An Essay Picked by blupete

"On Living to One's Self"

"Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow,
Or by the lazy Scheldt or wandering Po."

I was never in a better place or humour than I am at present for writing on this subject. I have a partridge getting ready for my supper, my fire is blazing on the hearth, the air is mild for the season of the year, I have but a slight fit of indigestion to-day (the only thing that makes me abhor myself), I have three hours good before me, and therefore I will attempt it. It is as well to do it at once as to have it to do for a week to come.

If the writing on this subject is no easy task, the thing itself is a harder one. It asks a troublesome effort to insure the admiration of others: it is still greater one to be satisfied with one's own thoughts. As I look from the window at the wide bare heath before me, and through the misty moonlight air see the woods that wave over the top of Winterslow,

"While Heav'n's chancel-vault is blind with sleet,"

my mind takes its flight through too long a series of years,1 supported only by the patience of thought and secret yearnings after truth and good, for me to be at a loss to understand the feeling I intend to write about; but I do not know that this will enable me to convey it more agreeable to the reader.

Lady Grandison,2 in a letter to Miss Harriet Byron, assures her that "her brother Sir Charles lived to himself:" and Lady L. soon after (for Richardson was never tired of a good thing) repeats the same observation; to which Miss Byron frequently returns in her answers to both sisters - "For you know Sir Charles lives to himself," till at length it passes into a proverb among the fair correspondents. This is not, however, an example of what I understand by living to one's self, for Sir Charles Grandison was indeed always thinking of himself; but by this phrase I mean never thinking at all about one's-self, any more than if there was no such person in existence. The character I speak of is as little of an egotist as possible: Richardson's great favourite was as much of one as possible. Some satirical critic has represented him in Elysium "bowing over the faded hand of Lady Grandison" (Miss Byron that was) - he ought to have been represented bowing over his own hand, for he never admired any one but himself, and was the God of his own idolatry. - Neither do I call it living to one's-self to retire into a desert (like the saints and martyrs of old) to be devoured by wild beasts, nor to descend into a cave to be considered as a hermit, nor to get the top of a pillar or rock to do fanatic penance and be seen of all men. What I mean by living to one's-self is living in the world, as in it, not of it: it is as if no one know there was such a person, and you wished no one to know it: it is to be a silent spectator of the mighty scene of things, not an object of attention or curiosity in it; to take a thoughtful, anxious interest in what is passing in the world, but not to feel the slightest inclination to make or meddle with it. It is such a life as a pure spirit might be supposed to lead, such an interest as it might take in the affairs of men, calm, contemplative, passive, distant, touched with pity for their sorrows, smiling at their follies without bitterness, sharing their affections, but not trouble by their passions, not seeking their notice, nor once dreamt of by them. He who lives wisely to himself and to his won heart, looks at the busy world through the loop-holes of retreat, and does not want to mingle in the fray. "He hears the tumult, and is still." He is not able to mend it. He sees enough in the universe to interest him without putting himself forward to try what he can do to fix the eyes of the universe upon him. Vain the attempt! He reads the clouds, he looks at the stars, he watches the return of the seasons, the falling leaves of autumn, the perfumed breath of spring, starts with delight at the note of the thrush in a copse near him, sits by the fire, listens to the moaning of the wind, pores upon a book, or discourses the freezing hours away, or melts down hours to minutes in pleasing thought. All this while he is taken up with other things, forgetting himself. He relishes an author's style without thinking of turning author. He is fond of looking at a print from an old picture in the room, without teasing himself to copy it. He does not fret himself to death with trying to be what he is not, or do what he cannot. He hardly knows what he is capable of, and is not in the least concerned whether he shall ever make a figure in the world. He feels the truth of the lines -

"The man whose eye is ever on himself,
Doth look one, the least of nature's works;
One who might move the wise man to that scorn
Which wisdom holds unlawful ever" -

he looks out of himself at the wide extended prospect of nature, and takes an interest beyond his narrow pretensions in general humanity. He is free as air, and independent as the wind. Woe be to him when he first begins to think what others say of him. While a man is contented with himself and his own resources, all is well. When he undertakes to play a part on the stage, and to persuade the world to think more about him than they do about themselves, he is got into a track where he will find nothing but briars and thorns, vexation and disappointment. I can speak a little to this point. For many years of my life I did nothing but think. I had nothing else to do but solve some knotty point, or dip in some abstruse author, or look at the sky or wander by the pebbled sea-side 3 -

"To see the children sporting on the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore."

