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Memoirs of William Hazlitt

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. XIX
Ch. XX
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His friends and acquaintances—The Lambs, the Hunts, the Reynells, the Montagus, the Procters, &c.—Personal recollections.

The main thread of my narrative has comprehended occasional allusions to the persons with whom my grandfather, in his time, was intimate, or at least acquainted. I have referred already to his early knowledge of Coleridge and Wordsworth, of Fawcett and Northcote, of the Lambs, the Stoddarts, and the Hunts. I heartily wish that I had more to tell of one of these, of Fawcett, the “friend of his youth;” but all that I have been able to collect respecting his relations with that excellent and accomplished man I have brought together in another place.

The character of some of Mr. Hazlitt’s opinions on politics, art, and letters, and his stanchness in them, was unfavourable to the formation of many life friendships. He was accustomed “to think as he felt, and to speak as he thought;” and he therefore could not expect to get on very well in a world, which subsists a good deal by paraphrase.


But then, taking in 1823 a retrospective view of the circle in which he had moved, he found that he did not stand alone in the severance of such ties, for he says:—

“I have observed that few of those whom I have formerly known most intimately continue on the same friendly footing, or combine the steadiness with the warmth of attachment. I have been acquainted with two or three knots of inseparable companions, who saw each other ‘six days in the week,’ that have broken up and dispersed. I have quarrelled with almost all my old friends (they might say this is owing to my bad temper, but they have also quarrelled with one another). What is become of that ‘set of whist-players,’ celebrated by Elia in his notable ‘Epistle to Robert Southey, Esq.’ (and now I think of it—that I myself have celebrated), ‘that for so many years called Admiral Burney friend?’ They are scattered, like last year’s snow. Some of them are dead—or gone to live at a distance—or pass one another in the street like strangers; or if they stop to speak, do it coolly, and try to cut one another as soon as possible. Some of us have grown rich—others poor. Some have got places under government—others a niche in the ‘Quarterly Review.’ Some of us have dearly earned a name in the world, whilst others remain in their original privacy. . . . . I think I must be friends with Lamb again, since he has written that magnanimous letter to Southey, and told him a piece of his mind!

“I don’t know what it is that attaches me to Hone so much, except that he and I, whenever we meet, sit
in judgment on another set of old friends, and ‘carve them as a dish fit for the gods!’ There was
Leigh Hunt, John Scott, Mrs. Novello, whose dark raven locks make a picturesque background to our discourse; Barnes, who is grown fat, and is they say married; Rickman—these had all separated long ago, and their foibles are the common link that holds us together. . . . . For my own part, as I once said, I like a friend the better for having faults that one can talk about. ‘Then,’ said Mrs. Novello, ‘you will never cease to be a philanthropist.’ . . . .

“I sometimes go up to Montagu’s, and as often as I do, resolve never to go again. I do not find the old homely welcome. The ghost of friendship meets me at the door, and sits with me all dinner-time. They have got a set of fine notions and new acquaintance. Allusions to past occurrences are thought trivial, nor is it always safe to touch upon more general subjects. Montagu does not begin, as he formerly did every five minutes, ‘Fawcett used to say’—&c.

“That topic is something worn. The girls are grown up, and have a thousand accomplishments. I perceive there is a jealousy on both sides. They think I give myself airs, and I fancy the same of them. Every time I am asked ‘If I do not think Mr. Washington Irving a very fine writer?’ I shall not go again till I receive an invitation for Christmas Day, in company with Mr. Liston.

“I once met Thomas Taylor the Platonist at George Dyer’s chambers, in Clifford’s Inn, where there was no
exclusion of persons or opinions. I remember he showed with some triumph two of his fingers, which had been bent so that he had lost the use of them, in copying out the manuscripts of
Proclus and Plotinus in a fair Greek hand! Such are the trophies of human pride! . . . . . I endeavoured (but in vain) to learn something from the heathen philosopher as to Plato’s doctrine of abstract ideas being the foundation of particular ones, which I suspect has more truth in it than we moderns are willing to admit.

“I saw Porson once at the London Institution, with a large patch of coarse brown paper on his nose, the skirts of his rusty black coat hung with cobwebs, and talking in a tone of suavity, approaching to condescension, to one of the managers.

“We had a pleasant party one evening at Barry Cornwall’s. A young literary bookseller [Ollier?] who was present went away delighted with the elegance of the repast, and spoke in raptures of a servant in green livery and a patent lamp. I thought myself that the charm of the evening consisted in some talk about Beaumont and Fletcher, and the old poets, in which every one took part or interest; and in a consciousness that we could not pay our host a better compliment than in thus alluding to studies in which he excelled, and in praising authors whom he had imitated with feeling and sweetness.

