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amidst those lonely fields, and imparted to the silent objects of nature a weight of interest akin to that with which Rousseau has oppressed the picture of his early years. He had not then, nor did he find till long afterwards, power to embody his meditations and feelings in words; the consciousness of thoughts which he could not hope adequately to express increased his natural reserve; and he turned for relief to the art of painting, in which he might silently realize his dreams of beauty, and repay the bounties of mature. A few old prints from the old masters awakened the spirit of emulation within him; the sense of beauty became identified in his mind with that of glory and duration; while the peaceful labour calmed the tumult in his veins, and gave steadiness to his pure and distant aim. He pursued the art with an earnestness and patience which he vividly describes in his essay “On the Pleasure of Painting;” and to which he frequently reverts in some of his most exquisite passages; and, although in this, his chosen pursuit, he sailed, the passionate desire for success, and the long struggle to attain it, left deep traces in his mind, heightening his strong perception of external things, and mingling, with all the thoughts, shapes and hues which he had vainly striven to render immortal. A painter may acquire a fine insight into the nice distinctions of character, —he may copy manners in words as he does in colours, but it may be apprehended that his course as a severe reasoner will be somewhat “troubled with thick coming fancies.” And if the successful pursuit of art may thus disturb the process of abstract contemplation, how much more may an unsatisfied passion ruffle it, bid the dark threads of thought glitter with radiant fancies unrealized, and clothe its diagrams with the fragments of picture which the hand refused to execute! What wonder, if, in the mind of an ardent youth, thus struggling in vain to give palpable existence to the shapes of loveliness which haunted him, “the homely beauty of the good old cause” should assume the fascinations not properly its own . At this time, also, while at once laborious and listless, he became the associate of a band of young poets of power and promise such as England had not produced for two centuries, whose genius had been awakened by the rising sun of liberty, and breathed forth most eloquent music. Their political creed resembled his own; yet, for
the better and more influential part, they were poets, not metaphysicians; and his intercourse with them tended yet farther to spread the noble infection of beauty through all his thoughts. That they should have partially understood him at that time was much, both for them and for him; for the faculty of expression remained imperfect and doubtful until quickened at that chosen home of genius and kindness, the fire-side of the author of “ John Woodvil.” There his bashful struggles to express the fine conceptions with which his bosom laboured were met by entire sympathy; there he began to stammer out his just and original notions of Chaucer and Spenser, and old English writers, less talked of, though not less known, by their countrymen; there he was understood and cheered by one who thought after their antique mode, and wrote in their spirit, and by a lady, “ sister every way” to his friend, whose fine discernment of his first efforts in conversation, he dwelt upon with gratitude even when most out of humour with the world. He wrote then slowly, and with great difficulty, being, as he himself states in his “ Letter to Gifford,” “eight years in writing as many pages;" in that austere labour the sense of the beautiful was rebuked, and his first work, the “ Essay on the Principles of Human Action," is composed in a style as dry and hard as a mathematical demonstration. But when his pen was loosed from its long bondage, the accumulated stores of thought and observation pressed upon him; images of beauty hovered round him ; deep-rooted attachments to books and works of art, which had been friends to him through silent years, glowed for expression, and a long arrear of personal resentments struggled to share in the masterdom of conscious power. The room of Imagination, which would have enabled him to command all his resources, and place his rare experiences to their true account, was supplied by a will-sufficiently sturdy by nature, and made irritable and capricious by the most inexcusable misrepresentation and abuse with which the virulence of party-spirit ever disgraced literary criticism. His works were shamelessly garbled; his person and habits slandered; and volumes, any one page of which contained thought sufficient to supply a whole “ Quarterly Review,” were dismissed with affected contempt, as the drivelling of an impudent pretender, whose judgment was to be estimated by an enthusiastic expression
torn from its context, and of whose English style a decisive specimen was found in an error of the press. Thus was a temperament, always fervid, stung into irregular action; the strong regard to things was matched by as vivid a dislike of persons; and the sense of injury joined with the sense of beauty to disturb the solemn musings of the philosopher and the great hatreds of the patriots.
