My First Acquaintance With Poets, By William Hazlitt Quotes

Charles Lamb

"Give Me Man As He Is Not To Be"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Hazlitt was a harsh and bitter man, badly maladjusted socially, and he quarreled with both enemies and friends; there were many of the former, few of the latter. It appears that he disliked nearly everyone and that the sentiment was repaid in kind. In spite of his social handicap he had a keen mind, was a brilliant essayist, and had a deep appreciation of beauty. He tried first to become a painter, studying in France, and this background made him one of the first aesthetic critics. He was a sensitive man; his reactions to the objects of his literary and dramatic criticism were usually sound and just. Although he later became somewhat estranged from the poets, he was at one time very close to them. His essay, "My First Acquaintance with Poets," reveals the deep respect, even reverence, with which he regarded those he admired. In it he describes his meeting with Coleridge and Wordsworth. The vivid picture he gives of these two great poets at the beginning of their fame is of considerable value in gaining an understanding of them. Hazlitt tells us that he walked ten miles through freezing mud in January, 1798, to hear Coleridge preach, and that he was transfixed by the power of the man's imagination and imagery; so impressed was he that he arranged a meeting and a visit at the poet's home. He recounts their conversations and his subsequent introduction to Wordsworth. It is evident that these days with Coleridge are unforgettable and that they have furnished an inspiration for the literary life Hazlitt is to undertake.

In a day or two after we arrived at Stowey, we set out, I on my return home, and he for Germany. It was a Sunday morning, and he was to preach that day for Dr. Toulmin of Taunton. I asked him if he had prepared anything for the occasion? He said he had not even thought of the text, but should as soon as we parted. I did not go to hear him,–this was a fault,–but we met in the evening at Bridgewater. The next day we had a long day's walk to Bristol, and sat down, I recollect, by a well-side on the road, to cool ourselves and satisfy our thirst, when Coleridge repeated to me some descriptive lines from his tragedy of Remorse; which I must say became his mouth and that occasion better than they, some years after, did Mr. Elliston's and the Drury-lane boards. . . .
I saw no more of him for a year or two, during which period he had been wandering in the Hartz Forest in Germany; and his return was cometary, meteorous, unlike his setting out. It was not till some time after that I knew his friends Lamb and Southey. The last always appears to me (as I first saw him) with a commonplace-book under his arm, and the first with a bon-mot in his mouth. It was at Godwin's that I met him with Holcroft and Coleridge, where they were disputing fiercely which was the best–Man as he was, or man as he is to be. "Give me," says Lamb, "man as he is not to be." This saying was the beginning of a friendship between us, which I believe still continues. . . .