Yesterday I put part 2 of Zeitlin's
introduction to Hazlitt on line,
and today there is a new version with my note-numbers inserted, that
link to the present file of notes.
The rest of this text is about Hazlitt,
Zeitlin, and literature, but for those reading Nederlog because of my
opinions about ME or logic, there is a note at the
end about me+ME that may be useful to persons with ME, and about the study of
literature for those who are more interested in mathematics and
science, and have been put off from literature by the quality of modern
lit.crit., that indeed tends to be abhorrent, ludicrous, pretentious,
and rather sickening, but does not need to be so.
Then again, as Hazlitt
said, and also applies to lit.crit.
"If mankind had wished for
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."
So... all I need say by way of introduction
that this series started in Nederlog here
and that you'll find there links and
explanations in case you're interested at all.
What follows are my notes to yesterday's
I quote the text I annotate, and indent my
comments. At the end of
each note there is an underlined "Back" that links to the beginning of
the annotated quoted part in Zeitlin's text.
So what follows are quotes from Zeitlin as given yesterday, in context,
with my notes with indentation.
Notes to Zeitlin on Hazlitt - 2
M1. 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,
out all as plain
As downright Shippen or as old Montaigne.”
Indeed, as will be clearer to you if
did read Hunt, Lamb and De Quincey. I'd call Lamb "reticent" rather
than "discreet", but then he had to be careful, having an ill sister to
take care of, and little income of his own.
But as I remarked before - my note 4 to part 1 - Hazlitt was
particularly sincere. Back.
M2. He has drifted far from the
tradition of Addison
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
particularly of the fair sex.
Indeed - and personally, unlike Hazlitt
he was young, I could never develop any real interest in Addison
or Steele: Well bred, arrived gentlemen who wrote well polished mostly
thoroughly boring usually stilted prose for their own kind of English
gentry, reminding them of the then fashionable ideas and values of
their kind. Back.
M3. In Hazlitt’s hands the essay
instrument for the expression of serious thought and virile passion.
Well, yes - although I must suppose the "virile
passion" must be understood as a somewhat quaint
euphemism for "outspoken values". Back.
lacked indeed the temperamental balance of Lamb. His insight into human
nature was intellectual rather than sympathetic.
I am not so convinced of Lamb's "temperamental
balance" as I am for his need to be not as outspoken as he could have
been, in view of his caring for his sister and small income. Also, Lamb
drank a lot and seemed to have had fits of insanity, like his sister
As to Hazlitt's "insight into
human nature" being "intellectual
rather than sympathetic":
I can see what Zeitlin may have had in
which has to do with the same sort of difference in Pope, Johnson,
Swift and probably also Shakespeare: If one is of comparable
intelligence and knowledge, one may still have a lot of empathy, as the
last three certainly had, but one is forced to guess at others' motives
and thinking from the intellect, usually, rather than by analogy.
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
critic of human imperfections, a stimulating companion full of original
ideas and deep feelings, he will find in Hazlitt an inexhaustible
of instruction and delight. [M5]
As to Hazlitt's lacking "all the ingratiating
What is certainly true is that Hazlitt did not flatter his readers, nor
did he try to tell them what they knew already, nor did he play on
their prejudices. He was not a literary whore, if you want it plain.
The rest is true, for me, and indeed Hazlitt is one of the few who
clearly was thinking for himself, rather than repeating others, with
more or less art, taste, and accomplishment, as is the case in nearly
all one reads in the way of "serious literature", that is mostly
regurgitated, imitation, stolen, or posturing.
M6. Hazlitt has long appealed to
of vigorous character and acute intellect (..) By the friend who knew
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.”
I am glad to read that he especially
appealed "to men of vigorous character and acute intellect",
to me true as well: Hazlitt is not for the
dimwitted, academically educated or not, nor for the fainthearted or
And "the friend who knew him
longest" was Charles Lamb, as also emerges from
Zeitlin's footnote. And here it should also be noted that Lamb, like
Hazlitt, was personally acquainted with most of the eminent writers of
his time. Back.
The high-priest of classicism
wavered frequently in his allegiance to some of the sacred fetishes of
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.”
of classicism" is dr. Johnson, who
here is somewhat unfairly judged, especially if one has read his "Lives
of the poets". In any case, "those who judged
by principles rather than by perception" judged from prejudice. Back.
