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Nederlog

 

June 11, 2010

 

me + ME: Hazlitt - polemics, illness, memorial 

 

    The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves.
    -- William Hazlitt
    Man is a toad-eating animal. The admiration of power in others is as common to man as the love of it in himself: the one makes him a tyrant, the other a slave.
     -- William Hazlitt
   In "On the Connection between Toad-Eaters and Tyrants", one of the most powerful polemics in Political Essays , Hazlitt asserts: "Man is a toad-eating animal," and then shows how the admiration of power turns many writers into intellectual pimps, hirelings of the press, defenders of the restored Bourbon Louis XVIII, worshippers of idols, lovers of kings.

Again and again, he hits out like a pugilist at "grovelling servility" and "petulant egotism". One of his persistent themes is that reason is a "slow, inert, speculative, imperfect faculty", and his aim is always to wrest imagination from the reactionaries such as Edmund Burke - whose prose style he admired hugely - in order to create a political discourse which is not abstract, academic, uninflected, foggy. Abstract reason, unassisted by passion, "is no match for power and prejudice, armed with force and cunning".
    -- Tom Paulin (Guardian, Apr 5, 2003)


Sections

1. Hazlitt: The supreme genius of Romantic prose
2. Polemics
3. Illness
4. Memorial

I am still not well and also sad [1], and not inclined to write about various topics, but I have been reading more in Paulin's "The Day-Star of Liberty - William Hazlitt's Radical Style", from which I have gathered some quotes on the subjects in the title, of which the first two also touch, indirectly, on problems around ME.

This last fact - evidentially so for those who read Nederlog since May - is illustrated by the last quotation with which I opened, that is quite perceptive about Hazlitt and his main motives and inspirations.

However, I will not write about these problems around ME, except to say that they are related to yesterday's theme of Political Correctness and the flawed nature of man (and woman too), and to the theme of human stupidity related to that - since alas the human world can on average be no better than the average qualities of humans allow for, which is not much, at least compared to the individual human qualities of the few who laid the foundations of the sciences and the arts. [2]

1. Hazlitt: The supreme genius of Romantic prose

I discovered Hazlitt by accident in an Amsterdam antiquarian bookshop almost half a lifetime ago, and immediately upon reading him thought I had discovered an unknown genius of English prose. Ever since, I have been amazed to find how few have seen and realized the same, and how small and begrudging..

"His clear and vivacious style rose at times to a rare beauty; and when the temper of his work was not marred by his touchiness and egotism he wrote with great charm and a delicate fancy."

..he has been praised, although indeed my opening quotation goes quite far in explaining why:

Hazlitt saw too deep into the average human heart and wrote too truly about it to be palatable to timeservers, liars, "intellectual pimps, hirelings of the press," academic pedants, minor writing talents, and many others who form the vast majority of the so called intellectuals of his and my day, and the days in between, and is for rare, discerning and sensitive minds only.

As Paulin says in the link I also quoted above:

Most of Hazlitt's work is out of print, or unavailable in paperback. He is not studied in most university English courses and those who want to read him at any length need to scour secondhand shops for old Everyman editions of his essays (gloomily each year I contemplate the tiny number of readers who buy the selection of his essays I did for Penguin a few years ago).

I often recall reading through his collected works which stand on the open shelves of the Upper Reading Room of the Bodleian library, only to find that Hazlitt's three-volume Life of Napoleon had remained there for more than 60 years with its pages uncut.

During the years I spent beside those volumes I think two students came to consult them, while there were queues to read Coleridge's lavishly edited, often unreadable prose - prose that has begotten untold acres of equally unreadable academic writing. It was like being trapped inside Gissing's New Grub Street - I felt that Hazlitt's reputation was now so dimmed, so beleaguered on the margins of the cultural memory, that it would never again be celebrated.

So... and as Pauling asks

     (..) how and where do we place this little-studied, scantly celebrated critic and journalist?   

Very briefly: Hazlitt was a professional journalist, lecturer and essayist who wrote in many tones or styles about many subjects, almost always in the form of essays for radical journals of his day or in the form of texts of public lectures on large subjects, that were in part gathered by him in books during his life, that now - and since the beginning of the 20th Century - are mostly in Everyman's Library.

Apart from that, very little of him is in print, and indeed one's best bet for access to Hazlitt in an excellent early edition in Everyman's Library is by way of antiquarian bookshops. There is a new edition of his collected works in 9 volumes, but that collection is priced at over thousand dollars, and hence only for fairly to very rich men and for still well-endowed university libraries.

