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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. XV 1814-17

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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‘Edinburgh’ Reviewer—The ‘Round Table ’—Its origin—Mr. Hazlitt’s progress towards celebrity—First domestic disappointment—The ‘Characters of Shakspeare’s Plays’ published—The ‘Round Table’ published.

These can hardly be sounder evidence of Mr. Hazlitt’s rising fame and credit in the profession which he had selected, than the fact that so early as 1814 we find him called upon by Jeffrey to give his co-operation in that quarter. The book assigned to him was Dunlop’sHistory of Fiction,’ and it appeared in the November number of the ‘Review,’ for 1814. I should be very sorry to have it supposed that I do not lay proper stress on his commencement as ‘Edinburgh’ Reviewer within two years after his first settlement in town as a writer for the press. His progress had indeed been gratifying to himself, and to that select circle of friends of which Lamb and his sister were the centre; and his future success might seem now to be entirely in his own hands.

I do not pretend to say, for I do not at all know, in what measure he owed to his early association with Longman and Co., in the ‘Reply to Malthus,’ this landmark,
as it surely was to be considered, in his literary history; but we ought to ask for very good proof before we believed that he had anybody to thank but himself. Hostile critics had done some of his later articles in the
Examiner the honour of noticing them in reference to their worthlessness and presumption, and it cannot be too much to conjecture that these same writings helped Jeffrey largely in forming a favourable estimate of his talents as a critic, of his powers and extent of observation, of his command of language, and of his competence, in all respects, for the judicial duties of a reviewer.

It was a very encouraging indication, to say the least, of the growing esteem with which the periodical fruits of his pen were regarded, and it may be added, perhaps, without improper bias, that the class of men with which Jeffrey surrounded himself, and the rather trying qualifications indispensable to the discharge of the critical office upon the great Liberal organ in those days, make out together a pretty fair case for believing that William Hazlitt, in the second year of his professional apprenticeship to literature, enjoyed a higher standing and a wider repute than have generally, before this, been accorded to him.

With the year 1815 Mr. Hazlitt’s contributions to the Examiner newspaper began to assume a more important aspect and tone. In the January of that year commenced a series of essays, somewhat modelled on the Queen Anne school of writing, but not intended at all in emulation of Addison and his colleagues, under the title of ‘The Round Table.’


The following extract from the preface to the first collected edition discloses the nature and scope of this intended serial undertaking:—

“It was proposed,” says Mr. Hazlitt, “by my friend Mr. [Leigh] Hunt, to publish a series of papers in the Examiner, in the manner of the early periodical essayists, the Spectator and Tatler. These papers were to be contributed by various persons on a variety of subjects; and Mr. Hunt, as the editor, was to take the characteristic or dramatic part of the work upon himself. I undertook to furnish occasional essays and criticisms; one or two other friends promised their assistance; but the essence of the work was to be miscellaneous. The next thing was to fix upon a title for it. After much doubtful consultation, that of ‘The Round Table’ was agreed upon as most descriptive of its nature and design.

“But our plan had been no sooner arranged and entered upon, than Buonaparte landed at Frejus, et voilá la Table Ronde dissoute. Our little congress was broken up as well as the great one: politics called off the attention of the editor from the Belles Lettres; and the task of continuing the work fell chiefly upon the person who was least able to give life and spirit to the original design. A want of variety in the subjects and mode of treating them is, perhaps, the least disadvantage resulting from this circumstance.”

The ‘Round Table,’ however, notwithstanding the difficulties which threatened it at the commencement, was carried on by Mr. Hunt and Mr. Hazlitt for two years, and forty-eight numbers of it appeared in the
columns of the
Examiner between January, 1815, and January, 1817. Of these, twelve were by Mr. Hunt, one by an anonymous pen, the remainder by my grandfather.

He was now gradually rising into notice. He seems to have permanently withdrawn from the Morning Chronicle, but was still retained on the Champion as a writer on Art and miscellaneous subjects. I trace him there during the whole of 1815, and at intervals till 1818. The third and last portion of a paper ‘On the Ideal,’ appeared in the columns of the Champion, on November 6, 1815.