I cared for nothing, I wanted nothing. I took my time to consider whatever occurred to me, and was in no hurry to give a sophistical answer to a question - there was no printer's devil waiting for me.4 I used to write a page of two perhaps in half a year; and remember laughing heartily at the celebrated experimentalist Nicholson,5 who told me that in twenty years he had written as much as would make three hundred octavo volumes. If I was not a great author, I could read with ever fresh delight, "never ending, still beginning," and had no occasion to write a criticism when I had done. If I could not paint like Claude, I could admire "the witchery of the soft blue sky" as I walked out, and was satisfied with the pleasure it gave me. If I was dull, it gave me little concern: if I was lively, I indulged my spirits. I wished well to the world, and believed as favourable of it as I could. I was like a stranger in a foreign land, at which I looked with wonder, curiosity, and delight, without expecting to be an object of attention in return. I had no relations to the state, no duty to perform, no ties to bind me to others: I had neither friend nor mistress, wife nor child.6 I lived in a world of contemplation, and not of action.

This sort of dreaming existence is the best. He who quits it to go in search of realities, generally barters repose for repeated disappointments and vain regrets. His time, thoughts, and feelings are no longer at his own disposal. From that instant he does not survey the objects of nature as they are in themselves, but looks asquint at them to see whether he cannot make them the instruments of his ambition, interest, or pleasure; for a candid, undesigning, undisguised simplicity of character, his views become jaundiced, sinister, and double: he takes no farther interest in the great changes of the world but as he has a paltry share in producing them: instead of opening his senses, his understanding, and his heart to the resplendent fabric of the universe, he holds a crooked mirror before his face, in which he may admire his own person and pretensions, and just glance his eye aside to see whether others are not admiring him too. He no more exists in the impression which "the fair variety of things" makes upon him, softened and subdued by habitual contemplation, but in the feverish sense of his own upstart self-importance. By aiming to fix, he is become the slave of opinion. He is a tool, a part of a machine that never stands still, and is sick and giddy with the ceaseless notion. He has no satisfaction but in the reflection of his own image in the public gaze - but in the repetition of his own name in the public ear. He himself is mixed up with, and spoils everything. I wonder Buonaparte was not tired of the N.N.'s stuck all over the Louvre and throughout France. Goldsmith 7 (as we all know) when in Holland went out into a balcony with some handsome Englishwomen, and on their being applauded by the spectators, turned round and said peevishly - "There are places where I also am admired." He could not give the craving appetite of an author's vanity one day's respite. I have seen a celebrated talker of our own time turn pale and go out of the room when a showy-looking girl has come into it, who for a moment divided the attention of his hearers. - Infinite are the morfications of the bare attempt to emerge from obscurity; numberless the failures; and greater and more galling still the vicissitudes and tormenting accompaniments of success -

---"Whose top to climb
Is certain falling, or so slippery, that
The fear's as bad as falling."8

