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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. XX
‣ Ch. XXI
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HAZLITTLANA, Part the First—Autobiographical Memoranda.

Could I have had my will, I should have been born a lord; but one would not be a booby lord, neither. I am haunted by an odd fancy of driving down the great North Road in a chaise and four, about fifty years ago, and coming to the inn at Ferry-bridge, with outriders, white favours, and a coronet on the panels; and then, too, I choose my companion in the coach. . . . . Perhaps I should incline to draw lots with Pope, but that he was deformed, and did not sufficiently relish Milton and Shakespeare. As it is, we can enjoy his verses and theirs too. . . . . Goldsmith is a person whom I considerably affect, notwithstanding his blunders and his misfortunes. . . . . But then I could never make up my mind to his preferring Rowe and Dryden to the worthies of the Elizabethan age; nor could I, in like manner, forgive Sir Joshua—whom I number among those whose existence was marked with a white stone—his treating Nicholas Poussin with contempt.

“Who would have missed the sight of the Louvre in
all its glory to have been one of those, whose works enriched it? Would it not have been giving a certain good for ail uncertain advantage? No: I am as sure (if it is not presumption to say so) of what passed through
Raphael’s mind as of what passes through my own; and I know the difference between seeing (though that is a rare privilege) and producing such perfection.

“At one time I was so devoted to Rembrandt, that I think if the Prince of Darkness had made me the offer in some rash mood, I should have been tempted to close with it, and should have become (in happy hour and in downright earnest) the great master of light and shade.

“As I look at my long-neglected copy of the ‘Death of Clorinda,’ golden gleams play upon the canvas, as they used when I painted it. . . . . The years that are fled knock at the door and enter. The rainbow is in the sky again. I see the skirts of the departed years. All that I have thought and felt has not been in vain.

“It is now seventeen years* since I was studying in the Louvre; but long after I returned, and even still, I sometimes dream of being there again.

“I have in my own mind made the excuse for ——, that he could only make a first sketch, and was obliged to lose the greatest part of his time in waiting for windfalls of heads and studies. I have sat to him twice, and each time I offered to come again; and he said he would let me know, but I heard no more of it. The

* This was written in 1821.—W. C. H.

sketch went as it was—of course in a very unfinished state.

“Taking one thing with another, I have no great cause to complain. If I had been a merchant, a bookseller, or the proprietor of a newspaper, instead of what I am, I might have had more money, or possessed a town and country house, instead of lodging in a first or second floor, as it may happen. But what then? I see how the man of fortune and business passes his time. He is up and in the City by eight, swallows his breakfast in haste, attends a meeting of creditors, must read Lloyd’s lists, consult the price of consols, study the markets, look into his accounts, pay his workmen, and superintend his clerks.

“He has hardly a minute of the day to himself, and perhaps in the four-and-twenty hours does not do a single thing that he would do, if he could help it. Surely this sacrifice of time and inclination requires some compensation; which it meets with.

“But how am I entitled to make my fortune (which cannot be done without all this anxiety and drudgery) who do hardly anything at all, and never anything but what I like to do? I rise when I please, breakfast at length, write what comes into my head, and after taking a mutton chop and a dish of strong tea, go to the play, and thus my time passes. . . . . It was but the other day that I had to get up a little earlier than usual, to go into the City about some money transactions, which appeared to me a prodigious hardship. If so, it was
plain that I must lead a tolerably easy life: nor should I object to passing mine over again.

“I am (or used some time ago to be) a sleep-walker, and know how the thing is. In this sort of disturbed, unsound sleep, the eyes are not closed, and are attracted by the light. I used to get up and go towards the window, and make violent efforts to, throw it open. The air in some measure revived me, or I might have tried to fling myself out. I saw objects indistinctly—the houses, for instance, facing me on the opposite side of the street—but still it was some time before I could recognize them, or recollect where I was: that is, I was still asleep, and the dimness of my senses (as far as it prevailed) was occasioned by the greater numbness of my memory. . . . . I have observed that whenever I have been waked up suddenly, and not left to myself to recover from this state of mental torpor, I have been always dreaming of something, i. e., thinking, according to the tenour of the question I never dream of the face of any one I am particularly attached to. I have thought almost to agony of the same person for years, nearly without ceasing, so as to have her face always before me, and to be haunted by a perpetual consciousness of disappointed passion; and yet I never in all that time dreamt of this person more than once or twice, and then not vividly.

