he had read, and become intellectually imbued with, in his youth. One source of objection and dislike on my grandfather’s part to Helvetius and his school, was their opposition in some essential particulars to the philosophical opinions of Rousseau.

Mr. Hazlitt’s disquisition on Self-Love, printed in the ‘Literary Remains,’ should be regarded as a sort of sequel to the earlier treatise of 1805; and pretty nearly the same may be said of the lectures on English Philosophy, delivered at the Russell Institution in 1812.

I am anxious to refrain so far as possible from adopting the tu quoque line of argument. I desire to keep aloof, here and elsewhere, from recrimination. For instance, one of his disparagers, Haydon, was neither a fortunate nor a happy man. His life is before the world, and everybody who chooses may read it.

Men of the present day can form no adequate conception of the kind of life-and-death struggle it was for people of honest principles and advanced opinions forty or fifty years ago. There were men whom Mr. Hazlitt, and whom the Hunts knew, who were ready to answer for their political creed with their personal liberty, nay, with their necks, if need had been. The need has ceased, and the men have gone. It would not be possible now to assemble such a circle as Mr. John Hunt assembled in his house at Maida Hill; the times are
altered, and the type is extinct. Of
Lamb’s evenings the same may be said, not from any paucity of intellect and wit amongst modern Englishmen, but from a complete alteration in the intellectual temperature and atmosphere.

Mr. Hazlitt was so far like other men, that he spent his time as the days came according to circumstances, and spent one day in one manner and another day in another. This observation, in the case of most people, might seem unnecessary; but such a deplorable amount of misstatement exists almost on every point of Mr. Hazlitt’s private and literary history, that what would be mere trivial detail as regarded others, becomes less impertinent and more material here. One writer has sought to make out that he used to get up at about two in the afternoon, have breakfast, write, and go to the theatre—every day of his life! Another has pictured him at the breakfast-table in the afternoon, and pursuing, according to custom, his literary labours through the silent hours of night! In one quarter we are informed that he was to be seen every evening at the ‘Southampton Arms,’ that he very seldom dined, but supped instead, and that he wrote in a very large, clear hand, like print, and never made corrections!

It would not be difficult to augment this catalogue of damaging exaggerations (to say the least of them). When we recollect that Mr. Hazlitt’s chief delight and only recreation of the kind was the theatre, and that his health was never very excellent, we cannot be excessively surprised that, when he happened to be in
London, and not otherwise engaged, he went to the play, and lay in bed the next morning, all the worse for stopping out late, and perhaps a hot supper at the ‘Southampton,’ where he liked to go, because it was there that he met
Hone, Procter, and other friends and acquaintances. It was the same to him that ‘Will’s Coffee House’ had been long before to Dryden, and the ‘Mitre’ to Johnson. If there had not been a kind of mania for detecting motives, or inventing them for him, on the part of people with whom he mixed, much that he did might have been thought not so particularly strange perhaps, and have been accounted for as naturally as much that other literary men did, could have been.

My grandfather’s gait has been described as a slouch, as if there was some peculiar felicity in the expression; and, again, as if it was his habitual mode of locomotion. A certain indifference to appearances characterized Mr. Hazlitt in later years, when those who have undertaken to supply pen-and-ink portraits of him knew him chiefly; but in his earlier life he was possessed of remarkable activity and alertness of carriage, and to the last he was a capital pedestrian. Mr. Patmore it is, I think, who describes him as “devouring the ground.” A walk to Windsor and back on the same day from London, was the feat of a man who could do something more than “slouch” into a room, and this Mr. Hazlitt accomplished more than once.

He enjoyed the walks down the Oxford Road to Bayswater, where lived the Reynells, intimate and
valued friends. Their house was in Black Lion Lane (now no more), in a large fruit and flower garden, and commanded an unbroken view over the fields as far as Harrow.

My grandfather took his son with him usually, and if he grew tired on the way, carried him pick-a-back. At that time a hedge ran along a good portion of the way, and it was a lonely journey, especially for one so timid as my grandfather.

Authors in clover pasturage are perhaps too apt to give the contemptuous go-by to the members of the fraternity still quartered on the stubble:
Non cuivis contingit adire Corinthum.
It is not everybody who wielded a pen in his youth who can spend the afternoon and evening of life in an elegant, purple-tinted case, forgetting that he, too, was once an inglorious grub.

