Biography of William Hazlitt

William Hazlitt

William Hazlitt was a nineteenth century writer famed for his political works.

When and Where was he Born?

12th April 1778, Maidstone, Kent, England.

Family Background:

William Hazlitt was the son of an Irish Unitarian Preacher and because his father had supported the American Revolution he was forced to take his family back to Ireland to escape persecution.

Education:

New Unitarian College, Hackney, London.

Timeline of William Hazlitt:

1787: The Hazlitt family return to England and settle in Wem, Shropshire.

1791: Still a radical his father is one of those protesting at the persecution of Joseph Priestley in Birmingham.

1795: William Hazlitt is sent to be trained at the New Unitarian College in Hackney, London which had been founded by Priestley.

1796: He meets the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, then training to become a Unitarian Minister in Shrewsbury, who encourages him to write “The Principles of Human Action”.

Unitarian Church Shrewsbury
The Unitarian Church, Shrewsbury where Coleridge gave a lecture  and toyed with the idea of joining the church
. Also visited by Charles Darwin and William Hazlitt (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1797: Losing his desire to become a radical Unitarian William Hazlitt leaves the college. Whilst in London he meets a number of influential radicals including Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron. Next he had desires at being a portrait painter but with no commissions and little success he decides on becoming a writer.

1806: Hazlitt publishes his first major work “Free Thoughts on Public Affairs” which was an attack on William Pitt and his Government, especially in foreign policy. He opposes the war with France and the consequent heavy taxation. He next writes a succession of pamphlets about political corruption and the need to change the system of voting. He also begins to write for “The Times” newspaper as his friend Thomas Barnes is the parliamentary reporter and then became the Editor.

1807: He publishes “Reply to Malthus“.

1808: He marries Sarah Stoddart at St. Andrew’s Church, Holborn, London. She was the sister of the Editor of “The Times” newspaper.

1813: He is taken on as the parliamentary reporter for “The Morning Chronicle” a newspaper with Whig leanings, however he criticised both the Tories and the Whigs with equal enthusiasm. He also writse scathing articles for “The Examiner”, the Radical journal edited by Leigh Hunt. Never rich he has to write for many other journals such as the “Edinburgh Review” “The Yellow Dwarf” and the “London Magazine” to try and make ends meet. Besides politics he writes on art, drama and literature.

1817: He writes the book “Characters of Shakespeare”.

1818: He publishes “Lectures on the English Poets”.

1819: Hazlitt writes “Political Essays with Sketches of Public Characters” and “The Spirit of the Age”.

1822: He gets divorced from his wife in Edinburgh due to an affair with his maid Sarah Walker.

1824: He marries Isabella Bridgewater at Coldstream, Scotland on 17th July as his divorce was not legally recognised in England but the relationship only lasted for one year.

1826: He writes “Contemporary Portraits”.

1828: William Hazlitt starts on his “Life of Napoleon Bonaparte” which he completes in 1830. His last years are dogged by ill health.

When and Where did he Die?

18th September 1830, Soho, London, England in poverty, probably due to stomach cancer.

Age at Death:

52.

Written Works:

1805: “An Essay on the Principles of Human Action.”
1806: “Free Thoughts on Public Affairs.”
1817: “Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays.”
1818: “Lectures on the English Poets.” “A Review of the English Stage.”
1819: “Lectures on the English Comic Writers.” “Political Essays, with Sketches of Public Characters.”
1821: “Lectures on Elizabethan Drama.” “Table Talk.”
1823: “Liber Amoris.”
1824: “Sketches of the Principal Picture Galleries of England.”
1825: “The Spirit of the Age.”
1826: “Journey through France and Italy.” “The Plain Speaker.”
1828: “The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte.”
(1836): “Literary Remains with Memoir by his Son.”

Marriages:

  1. 1st May 1808 to Sarah Stoddart at St. Andrew’s Church, Holborn, London. She was the sister of the Editor of “The Times” newspaper. (1822. Divorced in Edinburgh due to an affair with his maid Sarah Walker).
  2. 17th July 1824 to Isabella Bridgewater at Coldstream, Scotland as the divorce was not legally recognised in England but the relationship only lasted for one year.

Site of Grave:

St. Anne’s Churchyard, Dean Street, Soho, London. England.

Places of Interest:

CUMBRIA:

Visits S.T. Coleridge and Robert Southey at Greta Hall, Keswick.

DEVON:

Lynton, The Valley of Rocks. Walked there with S.T. Coleridge.

Valley of the rocks
Valley of Rocks above Lynton, North Devon. Coleridge and Wordsworth were to walk here many times with other notables such as Southey, Davy and Hazlitt. Shelley also found it fascinating. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

SHROPSHIRE:

Shrewsbury Unitarian Church.

SOMERSET:

Dunster. Walked there with S.T. Coleridge.