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that he came very near to tasting of the local pond; when Patmore walked home with him to Westminster, after his first lecture in the Surrey Institute, the wayside nymphs flocked to his encounter, and (so Patmore says)—he knew them all ; 1 he has himself recorded the confession that in the matter of mob-caps and black stockings and red elbows—in fact, on the score of your maid-servant-he could flourish a list as long, or thereabouts, as Leporello's. I know not whether he lied or spoke the truth ; 2 but I can scarce believe that he lied. I should rather opine that on this point, as on others, Hazlitt, a gross and extravagant admirer (be it remembered) of J.-J. Rousseau, was, and is, entirely credible. We may take it that his veracity is beyond reproach. But 'tis another matter with his taste; and for that I can say no more than that I have listened to so many confidences :
From some we loved, the loveliest and the best
That from his Vintage rolling Time has pressed : that I hold it for merely unessential.
But the man who habitually hugs his housemaid is, whether he boast of it or not, no more superior to consequences than another : especially if he have, as Hazlitt had, an ardent imagination and a teeming waste of sentiment. And so Hazlitt found. About 1819 he ceased from consorting with his wife; and in 1820 he lodged with a tailor, one Walker, in Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane. Walker, a most respectable man, had daughters, and one of these, a girl well broken-in, it would seem, to the ways of gentlemen'-a girl with a dull eye, a 'sinuous gait,' and a habit of sitting on the knees of gentlemen'; a girl, in fine, who is only to be described by an old and sane and homely but unquotable designation—this poor half-harlot took on our Don Juan of the area, and brought him to utter grief. He looked at passion, as embodied in Sarah Walker, until it grew to be the world to him; he went about like a man drunken and dazed, telling the story of his slighted love to anybody
1 Much as years afterwards, according to a certain Nicolardot, the expertest of their kind were on the list of old Ste.-Beuve.
2 His grandson describes him as physically incapable of any but a transient fidelity to anybody.
the assault delivered upon France for an assault against Freedom. But Coleridge and Wordsworth changed their minds, and readjusted their points of view; and he did not. They loved not Bonaparte ; and he did. And the end of it was that, so far as I know, he never wrote with so ripe and sensual a gust : not even, to my mind, when he was merely annihilating Gifford : as when, long years after NetherStowey, he broke in upon the strong, solid hold of Wordsworth's egotism, and tore to tatters—tatters which he flung upon the wind the old, greasy prophet's mantle, which Coleridge had sported to so little
purpose for so many years. To Hazlitt, the dissenter born, the deeply brooding, the inflexible-to Hazlitt, I say, these TwinStars of the Romantic Movement were common turn-coats; and he dealt with them on occasion as he thought fit. But he never lost his interest in them; and when it comes to a comparison between Wordsworth, the renegade, and Byron, the leader of storming-parties, the captain of forlorn-hopes, then is his idiosyncrasy revealed. He hacks and stabs, he jibes and sneers and denies, till there is no Byron left, and the sole poet of the century is the “gentlemanly creature-reads nothing but his own poetry, I believe,'—whose best passages, in a moment of supreme geniality, he once likened, not to their advantage, to those of the classic Akenside.'
II It was from Nether-Stowey that Hazlitt dated his regard for poetry. But if literature came late to him, as (his father's office and his own metaphysical inklings aiding) it did, he ever cherished a pure and ardent passion for it, once it had come. Yet he was by no means widely read, and in his last years seldom finished a new book. First and last, indeed, he was a man of few books and fewer authors. Shakespeare, Burke, Cervantes, Rabelais, Milton, the Decameron, the Nouvelle Héloïse and the Confessions, Richardson's epics of the parlour and Fielding's epics of the road-these things and their kind he read intensely; and, when it pleased him to speak of them, it was ever in the terms of understanding and regard. Yet it was long ere he had any thought of writing ; and it was necessity alone that made him a i Or rather bedgown : unction-soiled and laudanum-stained,
man, and the curious case of woman (especially the curious case of woman !) into a rapture of give-and-take, a night-long series of achievements in consummate speech.
Many men, as Coleridge, have written well, and yet talked better than they wrote.