My grandfather depended upon his literary earnings for his subsistence to the last. If he had placed himself on the right hand of Mr. Speaker, it might have been otherwise; but unfortunately for those whom he left behind him, and for himself, he owned principles for which he had a value, and which in those days were not Government principles. He was too honest a man to leave his creed because it did not pay.

Where men hold back so little of what passes in their minds, or of what their hearts really feel, we seem to owe them this—an indulgent construction upon what they say or what they are pleased to put upon record
against themselves.
Mr. Hazlitt’s personal confessions, like some of his literary opinions, must be received with allowance. We must not believe all he tells us. Like good archers, we must provide for the wind. There was an amazing amount of wilful extravagance about many of his expressed thoughts—a prevailing vein of paradox and hyperbole, and then, if the world took him at his word, and construed him literally, he was vexed with the world—and with himself. This brings me to speak of the ‘Liber Amoris,’—for a mere moment.

It usually happens, in discussions of this kind, that people run into extremes. Some critics at the time decried this volume, and the transaction to which it referred, with a virulence and bitterness which was simply ridiculous, and which, to any unbiassed mind, must appear wholly unwarranted by the circumstances; while a few invite us to admire the vein of poetical passion which breathes in the conversations and in the letters.

Long before this, we are pretty sure, the spirit of detraction and disparagement, which haunted and worried Mr. Hazlitt from the commencement of his career as a popular writer, has died down; and if his fame as an author should be thought to depend at all greatly on the possession and exercise of the imaginative faculty, passages upon passages might be produced from his other works eclipsing in richness and strength of fancy any to be found in the ‘Liber Amoris.’ Many such indeed are scattered through these volumes.

All that I ask for Mr. Hazlitt is respectful forbearance; and that, considering what he suffered, and what
he has left us, he should in this one thing be tenderly and charitably judged.

On his behalf, if any new plea were capable of being urged, it would be this: that his irrepressible love of truth, and abhorrence of disguise in any shape or under any circumstances, have been the means of laying bare before us much that other men would have shrunk instinctively from divulging. We are bound to recollect that he has opened his whole heart to us; and allowances are to be made for that confessed addiction to taking the extreme view, and sailing over-closely to the wind.

The works of William Hazlitt abound with autobiography. There are so many passages where he explains his own feelings, his own views, his own opinions, and his own conduct so much better than I could explain them, that I have preferred to stand aside as often as I could in these instances, and let him speak for himself, in his own language, without a word or a syllable altered, added, or taken away. In taking this course, I have confined myself almost exclusively to those details which are of a strictly personal nature.

His brain was as clear as crystal, but not, as crystal, cold. His was a mind of intense and vast sensibilities, susceptible of the most violent nervous fluctuations, and of a voluptuous temperament.

It opened itself willingly to pleasurable impressions. It was of an Epicurean complexion. The instincts and impulses of the flesh had their share in governing it, and perhaps it was too large a share.


I wish to find room for these following observations of the late Mr. Justice Talfourd:—

Coleridge and Wordsworth were not moderns to him; for he knew them in his youth, which was his own antiquity, and the feelings which were the germ of their poetry had sunk deep into his heart. His personal acquaintance with them was broken before he became known to the world as an author, and he sometimes alluded to them with bitterness; but he, and he alone, has done justice to the immortal works of the one, and the genius of the other. The very prominence which he gave to them as objects of attack, at a time when it was the fashion to pour contempt on their names—when the public echoed those articles of the ‘Edinburgh Review’ upon them, which they now regard with wonder as the curiosities of criticism—proved what they still were to him; and, in the midst of those attacks, there are involuntary confessions of their influence over his mind, are touches of admiration, heightened by fond regret, which speak more than his elaborate eulogies upon them in his ‘Spirit of the Age.’

“Surely those books on which Hazlitt has expatiated with true regard, have assumed, to our apprehensions, a stouter reality since we surveyed them through the medium of his mind. In general, the effect of criticism, even when fairly and tenderly applied, is the reverse of this; for the very process of subjecting the creations of the poet and the novelist to examination as works of art, and of estimating the force of passion or of habit, as exemplified in them, so necessarily implies that they
are but the shadows of thought, as insensibly to dissipate the illusion which our dreamy youth had perchance cast around them. But in all that Hazlitt has written on old English authors, he is seldom merely critical. His masterly exposition of that huge book of fantastical fallacies, the vaunted ‘
Arcadia’ of Sir Philip Sidney, stands almost alone in his works as a specimen of the mere power of unerring dissection and impartial judgment. In the laboratory of his intellect, analysis was turned to the sweet uses of alchemy.”

