William Hazlitt



Along with Francis Bacon and Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt stands at the head of the modern English tradition of the personal essay. Working as a periodical contributor in London, he wrote about a wide variety of subjects, including painting, politics, society, travel, relationships, and literature. He was as clever and insightful a critic as he was a philosopher, and he grew in status and fame exponentially. Among his acquaintances in the English literary scene were the previously mentioned Charles Lamb, as well as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, John Stoddart, and others. In addition to writing for the Times, The Morning Chronicle, and The Edinburgh Review, Hazlitt produced several extremely popular collections of essays. Round Table, and Characters of Shakespeare's Plays came out in 1817, and The Spirit of the Age was published in 1825. On the Pleasure of Hating appeared in 1826. Because he depended on his pen for a living, his opinion and personal life ended up causing him a tremendous amount of trouble. Political enemies seized upon some unfortunate decisions Hazlitt made regarding his personal life (He committed adultery), and orchestrated Hazlitt's fall from prosperity and popularity. In 1830, he past away, largely absent from the literary scene that had favored him earlier in life. However, many of his essays are still in print today--a fact that attests to the timeless popularity of his writing.

See also

Essays by William Hazlitt

On actors and acting

The stage not only refines the manners, but it is the best teacher of morals, for it is the truest and most intelligible picture of life.

On common-place critics

A common-place critic has something to say upon every occasion, and he always tells you either what is not true, or what you knew before, or what is not worth knowing.

On criticism

Criticism is an art that undergoes a great variety of changes, and aims at different objects at different times.

On depth and superficiality

It may amuse the reader to see the way in which I work out some of my conclusions underground, before throwing them up on the surface.

Elia and Geoffrey Crayon

[Charles Lamb] does not march boldly along with the crowd, but steals off the pavement to pick his way in the contrary direction.

On familiar style

I conceive that words are like money, not the worse for being common, but that it is the stamp of custom alone that gives them circulation or value.

A farewell to essay writing

Food, warmth, sleep, and a book; these are all I at present ask

On fashion

Fashion constantly begins and ends in the two things it abhors most, singularity and vulgarity.

On the fear of death

To die is only to be as we were before we were born; yet no one feels any remorse, or regret, or repugnance, in contemplating this last idea.

On genius and common sense

In art, in taste, in life, in speech, you decide from feeling, and not from reason.

On going a jouney

The soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, feel, do, just as one pleases.

On good-nature

Good-nature, or what is often considered as such, is the most selfish of all the virtues: it is nine times out of ten mere indolence of disposition.

On gusto

There is hardly any object entirely devoid of expression, without some character of power belonging to it, some precise association with pleasure or pain.

Hot and cold

The nastiest tastes and smells are not the most pungent and painful, but a compound of sweet and bitter, of the agreeable and disagreeable.

On the ignorance of the learned

Any one who has passed through the regular gradations of a classical education, and is not made a fool by it, may consider himself as having had a very narrow escape.

The Indian jugglers

A clever or ingenious man is one who can do anything well, whether it is worth doing or not; a great man is one who can do that which when done is of the highest importance.

On living to one’s self

Living to one's-self is living in the world, as in it, not of it.

On the love of life

The love of life is, in general, the effect not of our enjoyments, but of our passions. We are not attached to it so much for its own sake, or as it is connected with happiness, as because it is necessary to action.

My first acquaintance with poets

So have I loitered my life away, reading books, looking at pictures, going to plays, hearing, thinking, writing on what pleased me best. I have wanted only one thing to make me happy; but wanting that, have wanted everything!

On the past and future

We are afraid to dwell upon the past, lest it should retard our future progress; the indulgence of ease is fatal to excellence; and to succeed in life, we lose the ends of being!

On people with one idea

Oh! how little do they know, who have never done anything but repeat after others by rote, the pangs, the labour, the yearnings and misgivings of mind it costs to get at the germ of an original idea.

On the periodical essayists

Systems and opinions change, but nature is always true.

Of persons one would wish to have seen

I am sometimes, I suspect, a better reporter of the ideas of other people than expounder of my own. I pursue the one too far into paradox or mysticism; the others I am not bound to follow farther than I like, or than seems fair and reasonable.

On the pleasure of hating

We hate old friends: we hate old books: we hate old opinions; and at last we come to hate ourselves.

On the pleasure of painting

Refinement creates beauty everywhere: it is the grossness of the spectator that discovers nothing but grossness in the object.

On a sun-dial

I have never had a watch nor any other mode of keeping time in my possession, nor ever wished to learn how time goes

On thought and action

Those persons who are much accustomed to abstract contemplation are generally unfitted for active pursuits, and vice-versa.

Why distant objects please

Passion is lord of infinite space, and distant objects please because they border on its confines and are moulded by its touch.

On will-making

The art of will-making chiefly consists in baffling the importunity of expectation. I do not so much find fault with this when it is done as a punishment and oblique satire on servility and selfishness.

On the difference between writing and speaking

A man does not read out of vanity, nor in company, but to amuse his own thoughts.
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