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objects of contemplation, there is always | tracing instances of pathos and germs of moopened a moral perspective; and the tender rality. amidst scenes which the world had hues of memory gleam and tremble over agreed to censure and to enjoy as vulgar and them.
immoral. He revels in the delights of old English comedy; exhibits the soul of art in its town-born graces, and the spirit of gayety in its mirth; detects for us a more delicate flavour in the wit of Congreve, and lights up the age of Charles the Second, "when kings and nobles led purely ornamental lives," with the airy and harmless splendour in which it streamed upon him amidst rustic manners and Presbyterian virtues. But his accounts of many of the dramatists of Shakspeare's age are less happy; for he had no early acquaintance with these that he should receive them into his own heart, and commend them to ours; he read them that he might lecture upon them,and he lectures upon them for effect, not for love. With the exception of a single character, that of Sir Orlando Friscobaldo, whom he recognised at first sight as one with whose qualities he had been long familiar, they did not touch him nearly; and, therefore, his com
and turgid, and he gladly escapes from them into "wise saws and modern instances." The light of his own experience does not thicken about their scenes. His notices of Marlow, Heywood, Middleton, Marston, Deckar, Chapman, Webster, and Ford, do not let us half so far into the secret of these extraordinary writers as the notes which Mr. Lamb has scattered (stray gifts of beauty and wisdom) through the little volume of his "Specimens ;" imbued with the very feeling which swelled and crimsoned in their intensest passages, and coming on the listening mind like strains of antique melody, breathed from the midst of that wild and solemn region in which their natural magic wrought its wonders. His regard for Beaumont and Fletcher is more hearty, and his appreciation of scattered excellencies in them as fine as can be wished; but he does not seem to apprehend the pervading spirit of their dramas,
“Books," says Mr. Wordsworth, "are a substantial world," and surely those on which Hazlitt has expatiated with true regard, have assumed, to our apprehensions, a stouter reality since we surveyed them through the medium of his mind. In general, the effect of criticism, even when fairly and tenderly applied, is the reverse of this; for the very process of subjecting the creations of the poet and the novelist to examination as works of art, and of estimating the force of passion or of habit, as exemplified in them, so necessarily implies that they are but the shadows of thought, as insensibly to dissipate the illusion which our dreamy youth had perchance cast around them. But in all that Hazlitt has written on old English authors, he is seldom merely critical. His masterly exposition of that huge book of fantastical fallacies, the vaunted "Arcadia" of Sir Philip Sidney, stands almost alone in his works as a specimen of the mere power of un-ments upon them are comparatively meagre erring dissection and impartial judgment. In the laboratory of his intellect, analysis was turned to the sweet uses of alchemy. While he discourses of characters he has known the longest, he sheds over them the light of his own boyhood, and makes us partakers of that realizing power by which they become creatures of flesh and blood, with whom we may eat, drink, and be merry. He bids us enjoy all that he has enjoyed in their society; invites us to gaze, as he did first, on that setting sun which Schiller's heroic Robber watched in his sadness, and makes us feel that to us "that sun will never set;" or introduces us to honest old Deckar on the borders of Salisbury Plain, when he struck a bargain for life with the best creation of the poet's genius. "After a long walk" with him "through unfrequented tracks -after starting the hare from the fern, or hearing the wing of the raven rustle above our heads, being greeted by the woodman's stern good night,' as he strikes into his narrow homeward path," we too "take our ease at our inn beside the blazing hearth, and shake hands with Signor Orlando Friscobaldo as the oldest acquaintance we have." He has increased our personal knowledge of Don Quixote, of John Buncle, of Parson Adams, of Pamela, of Clarissa Harlowe, of Lovelace, of Sir Roger de Coverly, and a hundred other undying teachers of humanity, and placed us on nearer and dearer terms with them. His cordial warmth brings out their pleasantest and most characteristic traits as heat makes visible the writing which a lover's caution has traced in colourless liquid; and he thus attests their reality with an evidence like that of the senses. He restored the "Beggar's Opera," which had been long treated as a burlesque appendage to the "Newgate Calendar," to its proper station; showing how the depth of the design, and the brilliancy of the workmanship, had been overlooked in the palpable coarseness of the materials; and
Lectures on the Age of Elizabeth.-Lecture VI. ↑ Ibid.-Lecture III.
