« ПретходнаНастави »
thoroughbred Londoner. To him we impute exactly the same spirit of clique-the same partial estimate of himself and the privileged few with whom he lives in sympathy of taste and reciprocity of compliment, which are the alleged characteristics of a provincial genius. The Cockney is the archetype of the Londoner east of Temple Bar, and is as grotesquely identified with the bells of Bow as Quasimodo with those of Notre Dame. In the men on whom this metropolitan distinction was conferred, including writers not less remarkable than Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, and Charles Lamb, we cannot honestly affirm that there was element of cocknification. Though differing much from each other in character and in direction of intellect, they agreed in this—they all so far rejected the urbanizing tendencies of a great metropolis, that they moved in as small a circle as if they had lived in a country town. In their publications they quote and praise, quarrel and make it up with each other, as if, like the Chinese, they confined the map of the civilised world to their celestial empire, and inscribed on the space left outside of the circle, Corners of earth inhabited by barbarians.' The Waverley Novels can excite no interest in Lamb: it is a matter of doubt whether he was ever seduced into reading them. Hazlitt, indeed, succumbs to their enchantment, but atones for such praise as he bestows on the fictions by declaring that · he despises their author as the meanest of mankind.' Lamb has a lofty disdain for such a comparative pigmy as Byron. Hazlitt does not openly share in that disdain, but he implies it by the sneer with which he accompanies the stinted measure of his praise. According to him, Byron 'seldom gets beyond force of style,' and ' his poetry consists mostly of a tissue of superb commonplaces.' With the contemporaneous literature of the continent the professors of this school reject all acquaintance; among the rising generation of writers in England it is only their own Alumni whom they deem worthy of notice. Those, they regard with indiscriminate favour - equally kind to a Sheridan Knowles and a Janus Weathercock. Hunt, the least exclusive of the coterie, in vain commends Shelley and Keats to the cordial welcome of his associates. Hazlitt speaks of Keats, indeed, when Keats was dead, with a certain civility, such as a strong man compassionately bestows on a promising though sickly child. But of Shelley, in Shelley's lifetime, his criticism is that of stern contempt. According to him, Shelley is not a poet, but a sophist, a theorist, a controversial writer in verse; he gives us for representations of things rhapsodies of words; he paints gaudy, flimsy, allegorical pictures on gauze, on the cobwebs of his own brain? (Hazlitt's Plain Speaker : On People of
Sense ')-an estimate of Shelley, from which Lamb does not greatly differ. In fact, when the chiefs of this oligarchy commend to our reverence the men of their own day, they compliment each other—Hunt praises Hazlitt, Hazlitt praises Hunt; Lamb praises both, and by both is praised. We must make one honourable exception to this exclusive co-admiration. The Cockney School acknowledged the genius of the Lake School, and paved the way to that appreciation of Wordsworth and Coleridge which the pertinacity of critics has at last wrung from the passive assent of the general public. But this socalled Cockney School was, in much, an offshoot from the Lake School. Wordsworth and Coleridge exercised a predominant power over the minds of Hunt, Hazlitt, and Lamb, and served greatly to determine the point of view from which the two latter regarded the form and substance of contemporaneous poetic creation. And perhaps they found in the homage they rendered to the great Poets of the Lake School an excuse for the depreciation of other contemporaries more popularly admired. It is but just to the Public of that day to preface remarks intended to do equal justice to the merits of the writers referred to, with this admission of their characteristic failings; because it was but natural that the Public should hesitate before confirming the reputation which the members of a coterie so dogmatically bestowed upon each other. The Public has always a certain interest in guarding its judgments from the dictations of a critical clique.
Of the three eminent writers to whom this unlucky appellation of Cockney was popularly assigned, Hazlitt deserved it least in the literal sense of the word, and most in the symbolical. In the literal sense of the word he did not indeed deserve it at all. Hazlitt was no Londoner. By origin he was Irish; he himself a native of Shropshire. But in the symbolical sense of the word, he was the most obnoxious to the ridicule it conveyed, partly because, once identified with the set of writers to whom it was applied, he stood forth the most aggressive and the most provocative, and carrying out into the fullest display the sins attributed to the Cockney School. He of the three best answers to his own sprightly and accurate definition of Cockney: Your true Cockney,' saith Hazlitt, “is your only true leveller. Let him be as low as he will, he fancies he is as good as anybody else.' The faults of Hazlitt were the more disagreeable because the man was one of those warm-blooded creatures whom we wish to like if they will but let us. And though he does his best to prevent our liking him, it is not in his power to prevent any one who knows the English language
from admiring. The admiration is uneasy, chequered, qualified, but it is admiration still. If Hazlitt lacked the poetic genius of his two gentler_friends, he was gifted with an eloquence more masculine. The fibre of his brain was less fine than theirs, but it was of stronger tissue. He had in early youth cultivated his reasoning faculty with a patient study unknown to those playmates of the muse, and that faculty was sufficiently acute to have achieved him no mean repute in metaphysical speculation, or in the more practical domain of judicial criticism, had it not been constantly obscured and perverted by passions fiercely combative, which, accompanied with an arrogant self-esteem, and a very limited knowledge of the world, too often deprived his judgment of value, because they robbed it of charity and candour. And it was exactly where his knowledge of the world was the most deficient that his passions and his arrogance led him to parade his defect with the loftiest ostentation. He delighted in analytical comments on the public characters of his time; and it is difficult to conceive any man of letters with so profound an ignorance, not only of the characters thus superciliously depicted, but of the estimates formed of them by persons the most competent to know.
