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INTRODUCTION.

O'

F the life of William Hazlitt, no more will be said here than seems needful for considering his work as an Essayist. He was born on the 10th of April 1778, in Mitre Lane, Maidstone. His father was a Unitarian minister, who, after several changes, settled at Wem, in Shropshire. In 1795, amongst other places, young Hazlitt visited Burleigh House, and beheld its pictures, some of which he treasured in his mind to the end of life. In 1796 Coleridge settled at Nether-Stowey, and preached in the Unitarian chapel at Taunton In January 1798 Coleridge, whilst officiating for Mr. Rowe at Shrewsbury, visited Hazlitt's father at Wem. This proved the great inspiring time of young Hazlitt's intellectual life. He heard Coleridge preach: saw much of him: above all, was invited by the poet to Nether-Stowey in the spring.

During the interval, Hazlitt went to Llangollen Vale, by way of initiating himself into "the mysteries of natural scenery." Coleridge, in December 1796, had published his "Ode to the Departing Year." The poetry, in its character and music, was new to young Hazlitt. Uplifted in spirit by his approaching visit, inspired by the ode, that expedition was fraught with new awakenings. He remembered, long years afterwards, how he sat up half the night at an inn at Bridgwater to read Paul and Virginia; how on his birthday he sat down to a new volume of the New Heloise at a Llangollen inn. Llangollen Vale itself became to him "the cradle of a new existence: in the river that winds through it, my spirit was baptised in the waters of Helicon." Coleridge received him with a welcome. Wordsworth he there met; heard him chaunt some of his poetry; saw some of his Lyrical Ballads in manuscript. Hazlitt spent three weeks at Nether-Stowey. There was a walking excursion to

Linton with Coleridge and a silent admirer of the metaphysician and poet, one John Chester. This was a troublous political time. Wordsworth and Coleridge were watched as suspects by a State spy, and Wordsworth, ultimately, went to Germany with his sister and Coleridge. But young Hazlitt, full of his new poetic experience; with "the first virgin passion of a soul communing with the glorious universe;" did not share the high political feelings. He, who became a frenzied politician, who, as such, condemned these same poets for their change of views, was at present in dreamland. Twenty-eight years after these events he wrote:-"I may date my insight into the mysteries of poetry from the commencement of my acquaintance with the authors of the Lyrical Ballads."

We know from one of his essays, that about this time Hazlitt became acquainted with Mr. Joseph Fawcett, who had delivered popular Sunday evening lectures at Old Jewry, but who was then retired to Hedgegrove, in Hertfordshire. He found Fawcett to be a man of keen poetic appreciation, and largely read. "The writings of Sterne, Fielding, Cervantes, Richardson, Rousseau, Godwin, Goethe, etc., were the usual subjects of our discourses." Intended for the ministry, Hazlitt entered the Unitarian College, Hackney, in 1793, but left it in 1795 with the idea given up. His brother John was a miniature-painter. William had a love for painting, which had been stimulated by his visit to Burleigh in 1795. He went to Paris in October 1802, and studied in the Louvre for four months. The remembrance of that visit was always with him.

In 1803 he made a professional tour through the Midland Counties, but not satisfied with the results, he came to London with his thoughts bent on literature. At this time, he formed intimacies with Dr. Stoddart and his sister Sarah, with Charles and Mary Lamb. His friendship with Lamb originated at the house of Godwin, through a flash of Lamb's humour, as told at the conclusion of the second essay.

Hazlitt's first publication was the Principles of Human Actions (1805), which he never ceased to esteem as his best work, though a metaphysical choke-pear. Under the stimulus of Coleridge he wrote Free Thoughts on Public Affairs, which was published in 1806. Both fell still-born from the press. Pregnant with important consequences was the first sentence of a letter written by Mary Lamb to her friend and correspondent, Miss Stoddart, on the second of July of this year :— 66 My dear Sarah, Charles and Hazlitt are going to the Sadler's Wells." This is the beginning of another epoch in Hazlitt's

mental experience-the sowing of the first seed of the theatrical critic.

On Sunday morning, the 1st of May 1808, Hazlitt married Miss Stoddart. There were present at the ceremony Dr. and Mrs. Stoddart, also Charles and Mary Lamb. The newlywedded couple went to Winterslow, and resided in a cottage which belonged to the bride. Winterslow is a village in Wiltshire, between Andover and Salisbury. It became a favourite resort of Hazlitt's. He found there quiet times for composition. In later years, he took up his quarters at an old inn called Winterslow Hut. The London mails made a busy break in the day; there was Stonehenge to visit ; there were in view the "woods that crown the clear lone brow of Norman Court" and "the waving woods of Tuderley." The Lambs visited Mr. and Mrs. Hazlitt in the autumn of the following year. On that occasion they went to Oxford. Hazlitt, in "On Going a Journey," refers to the circumstance :- "I once took a party to Oxford with no mean éclat." The visit was also described by Elia in "Vacation at Oxford." Of this, we speak a more acceptable time.

Hazlitt, in 1812, fairly settled in London. This year, as Mr. Carew Hazlitt observes, marks "an important era in Hazlitt's life." He soon began to deliver a series of lectures at the Russell Institution, on the “English Philosophers and Metaphysicians." For a short time, he became Parliamentary reporter to the Morning Chronicle. Upon giving up this post he retained his connection with the newspaper as the writer of political articles and its theatrical critic. The political contributions were afterwards reprinted in Political Essays, with Sketches of Public Characters (1819), and the others in A View of the English Stage (1821). He was requested to contribute to the Edinburgh Review, and his first contribution appeared in November 1814. By this time, he had become acquainted with Leigh Hunt and his brother John, proprietors of the Examiner. Long ere this, Hazlitt was known as a passionate politician, and he remained consistent in his views, his acrimony, and his zeal, to the last. Napoleon was his idol. Therefore, the battle of Waterloo, in 1815, struck him severely. Talfourd says, that when he first met Hazlitt after the event, "he was staggering under the blow of Waterloo."

Let us now see Hazlitt, as found in the descriptions of those who were his admirers. He was of middle size, slight, but well formed; of handsome countenance-eager and pale, and rather worn with thought and pain; black hair, which curled stiffly

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D

SSAYS OF WILLIAM

Es

HAZLITT: SELECTED

AND EDITED, WITH INTRO-

DUCTION AND NOTES, BY

FRANK CARR.

(AUTHOR OF CHARACTERISTICS OF
LEIGH HUNT," " HESPERIDES," ETC.)

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LONDON

WALTER SCOTT, 24 WARWICK LANE

NEW YORK: THOMAS WHITTAKER

TORONTO: W. J. GAGE AND CO.

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