William Hazlitt as an Essayist

William Hazlitt As An Essayist

William Hazlitt took up the writing of essay professionals and was serious about it. He was also a printer, a lecturer, and a biographer but essentially he was an essayist, a great essayist. The outstanding feature of his essays was that like Bacon, he wrote on a variety of subject and themes. His topic included anything which caught his whim or caprice or prejudice. Literary subjects theatre, actors, acting, printer, printing famous personalities, sports, politics, and anything else which interested him. Most his essay was based on experience culled from his life. As his famous biographer, Howe state that his most remarkable essays were 'dug deeply into his own past and the general fact of human nature.'


Most of Hazlitt's essays are therefore found to be subjective. His essays abound in self-revelation in reminiscence; they reveal his own personality, temperament, disposition, likes and dislikes. Readers receive an idea of his character with his preference and prejudices. This personal element enhanced the appeal of his essay. He seems to believe that anything that interested him would also interest the reader. Hence, the tone of his essay created and peculiar intimacy with his reader. The only person he knew very well was his own self and so he spoke of himself in almost every essay. Like Bacon, he never took out any point of view that touched upon his own personal experience. As he observed in the essay, "The Fight" give a man a topic in his head, a throb of pleasure in his heart and he will be glad to share it with the first person he meets. ' His is reader was his companion who would respond to his point of view, his is sensitivity his incisive wit, love Paradox and lucid experience. He enjoyed the freedom of mind his curiosity was unbounded and he was in awe of anything new that he perceived. Blessed with a strong imagination and a tendency to experience a complex feeling, he drew his material entirely from himself and when he had to speak of others, he depended on his power of deep understanding and intellectual analysis. As he stated, ' When I can judge the heart from the face or the thoughts from the lips, I may again trust myself. Instance of these give me robin redbreast pecking the crums at the door warbling on the leafless spray, the same glancing from that has followed me wherever I had been and then its spiriting gently or the rich notes of the thrush that startle the ear of winter, and seem to have drunk up full draught of the joy from the very sense of contrast. To these I adhere and am faithful for they are true to me.' he loved the nature world feet firmly planted on the ground.

Always a keen and minutes observer of things, people and nature he possessed philosophic of mind to mediated the scenes he beheld. This reflection and meditation bestowed a unique depth to his essays. As early as his day in Hackney college Hazlitt was much concerned with philosophy and had studied the nature of the human mind. Even though he was not an acclaimed philosopher he considered himself one and toward the end of his life, too he did not give up his pursuit of philosophical issues. He had knowledge of human nature and could analyze like a psychologist, the human motive and the working of the human mind.

Before turning to literature, Hazlitt had trained at Peris to be a painter. Though he never becomes a famous painter, he did possess the painter's eye, which he used to his advantage while writing his essays. While on his European tour with his second wife Isabella, his vivid descriptions of the place he visits and the scenes he views are like a painter's strokes on a canvas. He had a remarkable power of portraying individual and could write equally powerfully while praising one individual and condemning the other. 

There are instance is in his treatment of Coleridge and Wordsworth where Hazlitt has praised these literary figures and in the same essay his exposed their shortcomings. Hugh Walker is of the opinion that a more genial spirit like lamb might have ignored the negative aspect of their character or might have approached it in a different way but there was concerned betterness in Hazlett, which influenced his essays. Hazlitt's bitterness gives his criticism a hard ton. His sentence falls light blows of the hammer and the anvil. He is compelling not winning. If he gains the victory it is a victory of the intellect rather than emotion ...Hazlitt's strength is so superb that not infrequently he gain his end by violence.' Hazlitt it is an individual. He criticism is brilliant and Walker opines that,' yet at times, his judgment is marred by prejudice, which is supposed to be the special danger of the criticism of contemporaries.'

Hazlitt's essays are replete with illusions chiefly to book and authors. We find an interesting illusion to Shakespeare's Julius, Caesar, Dante'Inferno, and others, illusions to author and painters, contemporary persons and places. However, critics have pointed out that at times, his enthusiasm overwhelming him and several incorrect illusion have unfortunately crept into his work. For example, he refers to Rousseau's "Dedication" of the social contract. Wordsworth's Essay On Marriage' and 'Johnsons Observations on foreign travel' though they do not exist.

Aphorisms abound in Hazlitt's essays. ' good nature is humanity that cost nothing,' common sense is tacit reason,' such definition are not a mere instance of wit but of wisdom. His essay "On Ignorance of the learned" established conclusively that one knows little if he is always a Prisoner of his books. Though a philosopher himself, he thought that philosophy should not be dragged into everything and spoke disparagingly of such people as 'a conceited fellow about town who talks always and everywhere on the subject.'

Broadly classified, Hazlitt's essay fall into two group: His essay on literary criticism and his essay on a variety of topic that are generally of an intimate and personal nature. He produced a large number of essays, of excellent quality and varied interest. Hazlitt's sound understanding of human nature his trained powers of reasoning and his analytical mind is evident in all his essays: Critical and personal. Ha had an acquired knowledge which he imported to his readers through his essays. Te exhibits his power of observation and the depth of his understanding.

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