Whatever loss the secession from the Chronicle entailed upon him was made up by the creation of new channels. He was in no danger of lying idle so long as he chose to continue putting pen to paper. In 1816 he began to write for the ‘Scots Magazine,’ and he remained a contributor to it for some few years. They were his lighter productions chiefly which found a market in this fresh quarter. He had not lost favour with Jeffrey by that essay on Dunlop; and he was almost entitled to consider himself on the staff of the ‘Edinburgh.’

In 1815 he had two articles in the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ one on Madame D’Arblay’sWanderer,’ and the other on Sismondi’sLiterature of the South of Europe.’ Both were happily chosen subjects for treatment; for Madame D’Arblay’s novel was readily made subservient to the design of presenting a general view of romantic literature, past and present, and sketches of
the best novelists,
Fielding, Smollett, Richardson, Defoe, Cervantes, and the other favourites of his youth; while the great French work supplied a convenient and profitable outlet for the opinions and feelings which he had so long hoarded up, and which had ripened and mellowed by keeping, upon Chaucer and Spenser, the bards of Italy and Provence, and the whole poetic lore of Europe. Tn both these fields the critic lived his golden age over again. He was at Wem once more, reading the ‘Canterbury Tales’ and the ‘New Héloise.’

For the February number of 1816 he prepared a review of Black’s translation of Schlegel’sLectures on Dramatic Literature.’ I confess that I do not see his hand very clearly in the paper; but, in addition to the decided opinion of the late Lord Cockburn, there is a passage in a letter from Leigh Hunt to Moore, of February, 1816, which, looking at the intimacy between Mr. Hazlitt and the Hunts, leaves very little doubt that the article is his.

The prostration of Napoleon’s power at Waterloo in June of this year was, no doubt, a heavy blow to his political hopes and aspirations. It was a shock to his system, and to the cause of progress, as he took it, from which he did not quickly rally. A gentleman who knew him first at this period has represented him as “staggering” under it.

“When I first met Hazlitt, in the year 1815,” says Talfourd, “he was staggering under the blow of Waterloo. The reappearance of his imperial idol on the coast of France, and his triumphant march to Paris, like
a fairy vision, had excited his admiration and sympathy to the utmost pitch; and though in many respects sturdily English in feeling, he could scarcely forgive the valour of the conquerors; and bitterly resented the captivity of the Emperor in St. Helena, which followed it, as if he had sustained a personal wrong. On this subject only he was ‘eaten up with passion;’ on all others he was the fairest, the most candid of reasoners. His countenance was then handsome, but marked by a painful expression; his black hair, which had curled stiffly over his temples, had scarcely received its first tints of grey; his gait was awkward; his dress was neglected; and, in the company of strangers, his bashfulness was almost painful; but when, in the society of
Lamb and one or two others, he talked on his favourite themes of old English books, or old Italian pictures, no one’s conversation could be more delightful.”

Mr. Haydon also bears testimony, in his own fashion, to the overwhelming effect which the fortune of war in Belgium produced on Mr. Hazlitt. He asserts that it rendered him still more indifferent to his personal appearance, and led him to give the rein still more to that incautious indulgence in wine and spirits. It may have been so; but at all events out of evil came good in his case; for it was about 1815 that he resolved, in obedience to medical advice, to abstain wholly from all fermented liquors for the future; and with exceedingly few and unimportant exceptions (I only know certainly of one) he kept this vow rigidly to the last.

The point is a delicate one for the present writer to
handle, and it is so gracefully and graciously put by
Talfourd, that I shall take leave to introduce what he says about it:—

“For some years previous to his death he observed an entire abstinence from fermented liquors, which he had once quaffed with the proper relish he had for all the good things of this life, but which he courageously resigned when he found the indulgence perilous to his health and faculties. The cheerfulness with which he made this sacrifice was one of the most amiable traits in his character. He had no censure for others, who, in the same dangers, were less wise or less resolute; nor did he think he had earned, by his own constancy, any right to intrude advice which he knew, if wanted, must be unavailing. Nor did he profess to be a convert to the general system of abstinence, which was advanced by one of his kindest and stanchest friends;* he avowed that he yielded to necessity; and instead of avoiding the sight of that which he could no longer taste, he was seldom so happy as when he sat with friends at their wine, participating the sociality of the time, and renewing his own past enjoyment in that of his companions, without regret and without envy.”

