Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Literary Remains of the Late William Hazlitt,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. IX: Literary Criticism - part 02 (1902), 9:140-145


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[Southern Literary Messenger, September, 1836.]

THERE is a piquancy in the personal character and literary reputation of Hazlitt, which will cause this book to be sought with avidity by all who read. And the volume will fully repay a perusal. It embraces a Biographical Sketch of Mr. H. by his son; “Some Thoughts on his Genius,” by Bulwer; “Thoughts on his Intellectual Character,” by Sergeant Talfourd; a few words of high compliment contained in a Letter to Southey from Charles Lamb; A Sonnet, by Sheridan Knowles, on Bewick's portrait of the deceased; six other sonnets to his memory, by “A Lady;” and twenty-two Essays by Hazlitt himself, and constituting his “Literary Remains.” The volume is embellished with a fine head of the Essayist, engraved by Marr, from a drawing by Bewick.

William Hazlitt, upon his decease in 1830, was 52 years old. He was the youngest son of the Reverend William Hazlitt, a dissenting minister of the Unitarian persuasion. At the age of nine he was sent to a day-school in Wern, and some of his letters soon after this period evince a singular thirst for knowledge in one so young. At thirteen his first literary effort was made, in the shape of an epistle to the “Shrewsbury Chronicle.” This epistle is signed in Greek capitals Eliason, [page 141:] and is a decently written defence of Priestley, or rather an expression of indignation at some outrages offered to the Doctor at Birmingham. It speaks of little, however, but the school-boy. At fifteen, he was entered as a student at the Unitarian College, Hackney, with a view to his education as a dissenting minister, and here his mind first received a bias towards philosophical speculation. Several short essays were written at this time — but are lost. Some letters to his father, however, which are printed in the present volume, give no evidence of more than a very ordinary ability. At seventeen, he left College (having abandoned all idea of the Ministry[[)]] and devoted himself to the study of painting as a profession — prosecuting his metaphysical reading at spare moments. At eighteen, he commenced the first rough sketch of a treatise “On the Principles of Human Action.” At twenty, accident brought him acquainted with Coleridge, whose writings and conversation had, as might be expected, great influence upon his subsequent modes of thought. At twenty-four, during the short peace of Amiens, he visited Paris with the [[a]] view of studying the works of art in the Louvre. Some letters to his father written at this period, are given in the volume before us. They relate principally to the progress of his own studies in art, and are not in any manner remarkable. After spending a year in Paris he returned to London, abandoned, in despair, the pencil for the pen, and took up his abode temporarily, with his brother John, in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury. His treatise “On the Principles of Human Action,” a work upon which he seems to have greatly prided himself, (perhaps from early associations) was now completed, after eight years of excessive labor. He was not, however, successful [page 142:] in finding a publisher until a year afterwards — he being then twenty-eight. This was in 1805. In 1806, he published a pamphlet with the title of “Free Thoughts on Public Affairs.” In 1807, he abridged to one volume Tucker's large work in seven — the “Light of Nature,” and wrote for Messrs. Longman and Co. a “Reply to Malthus's Works on Population.” In 1808, he married Miss Stoddart, sister of the present Chief Justice of Malta. By this lady, who still lives, he had several children, all of whom died in early childhood, except the Editor of these “Remains.” Shortly after his marriage, he went to live at Winterslow, in Wiltshire. An English Grammar, written about this period, was published some years afterwards. In 1808, he also published a compilation, entitled “The Eloquence of the British Senate, being a selection of the best Speeches of the most distinguished Parliamentary Speakers, from the beginning of the reign of Charles I to the present time.” We are told also, that in the autumn of this same year he was “engaged in preparing for publication his ‘Memoirs of Holcroft’ ” — the first seventeen chapters of this work were written by Holcroft himself. In 1811, Mr. Hazlitt removed to London and “tenanted a house once honored in the occupation of Milton.” In 1813, he delivered at the Russell Institution, a series of “Lectures upon the History and Progress of English Philosophy.” Shortly after this he became connected with the public press. For a short time he was engaged with the “Morning Chronicle” as a Parliamentary Reporter — but relinquished the occupation on account of ill health. He afterwards wrote political and theatrical criticisms for the “Champion,” the “Morning Chronicle,” the “Examiner,” and the [page 143:] “Times.” It was about this period, if we understand his biographer, that the collection of Essays appeared called “The Round Table.” Of these, forty were written by Mr. Hazlitt, and twelve by Leigh Hunt. In 1818, his Theatrical Criticisms were collected and published under the title of “A view of the English Stage.” In this year also, he delivered at the Surrey Institution a series of Lectures on the “Comic Writers, and the Poets of England,” and on the “Dramatic Literature of the age of Elizabeth.” These were subsequently published in single volumes under their respective titles. In 1819, the whole of his Political Essays appeared in one volume. His next published work was the “Characters of Shakspeare's Plays.” In 1823, Mr. Hazlitt was divorced from his wife under the law of Scotland — shortly before this epoch having given to the world “Liber Amoris,” a publication for many reasons to be regretted. In this same year appeared a “Critical Account of the Principal Picture Galleries of England” — also the first series of “Table-Talk,” in two volumes, consisting of Essays on various subjects, a few of which had previously appeared in the “London Magazine.” In 1824, Mr. H. married Isabella, widow of Lieut. Col. Bridgewater, a lady of some property; proceeding, after the wedding, on a tour through France and Italy. “Notes” of this journey appeared in the “Morning Chronicle,” and were afterwards collected in a volume. In 1825, appeared the second series of “Table-Talk,” and the “Spirit of the Age,” a series of criticisms on the more prominent literary men then living. In 1826, the “Plain Speaker” was published, and another edition of the “Table-Talk.” At this period, and for some years previous, Mr. Hazlitt was a frequent contributor [page 144:] to the “Edinburgh Review,” the “New Monthly,” “Monthly,” and “London” Magazines, and other periodicals. In 1829, he published “Selections from the British Poets,” and in 1830, “Northcote's Conversations,” the “Life of Titiani,” (in which Mr. Northcote had a large share, and whose name, indeed, appeared as author on the title-page) and his chief work, “The Life of Napoleon,” in four volumes. In August of this year he was attacked by a species of cholera, and on the 18th of September he died. We are indebted for the facts in this naked outline of Mr. Hazlitt's life, principally to the memoir by his son in the volume before us. The memoir itself bears upon its face so obvious and indeed so very natural an air of the most enthusiastic filial affection and admiration, that we are forced to place but little reliance upon the critical opinions it advances.

