A Blupete Biography Page

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


Chapter Eleven:-
"Hazlitt Marries -- 1808."

John and Sarah Stoddart were the only children of a retired lieutenant in the navy. The family's principal residence was at Salisbury. They had another residence, described as but a small property, at Winterslow, a little village about six miles from Salisbury. John turned to the law and became a student at Lincoln's Inn. As one of Hazlitt's biographers wrote: John Stoddart (he was known to his friends as the "doctor") was "of strong revolution principles and a hater of William Pitt."1 John Stoddart was apparently knighted at some point, likely after he served as the top crown lawyer at Malta, at the time, an important British possession in the Mediterranean. He was to be at Malta from 1803 through to 1807.2 We note parenthetically that it was in March (the 27th to be exact) of 1804 that Coleridge sailed to Malta, where he met John Stoddart, together with his sister who was then staying with her brother.

It will be remembered that Hazlitt had moved from his family at Wem to London in 1799 there to live with his older brother, John. It was in 1799 when the two (William Hazlitt and John Stoddart) had first met, likely through their common friend Charles Lamb.3 Hazlitt was then a wide-eyed youth of twenty-one and Stoddart five years his senior. I am not sure when Hazlitt met John's sister, Sarah; but presumably it was not long after the boys first met that Hazlitt knew, at least, of Sarah's existence.

As we know, Sarah Stoddart was in 1806 with her brother at Malta. Their father had died and their mother, by then, was mad and probably institutionalized. As to when she went over to join her brother, or exactly what the circumstances were, are matters at which we are forced to guess. What we know, is that Sarah returned from Malta in 1806 to take up her residence at the Stoddart family cottage at Winterslow. While at Winterslow, in 1806, Mary Lamb (Charles' sister) was corresponding with her friend at Winterslow, Sarah Stoddart who at that time was considering marriage to a Mr. Dowling from Salisbury. What ever happened to the match up between Sarah Stoddart and the "Mr. Dowling from Salisbury" -- I have no idea. What we see is that by 1807 Hazlitt was corresponding with Sarah Stoddart and things seemed to be serious, as might be demonstrated by one of Mary Lamb's letters to Miss Stoddart: "Determine as wisely as you can in regard to Hazlitt, and, if your determination is to have him, Heaven send you many happy years together. ... I should like to see Hazlitt and you come together, if (as Charles observes) it were only for joke sake."4 With the coming of the spring of 1808, Hazlitt was paying visits at Winterslow and being very much part of Sarah's life; she became pregnant by Hazlitt in April of that year.5 By January 15th, 1809, a child was born to the couple; and the marriage happened in between. On May 1st of 1808, it was a Sunday, at St. Andrew's Church, Holborn, William Hazlitt and Sarah Stoddart were married.6 Mary and Charles Lamb were in attendance, so too in attendance were the bride's brother and his wife, Dr and Mrs Stoddart.

After the wedding, the Hazlitts moved to Sarah's cottage at Winterslow which was to become a favourite retreat for Hazlitt. For the first three years of their marriage the couple lived at Winterslow7, thereafter, it seems, at London. Six years later Hazlitt returned to Winterslow to lead a bachelor's existence. On August 26th, 1818, we find him writing from Winterslow Hut. In these later years he did not occupy his wife's cottage, it having been rented by her brother, but rather he stayed at Winterslow Hut, an ancient inn.8

On July 5th, 1809, the Hazlitts' first child, but six months old, died.

"I have never seen death but once, and that was in an infant. It is years ago. The look was calm and placid, and the face was fair and firm. It was as if a waxen image had been laid out in the coffin, and strewed with innocent flowers. It was not like death, but more like an image of life! No breath moved the lips, no pulse stirred, no sight or sound would enter those eyes or ears more. While I looked at it, I saw no pain was there; it seemed to smile at the short pang of life which was over: but I could not bear the coffin-lid to be closed -- it seemed to stifle me; and still as the nettle wave in a corner over his little grave, the welcome breeze helps to refresh me, and ease the tightness at my breast!" ["On Fear of Death (1822)."]
I say, but as an aside, back in these times, great numbers of children died, many but a few years or months old. A number of decades were yet to pass, in England, before there was to be a significant change in the mortality rate. Though, by 1800, things were better. Diseases such as smallpox and dysentery were less virulent. This was due to either improved medical practices; or, more likely, due to the increased availability of food and good housing. The improved death rate, however, was due mainly to the fact that infants stood a much better chance of surviving to adulthood. From the study of the numbers drawn from the records of one British community, it was shown that in the mid 18th century, one out of every 15 infants died shortly after birth, while, by 1800, it was one out of every 118.9

