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Twenty-two essays of William Hazlitt

Introduction

❶In these books he urged the artist to be aware of his social and political responsibilities.

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It's like a moment out of Hazlitt's beloved Hogarth, as well as being an anticipation of Dickens, who was to become friendly with Hazlitt's son William, and who was influenced by his essays, as were Thackeray and Robert Louis Stevenson.

The yeoman's robust, witty, unrelenting manner of talking is a central value, because Hazlitt loves and celebrates passionate, popular English speech, which he sees as the fountain of liberty in the culture. It shapes radical journalism and glories in giving as good as it gets. Again and again, he hits out like a pugilist at "grovelling servility" and "petulant egotism". One of his persistent themes is that reason is a "slow, inert, speculative, imperfect faculty", and his aim is always to wrest imagination from the reactionaries such as Edmund Burke - whose prose style he admired hugely - in order to create a political discourse which is not abstract, academic, uninflected, foggy.

Abstract reason, unassisted by passion, "is no match for power and prejudice, armed with force and cunning". This is the source of one of the few passages in Hazlitt regularly quoted by literary critics. It is in his essay on Coriolanus , where he observes that the imagination is an "aristocratical faculty". Poetry, he observes, is "right-royal.

It puts the individual before the species, the one above the many, might before right. There is a desperation in this essay, which Hazlitt wrote in the tormented aftermath of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. Here, as so often, Hazlitt is trying to point radicals away from the stagnant, costive prose of Bentham and the philosophical radicals who followed him. Bentham he profiles in The Spirit of the Age , remarking "they say he has been translated into French: Hazlitt wants the left to trust in and to employ an intensely passionate imagination in argument.

He wants images, anger, risk-taking, eloquence, the elastic stretch of combative and confident prose - prose which is wild, lunging, rich in imagery and unfair like Burke's. For what he terms "the friend of liberty", the love of truth is a "passion in his mind", and the love of liberty is the love of others, while "the love of power is the love of ourselves". Here, we see the principle of disinterested benevolence Hazlitt imbibed from Unitarianism and from Hutcheson's philosophy and aesthetics.

It informs everything he wrote, and in particular The Spirit of the Age , which he published anonymously in , a collection of the most sophisticated newspaper profiles ever written. Hazlitt's model is the painter he admired above all others - Titian - and he offers a series of contemporary portraits - Wordsworth, Godwin, Coleridge, Southey, Wilberforce and others, some of whom, such as the preacher the Rev.

For Hazlitt, disinterestedness is the central Dissenting and English virtue, and he based a vast anthology of parliamentary speeches, The Eloquence of the British Senate , one of his earliest books, on this principle. Though he admired Hobbes as a philosopher and prose stylist, he disagreed vehemently with his view in Leviathan that human beings are entirely motivated by self-interest.

What fascinates him are those figures who write journalism in the heat of the moment out of love for others, civic duty and a passionate identification with the liberties of the people, and a hatred of corrupt power. Hazlitt's Irish background shows in the subject and title of his essay "On the Pleasure of Hating".

He is drawn to orators, who are prompted by what he terms "the suddenness of the emergency," and must mould the convictions and purposes of their hearers while they are under the influence of "passion and circumstances - as the glass-blower moulds the vitreous fluid with his breath".

In another lovely image he says of Cobbett "wherever power is, there is he against it: As Hazlitt lay dying in Frith Street, close to the churchyard he was to be buried in, he recalled his old battles, and particularly arguments with his former friends, those then committed republicans, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey. He also wrote an essay "The Letter-Bell" which wasn't published until the year after his death. The "Letter-Bell" is like a warmly confident apologia for his life, as Hazlitt remembers the beginning of his journey and, like a figure in a Jack Yeats painting, prepares for his final pilgrimage, as he takes us into the theatre of his imagination.

He begins by meditating on complaints of the vanity and shortness of human life, moves to trifling objects that assume in the eye of memory "the vividness, the delicacy, and importance of insects seen through a magnifying glass".

Then he mentions that as he writes "the Letter-Bell passes" a lively, pleasant sound not only fills the street but "rings clear through the length of many half-forgotten years".

