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.
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.
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!
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.
A man does not read out of vanity, nor in company, but to amuse his own thoughts.
Patrick Madden's New Book
Quotidiana site founder Patrick Madden has just published a book of his own personal essays, including pieces formerly published in the Best American Spiritual Writing and Best Creative Nonfiction anthologies.
If you enjoy the classical essays on this site, you'll enjoy these contemporary ruminations as well. Soon there'll be a web page here with further information, but for now, you can find out more (and perhaps purchase a copy) at Amazon.com.
"Patrick Madden is an essayist of verve, passion, wit, and dependable moral compass. Quotidiana drew me in powerfully, from page to page and from pleasure to pleasure." —Ian Frazier
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Quotidiana is an online anthology of "classical" essays, from antiquity to the early twentieth century. All essays and images are in the public domain. Commentaries are copyrighted, but may be used with proper attribution. Special thanks to the BYU College of Humanities and English Department for funding, and to Joey Franklin and Lara Burton, for tireless research assisting.