"Would to God," exclaimed Oliver Cromwell, when he was at any time thwarted by the Parliament, "that I had remained by my woodside to tend a flock of sheep, rather than have been thrust on such a government as this!" When Buonaparte got into his carriage to proceed on his Russian expedition, carelessly twirling his glove, and singing the air - "Malbrook to the war is going" - he did not think of the tumble he has got since, the shock of which no one could have stood but himself. We see and hear chiefly of the favourites of Fortune and the Muse, of great generals, of first rate actors, of celebrated poets. These are at the head; we are struck with the glittering eminence on which they stand, and long to set out on the same tempting career, - not thinking how many discontented half-pay lieutenants are in vain seeking promotion all their lives, and obliged to put up with "the insolence of office, and the spurns which patient merit of the unworthy takes;" how many half-starved strolling players are doomed to penury and tattered robes in country places, dreaming to the last of a London engagement; how many wretched daubers shiver and shake in the ague-fit of alternate hopes and fears, waste and pine away in the atrophy of genius, or else turn drawing-masters, picture-cleaners, or newspaper-critics;9 how many hapless poets have sighed out their souls to the Muse in vain, without ever getting their effusions farther known than the Poet's Corner of a country newspaper, and looked and looked with grudging, wistful eyes at the envious horizon that bounded their provincial fame! - Suppose an actor, for instance, "after the heart-aches and the thousand natural pangs that flesh is heir to," does get at the top of his profession, he can no longer bear a rival near the throne; to be second or only equal to another, is to be nothing: he starts at the prospect of a successor, and retains the mimic sceptre with a convulsive grasp: perhaps as he is about to seize the first place which he has long had in his eye, an unsuspected competitor steps in before him, and carries off the prize, leaving him to commence his irksome toil again. He is in a state of alarm at every appearance or rumour of the appearance of a new actor: "a mouse that takes up its lodging in a cat's ear"10 has a mansion of peace to him: he dreads every hint of an objection, and least of all, can forgive praise mingled with censure: to doubt is to insult; to discriminate is to degrade: he dare hardly look into a criticism unless some one has tasted it for him, to see that there is no offence in it: if he does not draw crowded houses every night, he can neither eat nor sleep; or if all these terrible inflictions are removed, and he can "eat his meal in peace," he then becomes surfeited with applause and dissatisfied with his profession: he wants to be something else, to be distinguished as an author, a collector, a classical scholar, a man of sense and information, and weighs every word he utters, and half retracts it before he utters it, lest if he were to make the smallest slip of the tongue, it should get buzzed abroad that Mr. --- was only clever as an actor! If ever there was a man who did not derive more pain than pleasure from his vanity that man, says Rousseau, was no other than a fool. A country gentleman near Taunton spent his whole life in making some hundreds of wretched copies of second-rate pictures,11 which were bought up at his death by a neighbouring Baronet, to whom

"Some Demon whisper'd, L---, have a taste!"

A little Wilson 12 in an obscure corner escaped the man of virtu, and was carries off by a Bristol picture-dealer for three guineas, while the muddled copies of the owner of the mansion (with the frames) fetched thirty, forty, sixty, a hundred ducats a piece. A friend of mine found a very fine Canaletti 13 in a state of strange disfigurement, with the upper part of the sky smeared over and fantastically variegated with English clouds; and on inquiring of person to whom it belonged whether something had not been done to it, received for answer "that a gentleman, a great artist in the neighbourhood, had retouched some parts of it." What infatuation! Yet this candidate for the honours of the pencil might probably have made a jovial fox-hunter or respectable justice of the peace if he could only have stuck to what nature and fortune intended him for. Miss --- can by no means be persuaded to quit the boards of the theatre at ---, a little country town in the West of England. Her salary has been abridged, her person ridiculed, her acting laughed at; nothing will serve - she is determined to be an actress, and scorns to return to her former business as a milliner. Shall I go on! An actor in the same company was visited by the apothecary of the place in an ague-fit, who on asking his landlady as to his way of life, was told that the poor gentleman was very quiet and gave little trouble, that he generally had a plate of mashed potatoes for his dinner, and lay in bed most of his time, repeating his part. A young couple, every way amiable and deserving, were to have been married, and a benefit-play was bespoke by the officers of the regiment quartered there, to defray the expense of a license and of the wedding-ring, but the profits of the night did not amount to the necessary sum, and they have, I fear, "virgined it e'er since!" Oh for the pencil of Hogarth or Wilkie 14 to give a view of the comic strength of the company at ---, drawn up in battle-array in the Clandestine Marriage, with a coup d'oeil of the pit, boxes, and gallery, to cure for ever the love of the ideal, and the desire to shine and make holiday in the eyes of others, instead of retiring within ourselves and keeping our wishes and our thoughts at home! - Even in the common affairs of life, in love, friendship, and marriage, how little security have we when we trust our happiness in the hands of others! Most of the friends I have seen have turned out the bitterest enemies or cold, uncomfortable acquaintance. Old companions are like meats served up too often, that lose their relish and their wholesomeness. He who looks at beauty to admire, to adore it, who reads of its wondrous power in novels, in poems, or in plays, is not unwise: but let no man fall in love, for from that moment he is "the baby of a girl."15 I like very well to repeat such lines as these in the play of Mirandola 16 -