The Recollections of William Hazlitt, in Mr. P. G. Patmore’s ‘Friends and Acquaintances,’ 1854, had originally been printed (in substance) in ‘Jerrold’s Shilling Magazine,’ shortly after Mr. Hazlitt’s death. There is in another section of Mr. Patmore’s book a note from Lady Blessington to him in reference to them upon their first appearance in this shape:—

“My dear Mr. Patmore,

“I have been reading with great interest and pleasure your ‘Recollections’ of Hazlitt. They are full of fine tact and perception, as well as a healthy philosophy. I wish all men of genius had such biographers—men who, alive to their powers of mind, could look with charity and toleration on their failings. Your ‘Recollections’ of him made me very sad, for they explained much that I had not previously comprehended in his troubled life. How he must have suffered!

“What a clever production ‘Jerrold’s Magazine’ is,
and how admirable are his own contributions! Such writings must effect good.

“Very sincerely yours,
“M. Blessington.”

Of the paintings executed by Mr. Hazlitt from 1800, the annexed is the most perfect catalogue I can at present offer:—

Circa 1800.
1. King Lear—head and shoulders, small size. Original.
2. Titian’s Mistress. After Titian.
3. Hippolyto de Medici. After Titian.
4. The Young Man with the Glove. After Titian.
5. The Death of Clorinda. After Lodovic Lana.
6. The Transfiguration. After Raphael.
7. Christ Crowned with Thorns. After Guido.
8. A portrait of Wordsworth the Poet. Original.
⁂ Never finished.
9. A portrait of Hartley Coleridge. Original.
10. The Old Cottager—head and shoulders. Original.
11. The Rev. Dr. Shepherd, of Gateacre. Original.
12. A Manchester Manufacturer.
13. Sir Joshua Reynolds—half-length. A copy.
14. The Rev. W. Hazlitt, A.M. Original.
15. Charles Lamb. Original.
Circa 1825.
16. Portrait of himself—head and shoulders, painted on the back of a book. Original.

I may pass from the portraits done by him to those which have been done of him.


These are tolerably numerous, and range in date between 1783 and 1825 (circa). The earliest likeness of him which the family possesses was painted on ivory in brooch-size while he was in America with his father and mother. The next in order of time is a miniature, three-quarter size, painted in 1791 by John Hazlitt. He was then thirteen: the resemblance between it and the former are so strikingly powerful, that each seems to corroborate the fidelity of the other, having been from different hands. His brother also took him in oils, three-quarter size, at the ages of nineteen and thirty, and also on ivory, in miniature, about 1808.

The chalk drawing by Bewick is well known. It was taken in Scotland in 1822, I have understood, and Mr. Hazlitt was much pleased with it. But it was not a very faithful likeness, though the general effect is good, and sufficiently true to the original to enable anybody who knew him to tell at a glance for whom the portrait was intended. But it is unnecessary to insist upon the fact, that art requires a good deal more than this, and nobody was better aware of it than Mr. Bewick’s sitter.

He sat to Bewick, however, several times.

It exhibits him without a neckcloth, and with his hair straggling, and just beginning to be thin over the temples. This was as it should have been, so far; for Mr. Hazlitt seldom wore a neckerchief in the house.

An attempt to paint himself was made late in life. He sat opposite a looking-glass, and drew himself to the shoulders, and afterwards coloured the drawing, the
back of a book serving him for an easel. The likeness, which is in a manner like, is the most curious, if not the most valuable, of the portraits; it is still in my possession. Here, too, the neckcloth is missing. I should attribute its execution to the period between 1825 and 1828; but this is mere conjecture. It represents him, at any rate, with his hair cropped, and he did not wear his hair short till it turned grey, about the time of his visit to France and Italy in 1821-5.