“It was at Godwin’s that I met with Lamb, with Holcroft, and Coleridge, where they were disputing fiercely which was the best—man as he was, or man as
he is to be. ‘Give me,’ said Lamb, ‘man as he is not to be!’ This saying was the beginning of a friendship between us which I believe still continues.”

So he wrote in 1823, before he had seen Elia’s letter to the Laureate, which so pleased him.

He thought Lamb “the worst company in the world out of doors, for this reason, that he was the best within.

Of Lamb’s circle, the Wednesday-evening men, Martin Burney (a nephew of Madame D’Arblay) was nearly the only one with whom he associated on any intimate footing. Burney, who had stood sponsor to his son in 1814, had rooms at one time in Fetter Lane. Colonel Phillips was among Martin’s visiting set, and my grandfather, too, to a limited extent. My grandfather disliked Phillips latterly, for he fancied he was some sort of spy or agent of the government. There are a few allusions to him in Lamb’s correspondence. He was in the Marines in his younger days, and was present when Captain Cook fell. His capacity for disposing of pots of porter and glasses of spirits and water was prodigious; but he lived to be ninety.

Mr. Hazlitt said of the Burney family: “There is no end of it or its pretensions. It produces wits, scholars, novelists, musicians, artists, in ‘numbers numberless.’ The name is alone a passport to the Temple of Fame. Those who bear it are free of Parnassus by birthright. The founder of it was himself an historian and a musician, but more of a courtier and man of the world than either. . . . .”


At one time Godwin and he were pretty intimate, and some letters (which can no longer be found) passed between them. Yet he had a very indifferent opinion of Godwin, and spoke of him slightingly to others as a mere author. Godwin thought that his ‘Answers to Vetus’ were the best things he had written, and that he “failed altogether when he wrote an essay, or anything in a short compass.”

He first made the acquaintance of Leigh Hunt on visiting him at Horsemonger Lane Gaol, in 1813. He had seen him before, but this circumstance brought them together.

In his ‘Autobiography,’ Leigh Hunt says: “Even William Hazlitt, who there first did me the honour of a visit, would stand interchanging amenities at the threshold, which I had great difficulty in making him pass. I know not which kept his hat off with the greater pertinacity of deference—I to the diffident cutter-up of Tory dukes and kings, or he to the amazing prisoner and invalid who issued out of a bower of roses.”

My grandfather observes somewhere:—

“I prefer [Leigh] Hunt’s conversation almost to any other person’s, because, with a familiar range of subjects, he colours it with a totally new and sparkling light, reflected from his own character. Elia, the grave and witty, says things not to be surpassed in essence; but the manner is more painful, and less a relief to my own thoughts.

Leigh Hunt once said to me—‘I wonder I never heard you speak upon this subject before, which you
seem to have studied a good deal.’ I answered, ‘Why, we were not reduced to that, that I know of.’

“He (Mr. Hunt) once breakfasted with Mr. Dyer (the most amiable and absent of hosts), when there was no butter, no knife to cut the loaf with, and the teapot was without a spout. My friend, after a few immaterial ceremonies, adjourned to Peel’s Coffee-House, close by, where he regaled himself on buttered toast, coffee, and the newspaper of the day (a newspaper possessed some interest when we were young); and the only interruption to his satisfaction was the fear that his host might suddenly enter, and be shocked at his impertinent hospitality.”*

At one time of his life, while Mr. John Hunt, Leigh’s elder brother, lived in London, Mr. Hazlitt was at his house at Maida Hill night after night. There was a solidity and thoroughness about John Hunt which was peculiarly congenial to him; and perhaps in Leigh Hunt himself he saw and resented a superiority of deportment, better company manners—accomplishments of which he happened, from accidents of education, to possess a rather indifferent share.

John Hunt and William Hone were very intimate, and Mr. Hazlitt often met him there. Hone became a great admirer of Hunt, who was a capital talker, and both in mind and person was quite a man of the old school. There is a portrait of Hunt, as the Centurion, in West’s picture of the Centurion and his

* This incident was enlarged by Mr. Leigh Hunt in his ‘Jack Abbot’s Breakfast.’

Family. The Hunts were related by marriage to West.

There is also, or was, a small drawing in pencil of Hunt, as a child, taken by West, it is believed, in America, before his settlement in this country. Hunt is represented in this dressed in the costume of the time. I do not know whether the picture is still preserved.

Another house at which he visited (more sparingly in later years) was Basil Montagu’s, in Bedford Square. Montagu was a son of Lord Sandwich, and enjoyed a lucrative post in the Court of Bankruptcy.