What can be more ludicrously unlike the speaking of the late Marquis Wellesley (in his most brilliant day; the date of the criticism is April 13, 1813, and on his special subject, Indian affairs) than the following attempt at description which heads the collection of Hazlitt's • Political Essays:' .We confess those of his (Lord Wellesley's) speeches which we have heard appear to us prodigies of physical prowess and intellectual imbecility; the ardour of his natural temperament stimulating and controlling the ordinary faculties of his mind; the exuberance of his animal spirits contending with the barrenness of his genius, produce a degree of dull vivacity, of paraded insignificance and impotent energy, which is without any parallel but itself.' Who does not here see a man in love with his own style, and exulting in smart impertinences about an orator of whose attributes of mind and speaking he was ignorant as a babe unborn ?
This is but one instance out of the many we might quote, not of caricature (for in caricature there is something of truth), but of utter dissimilarity between the original man and the fanciful image which the student of Titian would have us accept as a portrait. And we select this special instance, because elsewhere we might suppose the common sense of the artist distorted by private vindictiveness or political hate,
But Mr. Hazlitt could neve have had his feelings hurt by Lord Wellesley, nor could there have been anything calculated to stir up his gall in a speech
upon our Indian Empire. Hazlitt never pretended to be a cosmopolitan reformer. No man ever ridiculed with a keener irony the affectation of universal benevolence. He cared about the Indian Empire as little as he did about Lord Wellesley. He would have resolved both into limbo for the head of any wrinkled old hag on the canvas of Rembrandt. Hurried away by a temperament thus vehemently aggressive, there was scarcely a section of opinion or a class of fellow-subjects whom William Hazlitt did not, at one time or other, go out of his way to offend. A bitter politician, though without giving us the slightest idea what he would destroy, except the principle of hereditary monarchy, or what he would reconstruct, except universal suffrage; equally a fanatic against constitutional kings and for Napoleonic autocracy, he smote with the same unexpected swing of his flail Tory, Whig, Radical, Reformer, Utopianist, Benthamite, Churchman, Dissenter, Free-thinker. He believed in nothing but Hazlittism plus Napoleonism. There was but one Hazlitt, and Napoleon was his prophet. That which he recognised in himself was unscrupulous force. Unscrupulous force had been crowned in Napoleon. Such amiable disciples as the late Serjeant Talfourd tell us that Hazlitt viewed in Napoleon the principle of force opposed to the legitimate Right Divine. Napoleon commenced his career not by dethroning the legitimate Right Divine, but by cannonading King Mob. And a man must know very little of Hazlitt's works who is not aware that, though he speaks of legitimate kings with the hate of a French sansculotte, he speaks of the common people with the scorn of a Venetian oligarch. In fact, Hazlitt's judgment is so constantly coloured by his spleen, that he is scarcely more consistent in his likings than in his dislikings. Even in literature, the few contemporaries for whom at one moment he professes the deepest reverence, to whose publications he ascribes, not untruly, the deepest obligations in the forming or developing of his own intellectual powers, are addressed with the same disdainful insolence with which, perched on the wall of his small enclosure, he crows scornful defiance to such foes afar off as the Wellesleys and Cannings,-if these guides, philosophers, fathers, friends, do but exercise their liberty of thought in a way disapproved by William Hazlitt. He tells us himself of the marked kindness with which, in his earliest youth, he had been distinguished by Coleridge, and of the lasting effect on his own mind produced by his first contact with that vast and luminous intelligence : ‘I was at that time' (he says in his own picturesque and vivid diction) dumb, inarticulate, helpless, like a worm by the way-side, crushed, bleeding, lifeless. But now, bursting from the deadly bands
" that bound them
With Styx nine times round them," my ideas float on winged words, and as they expand their plumes catch the golden light of other years. My soul, indeed, has remained in its original bondage, dark, obscure, with longings infinite and unsatisfied; my heart, shut up in the prison-house of this rude clay, has never found nor will it find a heart to speak to; but that my understanding also did not remain dull and brutish, or at length found a language to express itself, I owe to Coleridge.'-(Hazlitt's * Literary Remains,' vol. ii., on ‘My First Acquaintance with Poets.')
One might suppose that such reminiscence would have sufficed to induce a man of feelings so warm to soften any blow which he might afterwards feel it a painful duty to inflict upon the greatest of his intellectual benefactors. To suppose this would be to misjudge William Hazlitt. The Lay Sermon of Mr. Coleridge displeases him, and he exhausts all his powers of sarcasm for expressions of contempt best fitted to cut into the heart of the sensitive man of genius, through whom his own understanding had found a language to express itself:'-
No one,' he says, 'ever yet gave Mr. Coleridge a penny for his thoughts. He is the secret Tattle of the Press. He is the dog in the manger of literature; an intellectual Marplot who will neither let anybody else come to a conclusion nor come to one himself.' ... 'He lives in the belief of a perpetual lie, and in affecting · to think what he pretends to say,' &c., &c.—(Hazlitt's 'Political Essays on Coleridge's Lay Sermon.')
Nor is this ferocity of censure confined to the political articles of a newspaper, to be palliated by the hot blood of spontaneous debate. In one of his most elaborate compositions (On the Prose Style of Poets ') he compares the prose style of Coleridge to the second-hand finery of a lady's maid: '
With bits of tarnished lace and worthless frippery, he assumes a sweeping Oriental costume. . . He is swelling and turgid, everlastingly aiming to be greater than his subject, filling his fancy with fumes and vapours in the pangs and throes of miraculous parturition, and bringing forth only stillbirths.'
Wordsworth, whom elsewhere he exalts to the seventh heaven, he treats with the same measureless contempt when Wordsworth takes the liberty to say something which Hazlitt disapproves. Then thus doth the idolater fustigate the idol :
“The spirit of Jacobin poetry is rank egotism. We know an instance; it is that of a person who founded a school of poetry on