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Jun 24, 2011           

Zeitlin on Hazlitt - 1

As my regular readers may know, I like William Hazlitt - 1778-1830 - very much. This is a preference that I share with only a few in this day and age, but then this serves to show how superficial and stupid this postmodern age is, rather than it shows anything about me, other than fine discrimination and judgment.

Or so I think. Why I think so I wrote out, in part at least, a little over a year ago
What follows is the first of - probably - three files in Nederlog that contain Jacob Zeitlin's introduction to his 1913 selection of essays by Hazlitt that I found on Project Gutenberg.

This is a good selection and a good introduction, and here is the link to it all, htlm at Project Gutenberg, as a little over 1 MB of html:
This consists of Zeitlin's introduction and his selection from Hazlitt's essays.

I reproduce Zeitlin's introduction, with his footnotes, and with some notes of my own. To distinguish the two, I have number Zeitlin's notes as "[1]" etc. and mine as "[M1]" etc. Otherwise I have not changed the original, except that (i) I have deleted the page numbers Gutenberg's editors included (ii) I have inserted my notes as clickable links, like Zeitlins and (iii) I have inserted quite a number of links to Wikipedia, so as to provide some background, and also some links to essays of Hazlitt that are on my site.

Then again, my notes to the following have to be made later, in view of my health and computer problems. See below.



Hazlitt characterized the age he lived in as “critical, didactic, paradoxical, romantic.”[1] [M1] It was the age of the Edinburgh Review, of the Utilitarians, of Godwin and Shelley, of Wordsworth and Byron—in a word of the French Revolution and all that it brought in its train. [M2] Poetry in this age was impregnated with politics; ideas for social reform sprang from the ground of personal sentiment. Hazlitt was born early enough to partake of the ardent hopes which the last decade of the eighteenth century held out, but his spirit came to ripeness in years of reaction in which the battle for reform seemed a lost hope. While the changing events were bringing about corresponding changes in the ideals of such early votaries to liberty as Coleridge and Wordsworth, Hazlitt continued to cling to his enthusiastic faith, but at the same time the spectacle of a world which turned away from its brightest dreams made of him a sharp critic of human nature, and his sense of personal disappointment turned into a bitterness hardly to be distinguished from cynicism. [M3] In a passionate longing for a better order of things, in the merciless denunciation of the cant and bigotry which was enlisted in the cause of the existing order, he resembled Byron. The rare union in his nature of the analytic and the emotional gave to his writings the very qualities which he enumerated as characteristic of the age, and his consistent sincerity made his voice distinct above many others of his generation. [M4]

Hazlitt’s earlier years reveal a restless conflict of the sensitive and the intellectual. His father, a friend of Priestley’s, was a Unitarian preacher, who, in his vain search for liberty of conscience, had spent three years in America with his family. Under him the boy was accustomed to the reading of sermons and political tracts, and on this dry nourishment he seemed to thrive till he was sent to the Hackney Theological College to begin his preparation for the ministry. His dissatisfaction there was not such as could be put into words—perhaps a hunger for keener sensations and an appetite for freer inquiry than was open to a theological student even of a dissenting church. [M5] After a year at Hackney he withdrew to his father’s home, where he found nothing more definite to do than to “solve some knotty point, or dip in some abstruse author, or look at the sky, or wander by the pebbled sea-side.”[2] This was probably the period of his most extensive reading. He absorbed the English novelists and essayists; he saturated himself with the sentiment of Rousseau; he studied Bacon and Hobbes and Berkeley and Hume; he became fascinated, in Burke, by the union of a wide intellect with a brilliant fancy and consummate rhetorical skill.[3] Though he called himself at this time dumb and inarticulate, and the idea of ever making literature his profession had not suggested itself to him, he was eager to talk about the things he read, and in Joseph Fawcett, a retired minister, he found an agreeable companion. “A heartier friend or honester critic I never coped withal.[4] “The writings of Sterne, Fielding, Cervantes, Richardson, Rousseau, Godwin, Goethe, etc. were the usual subjects of our discourse, and the pleasure I had had, in reading these authors, was more than doubled.”[5] How acutely sensitive he was to all impressions at this time is indicated by the effect upon him of the meeting with Coleridge and Wordsworth of which he has left a record in one of his most eloquent essays, “My First Acquaintance with Poets.” But his active energies were concentrated on the solution of a metaphysical problem which was destined to possess his brain for many years: in his youthful enthusiasm he was grappling with a theory concerning the natural disinterestedness of the human mind, apparently adhering to the bias which he had received from his early training.