The fall of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty in France was one of those public calamities which, in Mr. Hazlitt’s eyes, assumed a personal character and form. He was so bound up, heart and soul, with what he regarded as the cause of progress and liberty among the French people, that he identified

* Mr. Basil Montagu.

himself with the defeat of the emperor, and looked at it as a wrong inflicted upon himself. In the letters written by him from the Louvre, in 1802, when the First Consul was pursuing his schemes of aggrandizement and absorption with slight prospect of resistance from any of the other great powers, there were already symptoms of that leaning towards the Bonapartist side, which in the next few years developed itself into an engrossing enthusiasm.

An incident occurred in the winter of the “Waterloo” year, in the heart of his own home, which had its natural tendency to soothe his spirit, and dispel the stupor into which he had fallen. It is one of which no notice has been taken, for the very good reason that the only record of it is to be met with in a private paper recently discovered.

On the 15th October, 1813, Mrs. Hazlitt had again been visited by a mischance. It was the third time that this had occurred since their marriage. But at last, on the 28th November, 1815, my grandfather had a second son born to him; he christened him John, after his brother. The little fellow lived seven months only, however, and died of the measles on the 19th June, 1816. He was laid in the burying-ground of the Broadway, Westminster.

His father felt the loss keenly, for even Mr. Haydon acknowledges that he had the good quality of being an affectionate parent. The day the child died he cut off a lock of his hair, enclosing it in a piece of paper, and writing upon it to show what it was. I have that paper and that writing now before me; my grandfather’s words
are: “My dear little John’s hair, cut off the day he died.”

“I have never seen death but once,” he says elsewhere, describing his parting glance at “his dear little John,” as he lay in the last sleep; “and that was in an infant. It is years ago. The look was calm and placid, and the face was fair and firm. It was as if a waxen image had been laid out in the coffin and strewed with innocent flowers. It was not like death, but more like an image of life! No breath moved the lips, no pulse stirred, no sight or sound would enter those eyes or ears more. While I looked at it I saw no pain was there; it seemed to smile at the short pang of life which was over: but I could not bear the coifin-lid to be closed—it seemed to stifle me.”

The connection of Mr. Hazlitt with the Examiner in, if not before, 1814, introduced him to the Hunts, Mr. John Hunt and his brother Leigh; and this connection probably was the indirect cause of Mr. Hazlitt proposing, on the publication of ‘The Story of Rimini’ in the year 1816, to make it the subject of a paper in the Edinburgh Review, which was done. Blackwood’s Magazine took the opportunity to charge Mr. Hunt with having importuned Mr. Hazlitt to take up the book; and there is in the Correspondence a letter from the author of ‘Rimini’ to Jeffrey, declaring the insinuation to be completely untrue—a fact with which those who advanced it were probably almost as well acquainted as anybody else.

The article on the ‘Story of Rimini’ is in the June
number of the
Edinburgh Review for 1816. To my mind it exhibits distinct traces of his early metaphysical style—cold, abstract, colourless, almost everything which his later writings were not. We miss those rich stores of illustration which, after being gathered up in a laborious youth, he scattered abroad like a spendthrift in his elder days. We miss the epigrammatic vigour and terseness which afterwards became so peculiarly his own, and in which he has had no rival, perhaps. We miss those sentences which are all pith, and those words which stand out from the page. There is too much of the old leaven of mechanical description. He improved as he went on; but his papers even in the Edinburgh—even those which were untampered with—are not what I should place before anybody as favourable specimens of his genius or acumen. A man of his temper wrote under a very serious disadvantage, overshadowed by an editor like Jeffrey, who made strange mosaics of some of the contributors’ copy, and sent a criticism to the printer a mere amalgam, a thing of the neuter gender, a sort of nullius filius.

His paper on Schlegel was more agreeable to his line of reading and to the direction of his literary inquiries: for some years before the present time he had taken a deep interest in dramatic literature, more particularly in that of his own country, and had been a warm, but discreet admirer of England’s arch-poet, Shakespeare. His series of criticisms on Kean’s performances in the Morning Chronicle may be regarded as the first outward development and demonstration of that fine and
inborn faculty of analysis, which permitted him to range eventually over the entire universe of nature and art, and to see all things elementally.