I have named Coleridge, though his talk, prodigious as it was, in the long run ended in Om-m-mject' and Sum-m-mject,' and though, some enchanting and undying verses apart, his writing, save when it is merely critical, is nowadays of small account. But, in truth, I have in my mind, rather, two friends, both dead, of whom one, an artist in letters, lived to conquer the Englishspeaking world, while the second, who should, I think, have been the greater writer, addicted himself to another art, took to letters late in life, and, having the largest and the most liberal utterance I have known, was constrained by the very process of composition so to produce himself that scarce a touch of his delightful, apprehensive, all-expressing spirit appeared upon his page. I take these two cases because both are excessive. In the one you had both speech and writing ; in the other you found a rarer brain, a more fanciful and daring humour, a richer gusto, perhaps a wider knowledge, in any event a wider charity. And at one point the two met, and that point was talk. Therein each was pre-eminent, each irresistible, each a master after his kind, each endowed with a full measure of those gifts that qualify the talker's temperament: as voice and eye and laugh, look and gesture, humour and fantasy, audacity and agility of mind, a lively and most impudent invention, a copious vocabulary, a right gift of foolery, a just, inevitable sense of conversational right and wrong. Well; one wrote like an angel, the other like
and both so far excelled in talk that I can take it on me to say that they who know them only in print scarce know them at all. 'Twas thus, I imagine, with Hazlitt. He wrote the best he could; but I see many reasons to believe that he was very much more brilliant and convincing at the Southampton than he is in the most convincing and the most brilliant of his Essays. He was a full man; he had all the talker's gifts ; he exulted in all kinds of oral opportunities; what
His ideals are Claude, Rembrandt, Raphael, Poussin, Titian; he gives you very gentlemanly and intelligent estimates of Watteau and Velasquez; he has an eye-a right one—for Rubens and Van Dyck; he exults in Jan Steen, has words of worth for Ruysdael and Hobbima, and gives Turner as neat a croc-en-jambe as you could wish to see. But, despite his training and his gift, he is no more in advance of his age than the best of us here and now. To him the Carraccis and Salvator are sommités of a kind; if, so far as I remember, he will have nought to do with Carlo Dolci, he will not do without his Guido; I have read no word of his on Lawrence, no word of his on Constable, none on Morland; on Hogarth he is chiefly literary, on Turner not much more than diabolically ingenious. Wisely or not, he took pictures as he took books: they might be few, but they must be good; and, not only good but, of as he believed) the best. If they were not, or if they were new, he drew them not to his heart, nor adorned the chambers of his mind with them. Those chambers were filled with good things long since done. To him, then, what were the best things doing? It was his habit to take the good thing on; savour its excellences to their last sucket; meditate it strictly, jealously, privily, longingly; say, if it must be so, a few last words about it—some for the painter, more for the man of letters ; 1 and then ...? Well, then he accepted the situation. I do not know that he cared much for Keats; I do know that he found Shelley impossible, that he was never exalted Wordsworthian, and that he hesitated-(ever so little, but he hesitated !)-even at Charles Lamb. Politics and all, in truth, he was a prophet who adored the past, and had but an infidel eye for
emotions in him, because he (Hogarth) was a novelist in paint; while Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne touched his sense of letters, and, as Mr. Ainger has noted, suggested to him so much literature, or, at all events, so many literary possibilities, that Titian could not but be an arch-painter. Hazlitt felt his painter first, and thought not of the man-of-letters in his painter till his interest in his painter's painting was I won't say extinguished but-allayed.
1 «The point in debate,' he says, the worth or the bad quality of the painting ... I am as well able to decide upon as any who ever brandished a pallette. I doubt not that he spoke the truth ; yet the residuum of his criticisms of pictures, their after-taste, is mostly literary. And, as he was finally a man of letters, what else could one expect ?
the promise of the years. He was interested only in the highest achievement; and to be the highest even that must lie behind him. Thus, Fielding was good, and Rubens; Sir Joshua was good, and So were Richardson and Smollett; so, likewise, Shakespeare was good, and Raphael and Titian were good—these with Milton and Rembrandt, and Burke and Rousseau and Boccaccio ; and it was well. Well with them, and well—especially well !—with him : they had achieved, and here was he, the perfect lover, to whom their achievement was as an enchanted garden, a Prospero's Island abounding in romantic and inspiring chances, unending marvels, miracles of vision and solace and pure, perennial delight. And if these, the • Thrones, Dominations, Powers,' had done their work, and were venerable in it, so also in their degrees and sorts had Congreve and Watteau, Sir Thomas Browne and Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Wycherley and Jordaens ; so had even Salvator and John Buncle. In dealing with painters, and with purely painters' pictures, Hazlitt generally strikes a right note. But the man of letters in him is inevitably first; and 'tis not insignificant that some of the crack passages' in his writings about pictures are rhapsodies about places— Burleigh or Oxford-or pieces of pure literature like that very human and ingenious essay on the Pleasures of Painting,' which is one of the best good things in Table Talk.
So Hazlitt the painter was gathered to his fathers, and in his stead a Hazlitt reigned about whom the world knows little worth the telling: a Hazlitt who abridged philosophers, and made grammars, and compiled anthologies; a married and domesticated Hazlitt; a Hazlitt with a son and heir, and a wife who seems to have cared as little for his works and him as, in the long run, he assuredly cared for her company and her. The lady's name was Stoddart; she was a brisk, inconsequent, unsexual sort of person—a friend of Mary
1 Leigh Hunt said that he was the best art critic that ever lived : that to read him was like seeing a picture through stained glass, and so forth. But Leigh Hunt knew not much more about pictures than Coleridge knew about the books he talked of, but had not read.