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Jun 27, 2011           

Zeitlin on Hazlitt - 2

There was no Nederlog yesterday, but I did upload corrections and links to my On Zeitlin on Hazlitt - 1 (notes)

I have also remarked that I am aware Hazlitt is of interest to few, and indeed in the last link explained why, but then I write as I please, and not as others do.

So today there is more of the same, and to start with I reproduce the second part of Jacob Zeitlin's introduction to Hazlitt in his 1913

I gave the link before, and it is to the text of the whole book as edited in Project Gutenberg in html, that is quite well done, and consists, apart from Zeitlin's introduction, of a good selection from Hazlitt's essays.

My reproduction is on the same lines as in part 1:

and indeed is the second part of three, so I will not bother to repeat them, except by saying that Zeitlin's notes are on the pattern of "[1]" and appear below his text, in the present file, while my notes are on the pattern of "[M1]" and will be inserted later, and in another file, all as with the first part.

Here then is more Zeitlin, indeed part 2 of his introduction. I have inserted the links, that are nearly all to Wikipedia, to provide background. I decided to follow the format of the first part, and will insert my notes later and in a separate file. So apart from a remark of mine at the end, what follows is Zeitlin's text. Clicking on the title will lead you to the previous part.


Hazlitt gave himself freely and without reserve to his reader. By his side Leigh Hunt appears affected, De Quincey theatrical, Lamb—let us say discreet. Affectation and discretion were equally alien to Hazlitt’s nature, as they concerned either his personal conduct or his literary exercises. In regard to every impression, every prejudice, every stray thought that struggled into consciousness, his practice was, to use his own favorite quotation,

“To pour out all as plain
As downright Shippen or as old Montaigne.” [M1]

He has drifted far from the tradition of Addison and Steele with which his contemporaries sought to associate him. There was nothing in him of the courtier-like grace employed in the good-humored reproof of unimportant vices, of the indulgent, condescending admonition to the “gentle reader,” particularly of the fair sex. [M2] M3. In Hazlitt’s hands the essay was an instrument for the expression of serious thought and virile passion. [M3] He lacked indeed the temperamental balance of Lamb. His insight into human nature was intellectual rather than sympathetic. [M4] Though as a philosopher he understood that the web of life is of a mingled yarn, he has given us none of those rare glimpses of laughter ending in tears or of tears subsiding in a tender smile which are the sources of Lamb’s depth and his charm. The same thing is true of his humor. He relished heartily its appearance in others and had a most wholesome laugh; but in himself there is no real merriment, only an ironic realization of the contrasts of life. When he writes, the smile which sometimes seeks to overpower the grim fixity of his features, is frozen before it can emerge to the surface. He lacks all the ingratiating arts which make a writer beloved. But if one enjoys a keen student of the intricacies of character, a bold and candid critic of human imperfections, a stimulating companion full of original ideas and deep feelings, he will find in Hazlitt an inexhaustible source of instruction and delight. [M5] Hazlitt has long appealed to men of vigorous character and acute intellect, men like Landor, Froude, Walter Bagehot, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Ernest Henley, who have either proclaimed his praise or flattered him with imitation. By the friend who knew him longest and was better qualified than any other to speak of him, he has been pronounced as “in his natural and healthy state, one of the wisest and finest spirits breathing.”[34] [M6]


The discovery in the seventeenth century of the Greek treatise “On the Sublime,” attributed to Longinus, with its inspired appreciation of the great passages in Greek literature so different from the analytic manner of Aristotle, gave a decided impulse to English criticism. It was at the same time that English prose, under the influence of French models, was developing a more familiar tone than it had hitherto been acquainted with. The union of the enthusiasm of Longinus with this moderated French prose resulted in the graceful prefaces of Dryden, which remained unmatched for more than a century. The Longinian fire, breathed upon too by the genius of Shakespeare, preserved the eighteenth century from congealing into the utter formalism of pseudo-Aristotelian authority. Though they did not produce an even warmth over the whole surface, the flames are observed darting through the crust even where the crust seems thickest. It is significant that Dr. Johnson should exclaim with admiration at the criticism of Dryden, not because Dryden judged according to rules but because his was the criticism of a poet. And he singles out as the best example of such criticism the well-known appreciation of Shakespeare, the very passage which Hazlitt later quoted as “the best character of Shakespeare that has ever been written.”[35] The high-priest of classicism wavered frequently in his allegiance to some of the sacred fetishes of his cult, and had enough grace, once at least, to speak with scorn of the “cant of those who judged by principles rather than by perception.”[36] [M7]

