1799 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hazlitt

Henry Crabb Robinson, 1799; Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence (1870; 1872) 1:35.



Another interesting acquaintance I made at this period [1799] was with William Hazlitt, — a man who has left a deservedly high reputation as a critic; but at the time I first knew him he was struggling against a great difficulty of expression, which rendered him by no means a general favorite in society. His bashfulness, want of words, slovenliness of dress, &c. made him sometimes the object of ridicule. It will be better, perhaps, if I confine myself at present to describing him as he was in this early period of our acquaintance. He was the younger brother of John Hazlitt, the miniature painter. His first design was to become a Dissenting minister; and for that purpose he went to the Unitarian College, Hackney. He afterwards thought of becoming a painter, and lived with his brother. At our first interview I saw he was an extraordinary man. He had few friends and was flattered by my attentions. We were about the same age, and I was able to render him a service by introducing him to Anthony Robinson, who induced Johnson to publish Hazlitt's first work, The Eloquence of the British Senate. Late in life, when our intimacy had been broken off, he said to Mary Lamb, "Robinson cuts me, but I shall never cease to have a regard for him, for he was the first person who ever found out that there was anything in me." I was alone in this opinion at the time of which I am speaking. I recollect saying to my sister-in-law, "Whom do you suppose I hold to be the cleverest person I know?" — "Capel Lofft, perhaps?" — "No." — "Mrs. Clarkson?" — "Oh! no." — "Miss Maling?" — "No." — "I give it up." — "William Hazlitt." "Oh, you are joking. Why, we all take him to be just the reverse." At this time he was excessively shy, especially in the company of young ladies, who on their part were very apt to make fun of him. The prettiest girl of our parties about this time was a Miss Kitchener, and she used to drive him mad by teasing him.

I was under great obligations to Hazlitt as the director of my taste. It was he who first made me acquainted with the Lyrical Ballads and the poems generally of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lamb, and Southey.