---"With what a waving air she goes
Along the corridor! How like a fawn!
Yet statelier. Hark! No sound, however soft,
Nor gentlest echo telleth when she treads,
But every motion of her shape doth seem
Hallowed by silence" ---

But however beautiful the description, defend me from meeting with the original!

"The fly that sips treacle
Is lost in the sweets;
So he that tastes woman
Ruin meets."

The song is Gay's,17 not mine, and a bitter-sweet it is. - How few out of the infinite number of those 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! yet the tie is for life, not to be shaken off but with disgrace or death: a man no longer lives to himself, but is a body (as well as mind) chained to another, in spite of himself-

"Like life and death in disproportion met."

So Milton (perhaps from his own experience) makes Adam exclaim in the vehemence of his despair,

---"For either
He never shall find out fit mate, but such
As some misfortune brings him or mistake
Or whom he wishes most shall seldom gain
Through her perverseness, but shall see her gain'd
By a far worse; or if she love, withheld
By parents; or his happiest choice too late
Shall meet, already link'd and wedlock-bound
To a fell adversary, his hate and shame;
Which infinite calamity shall cause
To human life, and household peace confound."

If love at first sight were mutual, or to be conciliated by kind offices; if the fondest affection were not so often repaid and chilled by indifference and scorn; if so many lovers both before and since the madman in Don Quixote had not "worshipped a statue, hunted the wind, cried aloud in the desert;" if friendship were lasting; if merit were renown, and renown were health, riches, and long life; or if the homage of the world were paid to conscious worth and the true aspirations after excellence, instead of its gaudy signs and outward trappings; then indeed I might be of opinion that it is better to live to others than one's-self; but as the case stands, I incline to the negative side of the question.18

"I have not loved the world, nor the world me;
I have not flattered its rank breath, nor bow'd
To its idolatries a patient knee -
Nor coin'd my cheek to smiles - nor cried aloud
In worship of an echo; in the crowd
They could not deem me one of such; I stood
Among them, but not of them; in a shroud
Of thoughts which were not their thoughts, and still could,
Had I not filled my mind which thus itself subdued.
I have not loved the world, nor the world me -
But let us part fair foes; I do believe,
Though I have found them not, that there may be
Words which are things - hopes which will not
And virtues which are merciful nor weave
Snares for the failing: I would also deem
O'er others' griefs that some sincerely grieve;
That two, or one, are almost what they seem -
That goodness is no name, and happiness no dream."

Sweet verse embalms the spirit of sour misanthropy: but woe betide the ignoble prose-writer who should thus dare to compare notes with the world, or tax it roundly with imposture.19

