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sheer humanity, on ideal boys and mad mothers, and on Simon Lee the old huntsman. The secret of the Jacobin poetry and the antiJacobin politics of this writer is the same. His lyrical poetry was a cant of humanity about the commonest people, to level the great with the small, and his political poetry is a cant of loyalty, to le.el Bonaparte with kings and hereditary imbecility. This person admires nothing that is admirable, feels no interest in anything interesting, no grandeur in anything grand, no beauty in anything beautiful. He tolerates nothing but what he himself creates' and so on.
Strangely enough, after so flattering a description of Wordsworth, Hazlitt actually quarrels with Lamb because, when receiving Wordsworth at his house, he does not specially invite Hazlitt to meet him!
We do not adduce these violent breaches of that 'comity which, between those who aspire to represent the literature of nations, should form the same unwritten law which it does between nations themselves, in any spirit of undue harshness to the memory of the passionate offender; but partly because without noticing them it would be impossible to arrive at a fair critical estimate of the genius and character of William Hazlitt, and partly because they suffice for answer to the complaint made by Serjeant Talfourd and other enthusiastic partisans of this powerful writer that Hazlitt was assailed and misrepresented in his own day, ignored by dignified reviewers, or libelled by malevolent critics. How could it be supposed that much courtesy would be shown to a man who displayed so little? One does not readily make room in any decorous society for a visitor who slaps everybody's face and treads on everybody's toes. And certainly, were there not very great merits to set off against faults so grave, and which we can survey with a calmer Time has become the beautifier of the dead, we should scarcely be tempted to rescue the writings of William Hazlitt from the neglect into which, with the mass of the reading public, they have fallen.
But amidst all these intolerant prejudices and this wild extravagance of apparent hate, there are in Hazlitt from time to time — those times not unfrequent — outbursts of sentiment scarcely surpassed among the writers of our century for tender sweetness, rapid perceptions of truth and beauty in regions of criticism then but sparingly cultured-nay, scarcely discovered -and massive fragments of such composition as no hand of ordinary strength could hew out of the unransacked mines of our native language.
Nor is it without a melancholy and softening interest that we
eye now that
detect sometimes, amidst the very lucubrations that most displease the taste by virulent personalities, some excuse for the writer's indulgence of hate in the sorrows of his private life, the mortifications of his literary career; and imagine that we can trace that bitterness of spirit which taints the current flow of his mind to its springs in disappointed affection and baffled aspiration. For it is one of the peculiarities in the egotism of this writer to launch into savage diatribes on the faults to which his acute self-consciousness made him awa that he was most subjected. He would insist on the virtue of courtesy, denounce the vituperation which comes from envy at another's success, call before him the phantom of his own mind, arraign it, and condemn. Surely there is something of the soured philanthropy of Alceste in the burst of wild declamation with which he concludes his ironical Essay ‘On the Pleasure of Hating:
Mistaken as I have been in my public and private hopes, calculating others from myself, and calculating wrong; always disappointed where I placed most reliance; the dupe of friendship and the fool of love, have I not reason to hate and despise myself? Indeed I do; and chiefly for not having hated and despised the world enough.
This is not the writing of a cynical hate, but of a passionate despair; and, unless we mistake, of such despair as is never wrung from a strong man except where the heart is constitutionally warm and the aspirations originally noble. Such a despair the best and greatest have conceived when, walking in the Valley of Shadow, they forget that the visibility of shadow is the evidence of light.
In his thoughts on the intellectual character of William Hazlitt (prefixed to his Literary Remains) Serjeant Talfourd says, with commendable brevity of distinction :
· As an author, Mr. Hazlitt may be contemplated principally in. three aspects, as a moral and political reasoner, as an observer of character and manners, and as a critic in literature and painting." Serjeant Talfourd adds, “It is in the first character only that he should be followed with caution.'
Only in the first character! The shade of Serjeant Talfourd must pardon us! We think that in each of the three aspects those who did not follow William Hazlitt with caution would be led into innumerable bogs and pitfalls. We have already sufficiently implied how little he is to be trusted, not only as a political reasoner, but as an observer of character. For an observer of manners apart from character he had some marked
advantages in his early study of metaphysics, and his passion for connecting the outward manners of society with the inward motives of man in the abstract; nor less, in a cominand of many varieties of style, but especially in the epigrammatic terseness which makes the excellence of the French writers upon manners. But one has only to glance over the leading features of his biography to perceive how exceedingly limited was the range permitted to his observation. The son of an Unitarian minister in a small provincial town, intended originally for the profession of a painter, relinquishing the hope of that calling, to which he was ardently attached, from the conviction that in it he could not attain to his own standard of excellence, but to the last, with eye and heart ever turning from the “full tide of life in Fleet Street,' to dwell enamoured on the likenesses of humanity limned upon canvas; thrown a stranger upon London, inexperienced and raw; forcing from
that stony-hearted mother of orphans' a diploma to practise upon public characters,' first as a newspaper reporter, and next. as a newspaper contributor; in proportion as, feeling his own powers, he stormed his way onward—rather contracting than expanding, his commerce with mankind-quarrelling, as he himseli tells us, with the very friends he had at first made, and even those friends, for the most part, of minds bookish and eccentric as his own; selecting his favourite resort in a sequestered village inn, with half a dozen volumes of authors a century or two old ; studying the humours of no class, with a fastidious refinement that shunned the vulgar, with a pride that kept him aloof from the great, it is difficult to conceive any man less adapted by circumstance and habit for the comprehensive delineation of contemporaneous manners. And it is when he attempts to vie with the Horace Walpoles and La Bruyères, when he aims his satire at polite society, and illustrates his page with such newspaper anecdotes of what passed in courts and 'gilded saloons'as a wit about town would invent as a hoax, but no man about town would repeat as a truth, that with all his native elevation of intellect, all his intuitive perception of poetic grace and beauty, we are reluctantly compelled to admit that he becomes vulgar, and vulgar according to his own true analysis of the elements in vulgarity,—vulgar from affectation, the affectation of knowing intimately things which he could not possibly know at all.
