A Blupete Biography Page

"Rackets and Tea"
The Life and Writings
of William Hazlitt (1778-1830)
[TOC -- Hazlitt's Page]

Chapter Eight
"Hazlitt In Paris -- 1802-03"

In March of 1802, the Treaty of Amiens was signed, and by it, the war between France and England was ended. France, at this point in history, was all powerful on land accessible from the European continent and which did not necessitate any large movement upon the seas where Great Britain ruled supreme. Though it caused a great strain on the British taxpayer to keep her fleets at sea, such an investment allowed the English, except for the European land mass, to assert themselves throughout the world; and, they made the most of it.

John Richard Green:

"Amid all the triumphs of the revolutionary war, the growth of the British empire had been steady and ceaseless. She was more than ever mistress of the sea. ... She was turning her command of the seas to a practical account. Not only was she monopolizing the carrying trade of the European nations, but the sudden uprush of her industries was making her the workshop as well as the market of the world."1
This peace that came about in March of 1802, one that was not to last much beyond a year, released a pent up demand in England for travel to France. With travel restrictions lifted, Hazlitt was among those who determined to go to France. On October 16th, 1802, Hazlitt arrived at Paris. His objective was to sit in the Louvre and to make copies of the classic paintings hanging there, in particular the Titians. "I arrived here yesterday. ... Paris is very dirty and disagreeable, except along the river side. Here it is much more splendid than any part of London. The Louvre is one of the buildings which overlook it. I went there this morning ...2
"I had made some progress in painting when I went to the Louvre to study, and I never did anything afterwards. ... The first day I got there, I was kept for some time in the French Exhibition Room, and thought I should not be able to get a sight of the old masters. I just caught a peep at them through the door (vile hindrance!) like looking out of purgatory into paradise -- from Poussin's noble, mellow-looking landscapes to where Rubens hung out his gaudy banner, and down the glimmering vista to the rich jewels of Titian and the Italian school. At last, by much importunity, I was admitted, and lost not an instant in making use of my new privilege. It was un beau jour to me. ... Reader, "if thou hast not seen the Louvre thou art damned!" -- for thou hast not seen the choicest remains of the works of art; or thou hast not seen all these together with their mutually reflected glories. I say nothing of the statues; for I know but little of sculpture, and never liked any till I saw the Elgin Marbles. . . . Here, for four months together, I strolled and studied."3
At Paris, though "his lodgings were poor and his purse empty," Hazlitt spent a happy time. At the Louvre (he left Paris in January, 1803) Hazlitt made at least eleven copies, including: Titian's "Man in Black" and "Mistress"; Lana's (a contemporary of Titian) "The Death of Clorinda;" Raphael's "A Holy Family;" and Poussin's "The Deluge." "For three years after his return from Paris Hazlitt led the life of an itinerant portrait painter."4

The peace between France and Great Britain, that was brought about by the signing, in 1802, of the Treaty of Amiens, flew apart at the seams after a year and so many weeks. In March of 1803 the British Commons passed a resolution calling for an additional number of "10,000 men to be employed for the sea service," included in this number was the provision for 3,400 Marines.5 On the 18th of May, a declaration of war was laid before parliament. On the 20th, Lord Nelson sailed from Portsmouth in the Victory, accompanied by the Amphion, to take the command in the Mediterranean.

A circular letter, dated 16 May, 1803, from Downing Street was promulgated throughout the kingdom even across the seas. In Nova Scotia it was communicated to the house on Friday, June the 24th:

"Unfavorable termination of the discussion lately depending between his majesty and the French government, ... his majesty's ambassador left Paris on the 13th. ... Letters of marque and commissions to privateers are to be issued, and French ships to be captured, &c. The kings share of all French ships and property will be given to privateers. Homeward bound ships should wait for convoys."6
Written communication from one person or department to another, such as the circular letter from Downing Street, was on paper. Up to these times, paper was an expensive commodity made in a time honoured but laborious way. The making of paper, the papyrus of the ancients, was hand work, as were so many things before the days of the industrial revolution. Paper is a substance composed of fibres interlaced into a compact web from various fibrous materials, as linen and cotton rags, straw, wood, etc. The materials are macerated into a pulp, dried, and pressed into a thin flexible sheet, usually white. Of course, paper had many purposes such as covering the interior of walls, for wrapping things in, and for its most well known use, to be written on to express one's thoughts. Books had been around for a long time, however, the making of books was just as laborious as the making of the paper from which it is composed. As the demand for paper rose during the last of the 18th century, various methods were tried to mechanize the process. The method that was to constitute a commercial success was that where the paper mixture was poured on a belt of wire mesh moving continuously so that water drained away through the cloth leaving the sheet on the surface. The history of the continuous paper-making machine goes back at least to 1799, when a Frenchman, Nicholas-Louis Robert, invented such a machine. Two brothers, Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, who managed London's leading firm of wholesale stationers, saw a model of Robert's machine and were most impressed. Thus, in England, in 1803, a papermaking machine was patented by the Fourdrinier brothers. "On the machine, liquid pulp flows onto a moving wire-mesh belt, and water drains and is sucked away, leaving a damp paper web. This is passed first through a series of steam-heated rollers, which dry it, and then between heavy calendar rollers, which give it a smooth finish."