If I had sufficient provocation to rail at the public, as Ben Jonson did at the audience in the Prologues to his plays, I think I should do it in good set terms, nearly as follows: -There is not a more mean, stupid, dastardly, pitiful, selfish, spiteful, envious, ungrateful animal than the Public. It is the greatest of cowards, for it is afraid of itself. From its unwieldy, overgrown dimensions, it dreads the least opposition to it, and shakes like isinglass at the touch of a finger. It starts at its own shadow, like the man in the Hartz mountains, and trembles at the mention of its own name. It has a lion's mouth, the heart of a hare, with ears erect and sleepless eyes. It stands "listening its fears." It is so in awe of its own opinion, that it never dares to form any, but catches up the first idle rumour, lest it should be behindhand in its judgement, and echoes it till it is deafened with the sound of its own voice. The idea of what the public will think prevents the public from ever thinking at all, and acts as a spell on the exercise of private judgement, so that in short the public ear is at the mercy of the first impudent pretender who chooses to fill it with noisy assertion, or false surmise, or secret whispers. What is said by one is heard by all; the supposition that a thing is known to all the world makes all the world believe it, and the hollow repetition of a vague report drowns the "still, small voice" of reason. We may believe or know that what is said is not true: but we know or fancy that others believe it - we dare not contradict or are too indolent to dispute with them, and therefore give up our internal, and as we thing, our solitary conviction to a sound without substance, without proof, and often without meaning. Nay more, we may believe and know not only that a thing is false, but that others believe and know it to be so, that they are quite as much in the secret of the imposture as we are, that they see the puppets at work, the nature of the machinery, and yet if any one has the art or power to get the management of it, he shall keep possession of the public ear by virtue of a cant phrase or nickname; and by dint of effrontery and perseverance make all the world believe and repeat what all the world know to be false. The ear is quicker than the judgement. We know that certain things are said; by that circumstance alone, we know that they produce a certain effect on the imagination of others, and we conform to their prejudices by mechanical sympathy, and for want of sufficient spirit to differ with them. So far then is public opinion from resting on a broad and solid base, as the aggregate of thought and feeling in a community, that it is slight and shallow and variable to the last degree - the bubble of the moment; so that we may safely say the public is the dupe of public opinion, not its parent. The public is pusillanimous and cowardly, because it is weak. It knows itself to be a great duce, and that it has no opinions but upon suggestion. Yet it is unwilling to appear in leadingstrings, and would have it though that its decisions are as wise as they are weighty. It is hasty in taking up its favourites, more hasty in laying them aside, lest it should be deficient in sagacity in either case. It is generally divided into two strong parties, each of which will allow neither common sense nor common honesty to the other side. It reads the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews,20 and believes them both - or if there is a doubt malice turns the scale. Taylor and Hessey told me that they had sold nearly two editions of the Characters of Shakespear's Plays 21 in about three months, but that after the Quarterly Review of them came out, they never sold another copy. The public, enlightened as they are, must have known the meaning of that attack as well as those who made it. It was not ignorance then but cowardice, that led them to give up their own opinion. A crew of mischievous critics at Edinburgh having affixed the epithet of the Cockney School 22 to one or two writers born in the metropolis, all the people in London became afraid of looking into their works, lest they too should be convicted of cockneyism. Oh, brave public! This epithet proved too much for one of the writers in question, and stuck like a barbed arrow in his heart. Poor Keats! What was sport to the town was death to him. Young, sensitive, delicate, he was like

"A bud bit by an envious worm,
Ere he could spread his sweet leaves to the air
Or dedicate his beauty to the sun" -23

and unable to endure the miscreant cry and idiot laugh, withdrew to sigh his last breath in foreign climes.24 The public is as envious and ungrateful as it is ignorant, stupid, and pigeon-livered -

"A huge-sized monster of ingratitudes."25

It reads, it admires, it extols only because it is the fashion, not from any love of the subject or the man. It cries you up or runs you down out of mere caprice and levity. If you have pleased it, it is jealous of its own involuntary acknowledgment of merit, and seizes the first opportunity, the first shabby pretext, to pick a quarrel with you, and be quits once more. Every petty caviller is erected into a judge, every tale-bearer is implicitly believed. Every little low paltry creature that gaped and wondered, only because others did so, is glad to find you (as he thinks) on a level with himself. An author is not then, after all, a being of another order. Public admiration is forced, and goes against the grain. Public obloquy is cordial and sincere: every individual feels his won importance in it. They give you up bound hand and foot into the power of your accusers. To attempt to defend yourself is a high crime and misdemeanour, a contempt of court, an extreme piece of impertinence. Or if you prove every charge unfounded, they never think of retracing their error, or making you amends. It would be a compromise of their dignity; they consider themselves as the party injured, and resent your innocence as an imputation on their judgement. The celebrated Bub Doddington, when out of favour at court, said "he would not justify before his sovereign: it was for Majesty to be displeased, and for him to believe himself in the wrong!" The public are not quite so modest. People already begin to talk of the Scotch Novels as overrated. How then can common authors be supposed to keep their heads long above water? As a general rule, all those who live by the public starve, and are made a bye-word and a standing jest into the bargain. Posterity is no better (not a bit more enlightened or more liberal), except that you are no longer in their power, and that the voice of common fame saves them the trouble of deciding on your claims. The public now are the posterity of Milton and Shakespear. Our posterity will be the living public of a future generation. When a man is dead, they put money in his coffin, erect monuments to his memory, and celebrate the anniversary of his birthday in set speeches. Would they take any notice of him if he were living? No! -I was complaining of this to a Scotchman who had been attending a dinner and a subscription to raise a monument to Burns. He replied he would sooner subscribe twenty pounds to his monument than have given it him while living; so that if the poet were to come to life again, he would treat him just as he was treated in fact. This was an honest Scotchman. What he said, the rest would do.

