7 September 2018

Not Necessarily a Cheerful Man

Arthur Compton Rickett, The Vagabond in Literature (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1906), pp. 31-32:
Taken on the whole, the English literary Vagabond is a man of joy, not necessarily a cheerful man. There is a deeper quality about joy than about cheerfulness. Cheerfulness indeed is almost entirely a physical idiosyncrasy. It lies on the surface. A man, serious and silent, may be a joyful man; he can scarcely be a cheerful man. Moody as he was at times, sour-tempered and whimsical as he could be, yet there was a fine quality of joy about Hazlitt. It is this quality of joy that gives the sparkle and relish to his essays. He took the same joy in his books as in his walks, and he communicates this joy to the reader. He appears misanthropic at times, and rages violently at the world; but ’tis merely a passing gust of feeling, and when over, it is easy to see how superficial it was, so little is his general attitude affected by it.

The joyfulness of the Vagabond is no mere light-hearted, graceful spirit. It is of a hardy and virile nature — a quality not to be crushed by misfortune or sickness. Outwardly, neither the lives of Hazlitt nor De Quincey were what we would call happy. Both had to fight hard against adverse fates for many years; both had delicate constitutions, which entailed weary and protracted periods of feeble health.

But there was a fundamental serenity about them. At the end of a hard and fruitless struggle with death, Hazlitt murmured, “Well, I’ve had a happy life.” De Quincey at the close of his long and varied life showed the same tranquil stoicism that had carried him through his many difficulties.

Gustave Courbet, Le Vagabond (1845)