The jingling bell "strikes upon the ear, it vibrates to the brain, it wakes me from the dream of time, it flings me back upon my first entrance into life, the period of my first coming up to town". He then recounts how he first set out on his journey through life by taking the road from Wem to Shrewsbury: It's like a moment, he suggests, out of Pilgrim's Progress , except the light of the French Revolution "circled my head like a glory, though dabbled with drops of crimson gore".

Here, he's representing what we might term the guilt of a fellow-traveller, a guilt which he was able to live with, unlike Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, who became apologists for monarchy and reaction. Wordsworth he then quotes admiringly, but also in sadness, Southey he mocks, Coleridge he dismisses as "the sleep-walker, the dreamer, the sophist, the word-hunter, the craver after sympathy". But he also knows that it was along the road to Shrewsbury he walked early one dark January morning in to hear Coleridge deliver an unforgettable sermon in the Unitarian Chapel there - the same chapel that the young Darwin attended with his family in the next century.

This sermon and his first meeting with Coleridge and Wordsworth are celebrated in the classic essay, "On My First Acquaintance with Poets", which is Tolstoyan in its youthful clarity and vigour. Now he recalls the "unbroken integrity" of early opinions and longs for "one burst of indignation against tyrants and sycophants".

These are the hated figures who subject other countries to slavery by force and prepare their own for it "by servile sophistry, as we see the huge serpent lick over its trembling, helpless victim with its slime and poison, before it devours it! He rejoices then in the July Revolution which overthrew the Bourbons, and says they are no longer round Coleridge's neck like the albatross an astute interpretation of the central meaning of Coleridge's symbol.

Hazlitt then rejoices in his own obstinate refusal to change his opinions or to duck and weave: As he remarks in his essay "On the Pleasure of Hating", he quarrelled with all of his friends at some point. Charles Lamb, though, remained true to the end, and Lamb, like Sarah Stoddart, visited him in his last weeks. So did his devoted son, William, who was to publish and republish his writings during the decades that followed. Hazlitt was in great pain, and in "The Sick Chamber", which was published unsigned the month before he died, he describes enduring suffocating heat, grasping the pillow in agony, walking up and down the room with hasty or feeble steps, then returning back to life "with half-strung nerves and shattered strength".

Typically, in his closing paragraph he mentions Lamb. Their friendship survived political change, and the furore that followed the publication of Liber Amoris, Hazlitt's fictional account of his obsessive love - if love it can be called - for Sarah Taylor, the daughter of a couple he rented a room from in Southampton Row. Hazlitt was savaged by the Tory press, and is one of those writers who court disaster.

The willed chaos of his personal life can be glimpsed in the sudden moments of autobiography that texture his essays.

Short of money, lonely, seeking out prostitutes and unable - as he admitted - to love any woman, he walks a dangerous edge in his writings. He is fascinated by criminality, so that at times we glimpse a figure who speaks with the voice of the man from underground, except he is a leftwing critic of progress and the enlightened values he cared so much for. Partly, this is because he spent his life writing to deadlines, writing to the moment, writing under pressure, so that he was out there in the firing line, exposed to the spirit of the age, lacerated by it.

And because he knows that what is also out there is a dark malign force, which what he terms "mitigated, enlightened belief" will never tame, he knows that the irrational and the prejudiced cannot be simply dismissed.

So far as I can tell he believes in evil. A friend - probably his first wife Sarah Stoddart - raised the memorial stone over his grave in the nearby churchyard. The monument was subsequently removed but thanks to hundreds of Guardian readers and other Hazlitt enthusiasts, it has now been restored. And some prospect of good to mankind': Charles X was driven from France 29th July, He lived to complete his 'Life of Napoleon'.

His desire That some friendly hand should consign Him to the grave was accomplished to a Limited but profound extent; on These conditions he was ready to depart, And to have inscribed on his tomb, 'Grateful and Contented'. He was The first unanswered Metaphysician of the age. A despiser of the merely Rich And Great: A lover of the People, poor or oppressed: Who was a burning wound to an Aristocracy, That could not answer him before men, And who may confront him before their maker.