M8. 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
The "method of Longinus" amounts to argueing what one believes while being somewhat
honest about one's own values and feelings. There's nothing wrong with
this, and since there always are far more ungifted than gifted writers,
there always will be bluster, posturing, phoniness and bullshit, and
especially in fields where there are no clear rational standards, like
literary criticism - an academic specialism that, I fear, was Mr.
That vital element, the
commentator’s power of communicating his own feelings, constituting as
does the difference between phrase-making and valuable criticism, did
become prominent in English literature before the nineteenth century.
Really now? What did Mr. Zeitlin think Pope and
and Fielding were doing? Or indeed Dr. Johnson, especially as he held
forth verbally, in his Club? Then again, Zeitlin is also mistaken in
logical principle: "the difference between phrase-making and valuable
criticism" does not reside in owning up to one's feelings, or at least
pretended ones: It resides in wit, relevant knowledge and honesty. Back.
M10. 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
This is true and somewhat interesting: Men
intelligent as Dr. Johnson and Diderot, and many others who lived in
The Age of Reason aka "the preceding age" aka the 18th Century, were convinced good and great art
should teach and embody good and great moral values - with the result
that they admired gross sentimentality, if it coincided with their
prejudices, and, in Diderot's case, admired paintings from which moral
values oozed as from socialist realist art.
And indeed this is a somewhat strange
prejudice, especially in intelligent men, which may have something to
do with Orwell's saying that "All art is propaganda", which is not
quite true, but is true of much art: Until well into the 19th Century
most art was in fact tied up with religion, and indeed also constrained
by religion. Back.
his poetic taste was quite
to the appreciation of a Samuel Rogers or a Barry Cornwall,
incomparably futile in the perception of a Wordsworth or a Shelley.
This is still about Jeffreys, the editor of
the Edinburgh Review, and sounds rather condescending.
But I copied this part to remark that both Jeffreys and Cornwall (Barry
Proctor) helped Hazlitt in times of trouble, which is more than most of
his contemporaries did. Back.
M12. The test of critical
eligibility in this age is an
appreciation of Wordsworth and a proper understanding of Coleridge
This "test of critical
eligibility" is a bit odd, in several ways, one
of which is that "a proper understanding" of Wordsworth and Coleridge had most to do, "in
age", and apart from rare men like Hazlitt,
who could see and appreciate their talents regardless of political
disagreements, with one's political position - and it so happened that
Wordsworth and Coleridge turned conservative, after a radical
adolescence, which did a lot for their reputation.
Also, I happen not to like Wordsworth, and
not much impressed by Coleridge's prose, and think it not quite fair to
describe him as Wordsworths prophet: They seem to have originated their
renewal of English poetry together. (See e.g. Converation
poems, in Wikipedia.) Back.
M13. William Hazlitt was among the
earliest to fall under
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.
This is true. I have read parts of
Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, long ago, and was decidedly
unimpressed, but then I really know philosophy, unlike most literary
critics, who tend to look up to him as the best there is to be found,
in literary criticism certainly, and also in philosophy, as they think
Since I have read Hazlitt on Coleridge I am
willing to believe he was a great talker, with a fine mind, but then he
blunted his mind from ca. 1800 onwards by opium, and while a similar
indulgence did not keep his roughly contemporary opium-eater De Quincey
from writing well, either Coleridge had no talent for prose, or he
blunted that talent as well.
Hence, for my part I am quite willing to
believe Hazlitt on Coleridge, and not capable of believing literary
critics on him: If he was a genius, which I am willing to believe he
was, he wasted most of it in opium and talk. Back.
M14. Hazlitt communicated to the
and appreciation of great literature which Coleridge inspired only in
few elect. The latter, even more distinctly than a poet for poets, was
a critic for critics,
and three generations have not succeeded in
absorbing all his doctrines.
Let me be so unkind and realistic as to say
that Coleridge's prose simply is obscure and pretentious, and that "three
generations" must surely be
limited to "three generations" of literary
critics with academic tenure.
M15. But Hazlitt, with
the impressions of genius, with a boundless zest of poetic enjoyment,
a firm common sense to control his taste, and with a gift of original
expression unequalled in his day, arrested the attention of the
reader and made effective the principles which Coleridge with some
vagueness had projected.
In contrast with the foregoing opinions of
Mr. Zeitlin, this seems to me to be correct, and for the reason I gave
in my last note, that Zeitlin adequately gives as "a
expression unequalled in his day"
on Hazlitt's part - with the addition that I am not aware that since
then any writer in English as much as approximated him, and very few
before him did. Back.