But to judge by perception is a comparatively rare accomplishment, and so most critics continued to employ the foot-rule as if they were measuring flat surfaces, while occasionally going so far as to recognize the existence of certain mountain-peaks as “irregular beauties.” In a more or less conscious distinction from the criticism of external rules there developed also during the eighteenth century what its representatives were pleased to call metaphysical criticism, to which we should now probably apply the term psychological. This consisted in explaining poetic effects by reference to strictly mental processes in a tone of calm analysis eminently suited to the rationalistic temper of the age. It methodically traced the sources of grandeur or of pathos or of humor, and then illustrated its generalization by the practice of the poets. It could thereby pride itself on going back of the rules to the fundamental laws of human nature. Kames’s Elements of Criticism, written in 1761, became a work of standard reference, though it did not impose on the great critics. In commending it Dr. Johnson was careful to remark, “I do not mean that he has taught us anything; but he has told us old things in a new way.”[37] But in general Kames was considered a safer guide than the enthusiastic Longinus, who throughout the century was looked upon with distrust. “Instead of shewing for what reason a sentiment or image is sublime, and discovering the secret power by which they affect a reader with pleasure, he is ever intent on producing something sublime himself, and strokes of his own eloquence.” So runs the complaint of Joseph Warton.[38] The distrust was not without ground. The danger that the method of Longinus in the hands of ungifted writers would become a cloak for critical ignorance and degenerate into empty bluster was already apparent.[39] [M8] Only rarely was there a reader who could distinguish between the false and the true application of the method. Gibbon did it in a passage which impressed itself upon the younger critics of Hazlitt’s generation. “I was acquainted only with two ways of criticising a beautiful passage: the one, to shew, by an exact anatomy of it, the distinct beauties of it, and whence they sprung; the other, an idle exclamation, or a general encomium, which leaves nothing behind it. Longinus has shewn me that there is a third. He tells me his own feelings upon reading it; and tells them with such energy, that he communicates them.”[40] That vital element, the commentator’s power of communicating his own feelings, constituting as it does the difference between phrase-making and valuable criticism, did not become prominent in English literature before the nineteenth century.[M9]

The official criticism of the early nineteenth century as represented by the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews, derives its descent directly from the eighteenth. Whatever the Government might have thought of the politics of the Edinburgh, its literary outlook remained unexceptionably orthodox. Jeffrey’s “Essay on Beauty” is a direct copy of Adison’s “Essay on Taste.” Much as Dr. Johnson in the preceding age, Jeffrey prided himself on the moral tendency of his criticism—a morality which consisted in censuring the life of Burns and in exalting the virtuous insipidities of Maria Edgeworth’s tales as it might have been done by any faithful minister of the gospel. [M10] To be sure he cannot be said to have held tenaciously to the old set of canons. Though he stanchly withstood the new-fangled poetic practices of Wordsworth and of Southey, he bowed before the great popularity of Scott and Byron, even at the cost of some of his favorite maxims. In his writings the solvents of the older criticism are best seen at work. Jeffrey both by instinct and training was a lawyer, and his position at the head of the most respected periodical formed a natural temptation to a dictatorial manner. He was a judge who tried to uphold the literary constitution but wavered in the face of a strong popular opposition. When the support of precedent failed him, he remained without any firm conviction of his own. While his poetic taste was quite adequate to the appreciation of a Samuel Rogers or a Barry Cornwall, it was incomparably futile in the perception of a Wordsworth or a Shelley. [M11]   In a passage composed at the end of his long editorial career in 1829, he unconsciously announced his own extinction as a critic:

“Since the beginning of our critical career, we have seen a vast deal of beautiful poetry pass into oblivion, in spite of our feeble efforts to recall or retain it in remembrance. The tuneful quartos of Southey are already little better than lumber:—and the rich melodies of Keats and Shelley,—and the fantastical emphasis of Wordsworth,—and the plebeian pathos of Crabbe, are melting fast from the field of our vision. The novels of Scott have put out his poetry. Even the splendid strains of Moore are fading into distance and dimness, except where they have been married to immortal music; and the blazing star of Byron himself is receding from its place of pride. We need say nothing of Milman, and Croly, and Atherstone, and Hood, and a legion of others, who, with no ordinary gifts of taste and fancy, have not so properly survived their fame, as been excluded by some hard fatality, from what seemed their just inheritance. The two who have the longest withstood this rapid withering of the laurel, and with the least marks of decay on their branches, are Rogers and Campbell; neither of them, it may be remarked, voluminous writers, and both distinguished rather for the fine taste and consummate elegance of their writings, than for that fiery passion, and disdainful vehemence, which seemed for a time to be so much more in favour with the public.”[41]

But the authority of Jeffrey did not long remain unchallenged. His unfortunate “This will never do” became a by-word among the younger writers who were gradually awaking to the realization of a new spirit in criticism. The protest against the methods of the dictatorial quarterlies found expression in the two brilliant monthly periodicals, Blackwood’s and the London Magazine, founded respectively in 1817 and 1820. In these no opportunity was neglected to thrust at the inflated pretensions of the established reviews, and, though the animus of rivalry might be suspected of playing its part, the blows usually struck home. There is an air of absolute finality about Lockhart’s “Remarks on the Periodical Criticism of England,” and his characterization of Jeffrey in this article is a bold anticipation of the judgment of posterity.[42] The editor of the London Magazine[43] writes with equal assurance, “We must protest against considering the present taste as the standard of excellence, or the criticisms on poetry in the Edinburgh Review as the voice even of the present taste.” The test of critical eligibility in this age is an appreciation of Wordsworth and a proper understanding of Coleridge his prophet, [M12] and it is by virtue of what inspiration they drew from these oracles that John Lockhart and John Scott became better qualified than Jeffrey or Gifford to form the literary opinions of the public.

Coleridge more than any other person was responsible for bringing about a change in the attitude of literature toward criticism. As Hazlitt puts it with his inimitable vividness, he “threw a great stone into the standing pool of criticism, which splashed some persons with the mud, but which gave a motion to the surface and a reverberation to the neighbouring echoes, which has not since subsided.”[44] Whether his ideas were borrowed from the Germans or evolved in his own brain, their importance for English literature remains the same. Coleridge’s service lay in asserting and reasserting such fundamental principles as that a critical standard is something quite distinct from a set of external rules; that the traditional opposition between genius and laws was based on a misconception as to the function of the critic; that all great genius necessarily worked in accordance with certain laws which it was the function of the critic to determine by a study of each particular work of art; that art, being vital and organic, assumed different shapes at different epochs of human culture; that only the spirit of poetry remained constant, while its form was molded anew by each age in accordance with the demands of its own life; that it was no more reasonable to judge Shakespeare’s plays by the practice of Sophocles than to judge sculpture by the rules of painting. “O! few have there been among critics, who have followed with the eye of their imagination the imperishable yet ever wandering spirit of poetry through its various metempsychoses; or who have rejoiced with the light of clear perception at beholding with each new birth, with each rare avatar, the human race frame to itself a new body, by assimilating materials of nourishment out of its new circumstances, and work for itself new organs of power appropriate to the new sphere of its motion and activity.”[45] This rare grasp of general principles was combined in Coleridge with poetic vision and a declamatory eloquence which enabled him to seize on the more ardent and open-minded men of letters and to determine their critical viewpoint.

William Hazlitt was among the earliest to fall under Coleridge’s spell. Just how much he owed to Coleridge beyond the initial impulse it is impossible to prove, because so much of the latter’s criticism was expressed during improvised monologues at the informal meetings of friends, or in lectures of which only fragmentary notes remain. [M13] At any rate, while Coleridge’s chief distinction lay in the enunciation of general principles, Hazlitt’s practice, in so far as it took account of these general principles at all, assumed their existence, and displayed its strength in concrete judgments of individual literary works. His criticism may be said to imply at every step the existence of Coleridge’s, or to rise like an elegant superstructure on the solid foundation which the other had laid. Hazlitt communicated to the general public that love and appreciation of great literature which Coleridge inspired only in the few elect. The latter, even more distinctly than a poet for poets, was a critic for critics,[46] and three generations have not succeeded in absorbing all his doctrines. [M14] But Hazlitt, with a delicate sensitiveness to the impressions of genius, with a boundless zest of poetic enjoyment, with a firm common sense to control his taste, and with a gift of original expression unequalled in his day, arrested the attention of the ordinary reader and made effective the principles which Coleridge with some vagueness had projected. [M15] To analyze in cold blood such living criticism as Hazlitt’s may expose one to unflattering imputations, but the attempt may serve to bring to light what is so often overlooked, that Hazlitt’s criticism is no random, irresponsible discharge of his sensibilities, but has an implicit basis of sound theory.[M16]

In his History of Criticism, Mr. Saintsbury takes as his motto for the section on the early nineteenth century a sentence from Sainte-Beuve to the effect that nearly the whole art of the critic consists in knowing how to read a book with judgment and without ceasing to relish it.[47] [M17] We are almost ready to believe that the French critic, in the significant choice of the words judgment and relish, is consciously summarizing the method of Hazlitt, the more so as he elsewhere explicitly confesses a sympathy with the English critic.[48] Hazlitt has indeed himself characterized his art in some such terms. In one of his lectures he modestly describes his undertaking “merely to read over a set of authors with the audience, as I would do with a friend, to point out a favorite passage, to explain an objection; or if a remark or a theory occurs, to state it in illustration of the subject, but neither to tire him nor puzzle myself with pedantical rules and pragmatical formulas of criticism that can do no good to anybody.”[49] [M18] This sounds dangerously like dilettantism. It suggests the method of what in our day is called impressionism, one of the most delightful forms of literary entertainment when practiced by a master of literature. The impressionist’s aim is to record whatever impinges on his brain, and though with a writer of fine discernment it is sure to be productive of exquisite results, as criticism it is undermined by the impressionist’s assumption that every appreciation is made valid by the very fact of its existence. But this was scarcely Hazlitt’s idea of criticism. Against universal suffrage in matters literary he would have been among the first to protest. We might almost imagine we were listening to some orthodox theorist of the eighteenth century when we hear him declaring that the object of taste “must be that, not which does, but which would please universally, supposing all men to have paid an equal attention to any subject and to have an equal relish for it, which can only be guessed at by the imperfect and yet more than casual agreement among those who have done so from choice and feeling.”[50] [M19] Though not the surest kind of clue, this indicates at least that Hazlitt’s rejection of “pedantical rules and pragmatical formulas” was not equivalent to a declaration of anarchy.

For Hazlitt the assertion of individual taste meant emancipation from arbitrary codes and an opportunity to embrace a compass as wide as the range of literary excellence. Realizing that every reader, even the professed critic, is hemmed in by certain prejudices arising from his temperament, his education, his environment, he was unwilling to pledge his trust to any school or fashion of criticism. [M20] The favorite oppositions of his generation—Shakespeare and Pope, Fielding and Richardson, English poetry and French—had no meaning for him. He was glad to enjoy each in its kind. “The language of taste and moderation is, I prefer this, because it is best to me; the language of dogmatism and intolerance is, Because I prefer it, it is best in itself, and I will allow no one else to be of a different opinion.”[51] [M21] This passage, in connection with the one last quoted, may be considered as fixing the limits within which Hazlitt gave scope to personal preference. The sum of his literary judgments reveals a taste for a greater variety of the works of genius than is displayed by any contemporary, and the absence of “a catholic and many-sided sympathy”[52] is one of the last imputations that should have been brought against him. His criticism has limitations, but not such as are due to a narrowness of literary perception.

Even Hazlitt’s shortcomings may frequently be turned to his glory as a critic. [M22] The most remarkable thing about his violent political prejudices is the success with which he dissociated his literary estimates from them. Such a serious limitation in a critic as deficiency of reading in his case only raises our astonishment at the sureness of instinct which enabled him to pronounce unerringly on the scantest information. [M23] Never was there a critic of nearly equal pretensions who had as little of the scholar’s equipment. If, as he tells us, he applied himself too closely to his studies at a certain period in his youth,[53] he atoned for it by his neglect of books in later life.[54] A desultory education had left him without that intimacy with the classics which belonged of right to every cultivated Englishman. [M24] His allusions to the Greek and Latin writers are in the most general terms, but with a note of reverence which did not enter into his speech concerning even Shakespeare. “I would have you learn Latin (he is writing to his son) because there is an atmosphere round this sort of classical ground, to which that of actual life is gross and vulgar.”[55] His knowledge of Italian was no more thorough, though here he was more nearly on a level with his contemporaries. For Boccaccio indeed he showed an intense affection, and he could write intelligently, if not deeply, concerning Dante and Ariosto and Tasso.[56] [M25] With French he naturally had a wider acquaintance, but still nothing beyond the reach of the very general reader. The notable point is that he refrains from passing judgment on the entire body of French poetry because it is unlike English poetry. He is not infected with the wilful provincialism of Lamb nor with the spirit of John Bullishness which seriously proclaims in its rivals “equally a want of books and men.”[57]  “We may be sure of this,” says Hazlitt, “that when we see nothing but grossness and barbarism, or insipidity and verbiage in a writer that is the God of a nation’s idolatry, it is we and not they who want true taste and feeling.”[58] [M26] Having this wholesome counsel ever before him, he can be more generously appreciative of the genius of Molière, more justly discerning in his analysis of the spirit of Rousseau,[59] and more free of the puritanical clatter against Voltaire than any of his fellow-critics. With German literature his familiarity was bounded on the one hand by Schiller’s “Robbers,” on the other by the first part of “Faust,” the entire gap between these being filled by the popular versions of Kotzebue’s plays and Mme. de Staël’s book on Germany. Yet he dared to write a character of the German people which is almost worth quoting.[60] [M27]

In English his range of reading was correspondingly narrow. [M28] Such a piece of waywardness as his enthusiasm for John Buncle,[61] derived no doubt from Lamb, is unique. Broadly speaking, he prefers to accept the established canon and approaches new discoveries with a deep distrust. He is very little concerned with writers of the second order, and in his Lecture on the Living Poets he shocked his audience unspeakably, when he came to the name of Hannah More, by merely remarking, “She has written a great deal which I have never read.” He looked upon most living writers through the eyes of the somewhat jaded reviewer, who, though susceptible to a romantic thrill from one or the other, is usually on his guard against spurious blandishments and reluctant to admit the claims of new pretenders. Even in poets of the first rank he slurred over a great deal; but what he loved he dwelt on with a kind of rapt inspiration until it became his second nature, its spirit and its language fused intimately with his own. This revolutionist in politics was a jealous aristocrat in the domains of art, and this admission does not impair our earlier assertion of his openness to a greater variety of impressions than any of his contemporaries in criticism.[M29]

Hazlitt’s professed indifference to system is probably due as much to lack of deep reading as to romantic impatience of restraint. When he declared that it was beyond his powers “to condense and combine all the facts relating to a subject”[62] or that “he had no head for arrangement,”[63] [M30] it was only because he did not happen to be a master of the facts which required combination or arrangement. For he did have an unusual gift for penetrating to the core of a subject and tearing out the heart of its mystery; in fact, his power of concrete literary generalization was in his age unmatched. To reveal the distinctive virtue of a literary form, to characterize the sources of weakness or of strength in a new or a by-gone fashion of poetry, to analyze accurately the forces impelling a whole mighty age—these things, requiring a deep and steady concentration of mind, are among his most solid achievements. [M30a] In a paragraph he distils for us the essence of what is picturesque and worth dwelling on in the comedy of the Restoration. In a page he triumphantly establishes the boundary-line between the poetry of art and nature—Pope and Shakespeare—which to the present day remains as a clear guide, while at the same time Campbell and Byron and Bowles are filling the periodicals with protracted and often irrelevant arguments on one side or the other which only the critically curious now venture to look into. In the space of a single lecture he takes a sweeping view of all the great movements which gave vitality and grandeur to the Elizabethan spirit and found a voice in its literature, so that in spite of his little learning he seems to have left nothing for his followers but to fill in his outline. [M31] The same keenness of discernment he applied casually in dissecting the genius of his own time. He associated the absence of drama with the French Revolution, its tendency to deal in abstractions and to regard everything in relation to man and not men—a tendency irreconcilable with dramatic literature, which is essentially individual and concrete.[64] [M32] To be sure the eighteenth century before the Revolution was as void of drama as Hazlitt’s generation, but what is true of the period which produced Political Justice and the Edinburgh Review would hold equally of the time which produced the “Essay on Man” and the deistic controversy. He sometimes harshly exposes the weaker side of contemporary lyricism as a “mere effusion of natural sensibility,” and he regrets the absence of “imaginary splendor and human passion” as of a glory departed.[65] But with all this he had the true historical sense. It breaks out most unmistakably when he says, “If literature in our day has taken this decided turn into a critical channel, is it not a presumptive proof that it ought to do so?”[66] [M33] Of the actual application of historical principles, which were just beginning to be realized in the study of literature, we find only a few faint traces in Hazlitt. Some remarks on the influence of climate and of religious and political institutions occur in his contributions to the Edinburgh, but occasionally their perfunctory manner suggests the editorial pen of Jeffrey. Doubtless Hazlitt’s discriminating judgment would have enabled him to excel in this field, had he been equipped with the necessary learning. [M34]

It may also be a serious limitation of Hazlitt’s that he neglects questions of structure and design. Doubtless he was reacting against the jargon of the older criticism with its lifeless and monotonous repetitions about invention and fable and unity, giving nothing but the “superficial plan and elevation, as if a poem were a piece of formal architecture.”[67] [M35] In avoiding the study of the design of “Paradise Lost” or of the “Faerie Queene” he may have brought his criticism nearer to the popular taste; but he deliberately shut himself off from a vision of some of the higher reaches of poetic art, perhaps betraying thereby that lack of “imagination” with which he has sometimes been charged.[68] His interpretation of an author is therefore occasionally in danger of becoming an appreciation of isolated characters, or scenes, or passages, as if he were actually reading him over with his audience. But this is a limitation which Hazlitt shares with all the finer critics of his day.

After all these shortcomings have been acknowledged, the permanence of Hazlitt’s achievement appears only the more remarkable. It is clear that the gods made him critical. The two essential qualities of judgment and taste he seems to have possessed from the very beginning. It is impossible to trace in him any development of taste; his growth is but the succession of his literary experiences. [M36] One looks in vain for any of those errors of youth such as are met even in a Coleridge enamored of Bowles. What extravagance of tone Hazlitt displayed in his early criticism he carried with him to his last day. If any change is to be noted, it is in the growing keenness of his appreciation. The early maturity of his judicial powers is attested by the political and metaphysical tendency of his youthful studies. His birth as a full-fledged critic awaited only the stirring of the springs of his eloquence, as is evident from the excellence of what is practically his first literary essay, the “Character of Burke.”

No critic has approached books with so intense a passion as Hazlitt. That sentimental fondness for the volumes themselves, especially when enriched by the fragrance of antiquity, which gives so delicious a savor to the bookishness of Lamb, was in him conspicuously absent. [M37] For him books were only a more vivid aspect of life itself. “Tom Jones,” he tells us, was the novel that first broke the spell of his daily tasks and made of the world “a dance through life, a perpetual gala-day.”[69] Keats could not have romped through the “Faerie Queene” with more spirit than did Hazlitt through the length and breadth of eighteenth century romance, and the young poet’s awe before the majesty of Homer was hardly greater than that of the future critic when a Milton or a Wordsworth swam into his ken. This hot and eager interest, deprived of its outlet in the form of direct emulation, sought a vent in communicating itself to others and in making converts to its faith. So intimately did Hazlitt feel the spell of a work of genius, that its life-blood was transfused into his own almost against his will. “I wish,” he exclaims, “I had never read the Emilius ... I had better have formed myself on the model of Sir Fopling Flutter.[70] [M38] He entered into the poet’s creation with a sympathy amounting almost to poetic vision, and the ever-present sense of the reality of the artist’s world led him to interpret literature primarily in relation to life. The poetry of character and passion is what he regards of most essential interest.[71] This point of view unintentionally converts his familiar essays on life into a literary discourse, and gives to his formal criticism the tone of a study of life at its sources, raising it at once to the same level with creative literature. Though he nowhere employs the now familiar formula of “literature and life,” the lecture “On Poetry in General” is largely an exposition of this outlook.

Life in its entire compass is regarded as the rough material of literature, but it does not become literature until the artist’s imagination, as with a divine ray, has penetrated the mass and inspired it with an ideal existence. [M39] Among the numerous attempts of his contemporaries to define the creative faculty of the poet, this comparatively simple one of Hazlitt’s is worth noting. “This intuitive perception of the hidden analogies of things, or, as it may be called, this instinct of imagination, is perhaps what stamps the character of genius on the productions of art more than any other circumstance: for it works unconsciously, like nature, and receives its impressions from a kind of inspiration.”[72] [M40] It is this power that he has in mind when he says “Poetry is infusing the same spirit in a number of things, or bathing them all as it were, in the same overflowing sense of delight.”[73] It shows Hazlitt to have fully apprehended the guiding principle of the new ideal of criticism which, looking upon the work of art as an act of original creation and not of mechanical composition, based its judgment on a direct sympathy with the artist’s mind instead of resorting to a general rule. In the light of this principle he is enabled to avoid the pitfalls of a moralistic interpretation of literature and to decide the question as to the relative importance of substance and treatment with a certainty which seems to preclude the possibility of any other answer.

It is not the dignity of the theme which constitutes the great work of art, for in that case a prose summary of the “Divine Comedy” would be as exalted as the original, and it would be necessary merely to know the subject of a poem in order to pass judgment upon it. A low or a trivial subject may be raised by the imagination of the artist who recognizes in it the elements of beauty or power. No definition of poetry can be worth anything which would exclude “The Rape of the Lock”; and Murillo’s painting of “The Two Beggar Boys” is as much worth having “as almost any picture in the world.”[74] “Yet it is not true that execution is everything, and the class or subject nothing. The highest subjects, equally well-executed (which, however, rarely happens), are the best.”[75] Though each is perfect in its kind, there can be no difficulty in deciding the question of greatness between “King Lear” and “The Comedy of Errors.” “The greatest strength of genius is shewn in describing the strongest passions: for the power of imagination, in works of invention, must be in proportion to the force of the natural impressions, which are the subject of them.”[76] One also finds a test of relative values in the measure of fulness with which the work of art reflects the complex elements of life. If we estimate a tragedy of Shakespeare above one of Lillo or Moore, it is because “impassioned poetry is an emanation of the moral and intellectual part of our nature, as well as of the sensitive—of the desire to know, the will to act, and the power to feel; and ought to appeal to these different parts of the constitution, in order to be perfect.”[77] [M41]

In treating of the specific distinction of poetry Hazlitt does not escape the usual difficulties. Taking his point of departure from Milton’s “thoughts that voluntary move harmonious numbers,” he defines poetry in a passage that satisfactorily anticipates the familiar one of Carlyle, as “the music of language answering to the music of the mind.... Wherever any object takes such a hold of the mind as to make us dwell upon it, and brood over it, melting the heart in tenderness, or kindling it to a sentiment of enthusiasm;—wherever a movement of imagination or passion is impressed on the mind, by which it seeks to prolong or repeat the emotion, to bring all other objects into accord with it, and to give the same movement of harmony, sustained and continuous, or gradually varied according to the occasion, to the sounds that express it—this is poetry. The musical in sound is the sustained and continuous; the musical in thought is the sustained and continuous also. There is a near connection between music and deep-rooted passion.”[78] In this mystical direction a definition could go no further, but like nearly all writers and speakers Hazlitt is inclined to use the word poetry in a variety of more or less connected meanings,[79] ordinarily legitimate enough, but somewhat embarrassing when it is a question of definition. [M42]“That which lifts the spirit above the earth, which draws the soul out of itself with indescribable longings, is,” he says, “poetry in kind, and generally fit to become so in name, by ‘being married to immortal verse.’”[80] If it is true that Pilgrim’s Progress and Robinson Crusoe possess the “essence and the power of poetry” and require only the addition of verse to become absolutely so,[81] then the musical expression is only a factitious ornament, to be added or removed at the caprice of the writer. But Hazlitt is careful to declare that verse does not make the whole difference between poetry and prose, leaving the whole question as vaguely suspended as ever.[82]

Bare theorizing, according to his own confession, was no favorite pursuit with Hazlitt. He enjoyed himself much more in the analysis of an individual author or his work. His aversion to literary cant, his love of “saying things that are his own in a way of his own,” were here most in evidence. [M43] What he says of Milton might appropriately be applied to himself, that he formed the most intense conception of things and then embodied them by a single stroke of his pen. In a phrase or in a sentence he stamped the character of an author indelibly, and, enemy to commonplace though he was, became a cause of commonplace in others. No matter how much might already have been written on a subject (and Hazlitt did not make a practice of celebrating neglected obscurity) his own view stood out fresh and clear, and yet his judgments were never eccentric. He wrestled with a writer’s thoughts, absorbed his most passionate feelings, and mirrored back his most exquisite perceptions with “all the color, the light and the shade.” His fertility is more amazing than his intensity, for no critic of nearly equal rank has enriched English literature with so many valuable and enduring judgments on so great a variety of subjects. [M44] Dr. Johnson is by common consent the spokesman of the eighteenth century, or of its dominant class; Coleridge and Lamb are entitled to the glory of revealing the literature between Spenser and Milton to English readers, and the former rendered the additional service of acting as the interpreter of Wordsworth. But to give an idea of Hazlitt’s scope would require a summary of opinions embracing poetry from Chaucer and Spenser to Wordsworth and Byron, prose sacred and profane from Bacon and Jeremy Taylor to Burke and Edward Irving, the drama in its two flourishing periods, the familiar essay from Steele and Addison to Lamb and Leigh Hunt, the novel from Defoe to Sir Walter Scott. This does not begin to suggest Hazlitt’s versatility. [M45] His own modest though somewhat over-alliterative words are that he has “at least glanced over a number of subjects—painting, poetry, prose, plays, politics, parliamentary speakers, metaphysical lore, books, men, and things.”[83] [M46]

The importance of Hazlitt’s Shakespearian criticism is no longer open to question. Though Coleridge alluded to them slightingly as out-and-out imitations of Lamb,[84] Hazlitt’s dicta on the greatest English genius are equal in depth to Lamb’s and far more numerous; and while in profoundness and subtlety they fall short of the remarks of Coleridge himself, they surpass them in intensity and carrying power. [M47] To both of these men Hazlitt owed a great deal in his appreciation of Shakespeare, and perhaps even more to August Wilhelm Schlegel, whose Lectures on Dramatic Literature he reviewed in 1815.[85] His allusions to Schlegel border on enthusiasm and he makes it a proud claim that he has done “more than any one except Schlegel to vindicate the Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays from the stigma of French criticism.”[86] [M48] But however great his obligation, there was some point in the compliment of the German critic when he declared that Hazlitt had gone beyond him (l’avoit dépassé) in his Shakespearian opinions.[87] A few years later Heine maintained that the only significant commentator of Shakespeare produced by England was William Hazlitt.[88] [M49] Coleridge’s notes, it is to be remembered, were not at that time generally accessible. [M50]

Hazlitt’s attitude toward Shakespeare was wholesomely on this side of idolatry. He did not make it an article of faith to admire everything that Shakespeare had written, and refused his praise to the poems and most of the sonnets. Even Schlegel and Coleridge could not persuade him to see beauties in what appeared to be blemishes, but in a general estimate of Shakespeare’s all-embracing genius he conceived his faults to be “of just as much consequence as his bad spelling.”[89] He saw in him a genius who comprehended all humanity, who represented it poetically in all its shades and varieties. [M51] He examined all the fine distinctions of character, he studied Shakespeare’s manner of combining and contrasting them so as to produce a unity of tone above even the art of the classic unities. From the irresponsible comedy of Falstaff to the deepest tragic notes of Lear, the whole gamut of human emotions encounters responsive chords in the critic’s mind—the young love of Romeo and Juliet or the voluptuous abandonment of Antony and Cleopatra, the intellect of Iago irresistibly impelled to malignant activity or Hamlet entangled in the coils of a fatal introspection. To the sheer poetry of Shakespeare he is also acutely sensitive, to the soft moonlit atmosphere of the “Midsummernight’s Dream,” to the tender gloom of “Cymbeline,” to the “philosophic poetry” of “As You Like It.” Some of his interpretations of isolated passages are hardly to be surpassed. He comments minutely and exquisitely on what he considers to be a touchstone of poetic feeling,

That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty.”[90]

And with what complete insight he translates a speech of Antony’s: [M52]

“This precarious state and the approaching dissolution of his greatness are strikingly displayed in the dialogue of Antony with Eros:

Antony. Eros, thou yet behold’st me?

Eros. Ay, noble lord.

Antony. Sometime we see a cloud that’s dragonish;
A vapour sometime, like a bear or lion,
A towered citadel, a pendant rock,
A forked mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon’t, that nod unto the world
And mock our eyes with air. Thou hast seen these signs,
They are black vesper’s pageants.

Eros. Ay, my lord.

Antony. That which is now a horse, even with a thought
The rack dislimns, and makes it indistinct
As water is in water.

Eros. It does, my lord.

Antony. My good knave, Eros, now thy captain is
Even such a body,’ etc.