the mere spirit of careless grace and fleeting beauty, which made the walk of tragedy a fairy land; turned passions and motives to its own sweet will; annihilated space and time; and sheds its rainbow hues with bountiful indifference on the just and the unjust; represented virtue as a happy accident, vice as a wayward fancy; and changed one for the other in the same person by sovereign caprice, as by a touch of Harlequin's wand, leaving "nothing serious in mortality," but reducing the struggle of life to an heroic game, to be played splendidly out, and left without a sigh. Nor does he pierce through the hard and knotty rind of Ben Jonson's manner, which alone, in our time, has been entirely penetrated by the author of
*This exquisite morsel of criticism (if that name be proper) first appeared in the "Morning Chronicle," as an introduction to the account of the first appearance of Miss Stephens in Polly Peachum" (her second character) an occasion worthy to be so celebrated-but not exciting any hope of such an article. What a surprise it was to read it for the first time, amidst the tempered patriotism and measured praise of Mr. Perry's columns! It was afterwards printed in the "Round Table," and (being justly a favourite of its author) found fit place in his "Lectures on the English Poets."-See Lecture VI.
the "Merchant of London," who, when a mere lad, grappled with this tough subject and mastered it; and whose long and earnest aspiration after a kindred force and beauty with this and other idols of his serious boyhood, is not, even now, wholly unfulfilled!
Of Shakspeare's genius, Mr. Hazlitt has written largely and well; but there is more felicity in his incidental references to this great subject, than in those elaborate essays upon it, which fill the volume entitled "Characters of Shakspeare's Plays." In reading them we are fatigued by perpetual eulogy,-not because we deem it excessive, but because we observe in it a constant straining to express an admiration too vast for any style. There is so much suggested by the poet to each individual mind, which blends with, and colours its own most profound meditations and dearest feelings, without assuming a distinct form, that we resent the laborious efforts of another to body forth his own ideas of our common inheritance, unless they vindicate themselves by entire success, as intruding on the holy ground of our own thoughts. Mr. Lamb's brief glance at "Lear" is the only instance of a commentary on one of Shakspeare's four great tragedies which ever appeared to us entirely worthy of the original; and this, indeed, seems to prolong, and even to heighten, the feeling of the tremendous scenes to which it applies, and to make compensation for displacing our own dim and faint conceptions, long cherished as they were, by the huge image clearly reflected in another's mind. There is nothing approaching to this excellence in Mr. Hazlitt's account of "Lear," of "Hamlet,” of "Othello," or of " Macbeth." He piles epithet on epithet in a vain attempt to reach "the height of his great argument:" or trifles with the subject, in despair of giving adequate expression to his own feelings respecting it. Nor is his essay on "Romeo and Juliet" more successful; for here, unable to find language which may breathe the sense of love and joy which the play awakens, he attacks Wordsworth's "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality in Early Childhood," because it refers the glory of our intellectual being to a season antecedent to the dawn of passion; as if there was any common standard for the most delicious of all plays of which love is the essence, and the noblest train of philosophic thought which ever "voluntary moved harmonious numbers;" as if each had not a truth of its own; or as if there was not room enough in the great world of poetry for both! When thus reduced by conscious inability to grasp the subject, into vague declamation, he was lost; but wherever he found "jutting freeze or cornice" to lodge the store of his own reflections, as in estimating the aristocratic pride of "Coriolanus," he was excellent; still better where he could mingle the remembrances of sportive childhood with the poet's fantasies, as in describing the "Midsummer Night's Dream;" and best of all when he could vindicate his own hatred of the sickly cant of mortality, and his sense of hearty and wise enjoy
"Retrospective Review," vol. i. pp. 181–206.