Enough: my soul, turn from them, and let me try to regain the obscurity and quiet that I love, "far from the madding strife," in some sequestered corner of my own, or in some far-distant land! In the latter case, I might carry with me as a consolation the passage in Bolingbroke's Reflections on Exile,26 in which he describes in glowing colours the resources which a man may always find within himself, and which the world cannot deprive him:-

"Believe me, the providence of God has established such an order in the world, that of all which belongs to us, the least valuable parts can alone fall under the will of others. Whatever is best is safest; lies out of the reach of human power; can neither be given nor taken away. Such is this great and beautiful work of nature, the world. Such is the mind of man, which contemplates and admires the world whereof it makes the noblest part. These are inseparably ours, and as long as we remain in one, we shall enjoy the other. Let us march therefore intrepidly wherever we are led by the course of human accidents. Wherever they lead us, on what coast soever we are thrown by them, we shall not find ourselves absolutely strangers. We shall feel the same revolution of seasons, and the same sun and moon will guide the course of our year. The same azure vault, bespangled with stars, will be everywhere spread over our heads. There is no part of the world from whence we may not admire those planets which roll, like ours, if different orbits round the same central sun; from whence we may not discover an object sill more stupendous, that army of fixed stars hung up in the immense space of the universe, innumerable suns whose beams enlighten and cherish the unknown world which roll around them: and whilst I am ravished by such contemplations as these, whilst my soul is thus raised up to heaven, it imports me little what ground I tread upon."



