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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. II 1821-22

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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Domestic incompatibilities—Advice to a Schoolboy.

I want an eye to cheer me, a hand to guide me, a breast to lean on; all which I shall never have, but shall stagger into my grave without them, old before my time, unloved and unlovely, unless ——. I would have some creature love me before I die. Oh! for the parting hand to ease the fall!”

The passage above cited is in the autograph MS. of an ‘Essay on the Fear of Death,’ written in 1821, but it was omitted in the printed version in ‘Table Talk.’

“How few,” he says again, “out of the infinite number that marry and are given in marriage, wed with those they would prefer to all the world; nay, how far the greater proportion are joined together by mere motives of convenience, accident, recommendation of friends; or, indeed, not unfrequently by the very fear of the event, by repugnance, and a sort of fatal fascination. . . . .”

These lines came about the same period from the same pen and the same heart. My grandfather had
been united to
Miss Stoddart for thirteen years; but the marriage, as I had as well confess at once, was not a happy one. I should even go so far as to say that he had his individual case and fate in view, where he speaks of marriages being brought about sometimes “by repugnance and a sort of fatal fascination.”

Never, I suppose, was there a worse-assorted pair than my grandfather and grandmother. If they had not happened to marry, if they had continued to meet at the Lambs’, as of old, or at her brother’s, they would have remained probably the best of friends. She would have appreciated better his attainments and genius; while in her, as Miss Stoddart, or as the wife of anybody else but himself, he would have admired and recognized many of the qualities which endeared to him the society and conversation of Mrs. Montagu. Mrs. Hazlitt was capitally read, talked well, and was one of the best letter-writers of her time. She was a true wife to William Hazlitt, and a fond mother to the only child she was able to rear; but there was a sheer want of cordial sympathy from the first set-out.

They married after studying each other’s characters very little, and observing very little how far their tempers were likely to harmonize; or, more properly speaking, how far his was likely to harmonize with any woman’s, or hers with any man’s.

She might have been a blue-stocking, if she could have set the right value on her husband’s talents, and entered into his feelings; she might have been undomestic, if she had been more like his Madonna. But,
unluckily for them both, she was intellectual, without reverence for his gifts; and homely, without any of those graces and accomplishments which reconcile men to their homes.

I believe that Mr. Hazlitt was physically incapable of fixing his affection upon a single object, no matter what it might be, so that it was but one. He might worship Miss Railton, or Miss Wordsworth (if De Quincey is to be believed), or anybody else in his mind’s eye, but not in his body’s eye, which was at all events as potent an organ.

He comprehended the worth of constancy, fidelity, chastity, and all other virtues as well as most men, and could have written upon them better than most; but a sinister influence or agency was almost perpetually present, thwarting and clouding a superb understanding—that singular voluptuousness of temperament, which we find at the root of much that he offended against heaven and earth in, as well as of many of the fine things we owe to his pen.

Mr. Hazlitt’s moral constitution supplies, or seems to supply, an illustration of the differences between the two words sensuousness and sensuality. He was not a sensualist, but he was a man of sensuous temperament. A sensualist is a person in whom the animal appetite obscures and deadens all loftier and purer instincts. In the sensuous man an intense appreciation of the beautiful in Nature and Art is associated and intimately blended with those potent instincts which endanger virtue.


His wife had not much pretence for quarrelling with him on the ground of former attachments of his still lingering in his thoughts, and keeping his affection in a state of tangle; for she, too, had had her little love affairs, and accepted him only when her other suitors broke faith. But in truth, she was not the sort of woman to be jealous; it was not her “way of looking at things,” as Mary Lamb used to say of her. She used, however, to tax him from time to time with having had a sweetness once for Sally Shepherd. Who Sally Shepherd was, is more than I can tell, unless she was a daughter of Dr. Shepherd of Gateacre, whose portrait he painted in 1803. There was Miss Railton, too, of whom enough has been said; but upon the whole I do not believe that this disappointment preyed so heavily on his spirits as some other, the history of which is wanting.

It was before his final settlement at Winterslow that he became in some manner acquainted with the Windhams of Norman Court, near Salisbury. It was the Hon. Charles Windham who lived there at that time, with an only daughter, who was his heiress.

This lady was very handsome, but pitted with the small-pox. A lady said to him once, without special reference to Miss W., that it was a terrible disfigurement—the small-pox. But he thought not. He said that he looked at the question with the eye of a painter, who could admire the roughnesses in the lines of a picture. The most beautiful woman he ever knew, he added, was so marked; and he lowered
his voice to a whisper, as he finished with—Miss Windham.

The family, it seems, were unfavourable to any closer intimacy, whatever the lady’s inclination may have been, and Miss Windham was married, I believe, to the late Charles Baring Wall, Esq., M.P., who inherited through his wife Norman Court and the Windham property.

How little this excellent and amiable man understood my grandfather’s character may be inferred from the circumstance that he once, with the kindest meaning in the world, offered to place at Mr. Hazlitt’s free and entire disposal an apartment or two at Norman Court. The offer, as it may be supposed, was not accepted.

