Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

teristic of him, and at the same time betray some of the causes of his death :

“I find myself very comfortable here, with constant and regular employment on public business. And so much the better for me;

for I am never so well as when in constant occupation of mind or body, or both conjoined. Much occupied at this moment in preparing a voluminous correspondence and documents to be forwarded to the Secretary of State by the packet to-morrow. I have not time to-day to tell you in what manner I am employed, and what I have done, what I am doing, and what I intend to do, for the improvement and welfare of this colony.

6. I had a second attack of fever two months ago. With an experience of four yellow fevers in former West India campaigns, and with a constitution able to withstand pretty rough usage, I prescribed for myself, and beat the doctor out and out. Desperate diseases require desperate remedies. I took such powerful medicines, and cleared out so completely by these, and by the most copious perspiration,-stewing rather than sweating,—that the fever was checked the thirty-seventh hour after it had commenced: but I was so weakened in that short period, that, in an attempt to stand up on the floor, the cold air got hold of me, and I dropped down as dead as my grandfather. But my excellent constitution soon gathered strength; and in ten days I was on horseback, as well as ever.

No. XVII.

WILLIAM HAZLITT, ESQ.

Mr. Hazlitt was a native of Shropshire. His father was an Unitarian Minister, who came originally from the north of Ireland, and who, after residing for some time in the above-named county, at another period of his life held a situation in the University of Glasgow, under the celebrated Dr. Adam Smith; he likewise went over to America, where he continued during nine years. He died only a few years since, at the age of eighty.

Mr. William Hazlitt was educated at the Unitarian College at Hackney. He began life as an artist, and thus obtained a knowledge of art, which qualified him for the criticism in which he was afterwards eminent. Through life he seems to have entertained an intense love for the fine arts. Some copies of his from pictures in the Louvre, by Titian and Raphael, have been spoken of as very spirited and beautiful. His own feeling with reference to the beautiful of nature and of art, especially in their relation to each other, may be inferred from this brief passage in one of his papers:

“ One of the most delightful parts of my life was one fine summer, when I used to walk out of an evening, to catch the last light of the sun, gemming the green slopes of the russet lawns, and gilding tower or tree; while the blue sky, gradually turning to purple and gold, or skirted with dusky grey, hung its broad marble pavement over all; as we see it in the great master of Italian landscape. But to come to a more particular explanation of the subject :- The first head I ever tried to paint, was an old woman with the upper part of the face shaded by her bonnet, and I certainly laboured at it with great perseverance. It took me numberless sittings to do it. I have it by me still, and sometimes look at it with surprise, to think how much pains were thrown away to little purpose - yet not altogether in vain, if it taught me to see good in every thing, and to know that there is nothing vulgar in nature, seen with the eyes of science or of true art. Refinement creates beauty every where : it is the grossness of the spectator that discovers nothing but grossness in the object.”

From some cause with which we are unacquainted, Mr. Hazlitt was induced to relinquish the pencil for the pen: instead of painting pictures, it became his delight to criticise them; and it must be allowed that in his critical strictures, when his strong and violent prejudices stood not in the way of justice, he was one of the most judicious, able, and powerful writers of his time.

“ His early education," as a contemporary has observed, " qualified him to judge with technical understanding; and his fine sense of the grand and of the beautiful enabled him duly to appreciate the merits and deficiencies of works of art, and to regulate the enthusiasm with which he contemplated their beauties.”

Mr. Hazlitt's first acknowledged literary production was “ An Essay on the Principles of Human Action,” in which much metaphysical acuteness seems to have been displayed. In 1808, he published, in two volumes octavo, " The Eloquence of the British Senate ; being a Selection of the best Speeches of the most distinguished Parliamentary Speakers, from the beginning of the Reign of Charles I. to the present Time: with Notes, biographical, critical, and explanatory." In 1810, “A new and improved English Grammar, for the use of Schools ; in which the Discoveries of Mr. Horne Tooke, and other modern Writers on the Formation of Language, are for the first time incorporated." To which was added, " A new Guide to the English Tongue, by Edward Baldwyn," printed together in 12mo. Mr. Baldwyn published a smaller abridgment of Mr. Hazlitt's book, in 1812, 18mo. In conjunction with Mr. Leigh Hunt, he next wrote a series of Weekly Essays in the Examiner, afterwards published in 1817, under the title of “ The Round Table; a Collection of Essays on Literature, Men, and Manners,” two vols. 8vo. In the same year he published an octavo volume, “ Characters of Shakspeare's Plays;" and, in 1818, “ A View of the English Stage ; containing a Series of Dramatic Criticism."

In 1818, Mr. Hazlitt was engaged to deliver some Lectures on English Poetry, at the Surrey Institution; they were published in an octavo volume.

