Radical Solution: William Hazlitt's near derelict grave restored
The same bell which tolled at William Hazlitt 's burial 173 years ago sounded again yesterday at a fervent ceremony to honour and extend the fame of the radical English essayist.
The former Labour leader Michael Foot unveiled a restored, 216-word inscription, one of the longest in church history, on the restored grave in St Anne's churchyard in Soho, central London. It honoured a dissenter who is acknowledged as one the greatest masters of English prose. The grave, with its jubilant tribute to "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" had been allowed to fall into near-illegible neglect.
Hazlitt, whose tomb was destroyed in 1870 out of fears that his reputation would generate social conflict, died in a cheap Soho lodging house in September 1830. His funeral - in the nearby Wardour Street churchyard in 1830 - was sparsely attended. But yesterday more than 300 devotees of his work gathered at St Anne's churchyard on a crisp, chilly afternoon to see the new tombstone unveiled. Its £26,000 restoration cost was funded by private donations and gifts sent by some 700 Guardian readers, many of whom were at the ceremony.
The project began in the office of the Guardian readers' editor Ian Mayes. Its action committee included the poet laureate Andrew Motion and the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg. Tom Paulin, the Oxford academic and poet, gave an oration in Hazlitt 's honour. Another of the committee, Hazlitt 's biographer AC Grayling, recalled in another speech how someone told Hazlitt : "I admire Napoleon for putting down the rabble on the streets." Hazlitt answered: "I admire him for putting down a rabble of kings in Europe." The rector of St Anne's, the Rev Clare Herbert, told the gathering she hoped "this piece of living history will help renew among us those qualities of the human spirit which Hazlitt strove for...disinterested benevolence, the widest possible imagination and defiance of the lust for power".
The work of cutting the inscription - in black Lakeland slate - was undertaken by the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop in Cambridge. The cutting was done by Lida Kindersley, Annika Larsson and Fergus Wessel, working in rotation. The carved words were read at yesterday's ceremony by the actor Bill Nighy. The slab was placed horizontally on a base of Portland stone bearing the one word: "Hazlitt".
The Guardian, 11th April 2003.