Mr. Hazlitt admired Mrs. Montagu’s conversation, and used to repeat what he heard at that house elsewhere, particularly at the Reynells’, in Broad Street, where he often went after leaving the Montagus’.

He lived at one time in a house in Gloucester Street, Queen Square, where Mrs. Skipper and her daughter (afterwards Mrs. Basil Montagu and Mrs. P——) used to reside formerly; Mr. Montagu and Mr. P—— lodged under her roof. Mr. Hazlitt entertained an unfeigned respect for Mrs. Montagu, and I believe that he thoroughly relished and enjoyed the society of Mrs. P——, then Miss Skipper, who inherited a fair portion of her mother’s talents and conversational powers.

The friendship of Lamb and his sister, Procter and the Montagus, the Reynells and the Hunts, had its value and use, without question, in contributing very importantly to strengthen Mr. Hazlitt’s interest in life latterly; but if I were to name the person whose intimacy, in my own opinion, was of the greatest service
to him from 1820 to 1830, I should name
Mr. Patmore.

There was a striking intellectual inequality between the two, and it was this very inequality which cemented the union—an union which, after all, it is not so difficult to understand. Mr. Hazlitt tolerated Mr. Patmore, till he liked him. The episode which is related in the ‘Liber Amoris’ brought them more closely together than before; and I cannot help feeling and saying, that I believe Mr. Patmore to have entertained at bottom an honest respect and regard for one whose familiar relations with himself were assuredly something not to be looked back upon with regret.

I have heard it remarked that he seldom appeared to such great advantage as when he was dressed to go somewhere, where he thought it necessary to stand upon a little punctilio; as, for instance, when he dined at Mr. Curran’s.

He had not a very favourable opinion of Curran, however. He says of him: “he was lively and animated in convivial conversation, but dull in argument; nay, averse to anything like reasoning or serious observation, and had the worst taste I ever knew. His favourite critical topics were to abuse Milton’sParadise Lost’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet.’. . . . He and Sheridan once dined at John Kemble’s, with Mrs. Inchbald and Mary Wolstonecraft, when the discourse almost wholly turned on love. . . . . What would I not give to have been there, had I not learned it all from the bright eyes of Amaryllis (?) and may one day make a ‘Table-Talk’ of it.”


Of Keats my grandfather was a strong admirer, and he thought highly of his ‘Endymion’ and his ‘Isabella.’ As for the persecution with which he was hunted to so early a grave, it was characterized by Mr. Hazlitt as it deserved to be, and ever since has been.

He was severe upon Byron on account of the sources of his poetry being (in his estimation) traceable to Byron’s passionate nature—his being in a rage with everybody. And he censured Lamb, because Lamb evinced an undue sympathy with the low classes. Yet in both these respects he was himself peculiarly vulnerable and open to criticism.

He always spoke with admiration and respect of the author of ‘Waverley.’ He said he feared that Galt’sSir Andrew Wylie’ would sicken people of him; and he mentioned to Northcote that some one had been proposing to form a society for not reading the ‘Scotch Novels.’

He discriminated between Scott as an author and as a man. “Who is there,” he once asked, “that admires the author of ‘Waverley’ more than I do? Who is there* that despises Sir Walter Scott more? . . . . . The only thing that renders this mésalliance between first-rate intellect and want of principle endurable is, that such an extreme instance of it teaches us that great moral lesson of moderating our expectations of

* No wonder that he should shun contact with one of the originators of the Quarterly, with the friend of Blackwood, and with the projector of that highly respectable and temperate organ, the Beacon!

human perfection and enlarging our indulgence for human infirmity.”

Northcote told him plainly that it was because Scott had made a fortune by his writings that he was angry at his poverty of spirit. Northcote said to him: “Mister Hazlitt, you are more angry at Sir Walter Scott’s success than at his servility.”

But Mr. Hazlitt stoutly repudiated this imputation. He said that he hated the sight of the Duke of Wellington “for his foolish face;” but there was something to be admired in Lord Castlereagh, instancing his gallant spirit and his fine bust.

He often alludes to Scott, and has a character of him in the ‘Spirit of the Age.’ He says somewhere:—

“We met with a young lady who kept a circulating-library and milliner’s shop in a watering-place in the country, who, when we inquired for the ‘Scotch Novels,’ spoke indifferently about them, said they were so dry she could hardly get through them, and recommended us to read ‘Agnes.’ We never thought of it before, but we would venture to lay a wager that there are many other young ladies in the same situation, and who think ‘Old Mortality’ dry.