But being come of age and finding it necessary to turn his mind to something more marketable than abstract speculation, he determined, though apparently without any natural inclination toward the art, to become a painter. He apprenticed himself to his brother John Hazlitt, who had gained some reputation in London for his miniatures. During the peace of Amiens in 1802, he travelled to the Louvre to study and copy the masterpieces which Napoleon had brought over from Italy as trophies of war. Here, as he “marched delighted through a quarter of a mile of the proudest efforts of the mind of man, a whole creation of genius, a universe of art,”[6] he imbibed a love of perfection which may have been fatal to his hopes of a career. At any rate it was soon after, while he was following the profession of itinerant painter through England, that he wrote to his father of “much dissatisfaction and much sorrow,” of “that repeated disappointment and that long dejection which have served to overcast and to throw into deep obscurity some of the best years of my life.”[7]

When Hazlitt abandoned painting, he fell back upon his analytic gift as a means of earning a living. Not counting his first published work, the Essay on the Principles of Human Action, which was purely a labor of love and fell still-born from the press, the tasks to which he now devoted his time were chiefly of the kind ordinarily rated as job work. He prepared an abridgement of Abraham Tucker’s Light of Nature, compiled the Eloquence of the British Senate, wrote a reply to Malthus’s Essay on Population, and even composed an elementary English Grammar. It would be a mistake to suppose that these labors were performed according to a system of mechanical routine. Hazlitt impressed something of his personality on whatever he touched. [M6] His violent attack on the inhuman tendencies of Malthus’s doctrines is pervaded by a glow of humanitarian indignation. For the Eloquence of the British Senate he wrote a sketch of Burke, which for fervor of appreciation and judicious analysis ranks with his best things of this class. Even the Grammar bears evidence of his enthusiasm for an idea. Whenever he has occasion to express his feelings on a subject of popular interest, his manner begins to grow animated and his language to gain in force and suppleness.

But Hazlitt continued firmly in the faith that it was his destiny to be a metaphysician. [M7] In 1812 he undertook to deliver a course of lectures on philosophy at the Russell Institution with the ambitious purpose of founding a system of philosophy “more conformable to reason and experience” than that of the modern material school which resolved “all thought into sensation, all morality into the love of pleasure, and all action into mechanical impulse.”[8] Though he did not succeed in founding a system, he probably interested his audience by a stimulating review of the main tendencies of English thought from Bacon and Hobbes to Priestley and Godwin.

At the conclusion of his last lecture, Hazlitt told the story of a Brahmin who, on being transformed into a monkey, “had no other delight than that of eating cocoanuts and studying metaphysics.” “I too,” he added, “should be very well contented to pass my life like this monkey, did I but know how to provide myself with a substitute for cocoanuts.” [M8a] But it must have become apparent to Hazlitt and his friends that he possessed a talent more profitable than that of abstract speculation. The vigor and vitality of the prose in these lectures, compared with the heavy, inert style of his first metaphysical writing, the freedom of illustration and poetic allusion, suggested the possibility of success in more popular forms of literature. He tried to work for the newspapers as theatrical and parliamentary reporter, but his temper and his habits were not adaptable to the requirements of daily journalism, and editors did not long remain complacent toward him. [M8] He did however, in the course of a few years, succeed in gaining admission to the pages of the Edinburgh Review and in establishing an enviable reputation as a writer, of critical and miscellaneous essays. Even in that anonymous generation he could not long contribute to any periodical without attracting attention. Readers were aroused by his bold paradox and by the tonic quality of his style. Editors appealed to him for “dashing articles,” for something “brilliant or striking” on any subject. Authors looked forward to a favorable notice from Hazlitt, and Keats even declared that it would be a compensation for being damned if Hazlitt were to do the damning.

In his essays the features of Hazlitt’s personality may be plainly recognized, and these reveal a triple ancestry. He claims descent from Montaigne by virtue of his original observation of humanity with its entire accumulation of custom and prejudice; he is akin to Rousseau in a high-strung susceptibility to emotions, sentiments, and ideas; and he is tinged with a cynicism to which there is no closer parallel than in the maxims of La Rochefoucauld. [M9] The union of the philosopher, the enthusiast, and the man of the world is fairly unusual in literature, but in Hazlitt’s case the union was not productive of any sharp contradictions. [M10] His common sense served as a ballast to his buoyant emotions; the natural strength of his feelings loosened the bonds which attached him to his favorite theories; his cynicism, by sharpening his perception of the frailty of human nature, prevented his philanthropic dreams from imposing themselves on him for reality. [M11]