From the cast taken by Mr. Horne after the death of Mr. Hazlitt, and one or two of the portraits of him taken at different periods, Mr. Joseph Durham, the eminent sculptor, executed a bust, which Mr. and Mrs. Procter, who knew the original intimately, pronounce a happy and close likeness. There were four copies made, of which three were reserved by the family.

I am told that Mr. Hazlitt contributed for a short time to the ‘Taunton Courier’ while Mr. Marriott had it. Probably his connexion with it arose from his friendship with Mr. John Hunt, who for some years was settled at Taunton.

The pamphlet entitled ‘Don John; or Don Juan Unmasked—being a Key to the Mystery attending that remarkable Publication, &c.,’ was published in 1819 by William Hone, and was, ridiculously enough, supposed and asserted to be Mr. Hazlitt’s. It has not a trace of his style, and he had assuredly as much hand in its authorship as he had in that of ‘Don Juan’ itself.


I must also disclaim on his behalf ‘The Dramatic Scorpion’ (!!) and ‘A Selection of Speeches made at County Elections during the years 1820 and 1821.’

The person to whom perhaps I owe most, next to Mr. Hazlitt’s own autobiographical passages, has unhappily not lived to witness the practical fruits of her frequent communications to me of facts and anecdotes, some of which she had from my grandfather’s own lips, and which she handed down through me often in the very words and forms of expression the original speaker had employed. I refer to my mother. Her retentive and accurate memory has saved from oblivion much that appears in these pages respecting Mr. Hazlitt and his opinions of men and things.

Next to my mother, I thank my uncle, C. W. Reynell, Esq., of Putney, the life-long friend of the late Leigh Hunt, who died at his house in 1859. Mr. Reynell’s father, Mr. C. H. Reynell, and Mr. John Hunt, Leigh Hunt’s elder brother, married two sisters.* I have also derived assistance from my mother’s sister, Miss Reynell.

Samuel Hazlitt, Esq., of Featherd, near Tipperary, deserves my cordial recognition of the zeal with which he instituted, at my request, a series of inquiries in the neighbourhood of Shrone-Hill, and personally examined for me the inscriptions in the churchyard there.

To John Alexander, Esq., I am under very consider-

* The Misses Hammond, of Hounslow. The family was originally, however, from Woodbridge, in Suffolk.

able obligations, for that gentleman procured for me a thorough research into the registers of the University of Glasgow, with a view to ascertaining some very material dates.

I have to thank Edward A. McDermott, Esq., secretary of the Russell Institution, for forwarding to me verbatim copies of all the existing papers in the archives of that establishment respecting Mr. Hazlitt’s Course of Lectures there in 1812.

I also desire to make public my feelings of gratitude for the friendly and courteous manner in which my inquiries have been met by Sir Percy Shelley, Bart.; the Rev. J. A. Hessey, D.C.L.; H. Taylor, Esq.; Alexander Ireland, Esq.; Samuel Redgrave, Esq.; Robert Bell, Esq.; Huntly Gordon, Esq.; J. Payne Collier, Esq., F.S.A.; and F. W. Cosens, Esq.

John Hazlitt ceased to be an exhibitor at the Royal Academy in 1819. He moved from one place to another afterwards, till in 1832 he retired finally to Stockton, where he died in 1837, in his seventieth year.

In 1809, John Hazlitt’s name appears among those who, upon the establishment of the British Institution, applied for permission to copy the old masters. I have never heard that he actually availed himself of the opportunity, but he painted portraits in his later years. He had been for one-and-twenty years a painter and exhibitor of miniatures at this time, and perhaps he was beginning to feel a decline in his powers of eyesight.


He was a strongly-built man, below the middle height. He never wrote any work, but he had literary tastes and good judgment, and at one time he moved in an excellent and wide circle. In politics he was, like his brother, an extreme Liberal, and also, like him, remained one.

“No young man believes he shall ever die,” was a saying of his, and is quoted by my grandfather as such in an ‘Essay on the Feeling of Immortality in Youth.’

Mrs. Hazlitt, the first wife of William Hazlitt, died in 1842-3, and was buried in the churchyard of St. John’s, Abingdon Street, Millbank. She lived latterly, and died, at Mrs. Penny’s, No. 4, Palace Street, Pimlico.

Peggy Hazlitt, the author’s only sister, died at Liverpool, in 1844, at the house of the Rev. J. Johns, and lies buried there.