Cheap paper led to an increase in the appearance of books and of newspapers. It was in October of 1802 that the Edinburgh Review, the "Great Gun" of the Enlightenment, came into being. The appearance of this Whig paper was due principally to four persons: Henry Brougham8 (1778-1868), Francis Jeffrey (1773-1850), Sydney Smith (1771-1845), and Francis Horner (1778-1817). The Edinburgh Review, as was asserted by its admirers, was founded with the notion that there should be fair and free discussion. It was to provide a field upon which matters would be "open to argument and wit; every question ... tried upon its own ostensible merits," and that there was to be "no foul play." William Hazlitt, who contributed to the Edinburgh Review, was of the view that this was a journal that had little of the cant of morality. "It keeps to its province, which is that of criticism, or to the discussion of debatable topics, and acquits itself in both with force and spirit."

Walter Bagehot9 was to observe:

"The Edinburgh Review stands upon the ground of opinion; it asserts the supremacy of intellect. The pre-eminence it claims is from an acknowledged superiority of talent and information, and literary attainment; and it does not build one tittle of its influence on ignorance, or prejudice, or authority, or personal malevolence. It takes up a question, and argues it pro and con with great knowledge and boldness and skill; it points out an absurdity, and runs it down fairly, and according to the evidence adduced...its conclusions may be wrong; there may be a bias in the mind of the writer; but he states the arguments and circumstances on both sides, from which a judgment is to be formed.'10
[Next: Chapter Nine -- "An Escapade At Grasmere -- 1803."]

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1 History of the English People, vol. X, pp. 194-5.

2 In a letter to his father, see Howe, p. 84. (The Life of William Hazlitt (1922) by P. P. Howe (Penguin, 1949). Herein, I often refer to this work simply as Howe.)

3 Table Talk, "On The Pleasure Of Painting."

4 Augustine Birrell, William Hazlitt (London: MacMillan, 1902), p. 63. (Herein, I refer to this work simply as Birrell.)

5 See, John Ashton's The Dawn of the XIXth Century in England (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 5th ed., 1906), p. 69. The peace between France and Great Britain lasted but a mere thirteen months. During those months, in seems, Britain went about the business thinking they had something more permanent reducing its armed forces: France on the other hand used the period to retrench.

6 Beamish Murdoch, History of Nova Scotia (Halifax: James Barnes, 1865), vol. 3, p. 226.

7 Hutchinson Encyclopaedia, http://www.tiscali.co.uk : June 7th, 2004.

8 Henry Brougham was born in Edinburgh. After attending the University of Edinburgh, he was, in 1800, admitted to the Scottish bar. In 1806, Brougham settled in London; in 1808, called to the English bar; in 1810, he entered parliament. He is associated with the anti-slave movement which was then taking hold. Brougham, in 1810, defended Leigh Hunt in a libel action following the publication of an article on military flogging. In 1821, he defended Queen Caroline, the wife of King George IV, on a divorce bill before parliament; the population was firmly behind the Queen, and as a result Brougham became a popular idol of the people. Brougham did much for education; he established the London University, the first Mechanics' Institute and of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. He eventually became a judge.

9 Walter Bagehot (1826-77) was a mathematician; a moral philosopher; a political economist; a trained, though not a practising, lawyer; a banker; a shipowner; and, from 1860 till his too early death in 1877, the editor and manager of The Economist. Primarily, however, Bagehot was a reader and critic of books.

10 See "The First Edinburgh Reviewers," in Bagehot's Literary Studies (Everyman's Lib., #520-1, 1932) vol. 1 pp. 1-36. (See "Mr. Jeffrey and Mr. Owen" & "Jeffrey's Resignation of the Edinburgh Review."


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Peter Landry