M16. To analyze in
blood such living criticism
Hazlitt’s may expose one to unflattering imputations, but the attempt
serve to bring to light what is so often overlooked, that Hazlitt’s
criticism is no random, irresponsible discharge of his sensibilities,
has an implicit basis of sound theory.
This is one of my reasons to believe Mr.
Zeitlin professed literature, rather than anything else. I agree that "Hazlitt’s
random, irresponsible discharge of his sensibilities", but I do not know what his "implicit
theory" was, and I
deny it was in fact Coleridge's.
Indeed, if I am prodded for my reasons to
like Hazlitt so much, it is not that or whether he had any theory of
literary criticism, which anyway is the sort of thing I am not much
interested in, since it must be mostly bogus, but that he had such a
fine clear mind and such an excellent style, and had the courage to be
his own man, and think and speak for himself. Back.
M17. 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
to read a book with judgment and without ceasing to relish it.
As one can find from the link,
was one of the first literary critics, and indeed that species of
intellectual, and that kind of "science", arose in the 19th Century,
mostly as a kind of academic that could tell "the educated classes"
what others had written in the way of literature, poetry or plays.
It seems to me to be a kind of journalism,
and I know of very few literary critics worth reading, while the last
40 to 60 years "literary criticism" seems the territory of the
talentless pretentious, and the last thirty years of the nihilistic
horror-show that calls itself "postmodernism".
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
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
of the subject, but neither to tire him nor puzzle myself with
rules and pragmatical formulas of criticism that can do no good
As Zeitlin points out in a footnote, this
what Sainte-Beuve also said - except that Hazlitt very probably would
not have thought that literary criticism is a real academic subject,
worthy of a special academic education and degrees in it, as this
seemed to him, and to me, to risk a lavishly paid indulgence in "pedantical
formulas of criticism that can do no good
to anybody." Back.
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
to some orthodox theorist of the eighteenth century when we hear him
declaring that the object of taste “must be that, not which does,
would please universally, supposing all men to have paid
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.”
Of course, I would add: If it makes sense
discuss tastes and values at all, also in fields like literature and
art, it must be based on some idealizations, such as an audience for it
that can think, is interested, and that knows some of the history and
context of the subjects treated - indeed the same as with mathematics
or physics. Without this, one can just as well or better simply poll
the opinions of the hoi polloi, and decide that that must be the
democratic judgment of the majority. Back.
M20. For Hazlitt the assertion of
individual taste meant
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.
The second statement is a fallacy: The "certain
reader" has, have little or
nothing to do with it - Hazlitt was simply not capable to accept much
of what was current in his day, and wanted to think for
M21. “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
to be of a different opinion.”
I copied this because I like it - and
this is a fine statement of very much wishful
thinking: "I desire it were
true, therefore it is true."
This still is - so far as I have been able
see, in 45 years of various and very wide reading - the key principle
of what goes for literary criticism, although generally there is a
great amount of cant that the preferences argued can be justified
somehow, usually by reasonings so obscure only a literary critic, or a
person who wants to become one, pretends to understand
M22. Even Hazlitt’s shortcomings
frequently be turned to
his glory as a critic.
I am glad to learn it, and refer the reader
to the lemma critic in Wikipedia,
from which it can be learned that criticism consists of "reasoned judgment or analysis, value judgment,
interpretation, or observation", but usually is
subjective and personal.
In any case, Mr. Zeitlin embarks on some
criticisms of Hazlitt, that to me seem to be mistaken, and also
condescending - as I will explain in the next few
about his violent political
is the success with which he dissociated his literary estimates from
Such a serious limitation in a critic as deficiency of reading in his
only raises our astonishment at the sureness of instinct which enabled
to pronounce unerringly on the scantest information.
As to Hazlitt's "violent
political prejudices": A problem for persons
with academic tenure who want to do research in Hazlitt, or teach
courses about him, is that he was a genuine political radical - which,
certainly in Zeitlin's days, was bound to lead to some problems, such
as an imputation of Hazlitt's kinds of radicalism to professors of
I take it that this is part of the purpose
Zeitlin's writing - he likes Hazlitt, but he wants no reputation for
Next, as to Hazlitt's supposed "deficiency
reading": I have been reading Hazlitt now for
almost thirty years, and - while I am very widely read my self - have
ever seen any reason to accuse Hazlitt of this.
