The most trifling objects, retraced with the eye of memory, assume the vividness, the delicacy, and importance of insects seen through a magnifying glass. There is no end of the brilliancy or the variety. The habitual feeling of the love of life may be compared to 'one entire and perfect chrysolite,' which, if analysed, breaks into a thousand shining fragments. "The LetterBell" (1)
When in Arthur Conan Doyle's story, "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons," identical plaster busts that "are not worth more than a few shillings" each are stolen, one after another, and immediately broken into pieces, several theories are offered to explain this "undoubtedly queer," "very novel," "very strange business" (CSH, 583; 584; 592). Inspector Lestrade initially surmises that a passionate if belated hatred of the deposed emperor is the motivation for the breaking of the busts. Dr. Watson concurs, diagnosing "monomania" to account for the actions of the "promiscuous iconoclast": "A man who had read deeply about Napoleon, or who had possibly received some hereditary family injury through the great war, might conceivably form such an idle fixe and under its influence be capable of any fantastic outrage" (584). Mr. Hudson, the picture dealer from whose shop counter the first bust had been taken and shattered, alternatively declares it "a Nihilist plot": "No one but an anarchist would go about breaking statues. Red republicans--that's what I call 'era" (588). And after a man's throat is cut in the course of another robbery, the police also conclude that the case is primarily political, involving the Italian Mafia, "a secret political society, enforcing its decrees by murder," and thus that the repeated theft and destruction of the busts is merely a marginal aspect of the case. "The busts!" Lestrade exclaims to Holmes, "You never can get those busts out of your head. After all, that is nothing; petty larceny, six months at most" (591).
Although the police are mistaken that the broken statues are "nothing," that they have no significance in what Sherlock Holmes calls "the entire meaning of this business" (593), it does turn out that the case has little if anything to do with the personal passions Napoleon inspired, whether in "the enthusiastic admirer" (583) who fills his house with "books, pictures, and relics" or in the "image-breaker" (585) whose "Napoleonic delusions" (587) compel him repeatedly to destroy them. Neither does the case hinge on the revolutionary violence or political plotting associated with Napoleon's rise to imperial power. That the broken statues are replicas of a "famous head of Napoleon by the French sculptor, Devine," in other words, turns out to be of less consequence to the explanation of the case than that they are replicas tout court, cheap reproductions cast in plaster, "taken in two moulds from each side of the face...joined together" and "put on a table in the passage to dry" at the sculpture works of Gelder & Co., "a well-known house in the trade" that employs fifty workers in Church Street, Stepney, on the seedy outskirts of London (589). For Holmes, the busts signify not in terms of their representational or memorial function, nor for the aesthetic claims they make as works of art, but rather in terms of their materiality and the specific conditions of both their (mass) production and their (serial) destruction (that they are smashed near a source of light, for example). While Scotland Yard investigates the murder, intent on discovering the identity of the dead man in order to find the killer and thus close the case, Holmes traces the provenance of the busts, more interested in the history of these objects as objects than in the people who desire or destroy them. The busts may be trifling objects, kitsch, hundreds assembled by immigrant workers in a crowded factory and sold for a few shillings each, but rather than dismiss them, as Lestrade does, as "nothing," Holmes understands that it is as such, hollow as they indeed are, that they can accrue or acquire what amounts to substantial value, what we might call depth or interiority or identity.
"The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" was published in The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1903), the volume that brings the detective back from the death he had suffered in the abyss of the Reichenbach Fall at the end of the previous collection of stories. Holmes reappears in London in the opening narrative of The Return of Sherlock Holmes, not exactly as a ghost, but with a wax bust of himself--"a perfect reproduction of Holmes" (CSH 489)--which he sets up at the window of 221B Baker Street to trick the last of Professor Moriarty's henchmen into trying to kill him/it. So life-like that even Watson is fooled, this "effigy" (494) suggests the power of the copy to take the place of the original, representation as surrogate to the real. What is crucial about the busts in "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons," however, is that they can convey meanings distinct from their relation to a specific referent: they have their own histories, their own "social lives," so that their potential "meanings are inscribed in their forms, their uses, their trajectories" (Appadurai 5). Quite literally in this narrative, the importance of the busts inheres in their embodiment as objects, in the two-part mold which produces a hollow statue, for instance, or the large, crowded workroom where something might be slipped inside a drying cast without anyone noticing, or the properties of plaster, not least of which is that it is easily broken. That in the end all the busts are broken, that Holmes himself smashes the sixth one with his hunting-crop and thereby reveals the pearl embedded in a shard of plaster and the solution to the case, suggests that the broken image--the image as broken--is a factor of consequence in the determination of (entire, if not also perfect) meaning. Detached from singularity of reference or intention or desire, unfixed from the idea of the individual personality (whether emperor, artist, or monomaniac), broken images can signify in various, not to mention "queer," "novel," or "very strange," ways.