In any case, here is an answer to the question Pauling raised that provided the title to this section and goes a good way in the direction of a good answer in a small compass, so I quote it:

William Hazlitt (1778-1830) is one of the great masters of English prose style. He is a major literary critic and radical polemicist whose intellect is both analytical and sensuously particular. Keats worshipped him, and his poems and letters are shaped by Hazlitt's influence - his sentences are like a 'whale's back in the sea of prose,' Keats commented. He was born in Maidstone, Kent, the son of an Irish Unitarian minister. His mother, Grace Loftus, was from an English dissenting family who were friendly with Godwin's family, so Hazlitt's writings draw strongly on the culture of radical dissent in Britain and Ireland. His family were devoted supporters of the Volunteer Movement in Ireland, where they lived for some years. They also supported the American Revolution and spent some years in the new republic before returning to England. Hazlitt never wavered in his commitment to the values of the French Revolution and remained always an impoverished member of the radical intelligentsia. Hazlitt moved in advanced circles in London - he met Mary Wollstonecraft, was friendly with Godwin, revered Wordsworth and Coleridge, whose work he continued to praise even after they broke with him over his unwavering support for Napoleon. He attacked Southey vehemently, as he attacked Wordsworth and Coleridge for their reactionary politics, but he remained always disinterested in his critical outlook - he was capable of praising writers with whose views he disagreed and had a lifelong attachment to Burke's prose (he regarded Reflections on the Revolution in France as a masterpiece of polemic). His own prose communicates the deep joy of the critical act as a form of inspired creativity. He hates monarchy, despises aristocracy, and makes his prose sing of liberty, but he is never narrowly partisan. His prose rings with courageous expressions of principle and glistens with brilliant passages of critical commentary and analysis. A supremely gifted drama critic who made the reputation of Edmund Kean, an extraordinarily intelligent journalist who invented the newspaper profile, Hazlitt turned criticism into art form. Many of his essays are like conversation poems - witty, profound and eagerly alive to the surfaces of the work of art he is appreciating. No study of the Romantic movement can be complete without a reading of his essays. For too long he has been regarded as a marginal figure, instead of being seen as the supreme genius of Romantic prose. A radical republican, like Milton, he possessed an epic imagination which he chose to embody in an eloquent stream of reviews and critical essays.

Source: Penguin Web Site. Accessed May 4th 1998.

2. Polemics

A.C. Grayling called Hazlitt "The Prince of Polemicists", and there is much to say for it, though it is also misleading, in that it only refers to one of his excellencies as a writer. But there is this

For Hazlitt, the ability to hate the enemy is the central energy in oratory and prose, and he often quotes Milton's phrase "sacred vehemence" to illustrate an energy which for him is vital to all writing and speaking - Yeats called it "passionate intensity". [2]

and the hypocritical and dumb haters of hate tend to forget that hate is love with opposite sign and that human beings are moved by passion, not by reason: At best that allows them to see what is true or probable, and what is fair or just, but not act upon it, nor to make something one's interest, concern or end.

Here is Hazlitt on one of his hated enemies, the eager government tool John Wilson Croker, quoted from Paulin's "The Day-Star of Liberty - William Hazlitt's Radical Style" (in the proof-copy I found of it in an antiquarian bookshop) - and I have some brief remarks, i.a. on respectful prose, after quoting it:

Who is it that you meet sauntering along Pall Mall with fleering eyes, and nose turned up, as if the mud and the people offended him, - that the look of an informer, or the keeper of the baginio, or a dealer in marine stores, or an attorney struck off the list - a walking nuisance, with the sense of smell added to it, a moving nausea, with whose whole stomach nothing agrees, and that seeks some object to vent its spleen and ill-humour upon, that turns another way, afraid to express it -

'A dog, in forehead, and in heart, a deer;'