“I should have made a very bad Endymion, in this sense; for all the time the heavenly goddess was shining over my head, I should never have had a
thought about her. If I had waked and found her gone, I might have been in a considerable taking.

Coleridge used to laugh at me for my want of the faculty of dreaming; and once, on my saying that I did not like the preternatural stories in the ‘Arabian Nights’ (for the comic parts I love dearly), he said, ‘that must be because you never dream. There is a class of poetry built on this foundation, which is surely no inconsiderable part of our nature, since we are asleep, and building up imaginations of this sort half our time.’ I had nothing to say against it: it was one of his conjectural subtleties, in which he excels all the persons I ever knew; but I had some satisfaction in finding afterwards that I had Bishop Atterbury expressly on my side in this question, who has recorded his detestation of ‘Sinbad the Sailor’ in an interesting letter to Pope. Perhaps he, too, did not dream.

“Yet I dream sometimes: I dream of the Louvre—intus et in cute. I dreamt I was there a few weeks ago, and that the old scene returned—that I looked for my favourite pictures, and found them gone or erased. The dream of my youth came upon me; a glory and a vision unutterable, that comes no more but in darkness and in sleep; my heart rose up, and I fell on my knees, and lifted up my voice and wept; and I awoke.

“I also dreamt a little while ago, that I was reading the ‘New Héloise’ to an old friend, and came to the concluding passage in Julia’s farewell letter, which had much the same effect upon me. The words are, ‘Trop heureuse d’acheter au prix de ma vie le droit de t’aimer
toujours sans crime, et de te le dire encore une fois, avant que je meurs.

“I used to sob over this passage twenty years ago; and in this dream about it lately I seemed to live these twenty years over again in one short moment. I do not dream ordinarily; and there are people who never could see anything in the ‘New Héloise.’ Are we not quits?

“I have a sneaking kindness for a popish priest in this country; and to a Catholic peer I would willingly bow in passing. What are national antipathies, individual attachments, but so many expressions of the moral principle in forming our opinions?

“Once asking a friend why he did not bring forward an explanation of a circumstance in which his conduct had been called in question, he said, ‘His friends were satisfied on the subject, and he cared very little about the opinion of the world.’ I made answer that I did not consider this a good ground to rest his defence upon, for that a man’s friends seldom thought better of him than the world did. I see no reason to alter this opinion.

“One of the pleasantest things in the world is going a journey, but I like to go by myself. I can enjoy society in a room, but out of doors nature is company enough for me. I am then never less alone than when alone. . . . . I cannot see the wit of walking and talk-
ing at the same time. When I am in the country, I wish to vegetate like the country. I am not for criticising hedgerows and black cattle. I go out of town to forget the town and all that is in it. There are those who for this purpose go to watering-places, and carry the metropolis with them. I like more elbow-room and fewer incumbrances. . . . . Give me the clear blue sky over my head, and the green turf beneath my feet, a winding road before me, and a three hours’ march to dinner—and then to thinking. It is hard if I cannot start some game on these lone heaths. I laugh, I run, I leap, I sing for joy. From the point of yonder rolling cloud I plunge into my past being, and revel there, as the sun-burnt Indian plunges headlong into the wave that wafts him to his native shore.

“Then long-forgotten things, like ‘sunken wrack and sunless treasuries,’ burst upon my eager sight, and I begin to feel, think, and be myself again. Instead of an awkward silence, broken by attempts at wit or dull commonplaces, mine is that undisturbed silence of the heart, which alone is perfect eloquence. No one likes puns, alliterations, antitheses, argument, and analysis better than I do; but I sometimes had rather be without them. . . . . I like to be either entirely to myself or entirely at the disposal of others; to talk or be silent, to walk or sit still, to be sociable or solitary. . . . I want to see my vague notions float like the down of the thistle before the breeze, and not to have them entangled in the briars and thorns of controversy. . . . . I grant there is one subject on which it is pleasant
to talk on a journey; and that is, what we shall have for supper when we get to an inn at night.