But the reader will by now have begun to wonder why we have spent so long tracking Conan Doyle's detective here, in an essay that is supposed to be about William Hazlitt. Or, perhaps, the reader of this special issue, familiar with the sudden shifts and digressions of Hazlitt's familiar style, will already have anticipated in this opening a way to approach the "little image" of Napoleon that H. breaks in Part III of Liber Amoris; Or, The New Pygmalion. Holmes may offer a strange way back to Hazlitt and the text that has repeatedly been described as "the anomaly of Hazlitt's oeuvre"( Bromwich, "Shoe"), but it is partly such strangeness and the dynamics of replication and return it entails that we will want to examine here by looking more closely at what and how the broken bust of Napoleon signifies in Hazlitt's book of love. That Coleridge's characterization of his former friend as "brow-hanging, shoe-contemplative, strange" continues to ramify in recent accounts of Hazlitt, as it does, for example, in David Bromwich's review of Tom Paulin's The Day-Star of Liberty, is of interest here, for this essay ponders the question of how a person or his text can remain so strange, in need at the very least of explanation, if not also of spirited defense, (2) even as he exposes so much of himself in his writing--"so thin is the veil of the essay as Hazlitt wore it," Virginia Woolf observed, "his very look comes before us ... as we read on, we become familiar with the whole gamut of his grudges and his grievances" (Woolf 173). The revealing twists and turns of his familiar style lead us to feel that we know him as a person no matter the subject (or the object) under consideration, whether he writes on great or little things, on personal identity or a boxing match, the fear of death or the letter bell. "Different" from other essayists, who, according to Woolf, "never tell us what they wish to keep hidden," Hazlitt betrays his own secrets, appearing as "himself' in those passages of personal reverie and revelation ("known to us all") which "oddly often break into the context," sometimes "violently," so that the essays, as Woolf puts it, "are not essays, it seems, independent and self-sufficient, but fragments broken off from some larger book" (Woolf 177; 179; 180).
Reading Hazlitt with Holmesian attention to the materiality of the aesthetic image, what we might call its artifactual presence, at once its "vividness" and "delicacy" as an object, is not so much to argue either for a rationalist or a materialist Hazlitt as it is to begin to recognize the operations of the uncanny in the workings of his prose. The uncanny is, in Freud's analysis, "something which ought to have remained hidden but has come to light"; or, to rephrase this process of revelation, something which ought to have remained entire but has been broken, perhaps into a thousand shining fragments, one of which may contain a contraband pearl. Moreover, although Freud quite adamantly dismisses the relevance to the uncanny of the question "whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or ... a lifeless object might not be in fact animate" (as in "waxwork figures, ingeniously constructed dolls and automata"), and so also insists that, "we should hardly call it uncanny when Pygmalion's beautiful statue comes to life," (3) this question of the vitality of objects--the capacity of objects to move or change or break--is a salient feature of Hazlitt's own dream of the moving statue in Liber Amoris; Or the New Pygmalion. (4) Freud includes in his taxonomy of uncanny experiences several that are especially pertinent to those aspects of Hazlitt's project that I will want to highlight in the discussion that follows: first, the compulsion to repeat (which in the writer manifests in rhetorical form, as quotation, for example, fragments of text, such as phrases from Othello: "one entire and perfect chysolite"); also, a "relation to death and dead bodies, to the return of the dead, and to spirits and ghosts" (so that the book of love can be seen, as Kurt Koenigsberger has suggestively proposed, as "the book of the dead" ); and then, an element which Freud says "deserves special emphasis," "when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears to us in reality, or when a symbol takes over the full function of the thing it symbolizes" (more on this below).
The uncanny is an aesthetic category, like the beautiful or the sublime. It is thus also an affective category, in Freud's account, a "theory of the qualities of feeling," and it is as such that it inflects Hazlitt's thinking about the function of aesthetic artifacts in our habitual feeling of the love of life, our responsiveness to the brilliancy or the variety of even the most trifling objects, shining fragments. This meditation on aesthetic feeling is elaborated in terms of a particularly embodied modality. Considering the paintings of Titian, the artist turned essayist observes,
Not only do his heads seem to think--his bodies seem to feel. This is what the Italians mean by the morbidezza of his flesh-colour. It seems sensitive and alive all over; not merely to have the look and texture of flesh, but the feeling in itself. For example, the limbs of his female figures have a luxurious softness and delicacy, which appears conscious of the pleasure of the beholder. (4.77)
"This is gusto," Hazlitt proposes in this familiar essay, published in The Examiner in May 1816. When the representation of flesh is, as in Titian, "like flesh, and like nothing else," it could be said that the symbol takes over the full function of the thing it symbolizes. When in the picture, "the blood circulates here and there, the blue veins just appear," art could be said to be "alive all over," and yet not only "alive all over" ("a warm, moving mass") but also a conscious or knowing presence. Images may have their own intentions or desires. (5) Gusto is that power of representation in which the body knows, in which the "tangible character" of the image engages the viewer in more than strictly intellectual or even merely visual sensations of pleasure and of pain. Producing a "tingling sensation to the eye" and leaving "a sting behind it in the mind of the spectator," the image on the canvas is not only "in itself" alive, alive from the inside, but it also animates the person looking at it from without. Its materiality as an object (its flesh and blood, its feeling in itself) acts as a stimulus to subjectivity, a self-consciousness or interiority derived from the capacity to taste or desire or touch these luminous fragments: "whenever we look at the hands of Correggio's women or of Raphael's we always wish to touch them" (4.78). Yet what we touch, also touches us. (6) Indeed, what the Italians mean by morbidezza--the life-like softness and delicacy of painted flesh--includes the notion of vulnerability to damage or decay inevitable in such touching, for what comes alive, like beauty, must die, the power or passion of its "expression" precisely what makes it "sensitive" to "impression"--and this goes both ways, fingers upon flesh, the hands may leave a mark. This is what Pygmalion fears, that "his hands had made a dint" in his ivory statue, whose "flesh, or what so seems, he touches oft,/ Which feels so smooth, that he believes it soft." (7)