that stops to look at a printshop with a supercilious air of indifference, as if he would be thought to understand, but scorned to approve any thing - that finds fault with Hogarth, and can see no grace in Raphael, with his round shoulders, hulking stoop, slouching great-coat, and unwashed face, like the smut of his last night's conversation - that's let in and out of [Carlton] House, like a night-cart, full of filth, and crawling with lies - the Thersites of modern politics, the ringleader of the Yahoos of the Press, the goul of the Boroughmongers; that preys on the carcase of patriot reputation; the Probert [3] of the Allies, that 'bags the game' of liberty in the Quarterly that Duke Humphrey slew in the field - a Jack-pudding in wit, a pretender to sense, a tool of power, who thinks that a nick-name implies disgrace, as a title confers honour, that to calumniate is to convince, and whose genius is on an exact par with the taste and understanding of his employers - whose highest ambition is to be a cat's paw, whose leading principle is to advocate his own interest by betraying his country and his species; to whom the very names of LIBERTY, HUMANITY, VIRTUE, PATRIOTISM, are a bye-word from the want of a single generous or manly feeling in his breast; whose only pleasure is in malignity, and whose only pride is in degrading others to his own level; who affects literature, and fancies he writes like Tacitus, by leaving out the conjunction and; who helps himself to English out of Lindley Murray's Grammar, and maintains, with a pragmatical air, that no one writes it but himself; who conceals his own writings and publishes those of other people, which he procures from his relations at a lodging-house; who frightens elderly gentlewomen who ask him to dinner, by pleasantly offering to carve a 'Holy-Ghost Pye,' that is, a Pigeon-Pye, and gallantly calling for a bit of the 'Leg of the Saviour,' that is, a leg of Lamb; who afterwards props the Bible and the Crown with ribaldry and slander, but who has no objection to the Pope, the Turk or the Devil, provided they are on the side of his LEGITIMATE Patrons, and who keeps a fellow even more impudent than himself, who, whenever the cause of humanity is mentioned, sticks his hands in his sides, and cries HUMBUG, and while nations are massacring, and the hopes of the earth withered, plays a tune on the salt-box for the amusement of Ladies and Gentlemen of Great Britain, and in honour of the Great Fm? (op.cit. 297-8)

This is from 1824, and it's one long sentence, as happens quite often in Hazlitt. I will make a few disjointed remarks, as promised.

First, I don't know how much other readers get out of the above quotation, in terms of understanding, history, or appreciation for the English. Speaking for myself, who is Dutch, I can hear, read, understand and explain (given sufficient space, time, health and leisure) why the prose is great, but then I know English very well and I know a lot of Hazlitt and of Hazlitt's time, mostly - at first - through my interest in him. And since I do not know what e.g. intelligent well-educated Englishmen these days know about Hazlitt's time or about English great or reputable authors from his time (quite a few, comprising Burke, Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, Wordsworth, Lamb, Keats, De Quincey and Cobbett, individually and collectively much more powerful writers than the literary writers and journalistic writers of my own time), I will not attempt to explain or summarize that either: Make of it what you will and can, and use the internet for background if interested.

Second, about that one long sentence the paragraph is composed of. I could, in fact, write a lot about this apparently simple and trite subject, but here make just two brief remarks, apart from noting that I myself quite often write in long sentences, the explanation of which constitutes my first brief remark:

The sentence is the natural unit of thought, for the civilised human mind, since that is linguistic, if not solely nor merely linguistic, and a sentence first and foremost is the expression of a thought, an idea, in sounds of speech or scribbled marks - and thus, for intelligent people, it is quite natural to develop and express one subject or topic in one long winding and meandering sentence full of asides, qualifications, amplifications, reservations and embellishments. Indeed, this was considered something of an art among gentlemen writers of the 17th and 18th Century: To be able to write a clear, comprehensible, balanced, and indeed melodious long sentence that properly expresses a single line of thought well. Hazlitt excelled in this, and one key to getting his meaning is to listen (mentally or by reading loud) to the rhythms and melodies in his prose, that he always meant to be naturally readable, and that indeed always is.

And those who object to this, e.g. on the basis of absurd style councels like "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White (if I recall the names well) or on the basis of modern prose habits, either have no wit themselves or else do not know how English was written before it got thoroughly corrupted by advertisement prose, political propaganda prose, and journalistic prose, none of which seek approval and appreciation of the best minds, but generally of the opposite: The uneducated masses, in these modern times well provided with incomes, in the Western World, and also collectively democratically possessed of the silentt majority vote, but without any real civilization, interest in acquiring it, or indeed capacity to do so.

Third: Why was Hazlitt so disrespectful to that in his time very respectable well paid friend and defender of the government, John Wilson Croker? Because - as ordinary men, who are almost all conformists, refuse to see about their kind and their groups - there are bad intelligent men; there are fewer good intelligent men than bad intelligent men; and the mass of ordinary men function in their real lives as the proud dupes of their more clever, less honest, usually most respectable contemporaries, who generally flatter them, play up to their fears, uncertainties, and their needs for respect; and who do this usually only to support themselves in their personal capacities as willing tools for a party, a religion, a corporation or a government - for indeed:

Man is a toad-eating animal. The admiration of power in others is as common to man as the love of it in himself: the one makes him a tyrant, the other a slave. [4]

