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.. . Art. V.--Table Talk, or Original Essays. By William Hazlitt.
London. 1821. W E will not take upon us positively to say, that Apollo ever
enters our study; but we feel no scruple in affirming, that if he should occasionally condescend to grace it with his presence, he, might not, perhaps, be ill-entertained; since it is odds but he finds us occupied (as Perseus found the Hyperboreans of old) in his favourite amusement, the sacrifice of asses-Hone, Hunt, Hazlitt, and other xywiana.—Were they not more vicious than stupid, we should almost feel inclined to pity the unconscious levity of the * beasts' at their fate. Not so Apollo: he, light-hearted deity, laughs outright.
-'Anónimo Χαίρει, γελά 9'ορών ύβριν
• Entering their halls,
Mr. Hazlitt, our present concern, having already undergone the wholesome discipline of our castigation, without any apparent benefit, a repetition of it would be useless, as far as regards himself: for the sake of the younger class of readers, however, it may not be entirely fruitless to take some brief notice of these crude, though laboured lucubrations. Laboured, we call them; because, in spite of the author's formal renunciation of the toil of revision, every thought is spun out with a pertinacity truly wonderful, except where some paradox is abruptly started in the face of the reader, which is intended to astound him by its unusual condensation. · Mr. Hazlitt's character as a writer may, we think, be not inaptly designated by a term borrowed from the vocabulary of our transatlantic brethren, which, though cacophonous, is sufficiently expressive. We would venture to recommend its importation and adoption into the language of this island, for the particular delineaation of such persons as we have enumerated above: they must be too partial to the produce of a Republican soil, to be displeased with the application. The word to which we allude, SLANG-WHANGER, is interpreted in the American dictionary to be • One who makes use of political or other gabble, vulgarly called slang, that serves to amuse the rabble. Those who peruse the
• Table Talk' will determine how far the definition answers to the case in point; they will observe also the truth of a remark. often made, that the disciples of the Radical School lose no opportunity of insinuating their poison into all sorts of subjects; a drama, a novel, a poem, an essay, or a school-book, is in their hands an equally convenient vehicle. A direct attack upon the constitution of the country puts the reader effectually on his guard: it is the oblique stroke, like that of the tusk of the boar, which most dangerously assails the unwary. Thus, in Mr. Hazlitt's · Essay on Genius and Common Sense,' we are surprized by a spiteful tirade against the speeches of an Attorney and Solicitor General, ornamented by a sort of silhouette, representing the gaunt figure of Mr. Pitt'! It is not wonderful that the image of this illustrious statesman should haunt the distempered imagination of such persons, since they can neither forget nor forgive that prompt energy to which, under Heaven, we mainly owe our preservation from the designs of Jacobins, Spenceans, Radicals, or by whatever other name these pestilent vermin may be distinguished. The passage alluded to is nevertheless curious. Our author has certainly the merit of sometimes making spirited sketches from the life. He gives here a lively picture of the sensitive feelings of one of those consciences which fear each bush an officer. The subject of the drawing appears to be a friend of the artist; one of those fortunate wights, (those acquitted felons, as they were termed by Mr. Windham,) who in the year 1794, by the admirable tenderness of the English law, escaped the sword of justice. He is presented to us as retiring, after his deliverance, into the enchanting vale of Langollen; but even there;although the intoxicating gas of a projected epic poem plays round every cell and convolution of his brain,-he is unable to steep his senses in forgetfulness, and lull the terrors of his mind, disturbed as it is by daily and nightly visions of halters, gibbets, and government spies. Like the great first Radical, he carries his hell about him, even in the purlieus of Paradise. The tender sympathy of the author for this ! martyr of liberty may be easily imagined ;but we are pressed for room, and must refer to the book for the syllables of dolour yelled out on the occasion.
The volume before us consists of sixteen Essays,' on various subjects. We are spared the trouble of copying their titles, since they merely afford occasion for desultory declamation, and for observations which have little or no connection with the respective theses.
In the Essay just noticed, * Mr. Wordsworth is characterised
* On Genius and Common Sense,
as the greatest and most original poet of the present day ;-compared with whose lines Lord Byron's are but exaggerated common-place, and Walter Scott's old wives' fables. In the character of Cobbett, a sketch, by the bye, which proves Mr. Hazlitt to be no ill portrait-painter where the subject suits him, he asserts, in confirmation of the taste and judgment of this profound and consistent critic, “that in one sense Shakspeare was not a poet?! He does not favour us with any key to this enigma, and we are unable to solve it. .
In that ‘On People with one Idea,' he quotes with approbation a saying of “Tom Moore,' that some one puts his hand in his breeches pocket like a crocodile.' "This (says Mr. Hazlitt) is hieroglyphical;' but neither does he here condescend to expound the mysterious syınbol, except by observing that · Mr. Owen puts his foot in the question of social improvement, much in the same manner.'
The tricks of the Indian jugglers strike the Essayist's imagination with a full conception of the unbounded powers of the human capacity; and, though he has elsewhere evinced a proud satisfaction at his own share of talent, lie is here driven, from the contemplation of their genius, to admit bis comparative worthlessness. This na, turally leads him to reflections on those sublime arts, which are so successfully cultivated at Sadler's Wells; and he draws a grave parallel between the fame of Richer the rope-dancer and that of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Having already noticed the author's partiality to the gra, phic art, we are prepared for the decision which he offers. Upon the whole, (he says,) I have more l'espect for Reynolds than I have for Richer; for, happen how it will, there have been more people in the world who could dance ou a rope like the one, than who could paint like Sir Joshua. The latter was but a bungler in his profession to the other, it is true; but then he had a harder taskmaster to obey.' Dazzled by the glory which plays round the Indian and English professors who have acquired such astonishing cominand over the muscles of the human frame, he is blind to inferior merit, and becomes extremely fastidious in reviewing the display of human intellect. In the records of France he is only able to discover three great men, Molière, Rabelais, and Montaigne ; but he cautiously qualifies the distinction conferred on the first of this triad, (who, let it be remembered, is the author of the Misanthrope and of Tartuffe,) as being but a great farce-writer.'.
