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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. XI 1808

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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The marriage.

It was as well that poor Miss Lamb’s “God bless you, and may you be happy together” should come to something at last, and should not be all waste benedicites.

My grandfather, in spite of Miss Lamb’s admonitions to the contrary, went down to Salisbury in the early part of February, 1808, and saw Miss Stoddart.

He had left his father’s, it seems, without saying whither he was bound, and had come up to town, where he saw the Lambs. He did not go to his brother’s this time, but took lodgings somewhere on his own account. On a Saturday afternoon he suddenly disappeared, and the Lambs did not know what had become of him. Meanwhile, Miss Stoddart had written to him, enclosing a drawing of Middleton Cottage, Winterslow, and had sent it, as usual, under cover to him at Mitre Court Buildings; and Miss Lamb, supposing that he had returned to Wem, forwarded it to him there. She at the same time wrote off to Miss Stoddart, to let her know what she had done:—

[12 Feb. 1808.]
“My dear Sarah,

“I have sent your letter and drawing off to Wem, Hazlitt’s father’s in Shropshire, where I conjecture Hazlitt is. He left town on Saturday afternoon without telling us where he was going. He seemed very impatient at not hearing from you. He was very ill, and I suppose is gone home to his father’s to be nursed.

“I find Hazlitt has mentioned to you the intention which we had of asking you up to town, which we were bent on doing; but, having named it since to your brother, the Doctor expressed a strong desire that you should not come to town to be at any other house than his own, for he said it would have a very strange appearance. His wife’s father is coming to be with them till near the end of April, after which time he shall have full room for you. And if you are to be married, he wishes that you should be married with all the proper decorums from his house. Now, though we should be most willing to run any hazards of disobliging him, if there were no other means of your and Hazlitt’s meeting, yet, as he seems so friendly to the match, it would not be worth while to alienate him from you, and ourselves, too, for the slight accommodation which the difference of a few weeks could make; provided always, and be it understood, that if you and H. make up your minds to be married before the time in which you can be at your brother’s, our house stands open, and most ready at a moment’s notice to receive you. Only we would not quarrel unnecessarily with your brother. Let there be a clear necessity shown, and we will quarrel
with anybody’s brother. Now, though I have written to the above effect, I hope you will not conceive but that both my brother and I had looked forward to your coming with unmixed pleasure, and are really disappointed at your brother’s declaration; for next to the pleasure of being married, is the pleasure of making or helping marriage forward.

“We wish to hear from you that you do not take our seeming change of purpose in ill part, for it is but seeming on our part; for it was my brother’s suggestion, by him first mentioned to Hazlitt, and cordially approved by me. But your brother has set his face against it, and it is better to take him along with us in our plans, if he will good-naturedly go along with us, than not.

“The reason I have not written lately has been that I thought it better to leave you all to the workings of your own minds in this momentous affair, in which the inclinations of a bystander have a right to form a wish, but not to give a vote.

“Being, with the help of wide lines, at the end of my last page, I conclude, with our kind wishes and prayers for the best.

“Yours affectionately,
“M. Lamb.

“His direction is (if he is there) at Wem, in Shropshire. I suppose, as letters must come to London first, you had better enclose them, while he is there, to my brother, in London.

[Endorsed.] “Miss Stoddart,
“Winterslow, near Salisbury, Wilts.”

The Rev. Mr. Hazlitt had heard nothing of his son since the mysterious departure of the latter from home, and it was his turn to be alarmed. He knew that William frequented the Lambs’, and (John Hazlitt being away from town, as I presume) he despatched a letter of inquiry to Mitre Court Buildings.

Lamb returned the following explanation. The letter is not quite correctly given by Talfourd, and I now print from the original:—

“Temple, 18 Febr., 1808.

“I am truly concerned that any mistake of mine should have caused you uneasiness, but I hope we have got a clue to William’s absence, which may clear up all apprehensions. The people where he lodges in town have received direction from him to forward one or two of his shirts to a place called Winterslow, in the county of Hants [Wilts] (not far from Salisbury), where the lady lives whose Cottage, pictured upon a card, if you opened my letter you have doubtless seen, and though we have had no explanation of the mystery since, we shrewdly suspect that at the time of writing that Letter which has given you all this trouble, a certain son of yours (who is both Painter & Author) was at her elbow, and did assist in framing that very Cartoon, which was sent to amuse and mislead us in town as to the real place of his destination. And some words at the back of the said Cartoon, which we had not marked so narrowly before, by the similarity of the hand-writing to William’s, do very much confirm the suspicion. If
our theory be right, they have had the pleasure of their jest, and I am afraid you have paid for it in anxiety. But I hope your uneasiness will now be removed, and you will pardon a suspense occasioned by Love, who does so many worse mischiefs every day.

“The Letter to the people where William lodges says, moreover, that he shall be in town in a fortnight.

