William Hazlitt

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Hazlitt, William

Hazlitt, William, 1778–1830, English essayist. The son of a reform-mindeed Unitarian minister, he abandoned the idea of entering the clergy and took up painting, philosophy, and later journalism. He moved to London in 1799, studied painting, and joined the social circle of Charles and Mary Lamb. Beginning in 1812 Hazlitt acted as a parliamentary reporter and a theatrical, literary, and artistic critic for the Morning Chronicle. He later contributed a variety of articles to Leigh Hunt's Examiner, the Edinburgh Review, the London Magazine, the New Monthly, and other periodicals. By the 1820s he was widely considered London's most influential critic. A student of the art of prose, Hazlitt combined conversational and literary language into his own distinctively lucid and elegant prose style. His penetrating literary criticism (he has been called the father of modern literary criticism) is collected in Characters of Shakespeare's Plays (1817), Lectures on the English Poets (1818), Lectures on the English Comic Writers (1819), Table Talk (1821–22), and The Spirit of the Age (1825), portraits of his contemporaries. His essays on Shakespeare and his Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth (1820) renewed enthusiasm for Elizabethan drama.

Hazlitt was one of the great masters of the miscellaneous essay, displaying a keen intellect, fine sensibility, critical intelligence, and wide scope of interest and knowledge. His most notable single essays include “On Going a Journey,” “My First Acquaintance with Poets,” “On the Feeling of Immortality in Youth,” and “Going to a Fight.” His interest in and support of the French Revolution and his strong beliefs in the principles of liberty and the rights of man inspired him to write a life of Napoleon (4 vol., 1828–30).


See his complete works (ed. by P. P. Howe, 21 vol., 1930–34) and New Writings (previously uncollected works, ed. by D. Wu, 2 vol., 2007); selected writings (ed. by D. Wu, 9 vol., 1998); his letters (ed. by Herschel M. Sikes et al., 1978); biographies by C. M. MacLean (1944, repr. 2008), H. C. Baker (1962), P. P. Howe (1947, repr. 1972), S. Jones (1989), A. C. Grayling (2000), and D. Wu (2008); J. Cook, Hazlitt in Love (2008); studies by J. B. Priestley (1960), R. Park (1971), R. M. Wardle (1971), J. Kinnaird (1978), D. Bromwich (1985), H. Bloom, ed. (1986), M. Whelan (2003), and U. Natarajan, T. Paulin, and D. Wu, ed. (2005).

William Carew Hazlitt, 1834–1913, his grandson, was a bibliographer and wrote The Memoirs of William Hazlitt (1867). Among W. C. Hazlitt's works are a valuable Handbook to the Popular, Poetical, and Dramatic Literature of Great Britain (1867) and its supplements and Four Generations of a Literary Family: The Hazlitts (1897).
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hazlitt, William


Born Apr. 10, 1778, in Maidstone, Kent; died Sept. 18, 1830, in London. English critic and essayist.

Hazlitt received his education at a Unitarian academy. In 1810 he began writing for the liberal opposition press. In his journalism, he denounced social injustice—for example, the collections The Round Table (with Leigh Hunt, 1817) and Political Essays (1819)—and presented sharply critical portraits of contemporary political figures—for example, the collection The Spirit of the Age (1825). In his historical and literary essays in the collection Lectures on the Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth (1820), Hazlitt analyzed the poetry of Shakespeare within the framework of romantic aesthetics, singling out the richness and topicality of the poet’s work for Hazlitt’s time. Hazlitt was in the tradition of Addison and Steele; his works are classic examples of the English essay.


The Complete Works, vols. 1–21. London-Toronto, 1930–34.


D’iakonova, N. Ia. Londonskie romantiki i problemy angliiskogo romantizma. Leningrad, 1970.
Park, R. Hazlitt and the Spirit of the Age. Oxford, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The radical essayist William Hazlitt was a "key figure controlling the transmission of the idea of literary originality" in the period (Macfarlane 34), as exemplified in his literary lectures and his collection of essays on contemporary cultural and political figures, The Spirit of the Age (1825).
Howe, ed., The Complete Works of William Hazlitt. 21 vols.
When has a book been so deeply inspirational as this one and as soon as fuel prices come down a bit I intend to head off to Cookham for the Stanley Spencer's, Hampton Court for the Mantegna's Maidstone (for William Hazlitt's lovely self-portrait), Southampton for ....
Perhaps the answer can be found in the quotation by the humanist writer William Hazlitt with which Bennett chose to open his original, prose version of the tale: "Good nature, or what is often considered as such, is the most selfish of all virtues: it is nine times out of ten mere indolence of disposition."
However, he adds, "While Conrads elegiac view of the past emerges from the Polish tradition, it also borrows from the lyrical English Romanticism of William Hazlitt's essays, with their focus on the subjective power of memory, and follows the historical treatments of Carlyle" (7).
The poet Thomas Moore wrote in his diary of the 1822 Royal Academy exhibition, 'Lawrence's Adonized George IV is disgraceful both to the King and to the painter,' while essayist William Hazlitt (1778-1830) commented the artist had succeeded in transforming his monarch 'far beyond all that wigs, powders and pomatums have been able to effect over the last 20 years.'
They include Lord Byron, John Keats, and Mary Shelley, and lesser known figures like Mary Shelley's stepsister and Byron's mistress, Claire Clairmont; Hunt's botanist sister-in-law, Elizabeth Kent; the musician Vincent Novello; the painters Benjamin Haydon and Joseph Severn; and writers Charles and Mary Lamb, Thomas Love Peacock, and William Hazlitt. Focusing on the relationship between them, rather than the myth of the isolated poet, she documents the group and their changing relationships from its inception in Hunt's prison cell in 1813 to its disintegration after Shelley's death in 1822.
Although William Hazlitt's Table-Talk (1821) and Lectures on the English Comic Writers (1819) were staples of the teacher Robert Frost's assignments at Amherst College (Lawrence Thompson, Robert Frost: The Years of Triumph 1915-1938 [NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970], p.
William Hazlitt was the greatest essayist of the era of transition from the politics and sensibilities of the 18th century to the new world of the 19th.
Blandness in politics is nothing new, as that great 19th-century essayist William Hazlitt pointed out in an essay called On the Present State of Parliamentary Eloquence.
Looking at today's MPs I'm reminded of the words of writer William Hazlitt, "The idea (fear) of what the public will think prevents the public from ever thinking at all, and acts as a spell on the exercise of private judgement.
Wardle suggests that the shift of focus to acting was a result of "electrifying" (Wardle 22) performances (for example, William Hazlitt was particularly excited by Edmund Kean), however, Gray, again, emphasizes the slow process of this development (23).