Indeed, I believe here we have a
based on Hazlitt's sincerity: He sometimes admitted to not having read
a work, which is, it seems, what professors of English literature only
do under torture, even though it is as plain as the nose on their face
that no one has the time of life to read more than a small percentage
of English literature, or indeed of any real science.
Finally, I grant Zeitlin's concluding
observation, but qualify him by noting that the ability to infer mostly
correctly from "the scantiest information" is a sign of great
M24. 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, he atoned for it by his neglect
education had left him
without that intimacy with the classics which belonged of right to
This is mostly baloney:
The initial statement is without evidence,
both as regards Hazlitt's knowledge and as regards the knowledge of "every
Englishman", and I only
observe that most persons I know who did grammar school had forgotten
most of their Latin and Greek within ten years of not practising it,
whereas Hazlitt was in any case much smarter than nearly "every
Englishman" there was
in his time, or at any time.
Second, as far as I can tell, Hazlitt was a
prodigious reader in his youth, and probably had a very fine memory.
Besides, one just can't fairly place his quality of mind on the level
average quality of mind of cultivated
Third, indeed he said that in later years
read less than when young. Who didn't? Almost everyone did the same,
and for a sound reason: At a later age one has more things to do than
Furthermore, I don't believe Hazlitt had a "desultory
education", or indeed no more than
Gibbon: Both had very fine minds, but were mostly forced to do without
a university education, which, in men with their qualities of mind,
probably was an advantage rather than a disadvantage, and at least
Gibbon also said so.
Finally, while I think Latin and Greek harm
few intelligent persons (if not taught with the rod) I am not aware
that "that intimacy with the classics which
belonged of right to every cultivated Englishman" has done much good for most of them, indeed because most
forgot most of their education after graduation. Back.
knowledge of Italian was no more thorough, though here he
was more nearly on a level with his contemporaries. For Boccaccio
he showed an intense affection, and he could write intelligently, if
deeply, concerning Dante
and Ariosto and Tasso.
Here I start asking myself how many
Mr. Zeitlin read, with more or less ease. Anyway... Hazlitt seemed to
have known some German, Italian, French and Latin, which means that he
was at least as capable in foreign languages as almost any of his
contemporaries, with or without a university
“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.”
I don't always agree with Hazlitt, and this
may be a point of disagreement, that is related to my being Dutch: I
know of quite a few Dutch literary writers who have been idolized by
the Dutch - Bilderdijk, Mulisch, Hildebrand, Van het Reve - who wrote,
in my estimate, abominably, and specialized in insipid verbiage.
Now there is not much sense in trying to
prove my opinion, though I think I could provide many rational grounds
for it, but one consideration is that very few outside Holland have
ever been aware of any supposedly great Dutch writer, since Spinoza and
Erasmus, who wrote in Latin. This is different from other numerically
small languages, such as Danish and Norwegian.
Also, to show at least I can give some good
grounds: Two of the best Dutch writers, one of whom was a genius,
namely Multatuli and W.F. Hermans, believed the same as I
to write a character of
German people which is almost worth quoting.
Why not? Especially since he had that "sureness of
instinct which enabled him to pronounce unerringly on the scantest
information", as Mr. Zeitlin, whose name sounds German, himself wrote? Back.
M28. In English his range of
As I said earlier: In some thirty years of reading
Hazlitt I never got this idea, but on the contrary, got the impression
that Hazlitt was very well read, as indeed I myself am.
It is possible there were some who read
than he did, but it seems to me that Mr. Zeitlin here is blind to what
extremely intelligent men can do, read and comprehend in a brief time.
Apart from these two points: I have now
several times the same sort statement by Mr. Zeitlin, to the effect
that Hazlitt didn't know much and didn't read much - and all I
got was opinion and assertion, without as much as a iota of
M29. This revolutionist in
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
his contemporaries in criticism.
This is fair enough, and indeed Hazlitt never
laboured under any illusion that all men are equal, equally gifted, or
equally interested in all things, even if they all belong to the same
Then again, nobody with a sane mind
this: It just so happens that in socalled democracies there is a public
cant of equality - that doesn't prevent a few being rich or powerful or
beautiful or popular or gifted, and the vast majority being none of
these things. Back.
M30. Hazlitt’s professed
indifference to system is probably
due as much to lack
of deep reading as to romantic impatience of restraint. When he
that it was beyond his powers “to condense and combine all the facts
relating to a subject” or
that “he had
no head for arrangement,”
it was only because he did not happen to be a master of the facts which
required combination or arrangement.
