The Hazlitt Society


Hazlitt Day

Hazlitt day by Ian Mayes

Hazlitt Day, April 10, 2003, is fast approaching. On that day, William Hazlitt's restored grave in St Anne's churchyard, Soho, will be unveiled by Michael Foot - an event made possible by the generosity of so many of you. You have contributed £22,000 in a couple of years, almost all the money needed for the monument itself. The fund received a boost just before Christmas with an anonymous donation of £2,000.

Hazlitt's real monument is his work. Tom Paulin has called him "one of the greatest masters of English prose". Michael Foot has described Hazlitt's My First Acquaintance with Poets as "the greatest essay in the English language". Hazlitt has no shortage of admirers. Several hundred of you, in donating to the fund, have written to reveal a lifelong devotion to him.

Until now Hazlitt's physical monument, his grave in St Anne's churchyard in Wardour Street, Soho, close to where he died in 1830, has not reflected this esteem. When I first went to visit it, inspired to do so by AC Grayling's biography, I failed to find it. It lies, flat and self-effacing in the grass on the left side of the small churchyard.

It was this that led to a campaign to restore the grave - really the revival of a desire expressed long ago by, among others, Michael Foot and Tim Miller, both on the new committee for the restoration. We shall place back upon the grave the lost long inscription of well over a thousand characters that was once there.

This inscription is forthright: "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 ... He lived and died The unconquered Champion of Truth, Liberty, and Humanity ..."

There is a mystery about the identity of the author of this, "one whose heart is With him, in his grave". Grayling offers two suggestions. One, perhaps the more likely, is a lawyer, Charles Wells, whose devotion began on hearing Hazlitt lecture. The other is Hazlitt's first wife Sarah Stoddart, whom he divorced. Grayling points out that she wrote Hazlitt's death notice in the Times and that she remained friends with his family until the end of her life.

The work of cutting the inscription - in black Lakeland slate - is being undertaken by the Cardozo Kindersley Workshop in Cambridge. The cutting will be done by Lida Kindersley, Annika Larsson and Fergus Wessel, working in rotation. This beautiful slab will lie horizontally on a base of Portland stone on the outward face of which it will simply say "Hazlitt". On the rear it will say: "Restored by public subscription April 10 2003".

It will be the 225th anniversary of Hazlitt's birth, and the aim is to make the occasion a celebratory fete. It will take place between noon and 3pm on that day. Invitations will be sent out to all subscribers. The speakers will include Michael Foot, AC Grayling and Tom Paulin.

We shall announce the formation of the Hazlitt Society with a founding membership of those who have subscribed to the restoration. In addition it is hoped to announce a Hazlitt lecture, to encourage appreciation of his work and to keep his memory bright.

The Guardian, 30th December 2002.