In the · Essay on Vulgarity and Affectation,' we are assured that 'Gentility is only a more select and artificial kind of vulgarity.' We must refer those, who feel any curiosity to see the full elucidationof this text, to the work itself, as in this case the author vouchsafes to assist the slow understanding of his readers by a prolix commen
tary. In the course of it we learn, that the Coronation, the ceremony which delights the greatest monarch, and the meanest of his subjects,--this height of gentility, and consummation of external distinction and splendour, -is a vulgar ceremony.' · Having been taught what is vulgar, we are further instructed what is not so; by which we may form a tolerable notion of the author's minor morals. Nothing (says he) is vulgar, that is natural, spontaneous, unavoidable. Grossness is not vulgarity; awkwardness is not vulgarity ; but all these become vulgar when they are affected and shown off on the authority of others.' : In pursuing this subject, our Slang-whanger deals his blows indiscriminately among all ranks of people, and thinks proper, in the bitterness of his gall, or for the more exquisite amusement of his admirers, thus to libel the whole British nation: If the lower ranks are actuated by envy and uncharitableness towards the upper, the latter have scarcely any feelings but of pride, contempt, and aversion, to the lower. If the poor would pull down the rich to get at their good things, the rich would tread down the poor as in a vine-press, and squeeze the last shilling out of their pockets, and the last drop of blood out of their veins. Now we confidently appeal to all who have taken a general view of the state of society in this great country, whether the truth be not the very reverse of this malevolent and incendiary statement? The rich in Great Britain have been ever found to have hearts and hands open as day to melting charity;' and the lower orders, the continual objects of their bounty, have always, except when enlightened by the care of some active demagogue of the Hazlitt school, received their liberality, and their indefatigable efforts to ameliorate their condition, with a laudable degree of gratitude.
But the most perfect sample, perhaps, of the great Slangwhanger's manner and mode of thinking will be found in the
Essay on Paradox and Common-Place'; in which he severely condemns the tergiversation of some of his former associates in the great and laudable work of sapping and mining. • Twice has the iron entered my soul. Twice have the dastard, vaunting, venal crew, gone over it; once as they went forth, conquering and to conquer, with reason by their side, glittering like a faulchion, trampling on prejudices, and marching fearlessly on in the work of regeneration; once again when they returned with retrograde steps, like Cacus's oxen, dragged backwards by the heels* to the den of legitimacy, rout on rout, confusion worse confounded, with places and pensions, and the Quarterly Review dangling from their pockets,
* We have in another place intreated Mr. Hazlitt' to stick to bis pipe and pot, and leave Greek aud Latin to us.' The oxen of Cacus were uot dragged backward by the heels.
and shouting, “Deliverance for' mankind,” for “ the worst the second fall of man." Yet I have endured all this marching and countermarching of poets, philosophers, and politicians, over my head, as well as I could, like “ the camomoil, that thrives the more 'tis trod upon." By Heavens! I think I'll endure it no longer. The insane extravagance of this rhapsody almost disarms our anger. It is however remarkable, that in all the ravings of all the maniacs of this description,—from Ensor to Lady Morgan inclusive,--the word legitimacy appears to be uttered with a scream of terror, as the war-whoop of the tribe. Yet what is its import? Lawfulness. Applied to kings, it designates those who are entitled to that dignity according to the laws wisely made to prevent usurpation, and ihe manifold evils of disputed succession...
The heaviest discharge of Radical artillery, however, is reserved for the doctrine laid down by Mr. Canning in a passage of his celebrated speech to his constituents at Liverpool. .
My lot,' says Mr. Canning in the conclusion of his address, • is cast under the British monarchy. Under that I have lived under that I have seen my country flourish; under that I have seen it enjoy as great a share of prosperity, of happiness, of glory, as I believe any modification of human society to be capable of bestowing; and I am not prepared to sacrifice, or to hazard the fruit of centuries of experience, of centuries of struggles, and of more than one century of liberty, as perfect as ever blessed any country upon the earth, for visionary schemes of ideal perfectibility, for doubtful experiments even of possible improvement. This paragraph, to which every sober-minded Englishman will subscribe, as ihe sound and wise resolve of genuine patriotism, is characterized by the Slang-whanger as common-place; and he supposes, that, in giving his refutation of it, he cannot be accused of falling into that extravagant and unmitigated strain of paradoxical reasoning, with which he has already found so much fault. “So, then !' he exclaims, here are centuries of experience, and centuries of struggles to arrive at one century of liberty!' As though the having enjoyed the prize for the term stated, was all that had been obtained by those struggles. He seems not aware, or wilfully resol es not to see, that we are still in possession of the blessing so acquired. The people of England nevertheless see and feel it; and, in spite of this crazy gabble, will exert all their efforts to retain and transmit it to their posterity.
The Essayist next charges Mr. Canning with inconsistency, because in the paragraph quoted, he throws down a bar to all change, to all innovation, to all improvement. He says, we are arrived at the end of our struggles; and yet he tells us in another part of his speech, that our struggles are not at an end, but that a crisis is at