ment, by precep: and example such as "The Twelfth Night" gave him. In these instances, his own peculiar faculty, as a commentator on the writings of others,-that of enriching his criticism by congenial associations, and, at the same time infusing into it the spirit of his author, thus "stealing and giving odour"had free scope, while the greatest tragedies remained beyond the reach of all earthly influence, too far withdrawn "in the highest heaven of invention," to be affected by any atmosphere of sentiment he might inhale himself, or shed around others.
The strong sense of pleasure, both intellectual and physical, naturally produced in Hazlitt a rooted attachment to the theatre, where the delights of the mind and the senses are blended; where the grandeur of the poet's conceptions is, in some degree, made palpable, and luxury is raised and refined by wit, sentiment, and fancy. His dramatic criticisms are more pregnant with fine thoughts on that bright epitome of human life than any others which ever were written; yet they are often more successful in making us forget their immediate subjects than in doing them justice. He began to write with a rich fund of theatrical recollections; and, except when Kean, or Miss Stephens, or Liston supplied new and decided impulses, he did little more than draw upon this old treasury. The theatre to him was redolent of the past; images of Siddons, of Kemble, of Bannister, of Jordan, thickened the air; imperfect recognitions of a hundred evenings, when mirth or sympathy had loosened the pressure at the heart, and set the springs of life in happier motion, thronged around him, and "more than echoes talked along the walls." He loved the theatre for these associations, and for the immediate pleasure which it gave to thousands about him, and the humanizing influences it shed among them, and attended it with constancy to the very last ;* and to those personal feelings and universal sympathies he gave fit expression; but his habits of mind were unsuited to the ordinary duties of the critic. The players put him out. He could not, like Mr. Leigh Hunt, who gave theatrical criticism a place in modern literature, apply his graphic powers to a detail of a performance, and make it interesting by the delicacy of the touch; encrystal the cobweb intricacies of a plot with the sparkling dew of his own fancy
bid the light plume wave in the fluttering grace of his style-or "catch ere she fell the Cynthia of the minute," and fix the airy charm in lasting words. In criticism, thus just and picturesque, Mr. Hunt has never been approached; and the wonder is, that, instead of falling off with the art of acting, he even grew richer; for the articles of the "Tatler" equalling those of the "Examiner" in niceness of discrimination, are superior to them in depth and colouring. But Hazlitt required a more powerful impulse; he never wrote willingly, except on what was great in itself, or, forming a portion of his own past being, was great to him; and when both these felicities combined
See his article entitled "The Free Admission," in the "New Monthly Magazine," vol. xxix. p. 93; one of his last, and one of his most characteristic effusions
in the subject, he was best of all-as upon Kemble and Mrs. Siddons. Mr. Kean satisfied the first requisite only, but in the highest possible degree. His extraordinary vigour struck Hazlitt, who attended the theatre for the "Morning Chronicle," on the night of his débût, in the very first scene, and who, from that night, became the most devoted and efficient of his supporters. Yet if, on principle, Hazlitt preferred Kean to Kemble, and sometimes drew parallels between them disparaging to the idol of his earlier affections, there is nothing half so fine in his eloquent eulogies on the first, as in his occasional recurrences to the last, when the stately form which had realized full many a boyish dream of Roman greatness "came back upon his heart again,” and seemed to reproach him for his late preference of the passionate to the ideal. He criticised new plays with reluctant and indecisive hand, except when strong friendship supplied the place of old reccilection, as in the instances of Barry Cornwall and Sheridan Knowles-the first of whom, not exhausting all the sweetness of his nature in scenes of fanciful tenderness and gentle sorrow, cheered him by unwearied kindness in hours of the greatest need-and the last, as kind and as true, had, even from a boy, been the object of his warmest esteem. He rejoiced to observe his true-hearted pupil manifesting a dramatic instinct akin to that of the old masters of passion-like them forgetting himself in his subject, and contented to see fair play between his persons-working all his interest out of the purest affections, which might beat indeed beneath the armour of old Rome, and beside its domestic hearths, but belong to all time and finding an actor who, with taste and skill to preserve his unstudied grace, had heart enough to send his honest homely touches to the hearts of thousands. Would that Hazlitt had lived to witness the success of the" Hunchback"-not that it is better than the plays which he did see, but that he would have exulted to find the town surprised for once into justice, recognising the pathos and beauty which had been among them unappreciated so long, and paying part of that debt to the living author, which he feared they would leave for posterity to acknowledge in vain!