The “Thoughts on the Genius of William Hazlitt,” by Mr. Bulwer, differ in many striking points from the “Thoughts” by Sergeant Talfourd, on his “Intellectual Character.” We give the preference unhesitatingly to the noble paper of Talfourd — a brilliant specimen of accurate thinking and fine writing. The article of Bulwer, indeed, seems to be a compulsory thing — an effort probably induced by earnest solicitation — and no labor of love. Hazlitt, moreover, was personally unknown to him. Sergeant Talfourd, on the contrary, appears to write with a vivid interest in the man, and a thorough knowledge of his books. Nothing more fully than is here said, need be said, on the character, on the capacities, or on the works of Hazlitt, and nothing possibly can be said more happily or more wisely.

Of the Essays which constitute the body of the [page 145:] book before us, all have a relative — most of them a very high positive value. To American readers Hazlitt is principally known, we believe, as the Dramatic Critic, and the Lecturer on the Elder Poetry of England. Some of the papers in the present volume will prove the great extent and comprehensiveness of his genius. One on the “Fine Arts” especially, cannot fail of seizing public attention. Mr. Hazlitt discourses of Painting, as Chorley of Music. Neither have been equalled in their way. A fine passage of Hazlitt's on the ideal commences thus —

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“The Fight” will show clearly how the writer of true talent can elevate even the most brutal of themes. The paper entitled “My first acquaintance with Poets,” and that headed “Of Persons one would wish to have seen,” have a personal interest apart from the abilities of the writer. The article “On Liberty and Necessity,” that “On Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding,” and that “On the Definition of Wit,” bear with them evidence of a truth but little understood, and very rarely admitted — that the reasoning powers never exist in perfection unless when allied with a very high degree of the imaginative faculty. In this latter respect, Hazlitt (who knew and acknowledged the fact) is greatly deficient. His argumentative pieces, therefore, rarely satisfy any mind, beyond that of the mere logician. As a critic — he is perhaps unequalled. Altogether he was no ordinary man. In the words of Bulwer, it may justly be said — that “a complete collection of his works is all the monument he demands.”





[S:1 - JAH09, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Literary Remains of the Late William Hazlitt)