Amongst the most popular of his writings are several volumes collected from periodical works, under the titles of " Table Talk," “ The Spirit of the Age," and " The Plain Speaker." His largest and most elaborate performance is “ The Life of Napoleon," which is in four volumes. In this, though tinged with party feeling, the writer displays much deep philosophical remark. Mr. Hazlitt was one of the writers in the Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica; he has also published “ Political Essays and Sketches of Public Characters," an account of “ British Galleries of Art,” “ A Letter to William Gifford, Esq.,” “ The Literature of the Elizabethan Age,” and “ The Modern Pygmalion.”

Mr. Hazlitt recently published a volume of “ Notes on a Journey through France and Italy.” At the very moment, as it were, of his death, his last labour issued from the press in an exceedingly pleasant and amusing volume, entitled, “ Conversations of James Northcote, Esq. R. A., by William Hazlitt.” Many, if not all, of these “ Conversations,” had previously appeared as detached papers.

Notwithstanding his inaccuracies of style, and his love of paradox, Mr. Hazlitt was a man of genius. In politics he was rather a Radical than a Whig; he opposed, with all the bitterness of sarcasm, every constituted authority, and all the existing state of things.

Mr. Hazlitt's death, which occurred in Frith Street, Soho, on the 18th of September, 1830, was occasioned by an organic disease of the stomach of many years' standing. He retained the entire possession of his faculties to the last ; and, almost free from bodily pain, he died with perfect calmness of mind. His funeral, at St. Ann's, Soho, on the 25th of September, was strictly private. He was twice married, and has left an only son,

We have taken the foregoing brief notice of Mr. Hazlitt principally from the Monthly Magazine. Soon after his death, a character of him appeared in the Atlas; from which the following are extracts :

“ All our contemporaries have mistaken, or otherwise failed to appreciate duly, the character of William Hazlitt. His memory is entitled to justice, of which he had but little when living. He was not the sort of man to whom justice could have been done effectually, for there was a waywardness in him that was sure to upset the cup before the wine was emptied. Perhaps it is the nature of genius — and he had an abundant share to make its own circumstances, and to make them, too, of the troubled cast. He made a name at little cost, and preserved it indifferently, as if it were to show the greatness of his powers, that could sustain without effort what the toil of others could not accomplish. Had he chosen to labour at the improvement of the faculties he had, and the enlargement of their application, there would be little need to enquire into the mysteries of his moral constitution. To those who knew him best he was the greatest marvel. They saw what the world could not see, the strangest combinations and the most perplexing contradictions.

“ It is said that accident made Hazlitt a writer. He was ori. ginally a painter, or pursued his earliest studies with that end in view. But his taste was not satisfied with his labours : he never could embody his own conceptions, or transfer to the canvass his own principles complete. Instead of practising the art, he expounded it. Connected with the philosophical examination of painting and sculpture, the drama and the theatre came naturally within his enquiries. Into these subjects he poured the tide of his luminous mind, and soon acquired the reputation of being one of the highest critical authorities on the drama and the fine arts. He penetrated boldly, and wrote graphically; and whether his opinions were always profound or just, you felt that they were dexterously said, and hardly cared to question farther.

“ The history of his mind was this :—He commenced with a certain stock of ideas, or, more properly, dogmas. These he never renounced, and rarely consented to modify. He was an indolent reader, and never increased them. To the end they remained with him, and were his penates. What he did, then, was out of his own thoughts, and not by any process of analysation or comparison of others.

Reasoning was all in all with him. He started with a principle, and carried you through a chain of inductions admirable and perfect. The only doubt was, whether his first position were true. The results were generally incontrovertible. The obstinacy of mind, generated by a stern adherence to a few doctrines, which, with inconceivable weakness, he applied equally to all questions, produced prejudices at last, and prevented him from seeing the whole of a topic. He seized upon a featureperhaps a grand one, but still only a part--and arguing as if it were the whole, led the reader frequently into conclusions false as they respected truth, but true as they respected his view of it. He was deluded by his own powers of argument. They were so great, that they made him indifferent to all other means of great

That was his primary failing. What his enemies called bigotry, was in him habit. It would surprise the

It would surprise the cursory admirer of Hazlitt's works to learn how little, how very little, he actually read throughout his life. The whole action was in his mind, which, being thus thrown back upon its own resources, was frequently forced into old and beaten tracks over and over again. The positive truths he originated are compressible into a small coinpass. But he repeated himself unconsciously, and always with an air of novelty. He thought he was creating, when he was in fact but re-combining. This peculiarity prevented him from progressing with the age. He was of the school that cried down

ness.

« PoprzedniaDalej »