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Jun 28, 2011           

On Zeitlin on Hazlitt - 2 (notes) + note on me+ME

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 what is right, they might have had it long ago. The theory is plain enough; but they are prone to mischief, "to every good work reprobate."

So... all I need say by way of introduction is 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 own 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,

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

Indeed, as will be clearer to you if you 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 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.

Indeed - and personally, unlike Hazlitt when 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 was an 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.

M4. He 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 had.

As to Hazlitt's "insight into human nature" being "intellectual rather than sympathetic":

I can see what Zeitlin may have had in mind, 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.    Back.

M5. 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]

As to Hazlitt's lacking "all the ingratiating arts": 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 men of vigorous character and acute intellect (..) 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.”

I am glad to read that he especially appealed "to men of vigorous character and acute intellect", which indeed seems to me true as well: Hazlitt is not for the dimwitted, academically educated or not, nor for the fainthearted or conformistic.

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.

M7. 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.”

This "high-priest 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 apparent.

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. Zeitlin's.    Back.

M9. 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.

Really now? What did Mr. Zeitlin think Pope and Swift 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 of the gospel.

This is true and somewhat interesting: Men as 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.

M11. 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.

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 his prophet, ...

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 this 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 am 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 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.

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 of it.

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 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, 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.    Back.

M15. 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. 

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 gift of original 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 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.

This is one of my reasons to believe Mr. Zeitlin professed literature, rather than anything else. I agree that "Hazlitt’s criticism is no random, irresponsible discharge of his sensibilities", but I do not know what his "implicit basis of sound 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 how to read a book with judgment and without ceasing to relish it.

As one can find from the link, Sainte-Beuve 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".    Back.

M18. 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.”

As Zeitlin points out in a footnote, this is 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 rules and pragmatical formulas of criticism that can do no good to anybody."    Back.

M19. 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.”

Of course, I would add: If it makes sense to 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 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.

The second statement is a fallacy: The "certain prejudices" "every 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 himself.    Back.

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 one else to be of a different opinion.”

I copied this because I like it - and indeed, 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 to 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 it.    Back.

M22. Even Hazlitt’s shortcomings may 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 notes.    Back.

M23. 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.

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 English literature.

I take it that this is part of the purpose of Zeitlin's writing - he likes Hazlitt, but he wants no reputation for radical opinions.

Next, as to Hazlitt's supposed "deficiency of 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 misjudgment 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 intelligence.    Back.

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,[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.

This is mostly baloney:

The initial statement is without evidence, both as regards Hazlitt's knowledge and as regards the knowledge of "every cultivated 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 cultivated 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 of the average quality of mind of cultivated Englishmen.

Third, indeed he said that in later years he 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 just study.

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.

M25. 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.

Here I start asking myself how many languages 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 education.    Back.

M26. “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 do.    Back.

M27. Yet he dared to write a character of the 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 reading was correspondingly narrow.

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 more 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 read 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 evidence.    Back.

M29. 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.

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 species.

Then again, nobody with a sane mind believes 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 declared 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 or arrangement".

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 to system" probably has most to do with his dislike for most systems of thought he knew, and his distaste for pedantry.    Back.

M30a. 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.

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 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.

Indeed - but how does this differ from trying to make a lot of the fact that "in spite of his little learning" Shakespeare wrote great 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.    Back.

M32. 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.

I don't know whether Hazlitt was right in 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.

M33. “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?”

This is Hazlitt quoted, but it has often 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.

M34. 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.

As it happens, I have no idea of what Mr. 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 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.”

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 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.

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 says, 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 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.  

As to the first sentence: And yet "his range of reading was correspondingly narrow", not to speak of "his lack of deep reading"?!

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 by themselves.

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 ideas.    Back.

M38. “I wish,” he exclaims, “I had never read the Emilius ... I had better have formed myself on the model of Sir Fopling Flutter.” 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.

As the link I provided clarifies, this is in fact about Rousseau's Emile, and clearly Hazlitt was writing in irony or sarcasm.

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, 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]

I copied this to remark that it sounds like lit.crit. 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.

M40. 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.”

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 it from 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 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.”

I agree "the desire to know, the will to 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.    Back.

M42. ... 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.

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 of “saying things that are his own in a way of his own,” were here most in evidence.

Indeed, except that the first sentence is 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.

M44. 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.

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 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.

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 published.

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.

M46. 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.”

This is quite true, and indeed Hazlitt also had started journalism as a parliamentary journalist; wrote a whole book on politics; and first got well known for his theatrical criticisms.

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, poetry, prose, 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.    Back.

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,[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.

My own guess is that the "profoundness and 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.

M48. 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.”

I linked in a Wikipedia reference to Schlegel 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 perfectly).    Back.

M49. A 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.

M50. Coleridge’s notes, 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.    Back.

M51. He saw in him a genius who comprehended all humanity, who represented it poetically in all its shades and varieties.

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, ideally.    Back.

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

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.

M53. “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"...

This is Hazlitt on a speech Shakespeare put into Marc Anthony's mouth. I do not know whether I would regard it as "one of the finest 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.    Back.

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. 30.

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 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.

See my note M42: Hazlitt 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 "making".

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 Zeitlin's text.

If I have been critical of Mr. Zeitlin, as I have been at some places, he deserves it when he speaks in the fashion of 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 literature and literary criticism, mostly by the usually atrocious quality of the latter.

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.


P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.
--July 4, 2011: I undid a few typos and unclarities.

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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