I suspect that the undeniable merit of Mr. Hazlitt’s articles in the newspapers of the day, especially of those in the Chronicle and Examiner, was owing in a degree to the absence of a pruning and patching hand there. He treated a subject most freely where he felt that his pen was most free.

His literary avocations, since his removal from the country in 1812, had been exclusively confined to his engagements on the press. He had not published an original book since the ‘English Grammar’ in 1810; for to the ‘Memoirs of Holcroft,’ the ‘Life Everlasting,’ printed after many years’ delay in 1816, he stood merely in the relation of editor.

He was soon to convince the public that he had by no means exhausted what he had to say upon Shakespeare in those theatrical criticisms in the columns of the Chronicle, which, from their novelty, freshness, and plain-speaking, the old stagers on the paper scarcely knew at first what to make of. All through 1816, or during the best part of it, he had been busy on a work devoted to the critical examination and delineation of Shakespeare’s ‘Characters.’ His attention may have been directed to the subject by the appearance of Schlegel in an English dress, and by the publication of a tract by Mr. Whately,* of which a second edition was printed

* ‘Remarks on some of Shakespeare’s Characters.’ 1785. 8vo. A 3rd edition was published in 1838.

in 1808, who started with a similar design before him, but stopped short after treating two of the plays: ‘
Macbeth,’ and ‘Richard III.

The MS., when completed, was accepted by Mr. C. H. Reynell, of 21, Piccadilly, the head of a printing establishment of old and high standing; and it was agreed that 100l. should be paid to the author for the entire copyright. The amount may not sound considerable; but I imagine that it was an advance upon my grandfather’s receipts from his former literary enterprises. Mr. Reynell was the printer of the Examiner, and the intimate friend of Mr. Leigh Hunt and his brother John; and, apart from the relatively advantageous nature of the terms, Mr. Hazlitt was naturally led to an arrangement with a gentleman with whom he was thus thrown into constant intercourse.

The volume was published by Mr. Hunter, of St. Paul’s Churchyard; and the author was gratified by the prompt insertion of a complimentary notice in the Edinburgh Review. The whole edition went off in six weeks; and yet it was a half-guinea book. A second edition was prepared, and partly sold, when the Quarterly Review launched one of its diatribes against the work and its author.

Taylor and Hessey told him subsequently that “they [the booksellers] had sold nearly two editions in about three months, but after the Quarterly review of them came out, they never sold another copy. . . . A crew of mischievous critics at Edinburgh,” he adds, “having affixed the epithet of the ‘Cockney School’ to one or
two writers born in the metropolis, all the people in London became afraid of looking into their works, lest they too should be convicted of cockneyism.”

“My book,” he said to somebody else, who called upon him a year or so afterwards, “sold well—the first edition had gone off in six weeks—till that review came out. I had just prepared a second edition—such was called for—but then the Quarterly told the public that I was a fool and a dunce; and more, that I was an evil-disposed person; and the public, supposing Gifford* to know best, confessed it had been a great ass to be pleased where it ought not to be, and the sale completely stopped. . . . .”

The loss was the proprietor’s, not his; and in those circles where a spirit of intelligence and liberality prevailed the book made its mark, and secured Mr. Hazlitt at once a position as one of the leading commentators on the genius of Shakespeare in the best and highest sense. He had even the satisfaction of receiving within a year an American edition of the ‘Characters,’ published at Boston; and in his eyes this was a genuine triumph, worth all the English criticism put together. The person who brought him the copy of the Boston reprint (it is before me as I write), “with the malice of a friend,” was disappointed to find that my grandfather evinced no vexation at the piracy, and only thought of the swift passage of his fame across the Atlantic.

In the estimation of the ‘Quarterly’ Reviewer, my grandfather’s offence was that, being an avowed Liberal

* Editor of the Q. R.

and Bonapartist, or, in other words, an incendiary and a traitor in league with Hunt and Co., he should have produced a work which was warmly and honestly cried up on its appearance by the general voice; and then there was this aggravation, that instead of an inscription in gold letters to a noble lord, he, our Cockney author, should have dedicated his book to a second
Cockney author,* as a token of “Old Friendship and Lasting Esteem.”