The analytical gift manifested itself in Hazlitt precociously in the study of human nature. He characterized some of his schoolmates disdainfully as “fit only for fighting like stupid dogs and cats,” and at the age of twelve, while on a visit, he communicated to his father a caustic sketch of some English ladies who “require an Horace or a Shakespeare to describe them,” and whose “ceremonial unsociality” made him wish he were back in America. His metaphysical studies determined the direction which his observation of life should take. He became a remarkable anatomist of the constitution of human nature in the abstract, viewing the motives of men’s actions from a speculative plane. He excels in sharp etchings which bring the outline of a character into bold prominence. He is happy in defining isolated traits and in throwing a new light on much used words. “Cleverness,” he writes, “is a certain knack or aptitude at doing certain things, which depend more on a particular adroitness and off-hand readiness than on force or perseverance, such as making puns, making epigrams, making extempore verses, mimicking the company, mimicking a style, etc.... Accomplishments are certain external graces, which are to be learnt from others, and which are easily displayed to the admiration of the beholder, viz. dancing, riding, fencing, music, and so on.... Talent is the capacity of doing anything that depends on application and industry, such as writing a criticism, making a speech, studying the law.”[9] [M12] These innocent looking definitions are probably not without an ironic sting. It requires no great stretch of the imagination, for example, to catch in Hazlitt’s eye a sly wink at Lamb or a disdainful glance toward Leigh Hunt as he gives the reader his idea of cleverness or accomplishment.

Hazlitt’s definitions often startle and give a vigorous buffet to our preconceptions. He is likely to open an essay on “Good-Nature” by declaring that a good-natured man is “one who does not like to be put out of his way.... Good-nature is humanity that costs nothing;”[10] and he may describe a respectable man as “a person whom there is no reason for respecting, or none that we choose to name.”[11] [M13] Against the imputation of paradox, which such expressions expose him to, he has written his own defence, applying his usual analytical acuteness to distinguish between originality and singularity.[12] The contradiction of a common prejudice, which always passes for paradox, is often such only in appearance. It is true that an ingenious person may take advantage of the elusive nature of language to play tricks with the ordinary understanding, but it is equally true that words of themselves have a way of imposing on the uninquiring mind and passing themselves off at an inflated v`alue. No process is more familiar than that by which words in the course of a long life lose all their original power, and yet they will sometimes continue to exercise a disproportionate authority. Then comes the original mind, which, looking straight at the thing instead of accepting the specious title, discovers the incongruity between the pretence and the reality, and in the first shock of the disclosure annoyingly overturns our settled ideas. This is the spirit in which Carlyle seeks to strip off the clothes in which humanity has irrecognizably disguised itself, and it is the spirit in which Robert Louis Stevenson tries to free his old-world conscience from the old-world forms. To take a more recent parallel, it is the manner, somewhat exaggerated, in which Mr. G. K. Chesterton examines the upstart heresies of our own agitated day. There would be nothing fanciful in suggesting that all these men owed a direct debt to Hazlitt—Stevenson on many occasions acknowledged it.[13] Hazlitt was as honest and sincere as any of them. [M14] Though the opening of an essay may appear perverse, he is sure to enforce his point before proceeding very far. He accumulates familiar instances in such abundance as to render obvious what at first seemed paradoxical. He writes “On the Ignorance of the Learned” and makes it perfectly clear that no person knows less of the actual life of the world than he whose experience is confined to books. On the other hand he has a whole-hearted appreciation of pedantry: “The power of attaching an interest to the most trifling or painful pursuits, in which our whole attention and faculties are engaged, is one of the greatest happinesses of our nature.... He who is not in some measure a pedant, though he may be a wise, cannot be a very happy man.”[14] These two examples illustrate Hazlitt’s manner of presenting both views of a subject by concentrating his attention on each separately and examining it without regard to the other. On one occasion he anatomizes the faults of the dissenters, and on another he extols their virtues, “I have inveighed all my life against the insolence of the Tories, and for this I have the authority both of Whigs and Reformers; but then I have occasionally spoken against the imbecility of the Whigs, and the extravagance of the Reformers, and thus have brought all three on my back, though two out of the three regularly agree with all I say of the third party.”[15] The strange thing is not that he should have incurred the wrath of all parties, but that he should show surprise at the result. [M15]

