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12th Hazlitt Day School and Society Lecture
This took place on Saturday 14th September 2013, at University College London.
Critical Approaches to Hazlitt
A Brief Survey
Compiled by Uttara Natarajan, September 2007
The following is a list of some key scholarly studies of Hazlitt, chronologically arranged so as to indicate the developing shape of Hazlitt criticism over time. The list is intended to be introductory and representative rather than comprehensive: omissions should not be taken as value-judgements on the part of the compiler.
E.W. Schneider, The Aesthetics of William Hazlitt: A Study of the Philosophical Basis of his Criticism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1933).
The first book-length critical treatment. In its attention to Hazlitt’s philosophy, Schneider’s fine study focuses on his theory of abstraction, and is especially concerned with showing the independence of Hazlitt’s philosophical thought from Coleridge’s.
J.M. Bullitt, ‘Hazlitt and the Romantic Conception of the Imagination’, Philological Quarterly 24.4 (October 1945), 343-61.
Finds, at the basis of all of Hazlitt’s writings, a belief in the sympathetic imagination that can be taken to exemplify English Romanticism more generally.
Herschel Baker, William Hazlitt (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962).
Major biography, attending especially to Hazlitt as a thinker, and usefully placing him in the social and intellectual context of his time.
Walter Jackson Bate, John Keats (1963).
Persuasively makes a large claim for Hazlitt by showing him to be a defining influence in the development of Keats’s poetic thought and practice.
W.P. Albrecht, Hazlitt and the Creative Imagination (Lawrence, Kan.: University of Kansas Press, 1965).
Solidly useful study of Hazlitt’s notion of imagination, examining its role in his political thought and his literary judgements; also tests Hazlitt’s criteria for imagination against his own writing.
Roy Park, Hazlitt and the Spirit of the Age: Abstraction and Critical Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).
Major study, presenting Hazlitt as the exemplary voice of a critical tradition that upholds the value of poetry and the imagination against science, philosophy, and religion. Park’s treatment of the influence of painting on Hazlitt’s literary criticism is especially insightful.
John Kinnaird, William Hazlitt: Critic of Power (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978).
Takes ‘power’ as the unifying theme of Hazlitt’s works, tracing his developing understanding of the term in its political sense, as well as in the natural or human sense of creative energy. Asserts the importance of Hazlitt’s legacy for modern criticism.
Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), especially pp. 169-73.
Sympathetic and eminently readable short summary of Hazlitt’s career as a ‘man of the left’, rooted in the individualistic and radical legacy of Dissent, but whose oppositional stance is characteristically English, in that its expression is through the personal and non-ideological style of the periodical essay, and its persona, that of the ‘good hater’.
David Bromwich, Hazlitt: The Mind of a Critic (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1983).
The single most important modern study. Treating philosophy, politics, criticism, and morals, Bromwich makes a compelling case, finely articulated, for Hazlitt’s stature and achievement as a critic, diminished, as he argues, by the rise of academic and professional criticism, of which Coleridge is the forebear.
Joel Haefner, ‘“Incondite Things”: Experimentation and the Romantic Essay’, Prose Studies 10.2 (September 1987), 196-206.
Hazlitt contributes substantially to this argument that the romantic essayists’ development of the form is pivotal, the genre becoming, in their hands, ‘an experiment of self’, where the empirical is fused with the idealistic, and formal unity or closure denied.
Thomas McFarland, Romantic Cruxes: The English Essayists and the Spirit of the Age (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987).
Hazlitt is a major focus in this vindication of the ‘Romanticism’ of the Romantic essayists collectively. A weakness of this study is its construction of the essayists as secondary and second-rate in relation to the Romantic poets, especially Coleridge: McFarland finds that the Romantic essayists are the lesser ‘mountains’ in a range that includes the ‘dizzying elevations’ of Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Stanley Jones, Hazlitt: A Life – From Winterslow to Frith Street (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).
Still the most substantial and important biography: Jones’s especial strength is his ability to infuse biographical detail with his intimate understanding of the achievement and concerns of Hazlitt’s works.
Annette Wheeler Cafarelli, Prose in the Age of Poets: Romanticism and Biographical Narrative from Johnson to De Quincey (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990).
