Posts Tagged ‘William Hazlitt’

‘Liber Amoris or The New Pygmalion’ by William Hazlitt – More a Rant Than a Novel


Liber Amoris or The New Pygmalion’ by William Hazlitt (1823) – 112 pages

William Hazlitt was the great essayist and critic of the Romantic era in the early 19th century. He was an adept prose stylist and is regarded as the finest arts critic of his age.

However his one foray into fiction is a one-note rant of a novel dealing with his real-life obsession with Sarah Walker, the daughter of his landlord at one point. The story of William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker has been well documented, and there is little in the novel that has not been registered as fact.

H: “Tell me why you have deceived me, and singled me out as your victim?”

S: “I never have, Sir. I always said I could not love.”

H: “There is a difference between love and making me a laughing-stock.”

Hazlitt does not even disguise the first letters of their real names.

It all started when Hazlitt moved out of his family’s house, leaving behind his wife and son. He moved into this rooming house, and the landlord’s 19 year-old daughter Sarah would serve him breakfast. Hazlitt was 41 at the time. Soon this turned into something more than breakfast and Sarah would be “sitting and fondling a man sometimes for half a day together”.

…that you come up here, and stay as long as you like, that you sit on my knee and put your arms round my neck, and feed me with kisses, and let me take other liberties with you, and that for a year together; and you do all this not out of love, or liking, or regard, but go through your regular task like some young witch, without one natural feeling…”

Hazlitt went off the deep end over Sarah Walker.

Am I mad or a fool?” The correct answer would be “Yes”.

Hazlitt began making all these plans about marrying Sarah. Then Hazlitt finds out that Sarah is doing the same fooling around with one of the other guys who is staying at the rooming house. This unfortunate circumstance does not change Hazlitt’s intention to marry Sarah.

I gave way to all the fury of disappointed hope and jealous passion.”

‘Liber Amoris’ is a chronicle of Hazlitt’s “self-tormenting folly”. Most of the novel is in epistolary form consisting of letters to his friend regarding the Sarah Walker episode. At one point he actually has his friend rent a room at the same rooming house and try to seduce Sarah.

There is nothing in the world that can afford me a drop of comfort – this I feel more and more. Everything is to me a mockery of pleasure, like her love. The breeze does not cool me: the blue sky does not cheer me.”

I suppose William Hazlitt should get points for being honest, for letting it all hang out. However ‘Liber Amoris’ is a sad obsessive spectacle of “a half-disordered mind”.

S: “I have always told you I have no affection for you.”

H: “She was my life – it is gone from me, and I have gone spectral.”


Grade:    C-

Get To Know William Hazlitt

Although little remembered today, William Hazlitt is considered one of the finest arts critics and essayists in the history of the English language. In his published writings, he reviewed drama, literature, and art. He lived from 1778 to 1830 and was friends with such literary figures as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Stendhal. All of the quotes which I use in this article are from William Hazlitt.

Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own.”

If I have not read a book before, it is, for all intents and purposes, new to me whether it was printed yesterday or three hundred years ago.”

Sometimes the talent of recognizing genius in other writers is as important as being a genius oneself.  Hazlitt is probably the most reliable critic of William Shakespeare ever.

Among Hazlitt’s works are ‘Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays’, ‘A View of the English Stage’, ‘On the English Poets’, and ‘On the English Comic Writers’. Two of his most famous books of essays are ‘Table Talk’ and ‘The Plain Speaker’.

Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.”

There was a major scandal in the life of William Hazlitt. In 1819 Hazlitt was unable to pay the rent for his family, so his wife left him taking their son. On his own at age 42, Hazlitt rented a couple of rooms in London from a tailor named Micaiah Walker. Walker’s 19 year old daughter Sarah would serve Hazlitt his breakfasts, and soon Hazlitt became infatuated with her. Then Hazlitt’s infatuation turned into an obsession. Hazlitt, wanting to marry Sarah, asked his wife for a divorce which was no easy matter at that time, but his wife finally agreed to a Scottish divorce which would allow him to remarry.

Meanwhile another lodger named Tomkins came along, and Sarah also became romantically involved with him. When Hazlitt found out, he became intensely jealous and suspicious of Sarah. Hazlitt alternated between passion, rage and despair.

Love turns, with little indulgence, to indifference or disgust: hatred alone is immortal.”

In order to determine Sarah’s real character, Hazlitt persuaded an acquaintance to take lodgings in the Walkers’ building and attempt to seduce Sarah. The seduction appeared to be succeeding although ultimately did not.

Hazlitt told his tale of romantic woe to his friends and anyone else who would listen. He even wrote a novella, ‘Liber Amoris’, which was a thinly disguised fictional account of his personal romantic woes. This novella was panned more for moral reasons than on aesthetic grounds. I plan to read and review it here soon.

Let me end with a few additional quotes from William Hazlitt:

Any one may mouth out a passage with theatrical cadence or get upon stilts to tell his thoughts. But to write or speak with propriety and simplicity is a more difficult task.”

We are never so much disposed to quarrel with others as when we are dissatisfied with ourselves.”

The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves.”

He will never have true friends who is afraid of making enemies.”

Prejudice is the child of ignorance.”

The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.”

Look up, laugh loud, talk big, keep the color in your cheek and the fire in your eye, adorn your person, maintain your health, your beauty, and your animal spirits.”


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