“Those who see completely into the world begin to play tricks with it, and overreach themselves by being too knowing. . . . . Fielding knew something of the world, yet he did not make a fortune. Sir Walter Scott has twice made a fortune by descriptions of nature and character, and has twice lost it by the fondness for speculative gains. . . . . A bookseller to succeed in his
business should have no knowledge of books except as marketable commodities. . . . . In like manner a picture-dealer should know nothing of pictures but the catalogue price, the cant of the day. Should a general then know nothing of war, a physician of medicine? No; because this is an art, and not a trick.

“If put to the vote of all the milliners’ girls in London, ‘Old Mortality,’ or even the ‘Heart of Mid-Lothian,’ would not carry the day (or at least not very triumphantly) over a common Minerva Press novel; and I will even hazard another opinion, that no woman liked Burke. Mr. Pratt, on the contrary, said that he had to ‘boast of many learned and beautiful suffrages.’”

He frequently dined at Haydon’s, in Lisson Grove North, on Sundays, and took his little boy with him, generally speaking. It was a resource, if he did not happen to be going to the Reynells’ at Bayswater, or to the Hunts’, at Maida Hill. He would say to his little boy, after breakfast, as a way of introducing his intentions, “Well, sir; shall we go and eat Haydon’s mutton?” and his little boy, ten chances to one chance, would say, “Yes, father;” and so they would go.

Mr. Hazlitt was not intimate with Cobbett. “The only time I ever saw him,” he says, “he seemed to me a very pleasant man, easy of access, affable, clear-headed, simple and mild in his manner, deliberate and unruffled in his speech, though some of his expressions were not very qualified. His figure is tall and portly. He has a good, sensible face, rather full, with little
grey eyes, a hard square forehead, a ruddy complexion, with hair grey, or powdered; and had on a scarlet broad cloth waistcoat, with the flaps of the pockets hanging down, as was the custom for gentlemen-farmers in the last century, or as we see it in the pictures of members of parliament in the reign of
George I. I certainly did not think less favourably of him for seeing him.”

My grandfather met Mr. Nollekens the sculptor only once, and then at Mr. Northcote’s. “He sat down on a low stool (from being rather fatigued), rested with both hands on a stick, as if he clung to the solid and tangible, had an habitual twitch in his limbs and motions, as if catching himself in the act of going too far in chiselling a lip or a dimple in a chin; was bolt-upright, with features hard and square, but finely cut, a hooked nose, thin lips, an indented forehead; and the defect in his sight completed the resemblance to one of his own masterly busts. He seemed, by time and labour, to have ‘wrought himself to stone.’ Northcote stood by his side—all air and spirit—stooping down to speak to him. The painter was in a loose morning-gown, with his back to the light; his face was like a pale fine piece of colouring, and his eye came out and glanced through the twilight of the past, like an old eagle from its eyrie in the clouds.”

Once he met Elphinstone, who wrote the mottoes to the ‘Rambler,’ first published eight-and-twenty years before he was born. He says: “We saw this gentleman, since the commencement of the present
century, looking over a clipped hedge in the country, with a broad flapped hat, a venerable countenance, and his dress cut out with the same formality as his evergreens. His name had not only survived half a century, in conjunction with that of
Johnson, but he had survived with it. . . . .”

He knew Mrs. Colebrooke, Colonel Colebrooke’s widow, slightly—who did not at that time?—and interested himself in her unfortunate case. He wrote to Mr. F——, who was then editor of the ‘Examiner,’ and asked him to insert a statement in that paper. I do not know what F.’s reply was, but Mr. Hazlitt was much vexed at it, and remarked that Mr. F—— was the sort of man, he thought, who would take you at a disadvantage if he could. He wrote back to him, coming to Broad Street to do so, and Miss Reynell was deputed to seal the letter for him. My mother was by at the moment, and she heard him say of F——, that he was the best political paragraph-writer we had, meaning to imply that he was nothing better. But this was forty years ago. Mr. F. will forgive this allusion, I hope.

Among his acquaintances was Mr. McCleery, the printer, who preceded Thomas Davison in Whitefriars, where Messrs. Bradbury and Evans now are. McCleery lived in Stamford Street, Blackfriars, and had hot suppers, which partly formed my grandfather’s inducement for favouring the house with his society. I will not be positive that McCleery’s two daughters, who were handsome girls, and accomplished, did not con-
254HUME, NOT M.P. 
tribute something to the attraction. My father recollects very well accompanying
Mr. Hazlitt thither.

Another was Mr. Joseph Hume, of the Pipe Office, who, like the Reynells, resided at Bayswater. Mr. Hume had a daughter or two, who were handsome and musical. I think that my grandfather came to a knowledge of the family through Lamb. Hume is the H—— of the ‘Essay on Coffee-House Politicians.’