Again, while I am willing to grant there is
some evidence that Hazlitt did have some "romantic
impatience of restraint", I deny having seen any
evidence for his supposed "lack of deep reading" nor for his being unable to engage on "combination
Also, I insist that Hazlitt had a very
logical head, though I grant willingly that professors of literature
are hardly ever capable of judging or appreciating that.
Finally, Hazlitt's "indifference
system" probably has most to do with his
dislike for most systems of thought he knew, and his distaste for
an unusual gift
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
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
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.
Quite so - but then why complain about his supposed
"lack of deep reading" or his non-existing university education? Back.
M31. In a paragraph he
us the essence of what is picturesque and worth dwelling on in the
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
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
to fill in his outline.
Indeed - but how does this differ from trying to
a lot of the fact that "in spite of his little learning"
plays? Besides, genius doesn't work the same as
ordinary men do, and I would not myself wish to insis that Shakespeare
- a mere player, not university-educated, like "every
cultivated Englishman" - had "little
learning", since in fact I don't know.
same keenness of discernment he applied casually in dissecting the
of his own time. He associated the absence of drama with the French
Revolution, its tendency to deal in abstractions and to regard
in relation to man and not men—a tendency irreconcilable with
literature, which is essentially individual and concrete.
I don't know whether Hazlitt was right
his explanation for the lack of drama in his time, but it is true there
is a deplorable tendency, which basically is either intellectual
stupidity or intellectual and moral dishonesty, to deal with concrete
matters, which are always particular, as if they are abstract: As if
"Man" coincides with "men", "Woman" with women, and everything can be
somehow reduced to some pat verbal label, without any quantifiers
(like: all, some, many, 65% of) or conditions of application.
This also is the basis of many popular
fallacies in politics and morals: There one propounds one's doctrines
of abstracta - Man, Woman, We, Our Nation - and defends it by demanding
the opposition must speak in terms of concreta or by insisting that
one's own refined notions cannot be reduced to definite proportions in
definite circumstances ("because" it then is said "this would be
comparing apples with pears", meaning refuting our abstract falsehoods
by appeal to precise facts). Back.
day has taken this
decided turn into a critical channel, is it not a presumptive proof
it ought to do so?”
This is Hazlitt quoted, but it has
been observed, usually correctly, that one cannot derive an ought from
an is (except by clever casuistry), just as most agree, rightly, that
what is the case need not at all coincide with what should be the case,
on any normal understanding of "is" and "should". Back.
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
climate and of religious and political institutions occur in his
contributions to the Edinburgh, but occasionally their perfunctory
suggests the editorial pen of Jeffrey. Doubtless Hazlitt’s
judgment would have enabled him to excel in this field, had he been
equipped with the necessary learning.
As it happens, I have no idea of what
Zeitlin's "historical principles" might be - and indeed I am also
someone who doesn't believe "the study of literature" is a fit academic
subject. That is: While I believe it is worthwile to study literature,
it is a mistake to make an academic profession out of it, with Ph.D.'s,
mortarboards, professorships, scientific conferences, peer-reviews, and
so on. It is neither an empirical nor a mathematical science, and while
one can learn a lot from literary books, this is art, not science, and
should be read for pleasure, not pay. Back.
M35. It may also be a serious
limitation of Hazlitt’s that
questions of structure and design. Doubtless he was reacting against
jargon of the older criticism with its lifeless and monotonous
about invention and fable and unity, giving nothing but the
plan and elevation, as if a poem were a piece of formal architecture.”
If we are going to argue in terms of what
something may be, we could as well argue in terms of what it may not be
- and in fact I think it isn't "a serious limitation of
Hazlitt’s", and the reason for Hazlitt is very
probably that it is useless pedantry. Back.
M36. After all these shortcomings
have been acknowledged,
the permanence of
Hazlitt’s achievement appears only the more remarkable. It is clear
the gods made him critical. The two essential qualities of judgment and
taste he seems to have possessed from the very beginning. It is
to trace in him any development of taste; his growth is but the
of his literary experiences.
As to the first sentence: Logical minds
reason that given "Hazlitt's achievements", the "shortcomings" Mr. Zeitlin "acknowledged" but gave no evidence for,
probably were not there, in the way he stated them. (But I agree
logical minds rarely or never become professors in lit.crit.)
