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Memoirs of William Hazlitt
Ch. IX 1823

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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Visit to the principal English Picture-Galleries—Publication of ‘Characteristics’—Lamb’s Letter to Southey.

During the year 1823 Mr. Hazlitt continued to contribute to the ‘London Magazine,’ the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ the Examiner, and the ‘Liberal.’ His pen was therefore in full employment.

His paper in the ‘Edinburgh’ was the ‘Periodical Press;’ and among his articles in the Examiner I must mention particularly an ‘Essay on Rochefoucauld,’ which forms, in fact, an introduction and companion to a little volume which he published this year, with (Simpkin and Marshall, under the title of ‘Characteristics in the Manner of Rochefoucauld’s Maxims.’

Mr. Hazlitt accounts for the undertaking by saying that he had been perusing Rochefoucauld, and was inspired with a wish to attempt something on a similar plan. He succeeded pretty well in a few, and the work grew under his hands. It passed through three editions.

It came out anonymously, and the author says that Mr. Jerdan, not knowing whose it was, praised it in the ‘Literary Gazette.’


The Tory writers were still very bitter in their language towards Mr. Hunt and Mr. Hazlitt. The tragical duel between Christie and Scott, in 1821, did not teach them as good a lesson as it should have done. About two years afterwards Southey, in the ‘Quarterly,’ attacked Mr. Hunt and my grandfather, and wondered how Mr. Lamb could associate with such men. It happened that Lamb did not relish this, and had the courage to resent it. He declined to be complimented at the expense of his friends, and after taking several months to think over it, at length he wrote that famous letter from ‘Elia’ to Robert Southey, Esq., which appeared in the ‘London Magazine’ for October, 1823. There is no necessity to quote it here, as it must be so well known. Mr. Hazlitt was much pleased with it, as it smacked of the right spirit, and was scarcely to have been expected from such a quarter. For Lamb was no politician, neither was he a partizan; and if he took up this quarrel seriously—the only time in his life that he ever did espouse a cause or choose a side—it was not because he had any idea of turning over a new leaf, or that he desired to raise the question as between Tory and Liberal, or between writers in the ‘Edinburgh’ and writers in the ‘Quarterly;’ but from a manly sense of indignation and sorrow at the outrages heaped on the heads of two of his friends by a third writer, who had been his till very lately, indeed, and theirs, too, upon a time.

How soon after 1823 the temporary difference between my grandfather and Lamb was made up is not perfectly
clear, but I apprehend that it was in the same year. In November, 1823, a letter was addressed to
Mrs. Hazlitt by Lamb, in which there is a positive indication that my grandfather had expressed (indirectly) his approval of the letter to Southey; and Lamb says, “I am glad that H. liked my letter to the Laureate.”

During his absence in Scotland, and, in fact, during the whole of 1822, Mr. Hazlitt seems to have discontinued his share in the ‘London Magazine;’ but he resumed his articles in 1823. Lamb felt the want of those essays, which in his eyes (perhaps in the eyes of a few more) constituted not the least charm of the magazine; and in a letter to his Quaker friend, Bernard Barton, he even alludes to the ‘London’ as being in a declining way. “I miss Janus [Wainwright],” he says, “and oh, how it [the ‘L. M.’] misses Hazlitt!”

He was soon to see the writer of the ‘Table Talks’ in his old place again. In the winter of 1823 Mr. Hazlitt, in company with Mr. Patmore, visited some of our principal picture-galleries—Stafford House, Dulwich, Stourhead, Burleigh, and last, and least, Fonthill. I am enabled fortunately to give, in his own words, an account of this, to him, most agreeable tour. And first of Dulwich:—

“It was on the 5th November [1823] that we went to see this gallery,” he says. “The morning was mild, calm, pleasant: it was a day to ruminate on the subject we had in view. It was the time of year
When yellow leaves, a few or none, do hang
Upon the branches—
Their scattered gold was strangely contrasted with the dark-green spiral shoots of the cedar-trees that skirt the road; the sun shone, faint and watery, as if smiling his last. . . . . At the end of a beautiful little village, Dulwich College appeared in view, in modest state, yet mindful of the olden time, and the name of
Alleyn and his compeers rushed full upon the memory.”