One of the most remarkable effects of the strong sense of the personal on Hazlitt's abstract speculations, is a habit of confounding his own feelings and experiences in relation to a subject with proofs of some theory which had grown out of them, or had become associated with them. Thus, in his “ Essay on the Past and the Future," he asserts the startling proposition, that the past is, at any given moment, of as much consequence to the individual as the future; that he has no more actual interest in what is to come than in what has gone by, except so far as he may think himself able to avert the future by action; that whether he was put to torture a year ago, or anticipates the rack a year hence, is of no importance, if his destiny is so fixed that no effort can alter it; and this paradox its author chiefly seeks to establish by beautiful instances of what the past, as matter of contemplation, is to thoughtful minds, and in fine glances at his individual history. The principal sophism consists in varying the aspect in which the past and future are viewed ; -in one paragraph, regarding them as apart from personal identity and consciousness, as if a being, who was “not a child of time,” looked down upon them; and, in another, speaking in his own person as one who feels the past as well as future in the instant. When he quarrels with a supposed disputant who would rather not have been Claude, because then all would have been over with him, and as. serts that it cannot signify when we live, because the value of existence is not altered in the course of centuries, he takes a stand apart from present consciousness and the immediate question for the desire to have been Claude could only be gratified in the consciousness of having been Claude-which belongs to the present moment, and implies present existence in the party making the choice, though for such a moment he might be willing to die. He strays still wider from the subject when he observes a treatise on the
Millennium is dull; but asks who was ever weary of reading the fables of the Golden Age! for both fables essentially belong neither to past nor future, and depend for their interest, not on the time to which they are referred, but the vividmess with which they are drawn. But supposing the Golden Age and the Millennium to be happy conditions of being— which to our poor, frail, shivering virtue they are not—and the proposal to be made, whether we would remember the first, or enter upon the last, surely we should “ hail the coming on of time,” and prefer having our store of happiness yet to expend, to the knowledge that we had just spent it! When Mr. Hazlitt instances the agitation of criminals before their trial, and their composure after their conviction, as proofs that if a future event is certain, “it gives little more disturbance or emotion than if it had already taken place, or were something to happen in another state of being, or to another person,” he gives an example which is perfectly fair, but which every one sees is decisive against his theory. If peace followed when hope was no longer busy; if the quiet of indifference was the same thing as the stillness of despair; if the palsy of fear did not partially anticipate the stroke of death and whiten the devoted head with premature age; there might be some ground for this sacrifice of the future at the shrine of the past; but the poor wretch who grasps the hand of the chaplain or the undersheriff's clerk, or a turnkey, or an alderman, in convulsive agony, as his last hold on life, and declares that he is happy, would tell a different tale ! It seems strange that so profound a thinker, and so fair a reasoner, as Mr. Hazlitt, should adduce such a proof of such an hypothesis—but the mystery is solved when we regard the mass of personal feeling he has brought to bear on the subject, and which has made his own view of it unsteady. All this picturesque and affecting retrospection amounts to nothing, or rather tells against the argument; because the store of contemplation which is, will ever be while consciousness remains; nay, must increase even while we reckon it, as the present glides into the past, and turns another arch over the cave of memory. This very possession which he would set against the future is the only treasure which with certainty belongs to it, and of which no change of fortune can deprive him; and, there
fore, it is clear that the essayist mistakes a sentiment for a demonstration, when he expatiates upon it as proof of such a doctrine. There is nothing affected in the assertion—no desire to startle—no playing with the subject or the reader; for of such intellectual trickeries he was incapable; but an honest mistake into which the strong power of personal recollection, and the desire to secure it within the lasting fretwork of a theory, drew him. So, when wearied with the injustice done to his writings by the profligate misrepresentations of the government critics, and the slothful acquiescence of the public, and contrasting with it the success of the sturdy players at his favourite game of fives, which no one could question, he wrote elaborate essays” to prove the superiority cf physical qualifications to those of intellect—full of happy illustrations and striking instances, and containing one inimitable bit of truth and pathos “On the Death of Cavanagh,”—but all beside the mark—proving nothing but that which required no proof–that corporeal strength and beauty are more speedily and more surely appreciated than the products of genius; and leaving the essential differences of the two, of the transitory and the lasting—of that which is confined to a few barren spectators, and that which is diffused through the hearts and affections of thousands, and fructifies and expands in generations yet unborn, and connects its author with far distant times, not by cold renown, but by the links of living sympathy—to be exemplified in the very essay which would decry it, and to be nobly vindicated by its author at other times, when he shows, and makes us feel, that “words are the only things which last for ever.” So his attacks on the doctrine of utility, which were provoked by the cold extravagancies of some of its supporters, consist of noble and passionate eulogies on the graces, pleasures, and ornaments, of life, which leave the theory itself, with which all these are consistent, precisely where it was. So his “Essays on Mr. Owen's View of Society” are full of exquisite banter, well-directed against the individual: os unanswerable expositions, of the falsehood of
* “On the Indian Jugglers,” and “On the Disadvantages of Intellectual Superiority.” t “On Thought and Action,”