Mr. Hazlitt's criticisms on pictures are, as we have been informed by persons competent to judge, and believe, masterly. Of their justice we are unable to form an opinion for our selves but we know that they are instinct with earnest devotion to art, and rich with illustrations of its beauties. Accounts of paintings are too often either made up of technical terms, which convey no meaning to the uninitiated, or of florid description of the scenes represented, with scarce an allusion to the skill by which the painter has succeeded in emulating nature; but Hazlitt's early aspirations, and fond endeavours after excellence in the art, preserved him effectually from these errors. He regarded the subject with a perfect love. No gusty passion here ruffled the course of his thoughts: all his irritability was soothed, and all his disappointments forgotten, before the silent miracles of human genius; and his own vain attempts, fondly remembered instead
of exciting envy of the success of others, heightened his sense of their merit, and his pleasure and pride in accumulating honours on their names. Mr. Hunt says of these essays, that they "throw a light on art as from a painted window,"-a sentence which, in its few words, characterizes them all, and leaves nothing to be wished or added.
In person, Mr. Hazlitt was of the middle size, with a handsome and eager countenance, worn by sickness and thought; and dark hair, which had curled stiffly over the temples, and was only of late years sprinkled with gray. His gait was slouching and awkward, and his dress neglected; but when he began to talk he could not be mistaken for a common man. In the company of persons with whom he was not familiar his bashfulness was painful: but when he became entirely at ease, and entered on a favourite topic, no one's conversation was ever more delightful. He did not talk for effect, to dazzle, or surprise, or annoy, but with the most simple and honest desire to make his view of the subject entirely apprehended by his hearer. There was sometimes an obvious struggle to do this to his own satisfaction: he seemed labouring to drag his thought to light from its deep lurking place; and, with modest distrust of that power of expression which he had found so late in life, he often betrayed a fear that he had failed to make himself understood, and recurred to the subject again and again, that he might be assured he had succeeded. In argument, he was candid and liberal: there was nothing about him pragmatical or exclusive; he never drove a principle to its utmost possible consequences, but like Locksley, "allowed for the wind." For some years previous to his death, he observed an entire abstinence from fermented liquors, which he had once quaffed with the proper relish he had for all the good things of this life, but which he courageously resigned when he found the indulgence perilous to his health and faculties. The cheerfulness with which he made this sacrifice always appeared to us one of the most amiable traits in his character. He had no censure for others, who for the same motives were less wise or less resolute; nor did he think he had earned, by his own constancy, any right to intrude advice which he knew, if wanted, must be unavailing. Nor did he profess to be a convert to the general system of abstinence which was advocated by one of his kindest and stanchest friends: he avowed that he yielded to necessity; and instead of avoiding the sight of that which he could no longer taste, he was seldom so happy as when he sat with friends at their wine, participating the sociality of the time, and renewing his own past enjoyment in that of his companions, without regret and without envy. Like Dr. Johnson, he made himself poor amends for the loss of wine by drinking tea, not so largely, indeed, as the hero of Boswell, but at least of equal potency-for he might have challenged Mrs. Thrale and all her sex to make stronger tea than his own. In society, as in politics, he was no flincher. He loved "to hear the chimes at midnight," without considering them as a summons to rise. At these seasons, when in his
happiest mood, he used to dwell on the conver- | He paused for an instant, and then added in sational powers of his friends, and live over his sturdiest and most impressive manner, “an again the delightful hours he had passed with act which realizes the parable of the Good Sathem; repeat the pregnant puns that one had maritan," at which his moral and delicate made; tell over again a story with which ano-hearers shrunk rebuked into deep silence. He ther had convulsed the room; or expand in the was not eloquent in the true sense of the term; eloquence of a third: always best pleased when for his thoughts were too weighty to be moved he could detect some talent which was unre- along by the shallow stream of feeling which garded by the world, and giving alike, to the an evening's excitement can rouse. He wrote celebrated and the unknown, due honour.. all his lectures, and read them as they were written: but his deep voice and earnest manner suited his matter well. He seemed to dig into his subject—and not in vain. In delivering his longer quotations, he had scarcely continuity enough for the versification of Shakspeare and Milton, "with linked sweetness long drawn out;" but he gave Pope's brilliant satire and divine compliments, which are usually complete within the couplet, with an elegance and point which the poet himself would have felt as their highest praise.