Very often Hazlitt’s reflections are the generalization of his personal experience. The essay “On the Disadvantages of Intellectual Superiority” is but a record of the trials to which he was exposed by his morbid sensitiveness and want of social tact, and amid much excellent advice “On the Conduct of Life,” there are passages which merely reflect his own marital misfortunes. It is not so much that he is a dupe of his emotions, but in his view of life he attaches a higher importance to feeling than to reason, and so provides a philosophic basis for his strongest prejudices. “Custom, passion, imagination,” he declares, “insinuate themselves into and influence almost every judgment we pass or sentiment we indulge, and are a necessary help (as well as hindrance) to the human understanding; to attempt to refer every question to abstract truth and precise definition, without allowing for the frailty of prejudice, which is the unavoidable consequence of the frailty and imperfection of reason, would be to unravel the whole web and texture of human understanding and society.[M16][16]

It is this infusion of passion and sentiment, the addition of the warm breath of his personal experience, that gives the motion of life to his analytic essays, and a deep and solemn humanity to his abstract speculations. Hazlitt felt life with an intensity which reminds us of a more spacious age. “What a huge heap, a ‘huge, dumb heap,’ of wishes, thoughts, feelings, anxious cares, soothing hopes, loves, joys, friendships, it is composed of! How many ideas and trains of sentiment, long and deep and intense, often pass through the mind in only one day’s thinking or reading, for instance! How many such days are there in a year, how many years in a long life, still occupied with something interesting, still recalling some old impression, still recurring to some difficult question and making progress in it, every step accompanied with a sense of power, and every moment conscious of the ‘high endeavour and the glad success!’”[17] What an exultant sense of power over the resources of life! What an earnest delight in the tasting of every pleasure which the senses and the intelligence afford! His enjoyments comprehended the widest range of sensations and activities. He loved nature, he loved books, he loved pictures, he loved the theatre, he loved music and dancing. He loved good talk and good fellowship; he loved an idea and anyone who was susceptible to an idea. He also loved a spirited game of rackets, and though he hated brutality, he has left us a very vivid and sympathetic account of a prize-fight. Above all he loved the words truth and justice and humanity. With such sensibilities, it is no wonder that his last words should have been “I have had a happy life.”

As the phrase is ordinarily understood, Hazlitt’s dying expression might seem unaccountable. [M17] Outwardly few authors have been more miserable. Like the great French sentimentalist with whom we have compared him, a suspicious distrust of all who came near him converted his social existence into a restless fever. He had the gift of interpreting every contradiction to one of his favorite principles as a personal injury to himself, and in the tense state of party feeling then prevailing, the opportunities for taking offence were not limited. Hazlitt was one of the chief marks singled out for abuse by the critics of Government. To constant self-tormentings from within and persecution from without, there was added the misfortune of an unhappy marriage and of a still more unhappy love affair which lowered him in his own eyes as well as in the eyes of the world. From the point of view of the practical man, Hazlitt’s life would be declared a failure.

The result of Hazlitt’s hard experiences with the realities of life was to confirm him in a devoted attachment to the past. All his high enthusiasms, his sanguine dreams, his purest feelings continued to live for him in the past, and it was only by recurring to their memory in the dim distance that he could find assurance to sustain his faith. In the past all his experiences were refined, subtilized, transfigured. A sunny afternoon on Salisbury Plain, a walk with Charles and Mary Lamb under a Claude Lorraine sky, a visit to the Montpelier Gardens where in his childhood he drank tea with his father—occurrences as common as these were enveloped in a haze of glory. And rarer events, such as a visit to the pictures at Burleigh House, or to the galleries in the Louvre, tender visions of feminine grace and sweetness, were touched in the recollection with a depth and pathos which subdued even the most joyous impressions to a refined melancholy. In no other English writer is this rich sentiment of the past so eloquent, and no one was better qualified to describe its sources. “Time takes out the sting of pain; our sorrows after a certain period have been so often steeped in a medium of thought and passion, that they ‘unmould their essence’; and all that remains of our original impressions is what we would wish them to have been.... Seen in the distance, in the long perspective of waning years, the meanest incidents, enlarged and enriched by countless recollections, become interesting; the most painful, broken and softened by time, soothe.”[18] The “Farewell to Essay Writing” is perfumed with the odor of grateful memories from which the writer draws his “best consolation for the future.” He almost erects his feeling for the past into a religion. “Happy are they,” he exclaims, “who live in the dream of their own existence, and see all things in the light of their own minds; who walk by faith and hope; to whom the guiding star of their youth still shines from afar, and into whom the spirit of the world has not entered!... The world has no hold on them. They are in it, not of it; and a dream and a glory is ever around them! [M18][19] 

