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West End Extra - The XTRA DIARY
Published: 25 September 2009
Hazlitt self-portrait
Hazlitt self-portrait
Such a monstrous attack on Hazlitt

THAT old devil of a writer and historian, Paul Johnson, who is 82, slyly cocked his bushy eyebrows and with a faint smile made a remark about the great essayist William Hazlitt that he knew would shock his leftish and liberal audience.
He was loving the moment.
Ending his talk on Hazlitt at the Conway Hall, Bloomsbury, on Saturday, he wondered if he had lived in the tumultuous 1920s and 1930s he would have “fallen into sin”, suggesting presumably he may have become an admirer of Stalin and hard-left ­politics.
Johnson, once editor of the New Statesman, is now a columnist for the Tory weekly, the Spectator. In his eyes Hazlitt’s weakness was to worship one of the biggest “monsters” in history – Napoleon.
Hazlitt, said Johnson, who lives in Westbourne Grove, believed “ideas mattered more than people”, a pure intellectual.
Those who espoused the wrong ideas were ­“disposable”. The belief that principles were more important than individuals led to the Terror in the French Revolution, and the ­concentration camps and gulags of today.
To many in the 250-strong audience Hazlitt would be admired as a radical thinker and libertarian, a thorn in the side of the monarchy and the Establishment in the early part of the 19th century.
Knowing Johnson – an iconoclast who churlishly holds unrestrained right-wing views – the audience would have come expecting a bit of a knockabout.
And they weren’t ­disappointed.
Johnson’s talk was headed: Hazlitt, Sarah and Napoleon: A case of Sexual and Political Obsession.
But Johnson did recognise Hazlitt as one of our three greatest essayists with Francis Bacon and Charles Lamb – our first modern theatre critic, sports writer and art critic.
Apart from worshipping Napoleon, he had another fault. He pursued his sexual passions, married twice and, while living in Soho, was caught up in an affair with Sarah Walker on a “truly heroic scale” that has been turned into a play, a TV drama and three novels!
And why, asked Johnson who had been brought up at the Jesuit school, Stonyhurst, and is a Roman Catholic?
He wagged his fingers at the audience and thundered the answer.
Because Hazlitt had abandoned the Ten Commandments and believed he had the “right to give his strong sexual urges their liberty”.
But he obviously admired this “strange, tortured man, both noble and ignoble... a
self-destructive martyr”.
Johnson had been delivering the annual lecture organised by the William Hazlitt Society on the birthday of
Haz­litt, who lived from 1778 to 1830 mainly in Soho.
Several bunches of flowers had been laid on his gravestone in the grounds of St Anne’s Church in Soho over the weekend in honour of the writer whose admirers include Michael Foot, president of the society, cartoonist Martin Rowson and poet Tom Paulin.
Among those listed as editorial members of the society’s annual review – published this week – are Sir Geoffrey Bindman, philosopher AC Grayling and biographer Duncan Wu.
And inquiries show Hazlitt is almost an extinct breed at schools.
“I’d be quite surprised if anyone here does teach him,” confessed Jack Williams, an English teacher at City of London Boys.
Diary drew a blank at St Paul’s School and doubts at Westminster School. Only Highgate School proved the exception. “He’s quite popular with the teachers,” said Gordon Catherwood, head of English. “We teach Hazlitt to Year 10s
(14 to 15-year-olds) – there's not many schools that can say that.” They’re continuing the tradition Johnson was used to.
After his talk, Johnson told Diary he had started to read Hazlitt at age 14. Then came a big rascally smile from a man who obviously loved the great man, warts and all!

Thomas’s clean break after 29 years

WHEN Thomas McGarvey pulled on his boiler suit and boots 29 years ago, the streets of Westminster were a lot dirtier, he told Diary.
But then he would say that. Mr McGarvey’s retiring from his epic stint at Farm Street depot in Mayfair, where he has arrived every morning at the crack of dawn to sweep the streets for Westminster City Council.
And this week his colleagues at the depot, which is now managed by Veolia Environmental Services, paid tribute to the 67-year-old.
His manager Tony Van Bruggen said: “I would like to thank Thomas for everything he has done for Westminster over the years.
“To exemplify his dedication, during the heavy snowfall across London earlier this year, Thomas walked all the way into work and not only cleared the snow and gritted the whole of his beat, but also others in the surrounding area.

Blowing the trumpet for a most famous street

REGENT Street will be closed to traffic on Sunday for its biggest festival to date.
Undisputed highlight will be north London’s finest – Madness – who are headlining the party to coincide with 180 years of shopping there.
As well as music there will be London Fashion Week-inspired shows, a skyscraping ferris wheel and a raft of food stalls to satisfy even the most fastidious of palates. Kids won’t be left out either… there will be
stilt-walkers and street performers.
And in its10th year, two birthday cakes made from thousands of individual cupcakes, will be served up to hungry festival goers. The event runs from noon to 8pm.
See www.regentstreetonline.com for full programme details.
n Pictured: The Hertfordshire Show Band performing at the 2008 festival
“He was one of the staff that worked extra long hours to ensure that the area was made as safe as possible.”
Now that he’s done with London, Thomas plans to move back up to his native Scotland to spend more time with his family.
And this week he told Diary he was “overwhelmed” with the praise.

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THE 'rascal' Paul Johnson has the COMMENTARY (On Page 17) Paul Johnson Never changing – Hazlitt, Sarah and Napoleon: A case of sexual and political obsession in this week's The Times Literary Supplement.
HSM Arjun


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