Mr. Hazlitt delivered three courses of Lectures at the Surrey Institution, to the matter of which we have repeatedly alluded-on The English Poets; on The English Comic Writers, and on The Age of Elizabeth—before audiences with whom he had but "an imperfect sympathy." They consisted chiefly of Dissenters, who agreed with him in his hatred of Lord Castlereagh, but who "loved no plays;" of Quakers, who approved him as the opponent of Slavery and Capital Punishment, but who "heard no music;" of citizens, devoted to the Mr. Hazlitt had little inclination to write main chance, who had a hankering after "the about contemporary authors, and still less to improvement of the mind," but to whom his read them. He was with difficulty persuaded favourite doctrine of its natural disinterested- to look into the Scotch Novels! but when he ness was a riddle; of a few enemies who came did so, he found them old in substance though to sneer; and a few friends, who were eager to new in form, read them with as much avidity learn and to admire. The comparative insen- as the rest of the world, and expressed better sibility of the bulk of his audience to his finest than any one else what all the world felt about passages, sometimes provoked him to awaken them. His hearty love of them, however, did their attention by points which broke the train not decrease, but aggravate, his dislike of the of his discourse, after which he could make political opinions and practices of their author; himself amends by some abrupt paradox which and yet, the strength of his hatred towards that might set their prejudices on edge, and make which was accidental and transitory, only set them fancy they were shocked. He startled off the unabated power of his regard for the many of them at the onset, by observing, that, free and the lasting. Coleridge and Wordssince Jacob's Dream, "the heavens have gone worth were not moderns to him; for he knew farther off and become astronomical,"-a fine them in his youth, which was his own anextravagance, which the ladies and gentlemen, tiquity, and the feelings which were the germ who had grown astronomical themselves un- of their poetry had sunk deep into his heart. der the preceding lecturer, felt called on to re- His personal acquaintance with them was sent as an attack on their severer studies. broken before he became known to the world When he read a well-known extract from Cow- as an author, and he sometimes alluded to per, comparing a poor cottager with Voltaire, them with bitterness: but he, and he alone, and had pronounced the line "a truth the bril- has done justice to the immortal works of the liant Frenchman never knew," they broke into one, and the genius of the other. The very a joyous shout of self-gratulation, that they prominence which he gave to them as objects were so much wiser than a wicked Frenchman! of attack, at the time when it was the fashion When he passed by Mrs. Hannah More with to pour contempt on their names-when the observing, that "she had written a great deal public echoed those articles of the "Edinburgh which he had never read," a voice gave ex- Review" upon them, which they now regard pression to the general commiseration and with wonder as the curiosities of criticism, surprise, by calling out "More pity for you!" proved what they still were to him; and, in the They were confounded at his reading with midst of those attacks, there are involuntary more emphasis perhaps than discretion, Gay's confessions of their influence over his mind, epigrammatic lines on Sir Richard Blackstone, are touches of admiration, heightened by fond in which scriptural persons are freely hitched regret, which speak more than his elaborate into rhyme; but he went doggedly on to the eulogies upon them in his "Spirit of the Age." end, and, by his perseverance, baffled those With the exception of the works of these, and who, if he had acknowledged himself wrong by of two or three friends to whom we have alstopping, would have hissed him without mer-luded, he held modern literature in slight escy. He once had an edifying advantage over them. He was enumerating the humanities which endeared Dr. Johnson to his mind, and at the close of an agreeable catalogue, mentioned, as last and noblest, "his carrying the poor victim of disease and dissipation on his back through Fleet-street,"-at which a titter arose from some, who were struck by the picture as ludicrous, and a murmur from others, who deemed the allusion unfit for ears polite.