But this impassioned sentiment for the past was only a refuge such as Byron might seek among the glories of by-gone ages or amid the solitary Alpine peaks, where it was possible to regain the strength spent in grappling with the forces of the actual world and return newly nerved to the battle. For fighting was Hazlitt’s more proper element. He could hate with the same intensity that he loved, and his hatred was aroused most by those whom he regarded as responsible for the overturning of his political hopes. Politics had played the most important part in his early education. In his father’s house he had absorbed the spirit of protest, accustomed himself to arguing for the repeal of the Test Act, and to declaiming against religious and political persecution. At the age of twelve he had written an indignant letter to the Shrewsbury Chronicle against the mob of incendiaries which had destroyed the house of Priestley, and as a student at Hackney he showed sufficient self-reliance to develop an original “Essay on Laws.” The defence of the popular cause was with him not an academic exercise, but a religious principle. “Since a little child, I knelt and lifted up my hands in prayer for it.”[20] The emotional warmth of his creed was heightened by the reading of Rousseau, and in Napoleon it found a living hero on whom it could expend itself. [M19]

An uncompromising attachment to certain fundamental principles of democracy and an unceasing devotion to Napoleon constitute the chief elements of Hazlitt’s political character. He sets forth his idea of representative government exactly in the manner of Rousseau when he proclaims that “in matters of feeling and common sense, of which each individual is the best judge, the majority are in the right.... It is an absurdity to suppose that there can be any better criterion of national grievances, or the proper remedies for them, than the aggregate amount of the actual, dear-bought experience, the honest feelings, and heart-felt wishes of a whole people, informed and directed by the greatest power of understanding in the community, unbiassed by any sinister motive.[M20][21] Hazlitt was not a republican, and he disapproved of the Utopian rhapsodies of Shelley, woven as they seemed of mere moonshine, without applicability to the evils that demanded immediate reform. But he did insist that there was a power in the people to change its government and its governors, and hence grew his idolatry of Napoleon, who, through all vicissitudes, remained the “Child and Champion of the Revolution,” the hero who had shown Europe how its established despots could be overthrown.

The news of Waterloo plunged Hazlitt into deep distress, as if it had been the shock of a personal calamity. According to Haydon, “he walked about unwashed, unshaven, hardly sober by day, always intoxicated by night, literally for weeks.” But his disappointment only strengthened his attachment to his principles. These remained enshrined with the brightest dreams of his youth, and in proportion as the vision faded and men were beginning to scoff at it as a shadow, Hazlitt bent his energies to fix its outline and prove its reality. “I am attached to my conclusions,” he says, “in consequence of the pain, the anxiety, and the waste of time they have cost me. [M21][22] His doctrines contained nothing that was subversive of social order, and their ultimate triumph lends the color of heroism to a consistency which people have often interpreted as proof of a limited horizon. It is at least certain that he did not put his conscience out to market, and that his reward came in the form of the vilest calumny ever visited upon a man of letters. [M22]

These were the most infamous years of the Quarterly Review and Blackwood’s Magazine, both of which had been founded as avowed champions of reaction. Their purpose was to discredit all writers whose politics or the politics of whose friends differed from the Government. Everybody knows of the fate which Keats and Shelley suffered at their hands, chiefly because they were friends of Leigh Hunt, who was the editor of a Liberal newspaper which had displeased George IV. Even the unoffending Lamb did not escape their brutality, perhaps because he was guilty of admitting Hazlitt to his house. [M23] The weapons were misrepresentation and unconfined abuse, wielded with an utter disregard of where the blows might fall, in the spirit of a gang of young ruffians who knew that they were protected in their wantonness by a higher authority. In the chastened sadness of his later years Lockhart, who was one of the offenders, confessed that he had no personal grudge against any of Blackwood’s victims, in fact that he knew nothing about any of them, but that at the request of John Wilson, his fellow-editor, he had composed “some squibberies ... with as little malice as if the assigned subject had been the court of Pekin.” The sincere regret he expressed for the pain which his “jokes” had inflicted ought perhaps to be counted in extenuation of his errors. It may be true, as his generous biographer suggests, that “his politics and his feud with many of these men was an affair of ignorance and accidental associations in Edinburgh,” that under different circumstances “he might have been found inditing sonnets to Leigh Hunt, and supping with Lamb, Haydon, and Hazlitt.[M24][23] But meanwhile irreparable mischief had been done to many reputations, and the life of one man had been sacrificed to his sportiveness.[24]