Hazlitt returns to the topic of gusto, deploying the resonances of morbidezza both explicitly and implicitly in essays written or published around the time Liber Amoris; Or the New Pygmalion appeared in print in May 1823 (and while Hazlitt was still "obsessed with Sarah Walker," apparently spending nights "watching her door" [Jones 348], or in still more evocative phrase, "haunting her door," in late September of that year [Wu, "Harassment" 210]). For instance, "On Sitting for One's Picture," printed in The New Monthly Magazine in November 1823, takes up the questions gusto raises about the animation of images in a discussion of the relation between the portrait painter and his sitters, "a running double entrendre": "We are employed to transfer living charms to an inanimate surface; but they may sink into the heart by the way, and the nerveless hand be unable to carry its luscious burden any further" (12.112). The problem for the painter is in the "dangerous" exchange between animate and inanimate, a two-way transference wherein the artist's hand (now warm and capable) is rendered "nerveless" and the very paint he carries on the brush or applies to the canvas takes on sensuous weight, as is conveyed in the descriptive, "luscious": "the eye sparkles, the lips are moist there too." Contending that the picture is "an abstraction, an ideal thing" that distracts desire from the living subject by (dis)placing it onto the lifeless object, Hazlitt finds the distinction between person and thing difficult to maintain. "If' he says, "we can fancy the picture alive, the face in its turn fades into a picture, a mere object of sight" (12.113); and if "a rising sigh evaporates in the aroma of some fine oil-colour or varnish, a kindling blush is transfixed in a bed of vermillion on the palette," the "artifical splendour" created in the picture is nonetheless so close a rival to "the real one" that Hazlitt's language makes distinguishing one from the other, copy from original, virtually impossible: "a blue vein meandering in a white wrist invites the hand to touch it: but it is better to proceed, and not spoil the picture."
The essay on "The Marquis of Stafford's Gallery" from The London Magazine of February 1823, opens with this striking observation: "Our intercourse with the dead is better than our intercourse with the living. There are only three pleasures in life, pure and lasting, and all derived from inanimate things--books, pictures, and the face of nature. What is the world but a heap of ruined friendships, but the grave of love?" (10.27). What he means, we know, because we are familiar with his grudges and grievances, is that people change, they neither remain what they were nor become what they could have been. Friendship, like political power, turns or is overturned; lovers materialize only to disappear, "vanishing from our embrace like smoke," as does Eurydice, dying a second time, just as Orpheus stretches out his hands to touch her. (8) Things, however, persist, "yet the same": lines from Shakespeare or the "deep azure dyes" of Titian are "always with us." But if over against the changefulness of people, Hazlitt asserts the constancy of things, troping inanimate things as "the dead" in the essay's opening sentence surely problematizes this opposition from the start. Defending works of art from the complaint that they are "short-lived," Hazlitt admits that The Iliad "has become almost a dead letter" ("Does not every language change and wear out?"), and that, while many Greek statues have lasted almost as long as Homer "without losing a particle of their splendour or their meaning," the Elgin Marbles are in his view "more impressive from their mouldering, imperfect state." "Moreover," Hazlitt avers, "the sense of final inevitable decay humanizes, gives an affecting character to the triumphs of exalted art" (10.27-9). The most powerful art, art that is "most true," art with feeling, with gusto--such as in those "tints of flesh colour, as if you saw the blood circling beneath the pearly skin" (10:32)--is precisely art that must perish, not so unlike the people we have loved. Art is most impressive or affecting, it is most exalted, "alive all over," we might say, when it is most vulnerable to being broken. This is what the Italians mean by morbidezza, the softness and delicacy of painted flesh.
I have wandered far enough from Liber Amoris; Or, the New Pygmalion, but I had some associations which I could not well get rid of, without troubling the reader with them (10.62-64). The essayist might say at this point, let us proceed to our task. Liber Amoris; Or, the New Pygmalion was called "a novelty in the English language" (Reiman 454) in one of the rare generous early reviews of the work, and recent critical opinion has variously echoed that assessment by calling it "eccentric" (Butler 214), "an aberration" (Salvesen 40), "strange" (Mulvihill, "Anatomy" 195) "unusual" (Burroughs 127), "alien" (Wu, "Harassment" 211), or "mystifying" (McCutcheon 448). This discussion does not so much take issue with such characterizations as attempt to probe "the particular strangeness of this text" (Treadwell 3), to try to understand that strangeness as a symptom of something familiar--call it "habitual feeling"--that is as compelling as it may be unacknowledged. Though perhaps not wholly unacknowledged. Several readers have in one way or another recognized something familiar, even too familiar, in Liber Amoris; Or, the New Pygmalion. For example, Charles Mahoney postulates that the semiotic crisis the book enacts in the figure of Sarah Walker, "can be found haunting" "so many later writings" and thus that "Liber Amoris simply exaggerates any number of signals of Hazlitt's characteristic style" (Mahoney 39; 50). James Mulvihill remarks that Hazlitt's "excruciating revelatory account of his infatuation ... is less an embarrassing confession finally than a postscript to a life spent criticizing." ("Essayism" 43). Exaggeration or postscript--more and again, replication and return--these sightings of something familiar in Liber Amoris; Or, the New Pygmalion suggest that the book may not be so very strange after all. Or, more to the point, they suggest that we should see its particular strangeness as linked to its investment in repetition, the way it invokes its own ghosts, engages its own mimetic materialization.