But ever after he was accustomed to eye wistfully those woods of Tuderley, and thus once he invoked them:—

“Ye woods, that crown the clear lone brow of Norman Court, why do I revisit ye so oft, and feel a soothing consciousness of your presence, but that your high tops, waving in the wind, recal to me the hours and years that are for ever fled; that ye renew in ceaseless murmurs the story of long-cherished hopes and bitter disappointment; that in your solitudes and tangled wilds I can wander and lose myself, as I wander on and am lost in the solitude of my own heart; and that, as your rustling branches give the loud blast to the waste below, borne on the thoughts of other years, I can look down with patient anguish at the cheerless desolation which I feel within! Without that face, pale as the primrose, with hyacinthine locks,
for ever shunning and for ever haunting me, mocking my waking thoughts as in a dream; without that smile, which my heart could never turn to scorn; without those eyes, dark with their own lustre, still bent on mine, and drawing the soul into their liquid mazes like a sea of love; without that name, trembling in fancy’s ear; without that form, gliding before me like Oread or Dryad in fabled groves, what should I do? how pass away the listless, leaden-footed hours? Then wave, wave on, ye woods of Tuderley, and lift your high tops in the air; my sighs and vows, uttered by your mystic voice, breathe into me my former being, and enable me to bear the thing I am. . . . .”

Both Mr. and Mrs. Hazlitt remained tenderly devoted to their little son. It was a trait in their characters which must always be admired; it was a feature in my grandfather’s which excited even the applause of Mr. Haydon.

The child was often a peacemaker between his parents when some unhappy difference arose; and when it came to Mr. Hazlitt frequently taking up his residence, after 1819, at Winterslow Hut, my father usually spent part of his time with one, and part with the other. In 1822 he was put to school at a Mr. Dawson’s, in Hunter Street, London; and it was just before he was going to start for this new scene that my grandfather addressed to him the ‘Advice to a Schoolboy,’ a letter full of admirable suggestion and counsel, and strongly stamped with that impress of the writer’s personal sentiments and sufferings
which has individualized so large a proportion of his works.

In this letter to a boy of ten, he speaks at the circumstances by which he was surrounded at the moment, and points obliquely to his own frustrated hopes—of the hopes which he nourished in his “sublime” youth, of happiness with a Railton, or a Wordsworth, or a Windham, or a Shepherd.

He says:—

“If you ever marry, I would wish you to marry the woman you like. Do not be guided by the recommendation of friends. Nothing will atone for or overcome an original distaste. It will only increase from intimacy; and if you are to live separate, it is better not to come together. There is no use in dragging a chain through life, unless it binds one to the object we love. Choose a mistress from among your equals. You will be able to understand her character better, and she will be more likely to understand yours. Those in an inferior station to yourself will doubt your good intentions, and misapprehend your plainest expressions. All that you swear is to them a riddle or downright nonsense. You cannot by possibility translate your thoughts into their dialect. They will be ignorant of the meaning of half you say, and laugh at the rest. As mistresses, they will have no sympathy with you; and as wives, you can have none with them.

“Women care nothing about poets, or philosophers, or politicians. They go by a man’s looks and manner. Richardson calls them ‘an eye-judging sex;’ and I
am sure he knew more about them than I can pretend to do. If you run away with a pedantic notion that they care a pin’s point about your head or your heart, you will repent it too late.”

He was afraid that he might be taken from the little fellow, and that he might be left alone in the world. “As my health is so indifferent, and I may not be with you long, I wish to leave you some advice (the best I can) for your conduct in life, both that it may be of use to you, and as something to remember me by. I may at least be able to caution you against my own errors, if nothing else.”

He wished him to know what he knew, and to learn what he had learned, that there might be no “bar of separation between them.” “I would have you, as I said, make yourself master of French, because you may find it of use in the commerce of life; and I would have you learn Latin, partly because I learnt it myself, and I would not have you without any of the advantages or sources of knowledge that I possessed—it would be a bar of separation between us—and secondly, because there is an atmosphere round this sort of classical ground to which that of actual life is gross and vulgar.”

He used to give his little boy money when he went away in the morning, to spend while he was away. The great hall at York Street was his playground; and on these occasions a rather promiscuous circle of acquaintances from the neighbourhood used to be invited in to assist in the outlay of the silver, which papa had given with a strict injunction, like the old French
gentleman in the story-book, that it should be gone before he came back—a bidding which
Mr. W. H. jun., with the help of his young friends, executed as a rule without difficulty. My grandfather wished his son to grow up with generous notions, and this was the way, in his opinion, to set about inculcating the principle and feeling upon his mind.

He thought of his own failures in painting, but the art was still as dear to him as ever. He desired to see his son select that calling which he himself had renounced, not without many pangs; and he depicted to him the charms of an artist’s life, and then set before him the pleasures of an artist’s old age.

“Yet if I were to name one pursuit rather than another, I should wish you to be a good painter, if such a thing could be hoped. I have failed in this myself, and should wish you to be able to do what I have not—to paint like Claude, or Rembrandt, or Guido, or Vandyke, if it were possible. Artists, I think, who have succeeded in their chief object, live to be old, and are agreeable old men. Their minds keep alive to the last. Cosway’s spirits never flagged till after ninety; and Nollekens, though nearly blind, passed all his mornings in giving directions about some group or bust in his workshop. You have seen Mr. Northcote, that delightful specimen of the last age. With what avidity he takes up his pencil, or lays it down again to talk of numberless things! His eye has not lost its lustre, nor ‘paled its ineffectual fire.’ His body is a shadow: he himself is a pure spirit. There is a kind of immortality about this
sort of ideal and visionary existence that dallies with Fate and baffles the grim monster, Death. If I thought you could make as clever an artist, and arrive at such an agreeable old age as Mr. Northcote, I should declare at once for your devoting yourself to this enchanting profession; and in that reliance, should feel less regret at some of my own disappointments, and little anxiety on your account!”

I have said enough to make it clear that the relations between Mr. Hazlitt and his wife were far from satisfactory about 1821. But it was not the want of harmony in their characters and dispositions alone which produced this unfortunate approach to a breach, and threatened a severance of the mutual tie. Another agency of a very extraordinary nature, to which I now advert with reluctance, had been for some time past at work.