» N.S. Books
June 24th, 2001.
"Hazlitt's One Thing To Make Him Happy."
One of my many e-mails this week, was this one:
From: Jeff L.|
Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001 16:47:42 +0200
Have thoroughly enjoyed your fantastic site, which I must admit I entered
because I was trying to track down Hazlittīs essay on going on a journey,
which I vaguely recalled from my University days, because I had been asked
by a friend to give a reading on said topic at a wedding.
Unfortunately, of course, Hazlittīs theme is very much that of travelling
alone, which perhaps doesn't fit quite so well with the day! Meantime I
have read various other essays, including "My First Acquaintance with
To what do you think Hazlitt refers when he says"I have wanted only one
thing to make me happy; but wanting that, have wanted everything"? It is a
fine sentient, simply and powerfully expressed, but I don't understand it.
Your opinion would be much valued.
Here's my reply:
DATE: June 21st, '01
Thanks for your note.
As to, "I have wanted only one thing to make me happy; but wanting that, have wanted everything"? Gosh! I don't know what Hazlitt meant, for sure; however, I think it likely what Hazlitt was desperately seeking, was, the love of a woman.
He had no luck with any woman -- it certainly would appear -- until he met Sarah Stoddart. This was not (if ever it was) love at first sight. After a number of years of being but just acquainted, in 1808, they married. Augustine Birrell, in his biography on Hazlitt, was to write: "Unluckily, the marriage with Miss Stoddart did not turn out a success. It would have been strange if it had. Neither party had bargained for happiness. It was not a case of love flying out of the window, for the love was never there. Mrs. Hazlitt was unromantic, undomestic, untidy, and selfish, and her husband was a sentimentalist on paper, irregular in habits, uncertain in temper, and at least as selfish as his spouse. The result was uncomfortable. The couple had neither money, manners, nor love to keep them together." In 1822, William and Sarah obtained a Scottish divorce.
The only other woman, was, a Miss Walker. Walker was not quite a "servant girl," but rather a tailor's daughter whose mother kept a lodging-house in Southhampton Buildings where Hazlitt had a room. Walker, apparently a natural tease, drove Hazlitt, for ever serious, crazy (see, Liber Amoris). Hazlitt was to get absolutely nowhere with Miss Walker.
Hazlitt did marry a second time, to the widow of a Colonel Bridgewater, Isabella. They married in 1824, being a time which was a few years after "My First Acquaintance with Poets" was written. Incidently, during the course of their honeymoon in Europe something happened between Hazlitt and Isabella. Hazlitt returned to England without her and they never laid eyes on one another, ever again. To get Hazlitt's view on women see, "On Great and Little Things" (1821) and see "On the Conduct of Life" (1822) -- "If you ever marry, I would wish you ..."
The one thing to make Hazlitt happy: if not the love of a woman, then, maybe, it was the lack of a friend. Hazlitt was a loner throughout his life. He had no long term friends (with the exception, maybe, of Charles Lamb). In his essay, "The Fight," Hazlitt describes his life as being "(at the date of these presents) bitter as coloquintida and the dregs of aconitum." Further on he writes, "It's the devil for anyone to tell me a secret, for it's sure to come out in print. I do not care so much to gratify a friend, but the public ear is too great a temptation to me."
Not only would people avoid Hazlitt because he was a tattletale; he made for poor company as he was most always glum and forever expressing his displeasure of things. I quote Birrell, again: "... he was always desperately in earnest; and found it not only hard, but plainly impossible, to put his political and philosophical convictions good-humouredly aside on occasions and be, for a season, all things to all men. He could not do it, and his inability to do it made him impatient of those who could and did. Lamb's attitude of mind puzzled Hazlitt. He knew Lamb to be, as indeed some of his less known writings show him to have been, a sound and sane politician, with a real grip of situations; yet he was content not only to live aloof from politics, but at peace with men who, despite the noisy protestations of their early manhood, had enrolled themselves in the great Army of Reaction. This puzzled Hazlitt, and when he was puzzled he grew angered, for his was a brooding, pondering nature. At the bottom of his mind lay a deep, gloomy pool of metaphysics, and into this pool he plunged from time to time, always emerging more than ever in love with abstract propositions and the hard core of thought. He led a lonely life, thinking, thinking, thinking and the more he thought the darker grew the welkin."
Well, there you go. Hope that might give you a bit of an insight into what it was that Hazlitt sought to keep him, happy. The fact of the matter is -- Hazlitt, because of his nature, was unhappy most all of his life.
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June, 2001 (2019)