William Hazlitt married his first wife, Sarah Stoddart, on May 1, 1808, at St. Andrew’s Church, Holburn. Sarah was already pregnant with their son. In attendance were Hazlitt’s friends Charles and Mary Lamb, who had helped arrange the marriage. In Characters and Their Landscapes, Ronald Blythe writes:
“Lamb, for whom Hazlitt’s sex life was the only thing about his friend he could never take seriously, laughed so much during the wedding that he was nearly turned out of church.”
Seven years later, Lamb, a lifelong bachelor, wrote in a letter to Robert Southey:
“…I am going to stand godfather; I don’t like the business; I cannot muster up decorum for these occasions; I shall certainly disgrace the font. I was at Hazlitt’s marriage, and had like to have been turned out several times during the ceremony. Anything awful makes me laugh. I misbehaved once at a funeral.”
Hazlitt is the superior writer, I suppose, though I cast a sentimental vote for Lamb, a lovable man and essayist. Speaking of Hazlitt’s friends, including Coleridge and Wordsworth, Blythe writes:
“Among these was Charles Lamb, Hazlitt’s senior by only three and a half years, but in whose (much tried) relationship there was a stable, protective element suggesting a much older man. The great difference, in fact, between Lamb and Hazlitt was that the former seemed to have received the gift of perpetual early middle-age and the latter, with his moodiness, his iconoclasm, his physical energy, his hero-worship, his passionate love and his general recklessness, appeared to have been cursed with everlasting youth. To outgrow innocence – one’s initial reflexes to important matters – was for Hazlitt a sin.”
Hazlitt was brilliant and his prose, at its best, is almost peerless, but he compromised his gifts with politics and emotional immaturity, and spent his final years writing a four-volume life of Napoleon. Better a fatherly man without children who could write “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” and misbehave at funerals.