The rest is more or less as Mr. Zeitlin
which I summarize thus: Hazlitt from the beginning of his career in
writing till the end wrote in the same way, reasoned from the same
premisses, and evaluated from the same principles - or if he didn't, it
is difficult to prove it from his works.
Part of the explanation may be that Hazlitt
did all the writing he got known for in the last 15 years of his life,
from his 37th till his 52nd year, and at such an age most men have
reached some conclusions about the fundaments of things and judgements,
however mistaken these may be. Back.
M37. No critic has approached
with so intense a
passion as Hazlitt. That
sentimental fondness for the volumes themselves, especially when
by the fragrance of antiquity, which gives so delicious a savor to the
bookishness of Lamb, was in him conspicuously absent.
As to the first sentence: And yet "his range of
reading was correspondingly narrow", not to speak of "his lack of deep
My probability for Mr Zeitlin's having been a
lit.crit. grows, but he is right Hazlitt was fond of books, for the
same sort of reason I am, and indeed unlike Lamb's far more common form
of bibliophilia: Hazlitt cared for ideas, and for minds that were out
of the ordinary, and for thoughts and explanations few could think of
These he could, apart from a handful of
intelligent men in his own environment, such as Lamb, only find in
books - but he was a lover of ideas in books rather than, like most
lovers of books, keen possessors of booklike physical carriers of
exclaims, “I had never read the Emilius
better have formed myself on the model of Sir Fopling
entered into the poet’s creation with a sympathy amounting almost to
poetic vision, and the ever-present sense of the reality of the
world led him to interpret literature primarily in relation to life.
poetry of character and passion is what he regards of most essential
As the link I provided clarifies, this is in fact
about Rousseau's Emile, and clearly Hazlitt was writing in irony or
Also, it is well to remark that in fact
Hazlitt was an artist: He started as a painter, after having given up
the thought of becoming a minister, like his father. He did not
continue with painting because he had little success, and probably also
because he realized that, while being able to paint quite well, he was
not in Titian's class. Back.
M39. Life in its entire compass is
regarded as the rough
material of literature,
imagination, as with a divine ray, has penetrated the mass and inspired
with an ideal existence. [M39]
I copied this to remark that it sounds like
BS; that Hazlitt did very much better; that this is shown in the next
quote + note; and that there is an interesting theme hidden here under
stilted prose, that concerns creative imagination - a subject about
which there is a very interesting book with that title, in which
Hazlitt on the subject is also well treated:
James Engell, The Creative Imagination. Back.
the numerous attempts of his
to define the creative faculty of the poet, this comparatively simple
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
As the book of Engell I mentioned in my previous
note, this was something like a trope in the second half of the 18th
Century and in British Romanticism - and indeed I consider the basic
notion correct: It is especially the human creative imagination that
makes humans so different from other animals, and which is at the basis
of both human art and human science, and indeed works mostly by
analogies, and is practised for the most part unconsciously (and not as
Freud the fraud said, who as late as 1935 claimed on a phonetic record
"I deescuffered zee oonkoonshus": No, Leibniz was there much sooner and
much more rationally so, as were others, and Freud had simply stolen it
Eduard von Hartmann, who, in contrast, was honest about his
intellectual sources, in his case mostly Schopenhauer). Back.
M41. If we estimate a
tragedy of Shakespeare above one of Lillo or Moore, it
because “impassioned poetry is an emanation of the moral and
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.”
I agree "the desire to know, the will
act, and the power to feel" all enter as both subjects and motivators
in both art and science, and also that Shakespeare covers and treats -
usually in passing, in the "impassioned poetry" he makes his characters
speak - more than most other authors, but - to make a somewhat cynical
true aside - as e.g. Coleridge knew well from his own experience, the
perfections of opium may make one feel a lot better than the
perfections of great art.
M42. ... like nearly
Hazlitt is inclined to use the word poetry in a variety of more or less
ordinarily legitimate enough, but somewhat
embarrassing when it is a question of definition.
Well... I think Hazlitt did quite well, and he knew
and admitted that his definition was partial only, and indeed may be
credited with one of the same ideas Wittgenstein much later got well
known for, also in circles of lit.crit.s, namely that very many words
are ambiguous in having "a variety of more or less
connected meanings", where the connection is one - again
- of analogy, or in Wittgenstein's term "family resemblance".
Further, see below, in my
note 55, when I comment on Hazlitt's correct explanation that and
how the term "poetry" is multiply ambiguous. Back.