3. Illness

Hazlitt did not grow very old - hardly a few years older than Orwell - comparatively speaking and died poor, from stomach cancer, in London in 1830, age 52. Here is his description from his last illness, written briefly before his death - and I first quote and then briefly comment. And note this is again mostly one single long finely descriptive and analytical sentence, from an essay called 'The Sick Chamber':

It is amazing how little effect physical suffering of local circumstances have upon the mind, except while we are subject to their immediate influence. While the impression lasts, they are evertyhing; when its gone they are nothing. We toss and tumble about in a sick bed; we lie on our right side, we then change upon the left; we stretch ourselves on our backs, we turn on our faces; we wrap ourselves up under the clothes to exclude the cold, we throw them off to escape the heat and suffocation; we grasp the pillow in agony, we fling ourselves out of bed, we walk up and down the room with hasty or feeble steps; we return into bed; we are worn of fatigue and pain, yet can get no repose for the one, or intermission for the other; we summon all our patience, or give vent to passion, and petty rage; nothing avails; we seem wedded to our disease, 'like life and death in disproportion met', we make new efforts, try new expedients, but nothing appears to shake it off, or promise relief from our grim foe: it infixes its sharp sting into us, or overpowers us by its sickly and stunning weight; every moment is as much as we can bear, and yet there seems to no end of our lengthening tortures; we are ready to faint with exhaustion, or work ourselves up to frenzy: we 'trouble deaf Heaven with our bootless prayers': we think our last hour is come, or peevishly wish it were, to put an end to the scene; we ask questions as to the origin of evil and the necessity of pain; we 'moralize our complaints into a thousand similes'; we deny the use of medicine in toto, we have a full persuasion that all doctors are mad or knaves, that our subject is to gain relief, and theirs (out of perversity of nature, or to seem wiser than we) to prevent us; we cathechize the apothecary, rail at the nurse, and cannot so much conceive the possibility that this state of things should not last for ever; we are even angry at those that would give us encouragement, as if they would make dupes or children of us; we might seek a release by poison, a halter, or the sword, but we have not strength of mind enough - our nerves are to shaken - to attempt even this poor revenge - when lo! a change comes, the spells fall off, and the next moment we forget all that has happened to us. (Op. cit. p. 299-300)

This is an excellent description of many of the musings of the seriously ill, as I know myself, and as Hazlitt new himself from his last months with cancer. Also, one of its themes, namely the transience of physical suffering, provided one survives and gets (mostly) well, is rather astounding. [5] It is great prose, but it does not touch upon the sort of suffering of those who have been ill or invalidated for many years or several decades, and who have seen their hopes, possibilities, talents, and earlier hard work to develop or train these, diffuse, disappear and end in nearly continuous exhaustion and pain. It is true that this kind of pain is less physical than personal, if that is an appropriate opposition, or rather: is entirely human and bound up with being human, but this does not make it less real, less disheartening, less felt, and less real, nor does it take away its bitter taste and sense of personal injustice.

But more on that subject some other time, perhaps - here I merely wanted to quote Hazlitt on being ill.

4. Memorial

Hazlitt's dying words were "Well, I've had a happy life." A friend - probably his first wife Sarah Stoddart - raised the memorial stone over his grave in the nearby churchyard. The monument was removed in 1870 but thanks to hundreds of Guardian readers and other Hazlitt enthusiasts, it has now been restored.

Here rests
WILLIAM HAZLITT
Born April 10, 1778, Died 18 September, 1830
He lived to see his deepest wishes gratified
as he has expressed them in his Essay,
'on the Fear of Death'.
Viz.:
'To see the downfall of the Bourbons.
And some prospect of good to mankind':
(Charles X
was driven from France 29th July, 1830).
'To leave some sterling work to the world':
(He lived to complete his 'Life of Napoleon').
His desire
That some friendly hand should consign
Him to the grave was accomplished to a
Limited but profound extent; on
These conditions he was ready to depart,
And to have inscribed on his tomb,
'Grateful and Contented'.
He was
The first (unanswered) Metaphysician of the age.
A despiser of the merely Rich And Great:
A lover of the People, poor or oppressed:
A hater of the Pride and Power of the Few,
As opposed to the happiness of the Many;
A man of true moral courage,
Who sacrificed Profit and present Fame
To Principle,
And a yearning for the good of Human Nature.
Who was a burning wound to an Aristocracy,
That could not answer him before men,
And who may confront him before their maker.
He lived and died
The unconquered champion
Of
Truth, Liberty, and Humanity,
'Dubitantes opera legite'.
This stone
Is raised by one whose heart is
With him, in his grave.


