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Introduction to Hazitt

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Welcome to my Hazlitt pages!

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."  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.

William Hazlitt
1778-1830

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William Hazlitt was English (from Irish decent) and lived from 1778-1830. He is best known as an essayist. He was a highly original and individual man, with original ideas on philosophy and a beautiful style.

He is not by far as well-known as he deserves to be, probably because he failed to please and felt pleased to hate too many and too much (according to those with lesser talents and less courage). This was mostly due to his honesty, courage, and brightness of intellect, and the obvious all-too-human failings of his fellows.

The Wikipedia article, in the following link, last seen on March 9, 2011 by me, is good and useful:

At present, there are the eleven of his essays on my site in the left pane, and the beginning of Hazlitt's "Political Essays", in my html-edition. These are not annotated at all or not annotated fully by me, but I plan to add many more, with my annotations, simply because Hazlitt had a very fine mind and a very beautiful style. (Proviso: I do have ME, which makes things much more difficult for me than it would be otherwise.)

There are some good editions of Hazlitt, but I do not know whether these are in print

  • Selected Essays of William Hazlitt

    Edited by Geoffry Keynes
    First ed. 1930 - London The Nonesuch Press
     
  • Table Talk
    The Plain Speaker
    Lectures on the English Poets and Spirit of the Age
    Characters of Shakespeare's Plays

    All in Everyman's Library
     
  • William Hazlitt - Selected Writings

    Edited by Ronald Blythe
    Penguin Books

Each and all of these give a fine selection of Hazlitt's essays. The first is the longest and the best introduction to Hazlitt, but probably only available in antiquarian bookshops.

There also are two internet-places with useful editions of Hazlitt

The first of these has most of what is also in Everyman's Library, apparently based on that as well, which is good, because the editions in Everyman's Library I have are very well done.

The second has quite a lot more, but you must jump through some hoops mostly surrected by Google, and the editions are far from perfect: The Google scan into pdf of Hazlitt's "Political Essays", for example, misses at least the first page, and possibly one more, of the the list of contents; it has a sanctimonous and hypocritical intro by Google on Google's excellencies, which - as far as I can see - are less about helping people as about helping Google, namely to a claim on all books they scanned "for the public"; and the txt-version that's also supplied cannot be independently used because it chockful of mistakes.

There are several biographies by him of which P.P. Howe's, who also edited his collected works, is probably still the best. This also was published by Penguin and also probably is only available in antiquarian bookshops.

There also is a Hazlitt society

but what I saw of the site is that it is not extensive, not well done, and probably of use only to those who are cognoscenti of Hazlitt anyway - which is not to say that the Hazlitt Society doesn't do good work, but only that I, who am Dutch rather than English, know little about them, and believe so excellent an author deserves a much more extensive and better designed site.

As to my illustrations: Hazlitt's likeness is originally drawn by Bewick, in 1824, and the left picture is the mirror-image of the right, which is one I tweaked in 2011 from a discoloured one on the internet, with the help of some imaging software. It shows Hazlitt at around 46 years of age. There is one very much like it, probably also produced with some trickery, in Blythe's edition mentioned above. (The trickery I used: Convert to blue and then save in black/grey tones.)

More about Hazlitt in books: It seems that, if you are persistent enough, you can presently get most of the texts that were in P.P. Howe's edition of the Collected Works of Hazlitt. There also are some of his works, or selections from them, in print, but it would be very helpful if the full text of Hazlitt's writings were put on line in good html editions, because (1) he is one of the greatest writers in English, bar none and (2) such editions as exist, namely the Howe edition and a more recent one by Duncan Wu, are both forbiddingly expensive, and probably only bought by Hazlitt-specialist with secured academic tenure, or by such university libraries that still have money to spend on books or on science rather than on managers.

I have read all of and about Hazlitt I could lay my hands on, since I discovered him in 1983, while browsing in an antiquarian bookshop, and should say one's chances of getting something worthwile by or about Hazlitt have improved a lot with the internet, though he is most unlikely to become a popular author, at least until the average human intelligence has been raised considerably.

And while I have read rather widely in and around Hazlitt, I have not read widely in the more recent literary criticism of him, firstly because it is all quite expensive, and secondly because I generally don't like literary criticism, except by a choice few, such as Dr. Johnson, Hazlitt, Orwell and I.A. Richards.

Anyway... here are four books about Hazlitt that I did find interesting and worthwile. I start with two biographies:

  • P.P. Howe: The Life of William Hazlitt - Penguin Books 1949 (original 1922)
  • Stanley Jones: Hazlitt, A Life: From Winterslow to Frith Street - Oxford UP, 1989

These are both good, and Mr. Jones managed to find out many things about Hazlitt that others didn't. I do not know whether either is currently in print or available. Also, the former is better written and less detailed than the latter.

  • Paulin, Tom. The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style - Faber and Faber, 1998

Mr. Paulin, indeed like Mr. Jones, is a literary scientist, and while I did not like all that Mr. Paulin wrote - that I incidentally read in a pre-publication form I found in an antiquarian bookshop in Amsterdam, which I mention because I may not have read the polished version that was eventually published by Faber and Faber - he did write an interesting and worthwile book.

  • James Engell, The Creative Imagination - Englihtenment to Romanticism, Harvard UP, 1981

This is a book about the subject of its title, in which Hazlitt has a good chapter. The book is also generally quite interesting. The version I mentioned is the original hardcover one; a paperback version was published in 1999.

Update November 2, 2013:

The backgrounds for the Essays - in the left pane - fixed to blue.

last update: Mar 13 2014