“My sister joins in respects to you and Mrs. Hazlitt, and in our kindest remembrances & wishes for the restoration of Peggy’s health.

“I am, Sir, your humble Servt., Ch. Lamb.
“Rev. W. Hazlitt, Wem, Shropshire.

The cartoon here referred to was, of course, the drawing of Middleton Cottage, Winterslow, which had come in Miss Stoddart’s letter. At the time of answering that, Miss Lamb was not aware that William had set out to go to Wiltshire, and imagined, on the contrary, that he had returned to Wem. It was between the 12th and the 18th February that Lamb or his sister discovered where the truant had lodged, and so came at part of the truth, in time to relieve the anxiety of the family. What the exact force, or indeed nature of the “jest” was, is more than existing papers enable us to unravel.

Miss Stoddart was now beginning to be busy with preparations for her marriage, which was to be from her own house at Winterslow, as at present advised. Miss Lamb had been asked to come to the ceremony—to be
a bridesmaid! and had consented; but
Charles was not yet invited. Miss Lamb was not writing quite so often now, because she thought that Sarah would be getting enough correspondence without hers; but in rather more than a month after the “cartoon” letter, she could not forbear writing to know about the dresses—what Sarah was going to wear, and what she had better wear, and such like gossip of the season:—

“16 March, 1808.
“My dear Sarah,

“Do not be very angry that I have not written to you. I have promised your brother to be at your wedding, and that favour you must accept as an atonement for my offences. You have been in no want of correspondence lately, and I wished to leave you both to your own inventions.

“The border you are working for me I prize at a very high rate, because I consider it as the last work you can do for me, the time so fast approaching that you must no longer work for your friends. Yet my old fault of giving away presents has not left me, and I am desirous of even giving away this your last gift. I had intended to have given it away without your knowledge, but I have intrusted my secret to Hazlitt, and I suppose it will not remain a secret long, so I condescend to consult you.

“It is to Miss Hazlitt to whose superior claim I wish to give up my right to this precious worked border. Her brother William is her great favourite, and she
would be pleased to possess his bride’s last work. Are you not to give the fellow border to one sister-in-law, and therefore has she not a just claim to it? I never heard in the annals of weddings (since the days of Nausicaa, and she only washed her old gowns for that purpose) that the brides ever furnished the apparel of their maids. Besides, I can be completely clad in your work without it, for the spotted muslin will serve both for cap and hat (nota bene, my hat is the same as yours), and the gown you sprigged for me has never been made up, therefore I can wear that. Or, if you like better, I will make up a new silk which
Manning has sent me from China. Manning would like to hear I wore it for the first time at your wedding. It is a very pretty light colour, but there is an objection (besides not being your work, and that is a very serious objection), and that is, Mrs. Hazlitt tells me that all Winterslow would be in an uproar if the bridesmaid was to be dressed in anything but white; and although it is a very light colour, I confess we cannot call it white, being a sort of a dead-whiteish-bloom colour. Then silk perhaps in a morning is not so proper, though the occasion, so joyful, might justify a full dress. Determine for me in this perplexity between the sprig and the China-Manning silk. But do not contradict my whim about Miss Hazlitt having the border, for I have set my heart upon the matter. If you agree with me in this, I shall think you have forgiven me for giving away your pin; that was a mad trick; but I had many obligations and no money. I repent me of the deed, wishing I had
it now to send to Miss H. with the border; and I cannot, will not, give her the
Doctor’s pin, for having never had any presents from gentlemen in my young days, I highly prize all they now give me, thinking my latter days are better than my former.

“You must send this same border in your own name to Miss Hazlitt, which will save me the disgrace of giving away your gift, and make it amount merely to a civil refusal.

“I shall have no present to give you on your marriage, nor do I expect I shall be rich enough to give anything to baby at the first christening. But at the second, or third child’s, I hope to have a coral or so to spare out of my own earnings. Do not ask me to be godmother, for I have an objection to that—but there is, I believe, no serious duties attached to a bridesmaid, therefore I come with a willing mind, bringing nothing with me but merry wishes, and not a few hopes, and a very little fear—of happy years to come.

“I am, dear Sarah,
“Yours ever most affectionately,
“M. Lamb.

“What has Charles done that nobody invites him to the wedding?

“Miss Stoddart, Winterslow, near Salisbury.”

I thought I might print the whole of this long letter as it stands, on the ground that it is the last in my hands of the correspondence between Miss Lamb and Miss Stoddart. Other letters must have passed, however,
for eventually the whole scheme was changed, and the
Doctor had his way in regard to the place from which his sister was to be married.

The ceremony, so much talked and written about, at length was solemnized on Sunday morning, the 1st of May, 1808, at St. Andrew’s Church, Holborn; the married couple afterwards breakfasted at Dr. Stoddart’s, and then proceeded to Winterslow. The only persons present at the marriage, so far as I can collect, were Dr. and Mrs. Stoddart, and Mr. and Miss Lamb; but I strongly suspect that there were other guests, of whom there is no remaining record.

