Thursday, April 12, 2007


Post Mortem Hazlitti

Eric Thomson writes in an email:
Ardent taphophile that I am, I couldn't read Post Mortem without thinking of a small act of restorative justice performed four years ago in a Soho cemetery. No 'damnatio memoriae' for Hazlitt, thank goodness. The original engraved encomium actually mentions his Lucretian 'On the Fear of Death' essay (which, incidentally, I wonder if he would have written if he hadn't, like Arnold, lost two chidren in infancy).
The act of justice was the restoration in 2003 of a memorial inscription which was removed from Hazlitt's grave in 1870 as being too provocative:
Here rests
Born April 10, 1778, Died 18 September, 1830
He lived to see his deepest wishes gratified
as he has expressed them in his Essay,
'on the Fear of Death'.
'To see the downfall of the Bourbons.
And some prospect of good to mankind':
(Charles X
was driven from France 29th July, 1830).
'To leave some sterling work to the world':
(He lived to complete his 'Life of Napoleon').
His desire
That some friendly hand should consign
Him to the grave was accomplished to a
Limited but profound extent; on
These conditions he was ready to depart,
And to have inscribed on his tomb,
'Grateful and Contented'.
He was
The first (unanswered) Metaphysician of the age.
A despiser of the merely Rich And Great:
A lover of the People, poor or oppressed:
A hater of the Pride and Power of the Few,
As opposed to the happiness of the Many;
A man of true moral courage,
Who sacrificed Profit and present Fame
To Principle,
And a yearning for the good of Human Nature.
Who was a burning wound to an Aristocracy,
That could not answer him before men,
And who may confront him before their maker.
He lived and died
The unconquered champion
Truth, Liberty, and Humanity,
'Dubitantes opera legite'.
This stone
Is raised by one whose heart is
With him, in his grave.
I couldn't find the Latin tag Dubitantes opera legite in any ancient author. It means, "You who doubt, read his works."

Eric also writes:
I love the way Hazlitt probes, in 'our room is not unfrequently thought ...', the earliest Old English sense of 'rum' as unpartitioned space (which underlies [the Latin] cognate 'rus'); it seems to be the corporeal space that death obliges us to vacate, but he also manages to give a hint of room as coffin; our death doesn't leave much of a 'gap' > the wound doesn't gape but quickly heals, tomb doesn't gape but is quickly shovelled in.
There is also an eerily prescient quality to Hazlitt's sentence, "Nay, our room is not unfrequently thought better than our company." When Hazlitt died, his landlady shoved his body out of sight under a bed, so that she could show his room to prospective renters without upsetting them.

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