“The sight of the setting sun does not affect me so much from the beauty of the object itself, as from the glory kindled through the glowing skies, the rich broken columns of light, or the dying streaks of day, as that it indistinctly recalls to me numberless thoughts and feelings with which, through many a year and season, I have watched his bright descent in the warm summer evenings, or beheld him struggling to cast a ‘farewell sweet’ through the thick clouds of winter. I love to see the trees first covered with leaves in the spring, the primroses peeping out from some sheltered bank, and the innocent lambs running races on the soft green turf; because, at that birth-time of nature, I have always felt sweet hopes and happy wishes—which have not been fulfilled.

“I remember, when I was abroad, the trees, and grass, and wet leaves, rustling in the walks of the Tuileries, seemed to be as much English, to be as much the same trees and grass that I had always been used to—as the sun shining over my head was the same sun which I saw in England; the faces only were foreign to me.

“I remember once strolling along the margin of a stream, skirted with willows and plashy sedges, in one of those low sheltered valleys on Salisbury Plain, where the monks of former ages had planted chapels and built hermits’ cells. There was a little parish church near, but tall elms and quivering alders hid it from my sight;
when, all of a sudden, I was startled by the sound of the full organ pealing on the ear, accompanied by rustic voices, and the willing choir of village maids and children.

“I remember finding Dr. Chalmers’Sermons on Astronomy’ in the orchard at Burford-bridge, near Boxhill, and passing a whole and very delightful morning in reading them, without quitting the shade of an apple-tree.

“Civility is with me a jewel. I like a little comfortable cheer, and careless, indolent chat. I hate to be always wise, or aiming at wisdom. I have enough to do with literary cabals, questions, critics, actors, essaywriting, without taking them out with me for recreation and into all companies. I wish at these times to pass for a good-humoured fellow; and good-will is all I ask in return to make good company. I do not desire to be always posing myself or others with the questions of fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute, &c. I must unbend sometimes. I must occasionally lie fallow. The kind of conversation that I affect most is what sort of day it is, and whether it is likely to rain or hold up fine for tomorrow. This I consider as enjoying the otium cum dignitate—as the end and privilege of a life of study.

“It vexes me beyond all bearing to see children kill flies for sport; for the principle is the same in the most deliberate and profligate acts of cruelty they can afterwards exercise upon their fellow-creatures. And yet I
let moths burn themselves to death in the candle, for it makes me mad; and I say it is in vain to prevent fools from rushing upon destruction.

“The author of the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ (who sees farther into such things than most people) could not understand why I should bring a charge of wickedness against an infant before it could speak, merely for squalling and straining its lungs a little.

Mr. Coleridge once asked me if I had ever known a child of a naturally wicked disposition? and I answered, ‘Yes; that there was one in the house with me, that cried from morning to night, for spite.’ I was laughed at for this answer, but still I do not repent it. It appeared to me that the child took a delight in tormenting itself and others; that the love of tyrannizing over others and subjecting them to its caprices was a full compensation for the beating it received. . . . . I was supposed to magnify and overrate the symptoms of the disease, and to make a childish humour into a bugbear; but indeed I have no other idea of what is commonly understood by wickedness than that perversion of the will, or love of mischief for its own sake, which constantly displays itself (though in trifles and on a ludicrously small scale) in early childhood. I have often been reproached with extravagance for considering things only in their abstract principles, and with heat and ill-temper, for getting into a passion about what no ways concerned me.

“If any one wishes to see me quite calm, they may cheat me in a bargain, or tread upon my toes; but a
truth repelled, a sophism repeated, totally disconcerts me, and I lose all patience. I am not, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, a good-natured man; that is, many things annoy me besides what interferes with my own ease and interest. I hate a lie; a piece of injustice wounds me to the quick, though nothing but the report of it reach me. Therefore I have made many enemies and few friends; for the public know nothing of wellwishers, and keep a wary eye on those who would reform them.

Coleridge used to complain of my irascibility in this respect, and not without reason. Would that he had possessed a little of my tenaciousness and jealousy of temper; and then, with his eloquence to paint the wrong, and acuteness to detect it, his country and the cause of liberty might not have fallen without a struggle.

“I care little what any one says of me, particularly behind my back, and in the way of critical and analytical discussion; it is looks of dislike and scorn that I answer with the worst venom of my pen.

“The expression of the face wounds me more than the expressions of the tongue. If I have in one instance mistaken this expression, or resorted to this remedy where I ought not, I am sorry for it. But the face was too fine over which it mantled, and I am too old to have misunderstood it.