1 Hazlitt would have been 43 years of age.
2 Sir Charles Grandison was Samuel Richardson's (1689-1761) third novel, Sir Charles is an ideal 18th century gentleman. Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded was his first work. Richardson, a printer by trade, brought out Pamela in 1740; it is represented to be the first English novel (Benet's, Reader's Encyclopedia; 3rd Ed.; (Harper & Row, 1987). Pamela was a maidservant who resists the seductive methods of her mistresses' son, she convinces him first to marry her; she then sets out to reform him. It seems that Richardson's novel was a publishing success, for, in 1748, he brings out a greater success, his masterpiece; Clarissa, or The History of a Young Lady. It is the longest novel in the English language. Clarissa Harlowe, in defying her tyrannical family, refuses to marry their choice, Mr. Solmes, a man she despises. Instead, Clarissa runs off with Robert Lovelace, a person of whom the family disapproves. Soon Clarissa comes to believe that all Lovelace wants is her body, at any rate, she "retires to a solitary dwelling, and dies of grief and shame." (Before the novel ends, of course, the cruel Lovelace is killed in a duel.) Sir Charles Grandison was the counterpart of Clarissa Harlowe.
3 Reminds me of what Sir Isaac Newton (1642Ä1727) said: "I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
4 My reaction to this line is that maybe Hazlitt was a bit envious to the successful authors of the time, Wordsworth being one. A printer's devil would be the errand boy sent around to the author's house to pick up the written work, to be hurriedly brought back and laid up in print. Here, obviously, Hazlitt refers to the writer's curse: the publisher's deadline.
5 This must be William Nicholson (1753-1815), the waterworks engineer from Portsmouth who invented the hydrometer. In addition, among other things, he, with others, Nicholson constructed the first voltaic and discovered how through electrolysis water could be broken down into its constituent parts: oxygen and hydrogen, a most marvelous event. Nicholson compiled a dictionary in 1808, a Dictionary of Practical and Theoretical Chemistry.
6 Well, Hazlitt, did too, have a wife and child. He and Sarah Stoddart were married in 1808, and a son, who survived him, was born in 1811. Sarah's family owned property at Winterslow, and Hazlitt and his new wife moved into "one of her cottages" just after their marriage in 1808. In 1812, the Hazlitt family, financially in bad straights, moved up to London, Hazlitt having obtained a job (with the help of his friend Charles Lamb) as a reporter for the Morning Chronicle. In 1819, Hazlitt separated from his family and returned to reside at Winterslow. He did not occupy his wife's cottage, it having been rented by her brother, but rather he stayed at Winterslow Hut, an ancient inn (still there, Margo and I have been shown the room Hazlitt rented). This essay, written in 1821, was written at Winterslow Hut. In 1822, William and Sarah were divorced in Scotland (a country where divorces were not difficult, legally speaking, to obtain.
7 This be, I imagine, Oliver Goldsmith (1731-1774), the author of the Vicar of Wakefield (1766).
8 Here Hazlitt quotes from Shakespeare, Cymberline (Act 3, Scene 3). Belarius begins these lines with "... the art of the Court, As hard to leave as to keep -- Whose top to climb ..."
9 Hazlitt was a student of the painting art and turned to the business of being a newspaper critic.
10 (Webster's Duchess of Malfy.) I have placed Hazlitt's original footnotes in parenthesis. Hazlitt, it should be noted was an expert when it came to Elizabethan writers; John Webster (1580?-1625?) was an Elizabethan dramatist.
11 Hazlitt, in his early and short career as a painter, went to Paris, in 1802, and, while there, made copies of first-rate pictures, Titians; he was enchanted by the light which the old masters managed to show in their works.
12 Here, doubtlessly, Hazlitt writes of Richard Wilson (1714-1782), a British landscape artist; Wilson anticipated Gainsborough (1727-1788) and Constable (1776-1837) when he left abandoned "strait-laced classicism for a lyrical freedom of style." [Chambers Biographical Dictionary; (Edinburgh, 1990).]
13 Here Hazlitt is likely referring to Canaletto (1697-1768), the Venetian painter.
14 As for Hogarth (1697-1764), I need say little; as for Wilkie, -- well, this would be Sir David Wilke (1785-1841); his early work, for which he was best known, are drawings much in the same vain as Hogarth. Wilkie's The Village Politicians (1806) earned him his reputation, and soon he took up residence in London, -- he was from Scotland. "His fame rests on such genre pictures as the Card Players, Village Festival, Reading the Will, &c.
15 Shakespeare, from Macbeth.
16 Pico Della Mirandola (1493-1494).
17 John Gay (1645-1732), an English poet.