I have spoken of my grandfather as being a discreet admirer of Shakespeare; what I mean is, that he has told us in those pages not only what beauties he discerned in him, but what blemishes he thought he discerned in him also.

The present Lord Lytton has observed:—

“I confess that I am particularly pleased with a certain discriminating tone of coldness with which Hazlitt speaks of several of the characters in the ‘Merchant of Venice;’ to me it is a proof that his sympathy with genius does not blind the natural delicacy and fineness of his taste. For my own part, I have always, from a boy, felt the moral sentiment somewhat invaded and jarred upon by the heartless treachery with which Jessica deserts her father—her utter forgetfulness of his solitude, his infirmities, his wrongs, his passions, and his age;—and scarcely less so by the unconscious and complacent baseness of Lorenzo, pocketing the filial purloinings of the fair Jewess, who can still tarry from the arms of her lover ‘to gild her-

* Charles Lamb.

self with some more ducats.’ These two characters would be more worthy of
Dryden than of Shakespeare, if the great poet had not ‘cloaked and jewelled their deformities’ by so costly and profuse a poetry.”

The man whom the ‘Quarterly’ Reviewers began to consider of sufficient consequence to heap upon his head some of their choicest slang, would not have seemed to a stranger at a first interview a very formidable antagonist, or a very vulgar, conceited fellow. I have found a description of him from the pen of an individual who died very recently, and who was introduced to him at Lamb’s this very year. The late Mr. George Daniel,* of Canonbury, characterizes him as “a pale-faced, spare man, with sharp, expressive features, and hollow, piercing eyes, who would, after his earnest and fanciful fashion, anatomize the character of Hamlet, and find in it certain points of resemblance to a peculiar class of mankind; while Coleridge, the invested monarch of other men’s minds by right of supreme ability, would as stoutly contend that Hamlet was a conception unlike any other that had ever entered into the poetical heart or brain; adding that Shakespeare might possibly have sat to himself for the portrait, and from his own idiosyncrasies borrowed some of its spiritual lights and shades.”

There is a three-quarter portrait of Mr. Hazlitt, in oils, painted by his brother about this time, which certainly bears out Daniel’s passing sketch; you see there a person, five-and-thirty or so, thin almost to

* ‘Recollections of Charles Lamb’ (1863).

emaciation, and wan and worn with study, the expression earnest, with a touch of melancholy; the hair closely cropped, though not yet “powdered,” and the coat buttoned up, as if he desired to shut himself up in his thoughts, and to keep the world at a distance.

John Hazlitt executed a miniature of him on ivory some years earlier—about the date of his marriage, I suppose; and it partakes of the same character very much: there is the same eager look and dissecting eye, the same anatomical physiognomy and outline.

In truth, Mr. Hazlitt was of a slight make, and of a dry, lean constitution; but his frame was wiry and compact, and down nearly to the close of his life, he was capable of fully his fair share of physical exertion.

The ‘Quarterly’ Reviewers were not satisfied when they had, in the very gentlemanly and severely professional vein which distinguished their periodical, disposed of the ‘Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays,’ and for the time spoiled the sale. The appearance of the ‘Round Table’ in a collected shape in 1817, in two small duodecimo volumes, was an opportunity which they did not let slip of returning to those congenial topics—Jacobinism, the Cockney School, and the great incendiary movement on foot under the auspices of Mr. John and Mr. Leigh Hunt.

The circulation of the ‘Round Table’ was very inconsiderable, but whether it was influenced by the remarks on it in the ‘Quarterly,’ I cannot profess to decide. The book was not a mere reproduction of the series, as it had been printed in the Examiner at intervals
during a period extending over exactly two years (Jan. 1815—Jan. 1817), but the most promising of the papers were selected, and with these
Mr. Hazlitt incorporated new ones of his own.

This, let it be observed, was the second unprovoked* attack which the Tory organ had made on Mr. Hazlitt; and, like the first, it was allowed to pass unnoticed.

* But the political writings of Mr. Hazlitt in the Examiner, I must conclude, especially the two articles on Southey’sLay of the Laureate,’ on July 7 and July 14, 1816, were the brief which was put into the hands of the ‘Quarterly’ Reviewer, to make what he could of them, not of course straining at trifles.