Quotidiana is an online anthology of "classical" essays, from antiquity to the early twentieth century. All essays and images are in the public domain.

Commentaries are copyrighted, but may be used with proper attribution. See also Columbia Encyclopedia Encyclopedia Britannica Wikipedia Project Gutenberg Essays by William Hazlitt On actors and acting The stage not only refines the manners, but it is the best teacher of morals, for it is the truest and most intelligible picture of life.

On common-place critics A common-place critic has something to say upon every occasion, and he always tells you either what is not true, or what you knew before, or what is not worth knowing.

On criticism Criticism is an art that undergoes a great variety of changes, and aims at different objects at different times. On depth and superficiality It may amuse the reader to see the way in which I work out some of my conclusions underground, before throwing them up on the surface. Elia and Geoffrey Crayon [Charles Lamb] does not march boldly along with the crowd, but steals off the pavement to pick his way in the contrary direction.

On familiar style I conceive that words are like money, not the worse for being common, but that it is the stamp of custom alone that gives them circulation or value. A farewell to essay writing Food, warmth, sleep, and a book; these are all I at present ask On fashion Fashion constantly begins and ends in the two things it abhors most, singularity and vulgarity. On the fear of death To die is only to be as we were before we were born; yet no one feels any remorse, or regret, or repugnance, in contemplating this last idea.

On genius and common sense In art, in taste, in life, in speech, you decide from feeling, and not from reason. On going a jouney The soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, feel, do, just as one pleases.

On good-nature Good-nature, or what is often considered as such, is the most selfish of all the virtues: On gusto There is hardly any object entirely devoid of expression, without some character of power belonging to it, some precise association with pleasure or pain.

Hot and cold The nastiest tastes and smells are not the most pungent and painful, but a compound of sweet and bitter, of the agreeable and disagreeable. On the ignorance of the learned Any one who has passed through the regular gradations of a classical education, and is not made a fool by it, may consider himself as having had a very narrow escape.

The Indian jugglers A clever or ingenious man is one who can do anything well, whether it is worth doing or not; a great man is one who can do that which when done is of the highest importance. On the love of life The love of life is, in general, the effect not of our enjoyments, but of our passions. We are not attached to it so much for its own sake, or as it is connected with happiness, as because it is necessary to action. My first acquaintance with poets So have I loitered my life away, reading books, looking at pictures, going to plays, hearing, thinking, writing on what pleased me best.

I have wanted only one thing to make me happy; but wanting that, have wanted everything! On the past and future We are afraid to dwell upon the past, lest it should retard our future progress; the indulgence of ease is fatal to excellence; and to succeed in life, we lose the ends of being! On people with one idea Oh!

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William Hazlitt's General Essays. [Hazlitt's Page] [Hazlitt's Works] [General Essays] [Table-Talk:] [The Spirit of the Age] [Political Essays] [Round Table] TITLE. QUOTE. On the Love of the Country (November, ) (12K) "We do not connect the same feelings with the works of art as with those of Nature, because we refer them to man, and.

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Essays by William Hazlitt On actors and acting The stage not only refines the manners, but it is the best teacher of morals, for it is the truest and most intelligible picture of life.

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Essays and criticism on William Hazlitt's The Critical Essays of William Hazlitt - Critical Evaluation. William Hazlitt: William Hazlitt, English writer best known for his humanistic essays. Lacking conscious artistry or literary pretention, his writing is noted for the brilliant intellect it reveals. Hazlitt’s childhood was spent in Ireland and North America, where his father, a Unitarian preacher, supported the.

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William Hazlitt Homework Help Questions. Write Hazlitt's major interests as revealed in the essays "The Spirit of the Age." The Spirit of the Age was a collection of short essays, or more. Twenty-two essays of William Hazlitt Item Preview remove-circle Share or Embed This Item. EMBED. EMBED (for mihtorg.ga hosted blogs and mihtorg.ga item tags) Want more? Advanced embedding details, examples, and help! favorite. share Pages: