In August 1820, at the age of forty-two, William Hazlitt moved into a lodging house on Southampton Row. Three days later, the nineteen-year-old daughter of the house, Sarah Walker, brought him breakfast in his room and turned in the doorway to look at him; in that instant, Hazlitt fell desperately in love. Over the next few months, Sarah sat on his knee, kissed him, allowed him certain ‘liberties’ – though never the ultimate one – and somehow made him feel, though she would make no avowals, that for the first time ever his love was returned.
He abased himself before her, called her a goddess and his ‘soul’s idol’, showered her with gifts. When she became cool towards him, as she frequently did, he tormented himself with memories of her every word and silence, and appearance and absence, trying to find their hidden significance; he wheedled