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must naturally be least tasteful. I never in thought swerved from him; I never betrayed him; I never slackened in my admiration for him; I was the same to him (neither better nor worse), though he could not see it, as in the days when he thought fit to trust me. At this instant he may be preparing for me some compliment above my deserts, as he has sprinkled such among his admirable books, for which I rest his debtor; or, for anything I know or can guess to the contrary, he may be about to read a lecture on my weaknesses. He is welcome to them (as he was to my humble heart), if they can divert a spleen or ventilate a fit of sullenness. I wish he would not quarrel with the world at the rate he does; but the reconciliation must be effected by himself, and I despair of living to see that day. But, protesting against much that he has written, and some things which he chooses to do; judging him by his conversations, which I enjoyed so long and relished so deeply, or by his books, in those places where no clouding passion intervenes I should belie my own conscience if I said less than that I think W. H. to be, in his natural and healthy state, one of the wisest and finest spirits breathing. So far from being ashamed of that intimacy which was betwixt us, it is my boast that I was able for so many years to have preserved it entire; and I think I shall go to my grave without finding, or expecting to find, such another companion."
The closing years of Hazlitt's life show him struggling against ill-health and pecuniary misfortunes. He was then engaged on his "Life of Napoleon," the largest and most systematic of all his works and the one by which he hoped his name would live. Hazlitt made a fetish of consistency and prided himself on the fact that his
early enthusiasm for Buonaparte never underwent a change. His idolatry of Napoleon and the publication of Scott's rival work in the preceding year made the commercial failure of his book inevitable.
Through the bankruptcy of his publisher Hazlitt lost the reward of three years' work and became involved in difficulties which he did not live to overcome. His "Life of Napoleon" has many passages of splendid description, but it does not constitute a vital part of his literary renown.
Hazlitt was ever seen at his best when he was writing about pictures and books and the history of his own mental development. In one of the last essays he wrote, "The Sick Chamber," we find Hazlitt reverting in words made touching by their circumstances to the passion which he had fostered with a life-long loyalty and from which he had reaped the chief happiness of his life. "A rose smells doubly sweet after being stifled with tinctures and essences, and we enjoy the idea of a journey and an inn the more for having been bed-rid. But a book is the secret and sure charm to bring all these implied associations to a focus. I should prefer an old one, Mr Lamb's favourite, the 'Journey to Lisbon,' or the 'Decameron,' if I could get it; but, if a new one, let it be 'Paul Clifford'.... Well, then, I have got the new paraphrase on the Beggar's Opera, am fairly embarked in it; and at the end of the first volume, when I am galloping across the heath with the three highwaymen, while the moon is shining full upon them, feel my nerves so braced, and my spirits so exhilarated, that, to say truth, I am scarce sorry for the occasion that has thrown me upon the work and the author-have quite forgot my Sick Room, and more than ready to recant the doctrine that Free Admission [to the theatre] is The true pathos and sublime
Of human life,
for I feel as I read that if the stage shows us the masks of men and the pageant of the world, books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own. They are the first and last, the most home-felt, the most heart-felt of all our enjoyments!" In his love of books we have the most delightful instance of Hazlitt's "pertinacity of opinion." They were the only friends he never quarrelled with or changed. Perhaps they were the subject of his last thought and the justification of his dying words, "Well, I've had a happy life."
Some of the most interesting side-lights we possess on Hazlitt's methods of work we owe to his friend, Procter, the minor poet better known as Barry Cornwall. "With the exception of a very rare dinner or supper with a friend or intimate, his time was generally spent alone. After a late breakfast he took his quire of foolscap paper, and commenced writing, in a large hand, almost as large as text, his day's work. There never was any rough draft or copy. He wrote readily-not very swiftly, but easily, as if he had made up his mind; and this was the manuscript that went to the printer....He had a very quick perception of the beauties and defects of books. When he was about to write his 'Lectures on the Age of Elizabeth,' he knew little or nothing of the dramatists of that time, with the exception of Shakespeare. He spoke to Charles Lamb and to myself, who were supposed by many to be well acquainted with. those ancient writers. I lent him about a dozen volumes, comprehending the finest of the old plays; and he then went down to Winterslow Hut, in Wiltshire, and after a stay of six weeks came back to London, fully impregnated with the subject, with his thoughts fully made up upon it, and with all his lectures written. And he then appeared
to comprehend the character and merits of the old writers more thoroughly than any other person, although he had so lately entered upon the subject."
These statements, which are corroborated by the evidence of the elder Patmore and others, suggest some of the outstanding characteristics of Hazlitt's critical method. They correspond, also, very exactly with his own descriptions of his methods and aims. In the strictest sense of the term Hazlitt's criticism is intensive. He does not weigh one author against another. Even for purposes of illustration he does not range beyond very definite limits. He approached an accepted classic in precisely the same manner as a conscientious reviewer would a new book. He took nothing for granted. He did not think it necessary to read round about his subject. He never had occasion to cross swords with other critics, for he did not conceive it his business to become acquainted with their opinions. To this he owes very much of his freshness and charm. The scholarly critic, by virtue of his learning, has, in forming his judgments, to contend against innumerable idola theatri. But suppose for a moment that a naturally great critic were to have submitted. to his judgment as new books a number of accepted world's classics, and that he should be asked to report upon them with nothing beside him but the authors' works. His pronouncements could not fail to be of engrossing interest however much they might conflict with authority. There is, of course, a fallacy underlying this very supposition, since ample knowledge is a pre-condition of critical ability. But to as large an extent as is possible for any critic, Hazlitt's practice squares with this hypothesis, and it is to this fact, we take it, that he owes the secret of his special charm. He
approached his author without fear or prejudice; he read his works with an alert and acute mind; nothing that is beautiful as literature or subtle as philosophy escaped him; and while the zest of the chase had not yet left him, he reported his impressions with a quite unique enthusiasm. Be it "for or "against," Hazlitt was perfectly frank in giving the reasons for his decision; he had ever the courage of his opinion and a reason for the faith that was in him. Hazlitt was no ordinary critic, and what is true of him cannot be made a generalisation. His method was justified by his genius, and gives no authority for supposing that in criticism. ignorance is bliss. For it is only Hazlitt that has Hazlitt's defence: "To a want of general reading I plead guilty, and am sorry for it; but perhaps if I had read more, I might have thought less. As to my barrenness of invention, I have at least glanced over a number of subjects-painting, poetry, prose, plays, politics, parliamentary speakers, metaphysical lore, books, men and things. There is some point, some fancy, some feeling, some taste, shown in treating of these. Which of my conclusions have been reversed?" This is a bold challenge flung to time. There never yet was a critic that has not lost some case in the appeal-court of Time. Hazlitt himself is no exception. But in one important particular he is indeed exceptional. His favourable awards have never been set aside. It is his great glory as a critic that he never praised amiss. Prejudice and bias led him astray in his censures, but his critical genius never betrayed him into errors of praise. He was even so good a critic as to be aware of this himself, for into Lamb's mouth he put the perfectly true words, "I always believe you when you praise, not always when you condemn."