M43. 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
“saying things that are his own in a way of his own,” were here most in
Indeed, except that the first sentence
misleading, as can be seen from my note
8a to part 1: Hazlitt was a philosopher, and knew himself to be
one, but could make no living with it.
The rest is true, and what Hazlitt objected
to was not so much "Bare theorizing" as pedantry and cant. Back.
fertility is more amazing than his intensity, for no critic
nearly equal rank has enriched English literature with so many valuable
and enduring judgments on so great a variety of subjects.
Interestingly, this still seems to be the
accepted judgment of Hazlitt's merits as a literary critic, in circles
of professors of English literature - except that many give the first
prize in this respect to Coleridge rather than Hazlitt.
But then, as I said before, I think Hazlitt
was the better writer of the two, and Coleridge, for all his supposed
depth, is mostly unclear and grandiose, rather than clear and
enlightening - but then I did read a lot of philosophy, so I can judge
philosophical posturings and sayings a lot better than most professors
of English literature, who seem to be mostly of the class that very
easily is bamboozled by philosophical bullshit, as the rise of
postmodernism shows in the period 1980-2000. Back.
M45. Dr. Johnson
by common consent the spokesman of the eighteenth century, or of its
dominant class; Coleridge and Lamb are entitled to the glory of
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
of opinions embracing poetry from Chaucer and Spenser to
Byron, prose sacred and profane from Bacon and Jeremy Taylor to Burke
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
I suppose this is lit.crit. style 1913 -
which, while stilted and vaguely grandiose, is more palatable than the later stinkingly
pretentious, false and phony pomo lit.crit. rot - but it is
a fair judgment, simply judging from the books these several authors
Personally, I think it is a great pity that
Hazlitt could not make a living by writing on philosophers rather than
literary people, since he had a first rate mind, a most excellent
style, and a lot of relevant knowledge, but then again he seems to have had a happy life with
what he eventually did make a living by. Back.
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
This is quite true, and indeed
Hazlitt also had started journalism as a parliamentary journalist;
politics; and first got well known for his theatrical
I for my part can claim a wide reading in "metaphysical
lore, books, men, and things", and in mathematics, logic and science, and also in
political science, but indeed never made any systematic study of "painting,
plays", though as it happens,
mostly for reasons of taste, I do know a fair amount of English
literature especially from 1700-1830, and regard myself as a specialist
on the great Dutch 19th Century writer Multatuli.
M47. 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,
dicta on the greatest English genius are
equal in depth to Lamb’s and far more numerous; and while in
and subtlety they fall short of the remarks of Coleridge himself, they
surpass them in intensity and carrying power.
My own guess is that the "profoundness
subtlety" attributed to Coleridge are, in part at
least, due to his writing a lot less clearly and well than Hazlitt did,
but I am willing to allow I may be mistaken, having read parts of
Coleridge's Biographia Literaria long ago. Then again, I read
him then because he was said to be profound in philosophy, and I did
not find him other than bombastic and imitative, and that of Kantian
philosophical ideas I anyway had and have no sympathy for. Back.
His allusions to Schlegel border on enthusiasm and
he makes it a proud claim that he has done “more than any one except
to vindicate the Characters
I linked in a Wikipedia reference to
for readers who want to follow up his ideas (knowledge of German is
bound to help), and the same for Hazlitt's book on Shakespeare's
characters, that is very fine indeed, on the Project Gutenberg, so I'll
only indicate very briefly what was "the stigma of French
criticism": That Shakespeare, while perhaps
being a wild and original genius, wholly lacked the education and
refinement to write according to the rule books of French style, as
Racine and Corneille did, both exemplary classical French writers (and
indeed thoroughly boring, though it all rhymes and scans
few years later Heine
maintained that the only significant
commentator of Shakespeare produced by England was William Hazlitt.
As I do like Heine, who was a very
intelligent man, and a great writer, indeed with Lichtenberg,
Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche a writer in German who shows writing really
well is possible in German, which one wouldn't conclude from an
unprejudiced study of Kant, if one is also of sound mind, I am
pleased to read this, which I also didn't know. Back.
it is to be remembered, were not at that
time generally accessible.
I don't know what Mr. Zeitlin means by "Coleridge’s
notes", but his Biographia
Literaria is from 1817, and may well have been perused by Heine, with
similar effect as it had on me, when I did so: Sounds like cant, which
incidentally also seems to have been Byron's opinion.