teem; and he regarded the discoveries of science, and the visions of optimism, with an undazzled eye. His "large discourse of reason" looked not before, but after. He felt it his great duty, as a lover of genius and art, to defend the fame of the mighty dead. When the old painters were assailed in " The Catalogue Raisonnée of the British Institution," he was "touched with noble anger." All his own vain longings after the immortality of the works
which were libelled, the very tranquillity and which fell to his portion. We have endea beauty they had shed into his soul,-all his voured to trace his intellectual character in comprehension of the sympathy and delight of the records he has left of himself in his works, thousands, which, accumulating through long as an excitement and a guide to their perusal time, had attested their worth-were fused to- by those who have yet to know them. The gether to dazzle and to blast the poor caviller concern of mankind is with this alone. In who would disturb the judgment of ages. So, the case of a profound thinker more than of when a popular poet assailed the fame of any other, "that which men call evil"-the Rousseau-seeking to reverse the decision of accident of his condition-is interred with posterity on what that great writer had done, him, while the good which he has achieved by fancying the opinion of people of condition lies unmingled and entire. The events of Mr. in his neighbourhood on what he seemed to Hazlitt's true life are not his engagement by their apprehensions while living with Madame the "Morning Chronicle," or his transfer of de Warrens, he vindicated the prerogatives of his services to the "Times," or his introducgenius with the true logic of passion. Few tion to the “Edinburgh Review," or his conthings irritated him more than the claims set tracts or quarrels with booksellers; but the up for the present generation to be wiser and progress and the development of his underbetter than those which have gone before it. standing as nurtured or swayed by his affecHe had no power of imagination to embrace tions. His warfare was within;" and its the golden clouds which hung over the Future, spoils are ours! His "thoughts which wanbut he rested and expatiated in the Past. To dered through eternity" live with us, though his apprehension human good did not appear the hand which traced them for our benefit is a slender shoot of yesterday, like the bean-stalk cold. His death, though at the age of only in the fairy-tale, aspiring to the skies, and end-fifty-two, can hardly be deemed untimely. He ing in an enchanted castle, but a huge growth of intertwisted fibres, grasping the earth by numberless roots, and bearing vestiges of "a thousand storms, a thousand thunders."
lived to complete the laborious work in which he sought to embalm his idea of his chosen hero; to see the unhoped-for downfall of the legitimate throne which had been raised on It would be beside our purpose to discuss the ruins of the empire; and to open, without the relative merits of Mr. Hazlitt's publica- exhausting, those stores which he had gathered tions, to most of which we have alluded in in his youth. If the impress of his power is passing; or to detail the scanty vicissitudes not left on the sympathies of a people, it has of a literary life. Still less do we feel bound (all he wished) sunk into minds neither unreto expose or to defend the personal frailties | flecting nor ungrateful.