18 (Shenstone and Gray were two men, one of whom pretended to live to himself, and the other really did so. Gray shrunk from the public gaze (he did not even like his portrait to be prefixed to his works) into his own thoughts and indolent musings; Shenstone affected privacy that he might be sought out by the world; the one courted retirement in order to enjoy leisure and repose, as the other coquetted with it merely to be interrupted with the importance of visitors and the flatteries of absent friends.) These two writers, to whom Hazlitt refers, are William Shenstone (1714-63) and Thomas Gray (1716-71). Gray was one of the greatest of English poets; he wrote, you will recall, the poem, "Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard."
19 Hazlitt, as one will soon realize upon reading him and about him, was a bitter man, both as to friendship and as to love. Few of Hazlitt's friends, if he ever he had any to begin with, hung in; Wordsworth and his circle avoided him; Charles Lamb, likely, was the only true friend that Hazlitt ever had, and even their relationship at times was strained. Beside his wife, and a certain Miss Walker, it is not likely that Hazlitt had much experience with love; and with these two he did not have much luck. As for his wife, Sarah: he divorced her in 1822. In was in August of 1820 (he wrote this essay in January of 1821) Hazlitt became infatuated with Miss Walker. She was a tailor's daughter whose mother kept a lodging-house in the Southhampton Buildings, a place in London, where, at the time, Hazlitt resided. Miss Walker might have teased Hazlitt somewhat at first, but really she was not interested and nothing came of it. Hazlitt became quite besotted, as his book, Liber Amoris (LONDON: The Hogarth Press, 1985), will show; by it (written in 1823) he discloses himself as a rather lovesick writer.
20 The Quarterly and Edinburgh Review were on opposite ends of the political spectrum: the Quarterly Review was for the establishment; the Edinburgh Review was for reform. The Edinburgh Review was set up, with Sydney Smith (1771Ä1845) and others, in 1802, by the great law reformer, Henry Brougham (1778-1868). While Hazlitt wrote mainly for the London periodicals, the Champion and the Examiner (Leigh Hunt's magazine), he did contribute to others, including the Edinburgh Review. The Quarterly Review, at the time Hazlitt wrote this essay, 1821 had an editor (1809-24) by the name of William Gifford (1756-1826) who was Hazlitt's Nemesis. Gifford, as a critic, "was unduly biased." (Chambers.) "The ferocity of Gifford was entirely due to the fact that he regarded Hazlitt as a sour Jacobinical fellow who was against the government. ... [Hazlitt] became one of the favourite marks of their [the fellows of the Quarterly and Blackwood magazines] goat-footed merriment. [In fact, Edinburgh Review became a pre-eminent journal and to be writing anything for it, turned out for any author to be a professional and social hall-mark.] Hazlitt, if Mr. Patmore is to be believed, was driven almost mad by these Yahoos; and it may be that the irregularities and coarse excesses of this period of his life may be in part attributed to an unhinging of the mind occasioned by repeated personal abuse." [Augustine Birrell, (1850-1933); William Hazlitt (1902); (LONDON: MacMillan, 1902).] Hazlitt, in fact, in 1818, brought on a libel suit against both the Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine.
21 Characters of Shakespear's Plays was a book which Hazlitt brought out in 1817, and which, it would appear, was panned by Quarterly Review.
22 (Charles Lamb, John Keats, Leigh Hunt, and the Author. --- Ed.) This was a footnote placed by the editors of the George Bell and Son edition, 1910, of Table Talk.
23 Again Hazlitt quotes from Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act 1, Scene 1).
24 Hazlitt would have just received news of the young poet's death. John Keats (1795-1821) was born in London, the son of a livery-stablekeeper. Keats studied medicine but abandoned it, devoting himself to poetry. He sailed from London for Italy in 1820, and died of consumption at Rome in February 1821. Keats was a student of Hazlitt, in 1818 he attended lectures which Hazlitt was giving at the Surrey Institution, London, -- On The English Poets. "I went last Tuesday, an hour too late, to Hazlitt's Lecture on Poetry, got there just as they were coming out, when all these pounced on me - Hazlitt, John Hunt ..., aye and more. ... Sunday I dined with Hazlitt and Haydon [the painter, Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846)]." [From a letter by Keats to one of his brothers, as quoted by P. P. Howe, The Life of William Hazlitt (1922); (Penguin Books, 1949) at p. 248.]
25 Shakespeare again, Ulysses speaks, "A great-siz'd monster of ingratitudes." (Troilus & Cressida, Act 3, Scene 3.)
26 Bolingbroke (1678-1751) was an English statesman who, upon the death of Queen Anne in 1714, and because he supported the House of Stewart, fell out of favour as George I came to the English throne. Bolingbroke fled to France and there wrote his Reflections on Exile.


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[TOC -- Hazlitt's Page]
[Hazlitt's Works]
[General Essays]
[Round Table]
[Political Essays]
[The Spirit of the Age]
[The Plain Speaker]

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Peter Landry