Get To Know William Hazlitt

Although little remembered today, William Hazlitt is considered one of the finest arts critics and essayists in the history of the English language. In his published writings, he reviewed drama, literature, and art. He lived from 1778 to 1830 and was friends with such literary figures as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Stendhal. All of the quotes which I use in this article are from William Hazlitt.

Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own.”

If I have not read a book before, it is, for all intents and purposes, new to me whether it was printed yesterday or three hundred years ago.”

Sometimes the talent of recognizing genius in other writers is as important as being a genius oneself.  Hazlitt is probably the most reliable critic of William Shakespeare ever.

Among Hazlitt’s works are ‘Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays’, ‘A View of the English Stage’, ‘On the English Poets’, and ‘On the English Comic Writers’. Two of his most famous books of essays are ‘Table Talk’ and ‘The Plain Speaker’.

Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.”

There was a major scandal in the life of William Hazlitt. In 1819 Hazlitt was unable to pay the rent for his family, so his wife left him taking their son. On his own at age 42, Hazlitt rented a couple of rooms in London from a tailor named Micaiah Walker. Walker’s 19 year old daughter Sarah would serve Hazlitt his breakfasts, and soon Hazlitt became infatuated with her. Then Hazlitt’s infatuation turned into an obsession. Hazlitt, wanting to marry Sarah, asked his wife for a divorce which was no easy matter at that time, but his wife finally agreed to a Scottish divorce which would allow him to remarry.

Meanwhile another lodger named Tomkins came along, and Sarah also became romantically involved with him. When Hazlitt found out, he became intensely jealous and suspicious of Sarah. Hazlitt alternated between passion, rage and despair.

Love turns, with little indulgence, to indifference or disgust: hatred alone is immortal.”

In order to determine Sarah’s real character, Hazlitt persuaded an acquaintance to take lodgings in the Walkers’ building and attempt to seduce Sarah. The seduction appeared to be succeeding although ultimately did not.

Hazlitt told his tale of romantic woe to his friends and anyone else who would listen. He even wrote a novella, ‘Liber Amoris’, which was a thinly disguised fictional account of his personal romantic woes. This novella was panned more for moral reasons than on aesthetic grounds. I plan to read and review it here soon.

Let me end with a few additional quotes from William Hazlitt:

Any one may mouth out a passage with theatrical cadence or get upon stilts to tell his thoughts. But to write or speak with propriety and simplicity is a more difficult task.”

We are never so much disposed to quarrel with others as when we are dissatisfied with ourselves.”

The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves.”

He will never have true friends who is afraid of making enemies.”

Prejudice is the child of ignorance.”

The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.”

Look up, laugh loud, talk big, keep the color in your cheek and the fire in your eye, adorn your person, maintain your health, your beauty, and your animal spirits.”


2 responses to this post.

  1. Lovely quotes – thank you! He’s one of those essayists I’m keen to read more of!

    Liked by 1 person


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