Hazlitt’s Table-Talk.

Hazlitt’s Table-Talk.

Wiley & Putnam’s Library of Choice Reading, TABLE-TALK: By WILLIAM HAZLITT. Part I.

  Hazlitt is the oracle of the men of talent. They like his richness of observation better than genius, and his sparkling suggestions better than truth.

  But he in whom the inward life is awakened, who perceives that there is only one way of ascent in the spiritual kingdom, and who prizes the exercises of intellect only as preparatory to conquests in the realms of love and truth, will often find he pays too dear for the entertainment afforded by this brilliant, various, and penetrating mind, and will always refuse him a place amid the Conscript Fathers—the permanent legislature of the Literary Rome.

  Yet those who knew Hazlitt in life could ill have dispensed with an acquaintance often a source of pain, often of pleasure, seldom or never of satisfaction. And how could we dispense with our acquaintance with the Table-Talk? There was a time well suited to the enjoyment of a cup mixed with gall, with honey, and the dark red wine, and at that time it mingled not unkindly with the blood. Beside, Hazlitt is fully a man of the time, and what we taste and see concentrated in him, would, at any rate, have pervaded us from the atmosphere we daily breathe.

  Read Hazlitt, catch from his mind its animation and its poignancy; let the brilliant and touching intercourse give impulse to your thoughts. But farther you need not go. We open almost at random to a passage which gives a not unjust point of view for him, and one from which we cannot look with other than a gentle eye:

  “It has been thought by some that life is like the exploring of a passage that grows narrower and darker the farther we advance, without a possibility of ever turning back, and where we are stifled for want of breath at last. For myself, I do not complain of the greater thickness of the atmosphere as I approach the narrow house. I felt it more formerly, when the idea alone seemed to suppress a thousand rising hopes, and weighted upon the pulses of the blood. At present I rather feel a thinness and want of support. I stretch out my hand to some object and find none; I am too much in a world of abstraction; the naked map of life is spread out before me, and in the emptiness and desolation I see Death coming to meet me. In my youth I could not behold him for the crowd of objects and feelings, and Hope stood between us, saying—‘Never mind that old fellow!’ If I had lived indeed, I should not so much care to die. But I do not like a contract of pleasure broken off unfulfilled, a marriage with joy unconsummated, a promise of happiness rescinded. My public and private hopes have been left a ruin, or remain only to mock me. I would wish them to be reëdified. I should like to see some prospect of good to mankind, such as my life began with. I should like to leave some sterling work behind me. I should like to have some friendly hand consign me to the grave. On these conditions I am ready, if not willing, to depart. I could then write on my tomb—‘GRATEFUL AND CONTENTED.’ But I have thought and suffered too much to be willing to have thought and suffered in vain! In looking back, it sometimes appears to me as if I had in a manner slept out my life in a dream or trance on the side of the hill of knowledge, where I have fed on books, on thoughts, on pictures, and only heard in half-murmurs the trampling of busy feet, or the noises of the throng below.”

  A strange, sweet passage is this from the rhetorical critic! A thousand might have been chosen that would better indicate the image we habitually form of Hazlitt; but, perhaps, none truer to the truest facts of his existence.*

“Hazlitt’s Table-Talk.” New-York Daily Tribune, 30 April 1845, p. 1.