Here is a touching little autobiographical sketch. He is speaking of one of the scholars of Edward Alleyn’s foundation:—

“He stirs not—he still pores upon his book; and as he reads, a slight hectic flush passes over his cheek, for he sees the letters that compose the word Fame glitter on the page, and his eyes swim, and he thinks that he will one day write a book, and have his name repeated by thousands of readers; and assume a certain signature, and write essays and criticisms in a London magazine, as a consummation of felicity scarcely to be believed!

“Come hither, thou poor little fellow, and let us change places with thee, if thou wilt; here, take the pen, and finish this article, and sign what name you please to it; so that we may but change our dress for yours, and sit shivering in the sun, and con over our little task, and feed poor, and lie hard, and be contented and happy, and think what a fine thing it is to be an author, and dream of immortality, and sleep o’ nights.”

Thus he apostrophizes one of the celebrated pictures in the Stafford (now the Bridgewater) Gallery:—


“Thou, oh! divine ‘Bath of Diana,’ with deep azure dyes, with roseate hues, spread by the hand of Titian, art still there upon the wall, another, yet the same that thou wert five-and-twenty years ago. . . . . And there that fine passage stands in Antony and Cleopatra as we read it long ago with exulting eyes in Paris, after puzzling over a tragedy of Racine’s, and cried aloud, ‘Our Shakespeare was also a poet!’

“These feelings are dear to us at the time, and they come back unimpaired, heightened, mellowed, whenever we choose to go back to them.”

Speaking of his visit to Lord Grosvenor’s pictures, he says:

“We must go through our account of these pictures as they start up in our memory, not according to the order of their arrangement, for want of a proper set of memorandums. Our friend, Mr. Gummow, of Cleveland House, had a nice little neatly-bound duodecimo catalogue, of great use as a vade-mecum to occasional visitants or absent critics—but here we have no such advantage; and to take notes before company is a thing that we abhor: it has a look of pilfering something from the pictures. . . . .

“Stourhead, the seat of Sir Richard Colt Hoare, did not answer our expectations. But Stourton, the village where it stands, made up for our disappointment. After passing the park-gate, which is a beautiful and venerable relic, you descend into Stourton by a sharp-winding declivity, almost like going underground, between high hedges of laurel trees, and with an expanse of woods
and water spread beneath. . . . . The inn is like a modernized guard-house; the village church stands on a lawn without any enclosure; a row of cottages, facing it, with their whitewashed walls and flaunting honeysuckles, are neatness itself. . . . . There is one masterpiece of colouring by Paul Veronese, a naked child with a dog. . . . . On praising this picture (which we always do when we like a thing) we were told it had been criticised by a great judge,
Mr. Beckford of Fonthill, who had found fault with the execution, as too coarse and muscular. We do not wonder, it is not like his own turnery-ware! . . . .

“Burleigh! thy groves are leafless, thy walls are naked—
And dull cold winter does inhabit here.
The yellow evening rays gleam through thy fretted Gothic windows; but I only feel the rustling of withered branches strike chill to my breast; it was not so twenty years ago. Thy groves were leafless then as now; it was the middle of winter twice that I visited there before; but the lark mounted in the sky, and the sun smote my youthful blood with its slant ray, and the ploughman whistled as he drove his team afield. . . . All is still the same, like a petrifaction of the mind, the same things in the same places; but their effect is not the same upon me. I am twenty years the worse for wear and tear. What is become of the never-ending studious thoughts that brought their own reward, or promised good to mankind? of the tears that started welcome and unbidden? of the sighs that whispered
future peace? of the smiles that shone, not in my face indeed, but that cheered my heart, and made a sunshine there, when all was gloom around? That fairy vision—that invisible glory, by which I was once attended—ushered into life, has left my side, and ‘faded to the light of common day,’ and I now see what is, or has been, not what may be, hid in Time’s bright circle and golden chaplet.