One of the ways that Liber Amoris; Or, the New Pygmalion invokes its ghosts is as a logic of citation. It is through quotation that the writer brings what may be a dead letter ("Does not every language change and wear out?") back to life. Quotation is repetition, but with a difference; it imports familiar words into unfamiliar places, transforming them thereby into something new and strange, multiplying meanings by detaching language from its proper reference, turning a phrase into a fractured but resonant image, a "verbal token." (9) If marked by inverted commas, it calls direct attention to itself as a reincarnation; without punctuation, it still carries within its new form echoes of its past. (10) The quoted text thus has phantom effects, at once disturbing and mobilizing meaning. But these are not the "tall phantom words" that characterize the florid style Hazlitt disdains, in which "objects are not linked to feelings, words to things" (8.246-47). Instead, repeated words are things, possessing substance or body ("an inward unction, a marrowy vein"), even, or especially, in being the "common English word[s]" that are the hallmark of the familiar style (8.245). Consider, for example, the phrase from Othello which Hazlitt quotes in "The Letter-Bell" and I repeat in my epigraph: "one entire and perfect chrysolite," already broken into a fragment and yet carrying with it a host of reverberating meanings. (11) "What needs this iterance"? The death of the honest Desdemona, whose skin is "smooth as monumental alabaster," informs Hazlitt's reflections on the past in "The Letter-Bell," echoing in his assertion of his own integrity ("I have never given the lie to my own soul"); here, Desdemona's lifeless body returns as Pygmalion's statue, whose animation in Ovid is shadowed by the double death of Eurydice and the other metamorphoses in Book 10 of living persons into insensate things like rocks, and stones, and trees. That when he wrote his final essay, Hazlitt had already used this phrase in The Spirit of the Age to mock Lord Eldon's servile deference to monarchy ("His allegiance has been without a flaw, like 'one entire and perfect chrysolite,' his implicit understanding is a kind of taffeta-lining to the Crown" [11.145]), his irony, itself a kind of doubling or repetition, (12) further illustrates the mobility of such verbal tokens, words that are things, acquiring supplemental value as they move and change and break through their lives (forms, uses, trajectories) and afterlives.
If it can be said in general that "writing could not take place without the trace of some other text" (Wolfreys 24), it could also be said that Hazlitt stands out among writers "extraordinarily addicted to quotation" (Said 22). (13) Since Thomas De Quincey complained about Hazlitt's practice of expressing his thoughts "through alien organs" (Bromwich, Mind 435), readers have seen quotation as a characteristic and particularly compelling feature of his prose style. David Bromwich finds something sublime in Hazlitt's extensive use of quotation, an exhibition of power or even invention. And Liber Amoris, according to Bromwich, provides "evidence of how seriously Hazlitt lived out the drama of his allusions," for instance by echoing Othello as an "undercurrent" throughout the text (Mind 436). Tom Paulin, who sees Hazlitt's essays "as a bricolage of quotations ... by which he seeks to transform criticism into an art-form," nonetheless dismisses the "kitsch language" and "recycled cliches which comprise Liber Amoris" (44-45). We have already glimpsed what value might be lost or unrecovered if reproduction is dismissed as kitsch and kitsch dismissed as nothing, or worse. But whether sublime or ridiculous, "the numerous quotations" in Liber Amoris; Or, the New Pygmalion are, as James Mulvihill has remarked, "here perfectly suited to both subject and form" ("Anatomy" 196). We could go a step further and say that the book of love is Hazlitt's quotation book, a collection or gallery of verbal tokens "for contemplation, consolation, and use" (Pinch 166-68), by which real feeling is expressed as reproduction within or without the frame of punctuation: "As Rousseau said of Madame d'Houptot (forgive the allusion) my heart has found a tongue in speaking to her, and I have talked to her the divine language of love" (LA 126-27). (14) We might agree, then, that a logic of citation infuses this text as both subject and form of the narrative, and further, that such a mechanism of replication and return cannot by definition be entire and perfect, but always signals that something has been broken; we might thus also say that Hazlitt's book of love presents itself as a layered transcription, a palimpsest that is also always in some sense under erasure, a ghost writing that discloses the necessary work repetition does to make what appears alien feel familiar or what feels broken appear entire and perfect.