“The craniologists give me the organ of local memory, of which faculty I have not a particle; though they
say that my frequent allusions to conversations that occurred many years ago prove the contrary. I once spent a whole evening with
Dr. Spurzheim, and I utterly forget all that passed, except that the doctor waltzed, before we parted!

“The only faculty I do possess is that of a certain morbid interest in things, which makes me equally remember or anticipate by nervous analogy whatever touches it; and for this our nostrum-mongers have no specific organ, so that I am quite left out of their system. No wonder that I should pick a quarrel with it.

“I have never had a plaster cast* taken of myself. In truth, I rather shrink from the experiment; for I know I should be very much mortified if it did not turn out well, and should never forgive the unfortunate artist who had lent his assistance to prove that I looked like a blockhead.

“After a certain period we live only in the past. Give me back one single evening at Boxhill, after a stroll in the deep-empurpled woods, before Bonaparte was yet beaten, ‘with wine of Attic taste,’ when wit, beauty, friendship, presided at the board! But no! Neither the time nor friends that are fled can be recalled.

“I have made this capital mistake all my life, in imagining that those objects which lay open to all, and excited an interest merely from the idea of them, spoke

* One was taken, however, after death.

a common language to all; and that nature was a kind of universal home, where all ages, sexes, classes, meet. Not so.

“The vital air, the sky, the woods, the streams—all these go for nothing, except with a favoured pen. . . . . I can understand the Irish character better than the Scotch. I hate the formal crust of circumstances and the mechanism of society. I have been recommended, indeed, to settle down into some respectable profession for life:—
Ah! why so soon the blossom tear?
I am ‘in no haste to be venerable.’

“I do not think there is anything deserving the name of society to be found out of London; and that for the two following reasons. First, there is neighbourhood elsewhere, accidental or unavoidable acquaintance; people are thrown together by chance, or grow together like trees: you can pick your society nowhere but in London. Secondly, London is the only place in which each individual in company is treated according to his value in company, and to that only. . . . . It is known in Manchester or Liverpool what every man in the room is worth in land or money. . . . . .

“When I was young, I spent a good deal of my time at Manchester and Liverpool, and I confess I give the preference to the former. There you were oppressed only by the aristocracy of wealth; in the latter by the aristocracy of wealth and letters by turns. . . . .

“For my part, I am shy even of actresses, and should not think of leaving my card with Madame Vestris. I
am for none of these bonnes fortunes; but for a list of humble beauties, servant-maids and shepherd-girls, with their red elbows, hard hands, black stockings, and mobcaps, I could furnish out a gallery equal to
Cowley’s, and paint them half as well.

“I have been sometimes accused of a fondness for paradoxes, but I cannot in my own mind plead guilty to the charge. I do not indeed swear by an opinion because it is old; but neither do I fall in love with every extravagance at first sight, because it is new. I conceive that a thing may have been repeated a thousand times without being a bit more reasonable than it was the first time; and I also conceive that an argument or an observation may be very just, though it may so happen that it was never stated before. But I do not take it for granted that every prejudice is ill-founded, nor that every paradox is self-evident, merely because it contradicts the vulgar opinion. . . . .

“I do not see much use in dwelling on a commonplace, however fashionable or well-established; nor am I very ambitious of starting the most specious novelty, unless I imagine I have reason on my side. Originality implies independence of opinion; but differs as widely from mere singularity as from the tritest truism.”

“He who can truly say nihil humani a me alienum futo, has a world of cares on his hands, which nobody knows anything of but himself. This is not one of the
least miseries of a studious life. The common herd do not by any means give him full credit for his gratuitous sympathy with their concerns, but are struck with his lack-lustre eye and wasted appearance. They cannot translate the expression of his countenance out of the vulgate; they mistake the knitting of his brows for the frown of displeasure, the paleness of study for the languor of sickness, the furrows of thought for the regular approaches of old age. They read his looks, not his books; have no clue to penetrate the last recesses of the mind; and attribute the height of abstraction to more than an ordinary share of stupidity.

“‘Mr. Hazlitt never seems to take the slightest interest in anything,’ is a remark I have often heard made in a whisper.

“I protest (if required) against having a grain of wit.”