“Perhaps this is the characteristic difference between youth and a later period of life—that we, by degrees, learn to take things more as we find them, call them more by their right names; that we feel the warmth of summer, but the winter’s cold as well; that we see beauties, but can spy defects in the fairest face, and no longer look at everything through the genial atmosphere of our own existence. . . . .

“The second time [circa 1803] I passed along the road that skirts Burleigh Park, the morning was dank, and ‘ways were mire.’ I saw and felt it not; my mind was otherwise engaged. Ah! thought I, there is that fine old head by Rembrandt; there, within those cold grey walls, the painter of old age is enshrined, immortalized in some of his inimitable works! The name of Rembrandt lives in the fame of him who stamped it with renown, while the name of Burleigh is kept up by the present owner. An artist survives in the issue of his brain to all posterity, a lord is nothing without the issue of his body lawfully begotten, and is lost in a long line of illustrious ancestors. So much higher is genius than rank, such is the difference between fame and
title! A great name in art lasts for centuries; it requires twenty generations of a noble house to keep alive the memory of the first founder for the same length of time. So I reasoned, and was not a little proud of my discovery.

“In this dreaming mood, dreaming of deathless works and deathless names, I went on to Peterborough, passing, as it were, under an archway of Fame,
——And still walking under,
Found some new matter to look up and wonder.
I had business there, I will not say what.* I could at this time do nothing. I could not write a line, I could not draw a stroke. . . . . In words, in looks, in deeds, I was no better than a changeling. . . . .

“Why then do I set so much value on my existence formerly? Oh God! that I could be but one day, one hour, nay, but for an instant (to feel it in all the plenitude of unconscious bliss, and take one long last lingering draught of that full brimming cup of thoughtless freedom) what then I was, that I might, as in a trance, a waking dream, hear the hoarse murmur of the bargemen, as the Minster tower [of Peterborough] appeared in the dim twilight, come up from the willowy stream, sounding low and underground like the voice of the bittern; that I might paint that field opposite the window where I lived, and feel that there was a green,

* I believe that the Loftus family were originally from Peterborough, and that my grandfather’s motive was a desire to see his mother’s birthplace. He alludes to this a little farther on.

dewy moisture in the tone, beyond my pencil’s reach; but thus gaining almost a new sense, and watching the bustle of new objects without me; that I might stroll down Peterborough bank (a winter’s day) and see the fresh marshes stretching out in endless level perspective (as if
Paul Potter had painted them), with the cattle, the windmills, and the red-tiled cottages, gleaming in the sun to the very verge of the horizon, and watch the fieldfares in innumerable flocks, gambolling in the air, and sporting in the sun, and racing before the clouds, making summersaults, and dazzling the eye by throwing themselves into a thousand figures and movements; that I might go, as then, a pilgrimage to the town where my mother was born, and visit the poor farm-house where she was brought up, and lean upon the gate, where she told me she used to stand, when a child of ten tears old, and look at the setting sun! I could do all this still, but with different feelings.

“I had at this time, simple as I seemed, many resources. I could in some sort ‘play at bowls with the sun and moon,’ or, at any rate, there was no question in metaphysics that I could not bandy to and fro, as one might play at cup and ball, for twenty, thirty, forty miles of the great North Road, and at it again, the next day, as fresh as ever. I soon get tired of this now, and wonder how I managed formerly.”

Mr. Patmore, in his Recollections of this trip, says:—“In going through the various apartments at Sir Richard
Colt Hoare’s, I shall never forget the almost childish delight which Hazlitt exhibited at the sight of two or three of the chief favourites of his early days.

“On another day, while at Fonthill, we walked over to Salisbury (a distance of twelve miles) in a broiling sunshine; and I remember, on this occasion in particular, remarking the extraordinary physical as well as moral effect produced on Hazlitt by the sight and feel of the ‘country!’”