In the context of a larger study, that redirects attention to the achievements of Romantic prose by focussing on ‘collective biography’ as a ‘characteristically Romantic prose form’, initiated by Johnson’s Lives of the Poets, Cafarelli treats Hazlitt as a primary innovator in this genre, and his three series of literary lectures, as well as The Spirit of the Age, as key examples.
Raymond Martin and John Barresi, ‘Hazlitt on the Future of the Self’, Journal of the History of Ideas 56.3 (July 1995), 463-81.
Perhaps the largest claim that has so far been made for Hazlitt’s philosophical achievement, on the basis of his theory of personal identity, as set out in An Essay on the Principles of Human Action. The case made here is restated in, and central to, Martin and Barresi’s more recent book, Naturalization of the Soul: Self and Personal Identity in the Eighteenth Century (London and New York: Routledge, 2000).
Philip Harling, ‘William Hazlitt and Radical Journalism’ Romanticism 3. 1 (1997), 53-65.
Fluent and readable essay, usefully placing Hazlitt’s political writings in the contemporary political context, and finding that ‘his desire to safeguard Britain’s liberties, and his insistence on the hypocrisy of the status quo, locate him squarely within the conventions of late-Georgian radical journalism.’
Uttara Natarajan, Hazlitt and the Reach of Sense: Criticism, Morals, and the Metaphysics of Power (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).
Finds, at the basis of all of Hazlitt’s writings, a common philosophical basis, identified here as a power principle, counter to the pleasure principle of the Utilitarians, and signifying the innate and independent activity of the mind.
Tom Paulin, The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt’s Radical Style (London: Faber, 1998).
Important and accessible work of restitution. Against the neglect of Hazlitt as a canonical author, Paulin passionately argues his exemplary standing as a prose artist. Paulin’s attention to Hazlitt’s Irish and Unitarian contexts, and his close analyses of Hazlitt’s prose aesthetic (including radical content) are especially valuable.
Gregory Dart, ‘Romantic Cockneyism: Hazlitt and the Periodical Press’, Romanticism 6.2 (2000), 143-62.
Links Hazlitt’s caricature of Cockneyism in ‘On Londoners and Country People’, with his attitude to periodical journalism. Hazlitt’s changing stance towards the Cockney, closing the gap between himself and his subject in the course of the essay, is intimately involved with, and mirrors, his ambivalence about the periodical genre and his own self-consciousness as its practitioner.
A.C. Grayling, The Quarrel of the Age: The Life and Times of William Hazlitt (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2000).
Lucid and accessible modern biography; confirming the ‘intensely personal’ quality of Hazlitt’s writing by bringing to bear on each other, his life, his times, and his work.
John Whale, ‘Hazlitt and the Limits of the Sympathetic Imagination’ in Imagination under Pressure, 1789-1832: Aesthetics, Politics and Utility (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000), 110-39.
Argues the disjunction between Hazlitt’s aesthetics and his politics. The ideal of a sympathetic imagination, central to Hazlitt’s aesthetics, is exposed as inadequate when tested against the dominant political ideology and the challenge of utilitarianism.
Deborah Elise White, Romantic Returns: Superstition, Imagination, History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).
By arguing the continuing relevance of key Romantic accounts of the imagination (including Hazlitt’s) to current debates about literature and history, White defends the Romantic imagination against the strictures of a narrowly ideological reading.
Tim Milnes, Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
Contains a substantial section on Hazlitt’s philosophy, examining his negotiation of empiricism and idealism and emphasizing the contradictions and tensions between these two tendencies in Hazlitt’s thought.
James Mulvihill, ‘Hazlitt's “Essayism”’, Nineteenth-Century Prose 31. 1 (Spring 2004), 28-52, 266-67.
Locates Hazlitt’s ‘essayism’, his quality as an essayist, in the totality of his diverse responses to his subjects, finding that he typifies a distinctly modern sensibility in being at once consumer and critic of the culture of his time.
Uttara Natarajan, Tom Paulin, and Duncan Wu (eds.), Metaphysical Hazlitt: Bicentenary Essays (London: Routledge, 2005).
New writings by major scholars, commemorating the bicentenary of Hazlitt’s 1805 Essay, by showing its relevance to Hazlitt’s other writings, or to those of his contemporaries, or by comparing it with the work of other philosophers.
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