Ghosts are by definition persistent and yet fragile incarnations, materializations of the past, of desire unfulfilled. Once called up, they are also notoriously demanding or disruptive, whether revealing something that should remain hidden ("the murder was out" LA 239) or eluding the imperative to do so, refusing to convey the truth, entire and perfect ("I intreated her to give me some explanation. In vain!" LA 234). Sarah is, of course, the presiding if elusive spirit of Liber Amoris, Or, the New Pygmalion. As many readers have noted, she takes various forms in the book, especially the form of a work of art--a picture, a statue, literary figuration itself (Ready 55; Treadwell 6; Mahoney 30). The book's alternate title, The New Pygmalion, posits her status as an aesthetic object, or, more exactly, it poses the question of whether as such she is animate or inanimate: is this apparently animate being really alive or is she a lifeless object animated by divine magic or some ingenious mechanism, like an automaton? (15) In Rousseau's adaptation of the Pygmalion story, translated by Leigh Hunt in The Indicator in 1820, where Hazlitt would likely have seen it (Joseph 39), the sculptor believes he can "feel the quivering flesh repel the chisel" when he touches the statute: this work of art has gusto, communicating its own somatic intentionality (Hunt 243). When Hazlitt's version urges the question, "whether or no she is quite marble" (134) and "what is there in her but a pretty figure, and that you can't get a word out of her?" (120), he is also touching on the question of gusto and the metamorphic imbrication of the living and the dead in morbidezza, a quality of feeling, like the uncanny. Sarah protests, "I have repeatedly answered that question" (91). Indeed, she might be seen to return repeatedly to do so not only as a work of art but as a dead or decaying body.
She was once ill, pale, and had lost all her freshness. I only adored her the more for it, and fell in love with the decay of her beauty.... If she had a plague-spot on her, I could touch the infection: if she was in a burning fever, I could kiss her, and drink death as I have drank life from her lips. (129) I wake with her by my side, not as my sweet bedfellow, but as the corpse of my love, without a heart in her bosom, cold, insensible, or struggling from me; and the worms gnaw me, and the sting of unrequited love, and the canker of a hopeless, endless sorrow. (143) As I trod the green mountain turf, oh! How I wished to be laid beneath it--in one grave with her--that I might sleep with her in that cold bed, my hand in hers, and my heart forever still--while worms should taste her sweet body, that I had never tasted! (159-60) I saw her pale, cold form glide silent by me, dead to shame as to pity. Still I seemed to clasp this piece of witchcraft to my bosom; this lifeless image, which was all that was left of my love, was the only thing to which my sad heart clung. Were she dead, should I not wish to gaze once more upon her pallid features? (247)
I quote these recurrent fantasies of the beloved as dead or decaying to suggest that Sarah may be less a "projection of H himself" (Robinson 147), than his introject, the lost object preserved by melancholy ("endless sorrow"), the ghost held close within. (16) She may be a "sweet apparition" (127) or a "lovely apparition" (250) and she may sometimes vanish like a spirit (227; 234), but as a "lifeless image"--plague-spotted and pallid--she acquires a "tangible character," an embodied, material form, with a vividness and delicacy and importance that not only survive the grave but are made especially active by it.
Sarah is, moreover, depicted as a broken image from the opening section of the book. She is like the unidentified picture H shows her, "a very small and delicate copy" (LA 67), detached from reference to either artist or subject, and in this not quite entirely or perfectly but only in pieces: "the forehead is like, with that little obstinate protrusion in the middle; the eyebrows are like, and the eyes are just like your's, when you look up and say--'No--never!'" (LA 66). We have no doubt gotten to a point in critical discussion of this text at which we can simply say that H. objectifies the woman here by making her into a work of art, fixing her in paint on a miniature canvas or on a pedestal for display as "an abstraction, an ideal thing," thereby denying her agency, a vitality of her own. But the issue of what Hazlitt did or did not do to the living person Sarah Walker by transforming her in his book into an inanimate object is not what I want to stress here. Rather, I want to note that it is precisely as an object that Sarah comes to life in Liber Amoris; Or, the New Pygmalion. Put another way, in the discourse of monomania that is sometimes seen as catharsis, a kind of talking cure (Barnard 191), trivial objects signify, fragments shine with what we might call a "luminous ontology" (Borch-Jacobsen 53). Lorraine Daston asks, "If we humans do all the talking, why do we need things not only to talk about but to talk with?" (Daston 12). We, too, can ask, if H. does all the talking in this text, why does he need things not only to talk about but with, to, or through? Sarah is such a thing, a thing that talks, even talks back. She says, for example, "'No--never,'" or so H. says she does. H. repeatedly quotes her words. He also misquotes them, as when he tells her, "It was when you told me, 'you could never be mine'" (66), grammatically inverting subject and object so that her speech makes sense coming from his mouth; in addition, he prequotes them, citing her words before she even speaks them, as when he says, "Ah! dearest creature, I shall be 'far distant from you,' as you once said of another, but you will not think of me as of him, 'with the sincerest affection'" (71), but does not record the conversation in which she says this until pages later. Gerald Lahey calls this "a textual problem," and tries to explain it by supposing that the sections of Part I may have been "shuffled out of their original order--either by Hazlitt in haste or by the printer" (265-66). But perhaps this is one of the phantom effects of quotation (the ghost of words future), appearing as well when H. incorporates or internalizes her words, repeating them with emphasis as his own--"Can I live without her?--Oh!--no--never--never" (102)--and so revealing the way words that are things speak within us, through us, as much as we speak through them.
When readers of Hazlitt discuss the issue of citation in his work, they are in general referring to his allusions to classic writers of the past, such as Shakespeare, or to more contemporary models, such as Rousseau or Burke or Wordsworth. But to see the extent to which repetition defines this text as a condition of its writing it is crucial also to notice the quotations from the tradesman's daughter, however trifling such objects might be, "commonplace words of notable economy" or "stilted letters and colloquial speech" (Jones 320; Barnard 191). In the opening section, where H. repeats her statements back to her, in Part II, where he copies her brief letters to send to C.P. and reiterates pieces of the conversations recorded in Part I, and in the final pages, where her quoted phrases interrupt H.'s narrative to J.S.K. ("She always 'despised looks.' "'There was a precedent for it.'" "'She hated it!'"), the replication of Sarah's language at once organizes and disorganizes the text as H. tells and retells his story, like the Ancient Mariner, compelled to repeat. This is not to say that what we are hearing in this story is the voice of Sarah Walker, living person; it is to say, however, that the reproduction of S.L.'s language, even in being ventriloquized, copied, detached from its originary context, takes on an unavoidable, almost incantatory power in the text, words repeated, as if with the force of habit, as ritual. These words may be trifling objects or "commonplace"--a "No" or a "Sir"--but retraced with the eye of memory or reproduced as citation, such words constitute the very structure and style of "habitual feeling," the familiar, all we know and all we love of life.
The book of love is particularly interested in the consequence of such trifling objects: the very small and delicate copy of an unknown picture, reproduced as frontispiece; a flageolet brought up with the teapot; bits of text written on a blank leaf of a book or extracted and reprinted as a souvenir ("given to her in our early acquaintance," LA 110); a keepsake locket; a little Prayer-book; and a small bronze figure of Napoleon Buonaparte, "the little image," displayed on the mantle. These are the miniature artifacts of everyday life that may convey, if only we examine them closely enough, what H., looking for an explanation or resolution, calls "the full meaning of what had happened" (246). Let us take up our magnifying glass, then, and turn to this last object. Let us look at it as a piece of a collection of such objects, or as one in a series, meaningful as a reproduction, a replica, rather than as a unique or singular work of art. If the bust can be distinguished as the "central dramatic symbol" in Liber Amoris; Or, the New Pygmalion (J. Gross 719), it may be because it enacts the efficacy of the image as broken even before H. dashes it to the ground and stamps upon it. It becomes "such a potent symbol" (Mulvihill, "Anatomy" 200), in other words, not least because in being broken it brings to light the referential overdetermination by which the symbol takes over the function of the thing it symbolizes. Although bronze seems less fragile than plaster, the image of Napoleon in Liber Amoris; Or, the New Pygmalion instantiates the vulnerability of objects, and yet, or for that reason, their significance in our lives, how vividly and variously we feel them (with a tingling sensation or a sting) becoming real, alive all over, from the inside, like Pygmalion's ivory maiden, precisely insofar as they are subject to breakage.
When Sherlock Holmes breaks his bust of Napoleon (which he buys for ten pounds from a man who paid only fifteen shillings for it) to reveal a valuable jewel embedded in a shard of plaster and thus explain the affair that had initially seemed "absurdly trifling" (CSH 584), he does so with characteristic coolness and deliberation: he places a clean white cloth over the table, puts the bust in the center of the cloth, and strikes the statue a sharp blow on the top of the head with his hunting-crop.
When H. breaks his bust of Napoleon, it is with considerably less method and more madness:
I tore the locket which contained her hair (and which I used to wear continually in my bosom, as the precious token of her dear regard) from my neck, and trampled it in pieces. I then dashed the little Buonaparte on the ground, and stamped upon it, as one of her instruments of mockery. I could not stay in the room; I could not leave it; my rage, my despair were uncontroulable [sic]. (205-6)
This scene of violence renders the supplemental charges that the object has accrued to its form through the narrative, where it gathers into its representational hold various kinds of value, so many, in fact, both personal and political, that it seems fairly impossible for such a "little image" to carry them all without thus being shattered into fragments. (17) Together with the locket containing the beloved's hair, a precious if also a fragmentary token, whatever else the bust represents, in pieces it signifies the transformative potential, even necessity, of material embodiment itself.
Whatever it may mean for H. as it sits on the mantle in his lodging-house room, an image of his revolutionary hero, now emperor, now deposed (now dead, as of May 1821), it means something else when he gives it to Sarah, for whom it has another significance altogether. Even if the bust did not acquire surplus values for H. as it circulates from hand to hand, such as when Sarah returns it to him ("proof of her fidelity," 200), when he breaks it ("as one of her instruments of mockery"), when he sends her the pieces ("to be kept in remembrance of the unhappy" 214), and when she has it mended ("this was like healing old wounds indeed," 234), the fact that the statue is interesting to Sarah not because it represents Napoleon, but because it resembles her former lover, is evidence enough that this object has no fixed or singular referent and, further, that what makes it meaningful is precisely its capacity to transform. While registering the symbolic plenitude of the object, I also want to emphasize its detachment from specific reference (to emperor, artist, or lover). In that detachment, the object moves and changes and breaks; as a fragment, it takes on a life of its own--let us say it shines--and both responds to and motivates a set of possibilities for the experience of subjectivity--for rage and despair, for love and memory, for the doublings and repetitions of self-consciousness--call it habitual feeling.
Liber Amoris; Or, the New Pygmalion provides no clue to indicate what bust Hazlitt may have owned nor proof that he actually owned one, nor how "valuable" what he calls in the text such "a valuable curiosity" would have been if he did. Many different statues would have been available as reproductions by the time Hazlitt moved into lodgings at No. 9 Southampton Buildings in August 1820. Antonio Canova executed a portrait bust in 1802 of Napoleon as First Consul and another as a part of his large-scale statue of Napoleon as Mars, numerous versions of which were produced "in marble and other replicas that began to appear shortly afterward all over Europe" (Johns 92). Antoine-Denis Chaudet's Napoleon as a Roman was made in 1805 and many copies of the head were produced at the marble works in Carrara and replicated in porcelain by the de Sevres workshop in the years following. There were also, of course, many representations of the French Emperor produced in England, especially but not only as caricature, in visual as well as other iconographic forms. (18) But history offers us little here toward discovery or explanation. In "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons," Conan Doyle throws us off the scent of history by casting his busts from an imaginary original--his famous sculptor is fictional. Hazlitt's bust is unattributed, historical reference itself a red herring in this case. It is not even completely certain that the bust is really a bust, for the sword that breaks off when H. dashes it to the ground intimates a somewhat fuller figure, or one rather phantasmatically constructed. The statue that might thus appear among the possessions of an impecunious English writer could well be kitsch, or something very like it, but its constitutive significance in the habitual feelings of the subject is no less potent if it is. However derivative or banal, however "worn through by habit," according to Walter Benjamin, "in kitsch, the world of things advances on the human being; it yields to his uncertain grasp and ultimately fashions its figures in his interior" (Benjamin 4-5). (19) The bust is meaningful, in other words, insofar as its malleable material is reproduced within the subject, the little image as imago--the insect seen through the magnifying glass, brilliant and various. (20)
In the bust of Napoleon, Liber Amoris; Or, the New Pygmalion resists history as linear development or rational explanation. Instead of the detective's method of progressive illumination, Hazlitt narrates an uncanny logic of replication and return: the past does not so much become clear as come back in embodied forms--"the past is alive and stirring with objects" (8.25). (21) But what does such an uncanny history reveal? For one thing, that it was not unusual during the eras of revolution and restoration bracketing Napoleon's career for statues to be broken. In France, images in marble and bronze of kings and generals and of the Emperor himself were toppled from their pedestals by agitated crowds or by official order, demolished or melted down to be recast in other forms. Chaudet's statue of Napoleon is removed from its column in the Place Vendome in 1814, for example, to be recycled into a statue of Henri IV, itself replacing one that had been destroyed in 1792. It was also not unusual for statues to contain concealed objects, such as dedicatory capsules or medallions or even, as Anne M. Wagner has shown, contraband. According to Wagner, when the new bronze Henri was erected in 1818, it was filled with outlawed Napoleonica, including a statuette secreted in the monarch's right arm (Wagner 312). More likely one of the many black market reproductions popular in the years after Napoleon's fall rather than a uniquely valuable jewel like the black pearl of the Borgias, such an object hidden inside the statue nonetheless adds value in adding significant interest--if not also a counter-narrative--to the piece of history the statue represents. If in being hidden, such an object cannot bring its entire meaning to light, its ghostly presence still discloses both the actual vulnerability of even apparently obdurate materials, like marble or bronze, and the multiple transformative possibilities that being broken into pieces may afford.
The image of Napoleon inside the statue of the king literalizes the kind of internalization of the object I have been trying to suggest is at issue in the way the "little image" functions in Hazlitt's text and in his thinking about the animation of the artifactual more broadly construed. One piece of this argument involves the idea that there are biographies of things embedded within the biographies of persons and that the discourse of subjectivity relies on and is responsive to the stories that objects tell about what they are made of and into. Another piece of the argument suggests that as autobiographical writing in the style that much of Hazlitt's writing is autobiographical--based on personal experience, self-reflective, motivated by passion and by a persistent sense of disappointment or loss--Liber Amoris; Or, the New Pygmalion is at the same time unavoidably engaged in a mode of imaginary recreation. If for Hazlitt, memory itself is "mental reproduction, analogous to graphic reproduction and textual inscription," as Laurie Kane Kew has proposed (Kew 350), then what the most trifling objects, retraced with the eye of memory, bring to light, is not how strange it is that an ivory statue should come alive or a poet could move the dead to tears by his song, but how invested the sense of subjectivity--our familiarity to ourselves--is in those fragmentary forms, images at once of mourning and of love.
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(1) "William Hazlitt, "The Letter-Bell" (The Monthly Magazine, March 1831), in CW 17:376-77.
(2) For an example of one such spirited defense, see Wu "Defense."
(3) On Freud's dismissal of the animated object as the prime site of the uncanny, see Cixous.
(4) See Kenneth Gross on the animated statue as one of our most fundamental fantasies: "These are stories about the history and education of desire, about our relation to what we have made or unmade, about our encounters with the dead, our negotiations with what we call authority and tradition" (K. Gross 7).
(5) For the argument that pictures are "not merely signs for living things but signs as living things" and that they therefore make claims upon persons, see W.J.T. Mitchell (6).
(6) I borrow this phrase from Tom H. Fisher, who discusses with specific reference to plastic, the "affective consequences" of our interactive relation to "materials in themselves" (27; 29).
