*[June 2009] A recent issue of The New Yorker contains a revivew article concerning two biographies of William Hazlitt, which includes some unkind remarks about Hazlitt's Liber Amoris -- almost as unkind as were the comments at its first, anonymous, printing in 1823.
Morganians (some of whom are Hazlittians also) have reason to know better. CM's 'Liber Amoris', printed in the posthumous collection A Writer and his World (Macmillan, 1960), is a model of generous independence of opinion.
Of that fierce, unsparing, vulnerable book, he writes, 'passionate youth, or passionate middle-age for that matter, may see, reflected in its pages, an aspect of love which the aloof world calls 'disgusting' or 'silly' or 'futile' and which the passion-stricken one half-knows to be so in himself. Yet he may find, in these same pages, that assuagement which is given by imagination shared, and is, to the tormented and enraptured, more precious than counsel...it is not a dispassionate book: you pick up what might, after so many years, be a spent ember, and it burns.'
And a long quotation from the Liber shows us what Morgan the writer, as well as Morgan the romantic, loved about it:
I am now enclosed in a dungeon of despair. The sky is marble to my thoughts; nature is dead around me, as hope is within me; no object can give me one gleam of satisfaction now, nor the prospect of it in time to come. I wander by the sea-side; and the eternal ocean and lasting despair and her face are before me. Slighted by her, on whom my heart by its last fibre hung, where shall I turn? I wake with her by my side, not as my sweet bed-fellow, but as the corpse of my love, without a heart in her bosom, cold, insensible, or struggling from me; and the worm gnaws me, and the sting of unrequited love, and the canker of a hopeless, endless sorrow. I have lost the taste of my food by feverish anxiety; and my favourite beverage, which used to refresh me when I got up, has no moisture in it. Oh! cold, solitary, sepulchral breakfast...
And Morgan: 'Who will, may smile at that. It is extreme, unbalanced, and, fortunately, without a sense of humour. But it is true with a truth that a regulated and discreet sanity could not have communicated. 'The sky is marble to my thoughts,' wrote Hazlitt, and the saying is of Shakespeare's breed. It has the terrible flash of Troilus and Cressida.'
This may serve to remind some who love CM's novels but have not ventured further, to look into his essays. The two volumes of Reflections in a Mirror and A Writer and his World are easily, and cheaply, available through Abebooks or Alibris, and yield great riches both of thought and vintage English prose.