The essayist William Hazlitt (1778-1830) was a frequent visitor to the village and area surrounding Winterslow. He wrote many of his greatest works here, including Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays, Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, The Spirit of the Age, Sketches and Essays, and Winterslow: Essays.
A friend of Charles and Mary Lamb, Samuel Coleridge, Leigh Hunt, Benjamin Haydon and John Keats, Hazlitt was a Dissenter who first sought a career as a painter. Making little headway, however, he turned to writing and soon came to be regarded as one of England’s greatest essayists, and is one of the country's most quotable authors. Here are just a few of his memorable apercus:
An honest man speaks the truth, though it may give offence; a vain man, in order that it may.
The seat of knowledge is in the head; of wisdom in the heart. We are sure to judge wrong, if we do not feel right.
Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own.
He will never have true friends who is afraid of making enemies.
Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is stuck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.
Even in the common affairs of life, in love, friendship, and marriage, how little security have we when we trust our happiness in the hands of others!
In 1808 he married Sarah Stoddart, the sister of John Stoddart, the Times journalist and later editor. They settled at one of her cottages in the village, living here from November 1808 until summer 1812 when he re-launched his career as a public lecturer, political journalist and critic of drama, poetry and art.
For Hazlitt this was a period of great activity and creativity, but Sarah was bedevilled with miscarriages and infant mortality. Only one son survived, and constant travelling and lack of a stable family life outside the area contributed to the couple drifting apart.
When Hazlitt returned to Winterslow in October 1817, he stayed at the Winterslow Hut, which later became the Pheasant Hotel is now a private house, where he would write extensively. He frequently returned to the village, and in these lines it can be seen how he drew inspiration from the landscape of the area:
‘My style ... flows like a river and overspreads its banks. I have not to seek for thoughts or hunt for images: they come out of themselves, I inhale them with the breeze, and the silent groves are vocal with a thousand recollections:
And visions, as poetic eyes avow
Hang on each leaf and cling to every bough…'
He returned in winter 1818-19 to write about Shakespeare, in summer 1819 to write about Elizabethan drama, and returned again in summer 1820, winter 1821, summer 1822 and winter 1827-28.
The village and surrounding area inspired him, and provided space for his library, it was the place where he could ‘get through the summer or winter months, without ever knowing what it is to feel ennui.’