“This is, without doubt, one of the finest pieces of poetry in Shakspeare. The splendour of the imagery, the semblance of reality, the lofty range of picturesque objects hanging over the world, their evanescent nature, the total uncertainty of what is left behind, [M53] are just like the mouldering schemes of human greatness. It is finer than Cleopatra’s passionate lamentation over his fallen grandeur, because it is more dim, unstable, unsubstantial.”[91]

Footnotes: (by Jacob Zeitlin)

[34] “Letter of Elia to Robert Southey,” Lamb’s Works, ed. Lucas, I, 233.

[35] “On Criticism,” in Table Talk.

[36] Life of Pope, Johnson’s Lives, ed. Birkbeck Hill, IV, 248.

[37] Boswell’s Johnson, ed. Birkbeck Hill, II, 89.

[38] Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, I, 170.

[39] See an essay by John Foster on “Poetical Criticism,” in Critical Essays, ed. Bohn, I, 144.

[40] Gibbon’s Journal, October 3, 1762. Miscellaneous Works, ed. 1814, V, 263.

[41] Review of Mrs. Hemans’s Poems, Edinburgh Review, October, 1829. Jeffrey’s Works, III, 296.

[42] Blackwood’s Magazine, II, 670-79.

[43] I, 281 (March, 1820).

[44] Spirit of the Age, “William Godwin.”

[45] Works, ed. Shedd, IV, 35.

[46] Mr. Saintsbury has applied this phrase to Hazlitt himself, but we prefer to transfer the honor.

[47] “Savoir bien lire un livre en le jugeant chemin faisant, et sans cesser de le goûter, c’est presque tout l’art du critique.” Chateaubriand et son Groupe Littéraire, I, 234.

[48] Portraits Contemporains, “Sonnet d’Hazlitt,” II, 515.

[49] Age of Elizabeth, “On Miscellaneous Poems,” V, 301.

[50] “Thoughts on Taste,” XI, 460.

[51] Conversations of Northcote, VI, 457.

[52] Cf. Herford: Age of Wordsworth, p. 51.

[53] “On the Conduct of Life,” XII, 427.

[54] Patmore: My Friends and Acquaintances, III, 122.

[55] “On the Conduct of Life,” XII, 428. See also the paper “On the Study of the Classics,” in the Round Table.

[56] See a note to p. 329.

[57] See Wordsworth’s sonnet, “Great men have been among us.”

[58] “On Criticism,” in Table Talk.

[59] “He is the most illuminating and the most thoughtful of all Rousseau’s early English critics.... His essay ‘On the Character of Rousseau’ was not surpassed, or approached, as a study of the great writer until the appearance of Lord Morley’s monograph nearly sixty years afterwards.” E. Gosse: Fortnightly Review, July, 1912, p. 30. [M54]

[60] In the review of Schlegel’s Lectures on the Drama, Works, X, 78.

[61] See the paper on “John Buncle,” in the Round Table.

[62] Correspondence of Macvey Napier, p. 21.

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

[64] Dramatic Essays, VIII, 415.

[65] “On Shakespeare and Milton,” p. 44.

[66] “The Periodical Press,” X, 203.

[67] “On Criticism,” in Table Talk.

[68] Cf. “On Reading Old Books,” pp. 338-9, where this charge is curiously echoed by Hazlitt himself.

[69] Ibid., p. 337.

[70] Ibid., p. 340.

[71] “On Shakespeare and Milton,” p. 109.

[72] “The English Novelists,” VIII, 109.

[73] “Thoughts on Taste,” XI, 463.

[74] “On Criticism,” in Table Talk.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Characters of Shakespeare, “Lear.”

[77] “On Poetry in General,” p. 258.

[78] “On Poetry in General,” p. 266.

[79] Hazlitt defends himself on the ground that “the word has these three distinct meanings in the English language, that is, it signifies the composition produced, the state of mind or faculty producing it, and, in certain cases, the subject-matter proper to call forth that state of mind.” Letter to Gifford, I, 396. [M55]

[80] “On Poetry in General,” pp. 268-9.

[81] Ibid., p. 268.

[82] Those interested in the perennial discussion of the relation of poetry to verse or metre would do well to read the recent interesting contribution to the subject by Professor Mackail in his Lectures on Poetry (Longmans, 1912).

[83] “On the Causes of Popular Opinion,” XII, 320.

[84] Coleridge: Table Talk, Aug. 6, 1832.

[85] Edinburgh Review, Feb., 1816. The nature of Hazlitt’s debt to Coleridge, Lamb and Schlegel is to some extent illustrated in the notes to the present text.

[86] “Whether Genius is Conscious of its Powers,” in Plain Speaker.

[87] Moore’s Letters and Journals, May 21, 1821, III, 235.

[88] Shakespeare’s Mädchen und Frauen.

[89] Review of Schlegel’s Lectures, Works, X, III.

[90] “Poetry,” XII, 339.

[91] Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays, “Antony and Cleopatra.”

As it happens, I can repeat my ending to the first part:

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.

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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