Their grief over the death of their first born, did not last too long. The Hazlitts received visitors from London. We see where during October, 1809: Charles Lamb, Mary Lamb and others of their circle visited the Hazlitts at Winterslow. "Charles took Mary to visit the Hazlitts at Winterslow, where she recovered health, and they had long walks to Wilton, Salisbury and Stonehenge."10 The additional guests included Martin Burney and Colonel Phillips11; the guests paid for their board. William Hazlitt was, at this time, writing his Memoir of Holcroft.12

On September 26th, 1811, a son was born to William and Sarah Hazlitt at Winterslow. The boy was named after his father, William. Lamb wrote Hazlitt, "... congratulations to Sarah ... on this happy occasion of a man child being born."13 Hazlitt was likely at this point happy with his little family; but he had no means by which to support them. He determined to move to London. His move, which he apparently made by himself occurred before the year was out. Hazlitt at this point was in no position to sustain expenses necessarily incurred to accommodate himself in London. He had no money, what little he had to keep himself going in London no doubt in part came from Sarah. William had plans and Sarah as a dutiful wife believed in her husband's ability to carry them out. Having no money in Winterslow would not be as bad as having no money in London; but it was only in London where Hazlitt might be able to give effect to his plans. He planned to make money from giving lectures which could only be attended at profitable levels in London.14 The setting up of such lectures would take time, and time was not on Hazlitt's side. I suppose he hoped that he might make some money from selling articles to one or more of the London papers. His prospects, as an unknown writer, to get his work published, were poor; well, maybe not so much, as Sarah's brother, John, just then, was the editor of the Morning Chronicle.15 Hazlitt became a reporter for the Morning Chronicle, which was the leading Whig organ and the natural vis-a-vis of The Times. In the result Hazlitt's circumstances changed for the better. Sarah and their son come up from Winterslow. The family moved into a house at 19 York Street, Westminister, "then a comfortable red-brick house with a small garden in front, and one of the numerous London residences of John Milton. We learn from Birrel16, that the house in Hazlitt's time, was the property of Jeremy Bentham, who lived in a mansion with a large garden just behind. Peter Geo. Patmore, -- a fellow writer and a friend of Keats -- had reason to visit Hazlitt in 1818 and left behind a description of Hazlitt's home at on York Street:

"On knocking at the door, it was, after a long interval, opened by a sufficiently "neat-handed" domestic. The outer door led immediately from the street (down a step) into an empty apartment, indicating an uninhibited house, and I supposed I had mistaken the number; but, on asking for the object of my search, I was shown to a door which opened (a step from the ground) on to a ladder-like staircase, bare like the rest, which led to a dark bare landing-place, and thence to a large square wainscotted apartment. The great curtainless windows of this room looked upon some dingy trees; the whole of the wall, over and about the chimney-piece, was entirely covered, up to the ceiling, by names written in pencil, of all sizes and characters, and in all directions - commemorative of visits of curiosity to "the house of Pindarus". There was, near to the empty fire-place, a table with breakfast things upon it (though it was two o'clock in the afternoon); three chairs and a sofa were standing about the room, and one unbound book lay on the mantelpiece. At the table sat Hazlitt, and on the sofa a lady, whom I found to be his wife."17
What can we say of Sarah Stoddart? It does not seem that she was wild about William and was quite undecided about his marriage proposal until she found herself pregnant by him. In a preliminary note in my volume of the The Round Table,18 we read: "The Essayist married a Miss Stoddart, a well-read, elegant, and well-educated lady, one of the best letter writers of her time. With any one but Hazlitt she might have been happy; but authors of a nervous and sensitive nature require peculiar treatment, which Hazlitt did not get." In 1815, the third child, John was born; the child died the following year. (Thus only one of the three children born to the couple survived into adulthood, William.) It was in July of 1819 that Hazlitt gave up joint house keeping with his wife at York Street. He left Sarah and his eight year old son and returned to a place that always seem to give him some measure of contentment, Winterslow. He stayed at Winterslow through until September, after which Hazlitt moved back to London where he rented rooms at the Southhampton Buildings. The following year, during August of 1820, Hazlitt became infatuated with a Miss Walker. Miss Walker was a "servant girl," -- well, not quite, rather, "a tailor's daughter whose mother kept a lodging-house at which Hazlitt was staying." Things between Hazlitt and Walker went absolutely nowhere; she was a coquette. In 1823, Hazlitt wrote of his one sided involvement with Miss Walker, in Liber Amoris. In 1822, by mutual agreement, the marriage between William and Sarah Hazlitt was brought to an end by an order of a Scottish Court. Hazlitt's biographer, Augustine Birrell was to write: "Neither party had bargained for happiness. It was not a case of love flying out of the window, for the love was never there. Mrs. Hazlitt was unromantic, undomestic, untidy, and selfish, and her husband was a sentimentalist on paper, irregular in habits, uncertain in temper, and at least as selfish as his spouse. The result was uncomfortable. The couple had neither money, manners, nor love to keep them together."19
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[Next: Chapter Twelve -- "Napoleon and Games of Whist -- 1806-10."]
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Notes:

1 Augustine Birrell, William Hazlitt (London: MacMillan, 1902) p. 56. Herein I refer to this work simply as Birrell.

2 Molly LeFbure, A Bondage of Opium (New York: Stein & Day, 1974) fn at p. 402.

3 Birrell, p. 56.

4 Howe, p. 121. [The Life of William Hazlitt (1922) by P. P. Howe (Penguin, 1949).]

5 Charles Lamb, by letter dated 18th February, 1808, to the Rev. Hazlitt, advised that his son has left a forwarding address, Winterslow, "where the lady lives." He was quick to advise that William shall be back "in town in a fortnight." It was all due to "Love, who does so many worse mischiefs every day." The words are from a letter to Coleridge (See Howe, p. 129.) In April of 1808, I might say incidently, on a visit to the Lambs at London, Wordsworth met, "unluckily," William Hazlitt and Sarah Stoddart.

6 It is the church, incidently where the parents of Charles and Mary Lamb were buried. We have pictures: No. 1 and No. 2.

7 We have pictures: No. 1 and No. 2.

8 Birrell locates Winterslow Hut on the "Great Western Road," close by the woods of Tudorsleigh and Clarendon. Howe referred to it as the "Pheasant Winterslow Hut," a mile out of the village on the "London Road." We have pictures: No. 1 and No. 2.

9 See analysis given by T. S. Ashton, in his work, An Economic History of England: The 18th Century (London: Methuen, 1955) at p. 9.

10 Cambridge History, as was cited by another author.

11 We shall come to a short discussion of these men in the next chapter.

12 That spring, on March 23rd, 1809, Thomas Holcroft, at age 64, had died. It will be remembered that Thomas Holcroft was put on trial in 1794, together with eleven others ("The twelve Reformers") on the charge of high treason; they were acquitted amid excitement. Hazlitt, no doubt in great admiration of the man, wrote one of his first works, Memoir of Holcroft. The work did not appear until 1816. Mary Lamb christened it The Life Everlasting. If you read of the Lambs you will soon come to realize that Mary Lamb suffered from a mental illness that came on at certain times; so bad, that her brother would commit her until she was ready for society again. Mary Lamb, when not ill, seemed to have been an intelligent and entertaining companion.

13 Fitzgerald's Lamb, Vol. II, p. 266. Birrell refers to the boy as "the future Registrar in Bankruptcy."

14 On October 29th, 181, Hazlitt wrote from Winterslow to Crabb Robinson informing him of certain lectures that he was planning to give in London.

15 Howe, p. 171.

16 P. 93.

17 From Patmore's writings, as quoted by Howe, p. 257-8.

18 London: Sampson Low, Son, & Marston, 1869.

19 Birrell, p. 109.

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Peter Landry