On a hot day, a perspiring London businessman paused in the street for a moment and removed his hat to mop his brow. William Hone, who was passing by, dropped a coin in the hat. This brilliant sight-gag may have been an impromptu joke, but could equally be an example of the absent-minded Hone’s habitual generosity. He found money ‘confoundedly annoying’. If you have money, he said, ‘you naturally divide it with some destitute and distressed fellow creatures’. In his time he made and lost several fortunes, went bust, and was imprisoned for debt before dying poor.
There has been increasing interest of late in the radical essayists and journalists of the early nineteenth century. In the last couple of years Hazlitt has been given a smart new tombstone in Soho and Tom Paulin has written a book about him, and there have been biographies of Mary