The signal for the attack on Hazlitt was given by the Quarterly in connection with a review of The Round Table, Hazlitt’s first book. The contents of this volume were characterized as “vulgar descriptions, silly paradox, flat truisms, misty sophistry, broken English, ill humour and rancorous abuse.”[25] A little later, when the Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays seemed to be finding such favor with the public that one edition was quickly exhausted, the Quarterly extinguished its sale by “proving that Mr. Hazlitt’s knowledge of Shakespeare and the English language is on a par with the purity of his morals and the depth of his understanding.”[26][27] The climax of abuse was reached in an article entitled “Hazlitt Cross-Questioned,” which a sense of decency makes it impossible to reproduce, and which resulted in the payment of damages to the victim. Even the publisher Blackwood speaks of it, with what sincerity it is not safe to say, as disgusting in tone, and Murray, who was the London agent for the Magazine, refused to have any further dealings with it. But the harm was done. Hazlitt could not walk out without feeling that every passer-by had read the atrocious article and saw the brand of the social outcast on his features. The cry was soon taken up by the Blackwood’s people in a series on the Cockney School of Prose. Lockhart invented the expression “pimpled Hazlitt.”  It so happened that Hazlitt’s complexion was unusually clear, but the epithet clung to him with a cruel tenacity. [M25] When an ill-natured reviewer could find nothing else to say, he had recourse to “pimpled essays” or “pimpled criticism.”

In an atmosphere like this, it is scarcely to be wondered at if Hazlitt’s temper, never of the amiable sort, should have become embittered, nor is it strange that he should sometimes, through ignorance, have committed the fault of which his enemies had been guilty in wantonness. Not content with retaliating the full measure of malice upon the heads of his immediate assailants, he turned the stream of his abuse upon Sir Walter Scott, whom he singled out deliberately as the towering head of a supposed literary conspiracy. He is credited with remarking; “To pay these fellows in their own coin, the way would be to begin with Walter Scott, and have at his clump foot.”[28] Very mean-spirited this sounds to us, who are acquainted with the nobility of Scott’s character and who know with what magnanimous wisdom he kept himself above the petty altercations of the day. [M26] But for Hazlitt, Sir Walter was the father-in-law and friendly patron of John Lockhart, he was the person who had thrown the weight of his powerful influence to make John Wilson Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh! He did not carry his prejudice against the Author of Waverley.

In some instances Hazlitt was consciously the aggressor, but his attacks were never wanton. He denounced Wordsworth and Coleridge and Southey because they were renegades from the cause which lay nearest to his heart. Their apostasy was an unforgivable offence in his eyes, and his wrath was proportioned to the admiration which he otherwise entertained for them. [M27] It is true that he treated their motives hastily and unjustly, but none of his opponents set him the example of charity. In the earlier years of their acquaintance Coleridge had spoken of Hazlitt as a “thinking, observant, original man.” one who “says things that are his own in a way of his own,”[29] whereas after their estrangement he discovered that Hazlitt was completely lacking in originality. Wordsworth, being offended at Hazlitt’s review of the “Excursion,” peevishly raked up an old scandal and wrote to Haydon that he was “not a proper person to be admitted into respectable society.”[30] Perhaps Hazlitt was not as “respectable” as his poet-friends, but he had a better sense of fair play. At any rate, in a complete balancing of the accounts, Hazlitt’s frequent displays of ill-temper are offset by the insidious, often unscrupulous baitings which he suffered from his opponents. [M28]

Naturally his bitterness was extended to his reflections on mankind in general. [M29] He felt as if the human race had wilfully deceived his sanguine expectations, and he poured out his grievances against its refractoriness, taking revenge for his public and his private wrongs, in a passage in which high idealism is joined with personal spite, in which he has revealed himself in all his strength and weakness, and involved his enemies in a common ruin with himself. It concludes the essay “On the Pleasure of Hating”:

“Instead of patriots and friends of freedom, I see nothing but the tyrant and the slave, the people linked with kings to rivet on the chains of despotism and superstition. I see folly join with knavery, and together make up public spirit and public opinions. I see the insolent Tory, the blind Reformer, the coward Whig! If mankind had wished for what is right, they might have had it long ago. The theory is plain enough; but they are prone to mischief, ‘to every good work reprobate.’ I have seen all that had been done by the mighty yearnings of the spirit and intellect of men, ‘of whom the world was not worthy,’ and that promised a proud opening to truth and good through the vista of future years, undone by one man, with just glimmering of understanding enough to feel that he was a king, but not to comprehend how he could be king of a free people! I have seen this triumph celebrated by poets, the friends of my youth and the friends of man, but who were carried away by the infuriate tide that, setting in from a throne, bore down every distinction of right reason before it; and I have seen all those who did not join in applauding this insult and outrage on humanity proscribed, hunted down (they and their friends made a bye-word of), so that it has become an understood thing that no one can live by his talents or knowledge who is not ready to prostitute those talents and that knowledge to betray his species, and prey upon his fellow-man.... In private life do we not see hypocrisy, servility, selfishness, folly, and impudence succeed, while modesty shrinks from the encounter, and merit is trodden under foot? How often is ‘the rose plucked from the forehead of a virtuous love to plant a blister there!’ What chance is there of the success of real passion? What certainty of its continuance? Seeing all this as I do, and unravelling the web of human life into its various threads of meanness, spite, cowardice, want of feeling, and want of understanding, of indifference towards others and ignorance of ourselves—seeing custom prevail over all excellence, itself giving way to infamy—mistaken as I have been in my public and private hopes, calculating others from myself, and calculating wrong; always disappointed where I placed most reliance; the dupe of friendship, and the fool of love; have I not reason to hate and to despise myself? Indeed I do; and chiefly for not having hated and despised the world enough.”[31]—This is not exactly downright cynicism; it is more like disappointment, beating its head frantically against the wall of circumstance. Yet through his bitterest utterances there is felt the warm sentiment that, “let people rail at virtue, at genius and friendship as long as they will—the very names of these disputed qualities are better than anything else that could be substituted for them, and embalm even the most angry abuse of them.”[32]

It is no wonder that Hazlitt has never been a popular favorite. With a stronger attachment to principles than to persons, lavishing upon ideas or the fanciful creations of art a passionate affection which he grudgingly withheld from human beings, stubbornly tenacious of a set of political dogmas to which he was ready to sacrifice his dearest friends, morbidly sensitive to the faintest suggestion of a personal slight, and prompter than the serpent to vent against the aggressor the bitterness of his poison, he plays the role of Ishmael among the men of letters in his day. [M30] The violence of his retorts when he felt himself injured and his capacity for giving offence even when he was not directly provoked, begot a resentment in his adversaries which blinded them to an appreciation of his genuine worth. At best they might have assented, after his death, to the sublime pity with which Carlyle, from his spiritual altitudes, moralized upon his struggles. “How many a poor Hazlitt must wander on God’s verdant earth, like the Unblest on burning deserts; passionately dig wells, and draw up only the dry quicksand; believe that he is seeking Truth, yet only wrestle among endless Sophisms, doing desperate battle as with spectre-hosts; and die and make no sign! [M31][33] We must appeal to the issue to determine whether Hazlitt’s battle was altogether against spectre-hosts, and whether in his quest for truth and beauty he has drawn up nothing but quicksand. But at least Carlyle’s expression recognizes the earnestness of his purpose and the bravery with which he maintained the conflict.

Footnotes: (by Jacob Zeitlin)

[1] Dramatic Essays, VIII, 415.

[2]On Living to One’s Self,” in Table Talk.

[3] “On Reading Old Books,” pp. 344-45.

[4] “On Criticism,” in Table Talk.

[5] Life of Holcroft, Works, II, 171, n.

[6] “On the Pleasure of Painting,” in Table Talk.

[7] W. C. Hazlitt: Lamb and Hazlitt (1900), p. 44. The letter in which these phrases are to be found is dated 1793 by Mr. W. C. Hazlitt, but the present writer has given a detailed statement of his reasons for believing that it was written in 1803. See Nation, October 19, 1911.

[8] XI, 26.

[9] Table Talk, “On the Indian Jugglers.”

[10] Round Table.

[11] “On Respectable People,” in Plain Speaker.

[12] “On Paradox and Commonplace,” in Table Talk.

[13] Hazlitt’s Table Talk was included by Stevenson in a youthful Catalogus Librorum Carissimorum. It is interesting that at the same time that Carlyle was composing Sartor Resartus, Hazlitt should have penned this bit of savage satire. “It has been often made a subject of dispute, What is the distinguishing characteristic of man? And the answer may, perhaps, be given that he is the only animal that dresses.... Swift has taken a good bird’s-eye view of man’s nature, by abstracting the habitual notions of size, and looking at it in great or in little: would that some one had the boldness and the art to do a similar service, by stripping off the coat from his back, the vizor from his thoughts, or by dressing up some other creature in similar mummery! It is not his body alone that he tampers with, and metamorphoses so successfully; he tricks out his mind and soul in borrowed finery, and in the admired costume of gravity and imposture. If he has a desire to commit a base or a cruel action without remorse and with the applause of the spectators, he has only to throw the cloak of religion over it, and invoke Heaven to set its seal on a massacre or a robbery. At one time dirt, at another indecency, at another rapine, at a fourth rancorous malignity, is decked out and accredited in the garb of sanctity. The instant there is a flaw, a ‘damned spot’ to be concealed, it is glossed over with a doubtful name. Again, we dress up our enemies in nicknames, and they march to the stake as assuredly as in san Benitos.... Strange, that a reptile should wish to be thought an angel; or that he should not be content to writhe and grovel in his native earth, without aspiring to the skies! It is from the love of dress and finery. He is the Chimney-sweeper on May-day all the year round: the soot peeps through the rags and tinsel, and all the flowers of sentiment!” Aphorisms on Man, LXIV. Works, XII, 227. [M32]

[14] Round Table, “On Pedantry.”