(7) Ovid, Metamorphosis, Book X tr. Samuel Garth (1717). See also the Loeb Classical Library translation of this passage: "The face is that of a real maiden, whom you would think living and desirous of being moved, if modesty did not prevent. So does his art conceal his art. Pygmalion looks in admiration and is inflamed with love for this semblance of a form. Often he lifts his hands to the work to try whether it be flesh or ivory; nor does he yet confess it to be ivory. He kisses it and thinks his kisses are returned. He speaks to it, grasps it and seems to feel his fingers sink into the limbs when he touches them; and then fears lest he leave marks of bruises on them." (Loeb 2:83).
(8) "He stretched out his arms, eager to catch her or to feel her clasp; but, unhappy one, he clasped nothing but the yielding air," Loeb, 2:69. The Orpheus story opens Book X of Ovid's Metamorphosis, the pre-text for the Pygmalion story which is one of the songs Orpheus sings after he loses Eurydice (again).
(9) This is Emily Apter's term to describe the word "fetishism" as it acquires "value" through a "process of creative mistranslation" (4). Relative to quotation, my point is both that reiteration highlights the object status of language (that words are things) and constitutes meaning through contextual breakage.
(10) I am drawing here on Marjorie Garber's reflections in "'(Quotation).'" Gather quotes Derrida: "Every sign, linguistic or nonlinguistic ... can be cited, put between quotation marks; in so doing it can break with every given context" (668).
Nay, had she been true, If heaven would make me such another world Of one entire and perfect chrysolite, I'd not have sold her for it. (5.2.143ff.)
(12) Here I am thinking of Paul de Man's remarks on irony in "The Rhetoric of Temporality": "The dedoublement thus designates the activity of a consciousness by which a man differentiates himself from the non-human world. The capacity for such duplication is rare, says Baudelaire, but belongs specifically to those who, like artists and philosophers, deal in language ... [which] is their material, just as leather is the material of the cobbler or wood is that of the carpenter" (215).
(13) This comment refers specifically to Coleridge and Swift in Said, who remarks the "literally unsettling effect" of quotation, "a constant reminder that writing is a form of displacement" (22).
(14) It is worth noting that this particular citation takes the form of prosopopoeia, in which a body part (the heart) is a thing that talks. For an argument that reads the coming to life of inanimate objects rhetorically, see J.H. Miller.
(15) In "On the Knowledge of Character," Hazlitt notes in Sarah Walker "a cold, sullen, watery glazed look about the eyes, which she bent on vacancy.... I might have spied in their glittering, motionless surface, the rocks and quicksands that awaited me below!" (8.305); B.W. Procter later recalled that "her face was round and small, and her eyes were motionless, glassy, and without any speculation (apparently) in them.... She was silent, or uttered monosyllables only.... The Germans would have extracted a romance from her, endowing her perhaps with some diabolical attribute" (181-82). These portraits bear a striking likeness to (the German) E.T.A. Hoffman's description of the automated doll, Olympia, in "The Sandman," the prime example of the uncanny in Freud's essay. H. in Liber Amoris is arguably more like the deluded Nathaniel in Hoffman's story than he is like Ovid's, or even Rousseau's Pygmalion.
(16) See Marjorie Levinson's pertinent characterization of how melancholy "maintains its lost objects as resident aliens, embodiments of absence in the soul, ghosts that reorganize the entire economy of inwardness, changing outward relations as well" (553).
(17) See the range of suggestive arguments in, for example, J. Gross, where the bust is a fetishized commodity and thus sexualized too, for both H. and S., and in breaking it, "H. both recognizes and disavows his fetish" (711-12); Root, where the statue signifies in a discourse of social class "an aristocratic token ... [which] seems nevertheless to tease 'H' with the promise of 'careers open to talent' while reminding him of his own predisposition to idolatry," and the breaking of the bust is H.'s symbolic acknowledgement of "his own loss of virility," a loss that mimics the trajectory of Napoleon's career. (236); and Koenigsberger, for whom the breaking of the bust is "the representative moment" in a text that defines selfhood in terms of negation: "the smashing of the statuette is figured as H--'s death as well as Bonaparte's," a "mimicry of death" that also effects a liberation (307-9).
(18) Semmel takes particular though passing note of the Napoleonic bust as a sign in a radical semiotic during this period. For a study of British caricatures of Napoleon, especially in reference to the issue of miniaturization, see Kelley. Among the images of Napoleon in circulation throughout the nineteenth century in Britain were those manufactured in the Staffordshire potteries, including both celebratory and satiric representations (such as a chamber-pot with Napoleon's bust in the bottom, currently in the Willet collection at the Brighton Museum).
(19) Also see "Some Remarks on Folk Art" in the same volume: "Folk art and kitsch allow us to look outward from within objects" (278-80).
(20) In psychoanalytic terms, the imago is the external image with which the ego identifies. See Borch-Jacobsen: "these images organize and schematize the ego's reality, well beyond any relation of simple imitation or reproduction" (63). In Lacan, imagos "unite the I with the statue in which man projects himself, with the phantoms that dominate him, or with the automaton in which, in an ambiguous relation, the world of his own making tends to find completion" (2-3). In entomological terms, the imago is the adult stage of the insect, after metamorphosis is complete.
(21) The examples of such bodily return of the past in Hazlitt's prose are many. Look, for, example, at the passage that recalls the death of his infant son in "On the Fear of Death" ("It was as if a waxen image had been laid out in the coffin"), where the feeling he had that the closing of the coffin "almost stifled me," returns in a present "tightness at my breast" as he writes the essay. (8.326).
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|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|
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