His mistake was aggravated, because it was a kind of knowledge which, as a wise man, it was not necessary he should possess, but the pretence to which any fool could detect. When, in criticising Molière's great comedy, L'École des Femmes,' he speaks of Arnolphe as the husband of Agnes, not many of his English readers
would be sufficiently familiar with the play to perceive how hastily the critic had read or how imperfectly he remembered it-Agnes being, of course, unmarried, and the whole comic conception of her character lost if she were a wife. But when Hazlitt parades as a matter of fact on which to ground argument or declamation some scrap of servants' hall gossip about kings and statesmen, Sir Fopling Flutter can look down on his ignorance and Benjamin Backbite moralise on his malice. On the other hand, when as an essayist on contemporaneous manners, Hazlitt writes from his own personal experience as observer, and in good humour with the subject selected, he can give grace and dignity to things commonplace or coarse. Of this, the essential faculty of genius, his description of the prize-fight between Hickman and Neate may suffice for example. It is with very felicitous art that he adapts to a description of one of the rudest and most violent scenes admitted into civilized life that character of style most associated with our notions of classic serenity and decorous grace. In the choice of words, in the rhythm of period and cadence, we seem to read a paper in the Spectator.' It reminds us both of Addison and Steele—the exquisite neatness of the one, the spirited ease of the other.
It is, however, as a critic, not of manners, but of books, of pictures, and of the stage, that Hazlitt chiefly excels; though even here we have need of all the caution' which Serjeant Talfourd implies that we no longer require when this writer quits the ground of moral and political controversy. For, as we have before observed, Hazlitt's judgment is never so beyond the control of the mood of temper in which he writes as to keep him consistent in praise or blame. And we shall find in one passage the most direct contradictions of opinions he has advanced in another. Even in his criticism on pictures or on actors, where his mind is least disturbed by passion, he cannot demand our admiration for one of his favourites, but he must wantonly immolate some rival renown. If he does justice to Reynolds, he must depreciate Gainsborough, if he expatiates on the humour of Hogarth, he must deny that Wilkie has any humour at all. If he extols Kean, he must degrade Young. And because Madame Pasta was a grand actress, poor Mademoiselle Mars must be abased into an artificial machine. There is nothing more adverse to the true spirit of criticism than these invidious comparisons between persons who essentially differ. In art as in nature varieties cannot be illustrated by opposing in a hostile spirit things that are of dissimilar genus. We grant this truth at once in the objects of nature, and we sin against criticism if we do not recognise it in art. No man, if he would praise a racehorse, thinks it necessary to abuse a lion; no man who calls on us to admire the rose asks us to despise the violet; no man who invites the eye to the shimmer of the ash-leaves thinks we cannot adequately enjoy the sight unless we point a finger of scorn at the solid repose of the cedar. But in objects of art it is the trick of commonplace critics to insist on comparisons or contrasts, not for the purpose of showing the beauty appropriate to each, but in order to make the beauty of the one a reason why there must be something deformed in the other. That Hazlitt descended to this trick was in itself enough to depose him from the highest rank of critics. Criticism stops where injustice begins. In criticisms on literature his faults of caprice and temper become much more glaring than they are in his discourses on pictorial art, and are expressed with infinitely more presumption, because with infinitely less knowledge of his subject. Not knowing a word of German, he calls Goethe's Faust' a mere 'piece of abortive perverseness, and not to be named in a day with Marlowe's.' Telling us that Ford only wrote one play either acted or worth_acting, he adds and that would no more bear acting than Lord Byron and Goethe together could have written it.'
These examples, which might be multiplied ad nauseam, suffice to show how little we can dispense with that caution which Serjeant Talfourd invites us to dismiss in seeking intercourse vith this powerful but irregular intellect, even on its happiest ground. It is not as a guide that Hazlitt can be useful to any man. His merit is that of a companion in districts little trodden-a companion strong and hardy, who keeps our sinews in healthful strain; rough and irascible, whose temper will constantly offend us if we do not steadily preserve our own; but always animated, vivacious, brilliant in his talk; suggestive of truths, even where insisting on paradoxes; and of whom when we part company we retain impressions stamped with the crownmark of indisputable genius. We have said that Hazlitt cultivated his reasoning faculty as a metaphysician; and his earliest work, on the . Principles of Human Action,' is a very extraordinary performance, considering the early age at which it was conceived and composed.
To the abstract principle upon which it is grounded Hazlitt remained faithful to the close of his life; that principle pervades the best of his writings, colours many of their lovelier beauties, and throws a redeeming light upon many of their gloomier faults. The warmth of his heart revolted at the doctrine which traced the springs of all human virtues to an enlightened selflove. It was less with the austere disdain of a Stoic than with the cordial detestation of a lover of art, in whom romance in