[15] “Knowledge of the World,” XII, 307.

[16] “On Prejudice,” XII, 396.

[17] Table Talk, “On the Past and Future.”

[18] Table Talk, “Why Distant Objects Please.”

[19] “Love of Power,” XI, 268.

[20] Life of Napoleon, chap. 34.

[21] “What is the People?” in Political Essays, III, 292.

[22] He tells of an experience in crossing the Alps which he intends should be symbolic of his whole life. From a great distance he thought he perceived Mont Blanc, but as the driver insisted that it was only a cloud, “I supposed that I had taken a sudden fancy for a reality. I began in secret to take myself to task, and to lecture myself for my proneness to build theories on the foundation of my conjectures and wishes. On turning round occasionally, however, I observed that this cloud remained in the same place, and I noticed the circumstance to our guide, as favoring my first suggestion; for clouds do not usually remain long in the same place. We disputed the point for half a day, and it was not till the afternoon when we had reached the other side of the lake of Neufchatel, that this same cloud rising like a canopy over the point where it had hovered, ‘in shape and station proudly eminent,’ he acknowledged it to be Mont Blanc.” Notes of a Journey Through France and Italy. Works, IX, 296. [M33]

[23] Andrew Lang’s Life of Lockhart, I, 63. 128-130.

[24] John Scott, the editor of the London Magazine, was killed in a duel arising from his retaliatory attacks on Lockhart and the Blackwood School of Criticism. See London Magazine, II, 509, 666; III, 76, and “Statement” prefatory to number for February, 1821.

[25] April, 1817.

[26] January, 1818.

[27] “I have been reading Frederick Schlegel.... He is like Hazlitt, in English, who talks pimples—a red and white corruption rising up (in little imitations of mountains upon maps), but containing nothing, and discharging nothing, except their own humours.” Byron’s Letters, Jan. 28, 1821 (ed. Prothero, V, 191). [M34]

[28] Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke’s Recollections of Writers, 147.

[29] Joseph Cottle: Reminiscences of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 465.

[30] Haydon’s Correspondence and Table Talk, II, 32.

[31] Plain Speaker.

[32] Characteristics, CCCVII.

[33]Characteristics,” in Carlyle’s Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (Chapman and Hall, 1898), III, 32.

As it happens, a combination of computer problems and health problems make it impossible to write out my notes today. If there is no NL the coming days, either of these is or are the probable reason(s), and else I hope to write my notes soon. Two  reasons for this hope are that I really like Hazlitt, for about half my life now, and indeed read a lot by him and about him, and that I do not want to write in Nederlog about ME/CFS all the time, because it makes no noticeable difference, and because my talents are in philosophy and logic rather than in journalism.

Anyway... hopefully more tomorrow, and if not I have just stated the reasons. As it is, you got today a part of a well-written essay about Hazlitt, in decent html, with links to Wikipedia for most of the background most people who did not specialize academically on Hazlitt or Hazlitt's time will probably not know, but which are quite interesting, and indeed many of the literary characters I provided links for, like Hazlitt, wrote a lot better English than was written in the 20th Century, possibly with one or two exceptions, even though no one then or in the 20th Century wrote as well as Hazlitt did - which is one important reason for me to know a lot about English literature between 1700 and 1830, and to like Hazlitt so much.

But judge for yourself: I cannot do it for you.

P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.
--Jun 25, 2011: I have inserted the links to my notes in
On Zeitlin on Hazlitt - 1 (notes)

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1.  Anthony Komarof Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)
3.  Hillary Johnson The Why
4.  Consensus of M.D.s Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5.   Eleanor Stein Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)
6.  William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7.  Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8.  Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
 Maarten Maartensz
ME in Amsterdam - surviving in Amsterdam with ME (Dutch)
 Maarten Maartensz Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Short descriptions of the above:                

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:

7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
9. I tell my story of surviving (so far) in Amsterdam with ME.
10. The directory on my site about ME.

See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.

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