Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Hazlitt's Revenge on the Lakers (1983)

Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Hazlitt's Revenge on the Lakers (1983)

Article excerpt

Friends, may I, first of all, say that I regard it as a great honour to be invited to speak at the Wordsworth Summer Conference? But for reasons which I will explain, as I approach the actual moment when I have to fulfill the task, my trepidation has become considerable. I would like to offer a few excuses at the beginning, and hope that they will help to sustain me. One of the reasons why I feel nervous is because I am not accustomed to addressing such high academic audiences. The House of Commons, as Hazlitt himself used to infer, is, of course, of a quite lower standard. He gave some guidance about how we should proceed in these matters, but even so I am extremely concerned and the more I was told of the previous lectures delivered here this week, the greater my trepidation became. I feel a little now as if, having just arrived in the Kingdom of Heaven I was called upon to give a short address on the Ten Commandments before an audience composed of Moses, Aaron and a representative selection of the major prophets--and prophetesses. There can be no distinction in these androgynous times.

Then there is also the title of the subject I have chosen--"Hazlitt's Revenge on the Lakers." The selection was done hastily. Indeed, I don't believe Hazlitt himself ever used the words: "The Lakers." Byron used them in an obviously offensive manner, but I cannot recall Hazlitt himself ever having done so. As for the "revenge," we will have to see how that develops. On such occasions it is wise to proceed into battle behind a proper shield. And before this audience, my shield is my father who was a passionate Wordsworthian. He was Wordsworthian to the finger tips. He believed that Wordsworth stood head and shoulders above all the other great figures of the Romantic movement. Indeed, I often felt that Wordsworth expressed for my father his whole religion better than anybody else. So he always spoke to me of Wordsworth in estatic terms. Now that ought to be a good enough shield to ward off some of the Wordsworthians.

Hazlitt came here, to Dove Cottage and the country round here once or twice in the year 1803, when he was twenty-five years of age. He probably came here twice then. He came here, not as a writer as he later became famous, but as a would-be painter. He painted portraits of Wordsworth and Coleridge. He hoped that he would win the patronage of Sir George Beaumont who had bestowed his favours upon them beforehand, and I think he came expecting that his visit might help him in the career as a painter to which he had first aspired. He had met Coleridge and Wordsworth some five years before in the year 1798, the sacred year in which he had first set eyes upon the great poets of his time. He described those events in what I am glad to see has been acknowledged, in the latest book on Coleridge by Richard Holmes, to be the greatest essay in the English language, My First Acquaintance with Poets,--written by Hazlitt many years afterwards, recalling the events of 1798. Hazlitt went down to Nether Stowey and met not only Coleridge again but also Wordsworth, and heard Wordsworth and Coleridge recite passages from the Lyrical Ballads before they were published, and there has been no more appreciative audience for them from that day to this. It is one of the glories of English literature that Hazlitt should have been one of the very first persons to hear the new kind of poetry. It was a new kind of poetry. It jarred on the ears of most of the orthodox academics of the time and many others as well. Hazlitt heard it first before any of the poets concerned had established their reputations. When he heard it he was convinced he was listening to something which would revolutionise the literature of our country. He probably understood that possibility better than anybody else.

Anyway, that was five years before. Then he came here in the year 1803, as I have said, and he engaged in many violent arguments with Coleridge and Wordsworth on many different themes. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.