Lamb, in a letter to Southey, dated August 9, 1815, more than seven years after the event, thus alludes to his having been present: “I was at Hazlitt’s marriage, and had like to have been turned out several times during the ceremony. Anything awful makes me laugh.”

It was not an everyday kind of business this, with William Hazlitt for bridegroom, and Charles Lamb for best man, and Miss Lamb for bridesmaid—and all of a Sunday morning! I wonder whether Elia appeared at the altar in his snuff-coloured smalls? I wonder whether Miss Lamb wore, after all, the sprig dress, or the China-Manning silk, or a real white gown? I wonder in what way Lamb misbehaved, so as to leave so strong an impression on his own mind years after? To have been in St. Andrew’s that day, and to have seen the whole thing from a good place, would have been a recollection worth cherishing; and there are plenty of men and women living who are old enough to
have done so, though of those who mixed in that “set” so early, scarcely one.

Mrs. Hazlitt’s property at Winterslow, which had been left to her by her father, with a reversionary interest in what he bequeathed to Mrs. Stoddart for her life, was settled upon herself at her brother’s instigation, and much to my grandfather’s annoyance. There was about 120l. a year altogether.

Mr. Hazlitt and the Doctor had never been very good friends; and the Doctor’s new politics, and the new prospects in Malta, arising out of his conversion to the more fashionable lay-creed of the day, had produced a decided estrangement before 1806 or 1807. He had set his face against the threatened alliance between the families, and was very anxious to get his sister out of the way of temptation, and marry her more suitably, or more in conformity with his own personal views, in Malta.

When he had found that there was no help for it, he had tried to behave with civility to his future brother-in-law, and had asked him to his house, when he settled again in England. But there was no real heartiness, I am afraid, in the friendship; and Mr. Hazlitt was not blind to the fact. Relations did not improve subsequently; the breach grew wider and wider.

The story goes, too, that Mr. Hazlitt said of an ephemeral newspaper speculation of Dr. Stoddart’s, that if any one wanted to keep a secret, he could not do better than put it in the ‘Correspondent!’ Mr. Hazlitt himself has related the anecdote, which is no doubt sufficiently authentic; and of course, if it came to the
Doctor’s ears, it was not a thing apt to make their communications friendlier.

No two people could be more opposite in their characters than the Doctor and Mrs. Hazlitt. She hated formality and etiquette, while he was all formality and etiquette.

There is an anecdote rather to the purpose, which may at this time of day, perhaps, be repeated without offence. Lieutenant Stoddart, their father, in the old days at Salisbury, would sometimes be drinking his grog when his children were in the room, and he would say to John, “John, will you have some?” to which John would answer, “No, thank you, father;” then he would say to Sarah, “Sarah, will you have some?’ to which she would reply, “Yes, please, father.”

Not that she ever indulged to excess, but she was that sort of woman. Her brother and Lord B., then Mr. B., had been fellow-collegians at Oxford, and Mr. B. and the Stoddarts were sufficiently intimate to warrant Miss S. (not the Doctor) in calling him by his Christian name. When Mr. B. became Lord B., and a high officer of state, she wrote to him to use his influence for somebody, and she was the plain, downright, impervious kind of woman, who did not perceive any impropriety in still keeping up the old familiarity of address. Her letter beginning “My dear H——” had to be intercepted by a judicious friend.

Mr. Hazlitt had rather admired these traits of character in her, meeting her occasionally at Lamb’s or her brother’s, before their marriage, and it still remained
to be seen whether they would be equally acceptable to him now that she was more than a friend to him. I have heard that her unaffected good sense was one of the things which made him resolve he would have her.

One evening, at Mitre Court Buildings, when my grandfather had escorted Miss Stoddart to the theatre, and had brought her back afterwards, Charles called for warm water, which Miss Lamb did not seem very anxious to produce. But Miss Stoddart unconsciously hunted out the kettle, and set it to boil, not at all to Miss L.’s satisfaction. But Mr. Hazlitt, the tradition runs, was highly pleased, as it seemed to him to show an honesty and sterlingness of character.

This connection with the Stoddarts, thus begun in 1808, was, however, of service in more than one respect; it certainly tended to infuse into the Hazlitt blood certain southern characteristics, among them a taste for formality and method; for my grandmother, with all her inattention and repugnance to domestic matters, was by no means destitute of a love of order, and her brother John was a precisian. The Celtic element may have been thought by some to predominate hitherto too exclusively, to the disadvantage and sacrifice of what are understood as the conventional gentilities. My great-grandfather was an Irishman, and my grandfather after him; nor am I quite positive that the Irish blood is extinct in us Hazlitts to this day, notwithstanding a second intermarriage with the Reynells, a quarter of a century later on.