Text on William Hazlitt's restored monument in St Anne's churchyard, Wardour Street, Soho, London, unveiled by Michael Foot at 1pm on Thursday, April 10 2003- the 225th anniversary of Hazlitt's birth.

Incidentally, I much like the idea that Hazlitt's first wife, who truly must have loved him, raised the monument, and I also suppose it is true, for the words cited are fair and just - and indeed 'Dubitantes opera legite'.


P.S. If there is no Nederlog tomorrow, it is because I am simply not well enough to write.

Here are meanwhile some Hazlitt links:

There is also a Canadian site about Hazlitt called Blupete, maintained by a Canadian lawyer. It is somewhat useful, but misleading in the sense that his editions tend to cut up ("correct", I suppose, "for modern tastes", for example) Hazlitt's prose, that I think should not be done, or if it is done should be indicated. I do not know why this happens, for when I drew its maker's attention to that fact he did not reply nor change anything.

In any case: The Gutenberg is best, if you like to read more of Hazlitt.


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

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

2. Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT:  
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many 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)

Short descriptions:

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:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon
     insufficient evidence
".
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.

"Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
"
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 

    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)


See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources


P.P.S. ME - Resources needs is a Work In Progress that hasn't progressed today.


Notes

[1] Not depressed, and as noted before.

[2] One of the very frightful signs of the time that I live in is that over the past forty years, throughout the whole Western world, and on all levels of education and society, largely because the cancers of moral and intellectual relativity and postmodernism have been spread through the media through all, that writing things like

the human world can on average be no better than the average qualities of humans allow for, which is not much, at least compared to the individual human qualities of the few who laid the foundations of the sciences and the arts.

is deemed - indeed descried fanatically and abusively - 'elitarian' and (therefore, no less) 'fascistic', while admiring the persons of sports celebrities as heroes all day in the mass-media, while paying them like they were the very best and most desirable types a human civilization can and should produce.

Unfortunately, and as all philosophers and saints have taught, the appropriate measures are proportionally divided approximately as I outlined it in 2007:

Society and the good, the bad and the stupid

One way of understanding society - any human society anywhere, of sufficient size, say 10 or a 100 or more not specially selected persons - is that the good : the bad : the stupid = 1 : 9 : 90. Alternatively expressed but to the same effect: the intelligent : unintelligent = 1 : 9 and the unegoistic : egoistic = 1 : 9, and intelligence and egoism are independent. (Note 8)

Putting it all in a table with percentages (while remembering that intelligence and moral courage are probably for the largest part determined by innate factors):

    Percentage
intelligent good 1
intelligent not good 9
not intelligent good 9
not intelligent not good 81
all   100

And no reader: It is not intentional, mostly: Noone is stupid or unintelligent on purpose, just as noone is ugly on purpose; and also noone is responsible for what he or she was (not) born with, but only for what he or she uses what one was born with. But all are responsible for their actions, if not insane, and the preponderance of the not good over the good is because of the preponderance of egoism, indifference, conformity and the preferential following of the easier or better paying than the more difficult and better. And the only thing innate about that, if anything, is lack of character and courage, whatever one's intelligence.

[3] A notorious thief, horse stealer and murderer.

[4] And one of the truly sickening things about the modern toad eaters of my generation, that is of the nominally revolutionary babyboom generation, that still form the large majority of prominent and other modern intellectuals, academics and journalists, is that they almost to a man and woman lied, manipulated, deceived, postured and were utter hypocrites for their own private interests and gain, in the name of the highest moral principles, and with the pretense of being excellen moral heroes, "Freedom Fighters", true "Revolututionairies" or "Feminists" or what not - whereas they were nearly all careerists, sycophants, hypocrites, liars, deceivers and willing servants and executioners of whoever was in power, just to get closer through the corrupt throughs prepared for the subservient intellectuals by the political or bureaucratic masters of state and government, and who did not follow the thinkers they claimed to follow, but followed media-fashions and got their ideas mostly from journalism, an their postures from TV.

[5] The main reason why the transience of physical suffering, provided one survives and gets (mostly) well, is rather astounding is that - in me, and it seems in most people - the memory of considerable or great pain is less intense than the memory of its surrounding events and wider context: I can far better recall the how the bumblebee looked that I woke up that stung me when I was 5 than the pain itself, for one of many possible examples.  It is also noteworthy that it is different with personal suffering, e.g. due to one's values or rights being ruined or offended, or due to the loss of some loved person or property: That sort of pain, that is much more complex than a simple feeling, and depends on what one is and made of oneself by thinking, judging and deciding is much better remembered.

Maarten Maartensz

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