He saw in him a genius who
comprehended all humanity, who represented it poetically in all its
Here "He" is Hazlitt and "him" Shakespeare,
and I extract it to remark I quite agree: Shakespeare gave his
characters the words one assumes the best human minds with the greatest
verbal facility would use in the circumstances - if they could think of
them in those circumstances, which is not likely. But then this is the
way in which art transcends reality: Art being a mock up of reality,
can leave out all that's real but uninteresting, and magnify everything
for effect, and thereby show how reality could be,
insight he translates a speech
I extract this to remark that this is
typical lit.crit. prose, as revolted me so much in my youth, when I was
exposed to it in school: Professors of literature who claim over and
again that some supposed great writer had "complete
insight" - without ever explaining themselves any reasons
for their attributions, as if the enlightened minds in the audience
should be able to fathom that themselves. (I couldn't, and decided at
age 15 lit.crit. was mostly posturing, and still think so). Back.
one of the finest pieces of
poetry in Shakspeare.
The splendour of the imagery, the semblance of reality, the lofty range
picturesque objects hanging over the world, their
evanescent nature, the
total uncertainty of what is left behind"...
This is Hazlitt on a speech Shakespeare put
into Marc Anthony's mouth. I do not know whether I would regard it as "one
pieces of poetry in Shakspeare"
but it is good, and indirectly makes a point about human reasoning,
that much depends on imaginative projection of analogies, and is much
like seeing faces and things in the shapes of clouds.
M54. “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.
This is quoted from a note of Mr. Zeitlin,
and extracted for a similar reason as remarked up my
note 45: This much sounds like bogosity - a pretense of knowledge
and scholarship without any evidence, and only known, if at all, in
very small circles of professional lit.crits., as if only there can be
found the refinement and knowledge to pass judgements like "not
surpassed, or approached, as a study of the great writer until the
appearance of Lord Morley". It's cant - and compare
Hazlitt on the subject, in M21 on The language of
taste and moderation". Back.
M55. Hazlitt defends
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.
See my note M42:
is quite right, apart from what I wrote in the note, and indeed this
makes the discussion of poetry
more difficult - a word of which the original Greek etymology is
Incidentally, Shelley is also interesting
on the subject, and his linked essay 'A Defence of Poetry' ends
with "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" - which,
if one has the wit to think of Homer, parts of the Bible, Dante,
Shakespeare and Pope seems less of an exaggeration than it might seem
at first glance. Back.
These were my
comments to part 2 of
If I have been critical of Mr. Zeitlin, as I
have been at some places, he deserves it when he speaks in the fashion
a lit.crit., that's generally distasteful to me, unless done by a very
few, such as Hazlitt, or - to mention some good lesser lights - I.A. Richards -
also co-author of the fine "The meaning
of meaning" - A.
Quiller-Couch, editor of a fine edition of English poetry called
Oxford Book Of
English Verse or indeed Ezra Pound, whose "ABC of reading"
(mostly on poetry) is quite good on the subject.
Indeed, one of my reasons to write out my
notes, and to give the above references, is that I fear quite a lot of
fine or excellent mathematical and scientific minds - Richard Feynman
comes to mind - have been, rightly to my manner of thinking, put off
literary criticism, mostly by the usually atrocious quality of the
Well... it's true that currently and the last
100 years or so, literary criticism has been the subject of the lesser
minds in search of academic degrees, but there is no natural
necessity about this, and indeed Hazlitt should be able to convince
almost anyone with a fine intelligence that literature may be worth
reading, just as the above linked other authors show there are some
decent texts about literature.
Finally, about me+ME:
The main reason I can write these lengthy
notes, without collapsing, is that I have been - comparatively, for me,
in the circumstances - quite a lot better, or less miserable, with B12
as per Freddd's protocol on Phoenix Rising, to which I provide two
links, both to threads on Phoenix Rising, and a comment:
The first is a very long thread - currently
with over 2000 posts - where most of interest, such as Freddd's
protocol, is at the beginning, though the thread has rather a lot of
interest if B12 works for you, but it requires a lot of persistent
reading to read all, and the second is a recently revised version of
Freddd's protocol, that I am mostly following.
I will write about this too in Nederlog,
possibly this month, because it does work for me, in that it quite
clearly and noticeably helps me, which is very pleasant, and indeed
also explains the length of my notes, or rather the fact that I could
write them at all.
But more on this later in Nederlog.