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William Hazlitt's General Essays

On the Love of the Country
(November, 1814)
"We do not connect the same feelings with the works of art as with those of Nature, because we refer them to man, and associate with them the separate interests and passions which we know belong to those who are the authors or possessors of them."
On Poetry
(From: Lectures on the English Poets, 1815-17)
"Poetry is in all its shapes the language of the imagination and the passions, of fancy and will. Nothing, therefore, can be more absurd than the outcry which has been sometimes raised by frigid and pedantic critics, for reducing the language of poetry to the standard of common sense and reason: for the end and use of poetry, 'both at the first and now, was and is to hold the mirror up to nature', seen through the medium of passion and imagination, not divested of that medium by means of literal truth or abstract reason."
Coleridge: From "Lectures on the English Poets"
"His Ancient Mariner is his most remarkable performance, and the only one that I could point out to anyone as giving an adequate idea of his great natural powers. ... He talked on for ever; and you wished him to talk on for ever. His thoughts did not seem to come with labour and effort; but as if borne on the gusts of genius, and as if the wings of his imagination lifted him from off his feet."
"An author wastes his time in painful study and obscure researches, ... when he thinks to grasp the luckless prize, finds it not worth the trouble ... He thinks that the attainment of acknowledged excellence will secure him the expression of those feelings in others, which the image and hope of it had excited in his own breast, but instead of that, he meets with ... squint-eyed suspicion, idiot wonder, and grinning scorn."
On the Conversation of Authors
(September, 1820)
"A writer who has been accustomed to take a connected view of a difficult question and to work it out gradually in all its bearings, may be very deficient in that quickness and ease which men of the world, who are in the habit of hearing a variety of opinions, who pick up an observation on one subject, and another on another, and who care about none any farther than the passing away of an idle hour, usually acquire. An author has studied a particular point -- he has read, he has inquired, he has thought a great deal upon it: he is not contented to take it up casually in common with others, to throw out a hint, to propose an objection: he will either remain silent, uneasy, and dissatisfied, or he will begin at the beginning, and go through with it to the end."
Public Opinion
"You do not go enough into society ... You would there find many people of sense and information whose names you never heard of. It is not those who have made most noise in the world who are persons of the greatest general capacity. It is the making the most of a little ... that brings men into notice. Individuals gain a reputation as they make a fortune, by application and by having set their minds upon it. ... By setting the opinion of others at defiance, you lose your self-respect. It is of no use that you still say, that you will do what is right; your passions usurp the place of reason and whisper you, that whatever you are bent upon doing is right. You cannot put this deception on the public however, false or prejudiced their standard may be; and the opinion of the world, therefore, acts as a seasonable check upon wilfulness and eccentricity."
The Fight
(February, 1822)
"In the first round everyone thought it was all over. After making play a short time, the Gas-man flew at his adversary like a tiger, struck five blows in as many seconds, three first, and hen following him as he staggered back, two more, right and left, and down he fell ...."
On the Conduct of Life
"Do not be surprised ... to find men talk exceedingly well on different subjects, who do not derive their information immediately from books. ... common sense is not a monopoly, and experience and observation are sources of information open to the man of the world as well as to the retired student."
On Prejudice
"Prejudice is so far then an involuntary and stubborn association of ideas, of which we cannot assign the distinct grounds and origin; and the answer to the question, 'How do we know whether the prejudice is true or false?' depends ... Whether the subject in dispute falls under the province of our own experience, feeling, and observation, or is referable to the head of authority, tradition, and fanciful conjecture? Our practical conclusions are in this respect generally right; ... it is in trusting to others (who give themselves out for guides and doctors) that we are ... at the mercy of quackery, impudence, and imposture. Any impression, however absurd, or however we may have imbibed it, by being repeated and indulged in, becomes an article of implicit and incorrigible belief. The point to consider is, how we have first taken it up, whether from ourselves or the arbitrary dictation of others."
On the Spirit of Monarchy
(January, 1823)
"Would it not be hard upon a little girl, who is busy in dressing up a favorite doll, to pull it in pieces before her face in order to show her the bits of wood, the wool, and rags it is composed of? So it would be hard upon that great baby, the world, to take any of its idols to pieces, and show that they are nothing but painted wood. Neither of them would thank you, but consider the offer as in insult."
Unaltered Love & Perfect Love
"Perfect love has this advantage in it, that it leaves the possessor of it nothing farther to desire. ... the soul finds absolute content, for which it seeks to live, or dares to die."
My First Acquaintance with Poets
(April, 1823)
"We passed Dunster on our right, a small town between the brow of a hill and the sea. ... We had a long day's march -- (our feet kept time to the echoes of Coleridge's tongue) -- through Minehead and by the Blue Anchor, and on to Linton, which we did not reach till near midnight ... [where we were] repaid for our apprehensions and fatigue by some excellent rashers of fried bacon and eggs. The view in coming along had been splended. We walked for miles and miles on dark brown heaths overlooking the Channel, with the Welsh hills beyond ..."
"We could pass our lives in Oxford without having or wanting any other idea -- that of the place is enough. We imbibe the air of thought; we stand in the presence of learning."
"There are those ... who seem always to be practising on their audience, as if they ... hold a general retainer, by which they are bound to explain every difficulty, and answer every objection that can be started. This, in private society, and among friends, is not desirable. You thus lose the two great ends of conversation, which are to learn the sentiments of others, and see what they think of yours."
Of Persons One Would Wish
to Have Seen

(January, 1826)
"I am sometimes, I suspect, a better reporter of the ideas of other people than expounder of my own. I pursue the one too far into paradox or mysticism; the others I am not bound to follow farther than I like, or than seems fair and reasonable."
On The Pleasure Of Hating
"We feel the full force of the spirit of hatred with all of them in turn. ... we throw aside the trammels of civilization, the flimsy veil of humanity. ... The wild beast resumes its sway within us, we feel like hunting animals, and as the hound starts in his sleep and rushes on the chase in fancy the heart rouses itself in its native lair, and utters a wild cry of joy, at being restored once more to freedom and lawless unrestrained impulses. Every one has his full swing, or goes to the Devil his own way. Here are no ... long calculations of self-interest -- the will takes its instant way to its object, as the mountain-torrent flings itself over the precipice: the greatest possible good of each individual consists in doing all the mischief he can to his neighbour."
The Entrance into Italy
"The moon had risen, and threw its gleams across the fading twilight; the snowy tops of the mountains were blended with the clouds and stars; their sides were shrouded in mysterious gloom, and it was not till we entered Susa, with its fine old drawbridge and castellated walls, that we found ourselves on terra firma, or breathed common air again."
On The Want Of Money
(January, 1827)
"There are two classes of people that I have observed ... - those who cannot keep their own money in their hands, and those who cannot keep their hands from other people's. The first are always in want of money, though they do not know what they do with it. They muddle it away, without method or object, and without having anything to shew for it. ... they hire two houses at a time ... they purchase a library, and dispose of it when they move house. With all this sieve-like economy, they can only afford a leg of mutton and a single bottle of wine, and are glad to get a lift in a common stage ... they set no value upon money, and throw it away on any object or in any manner that first presents itself, merely to have it off their hands, so that you wonder what has become of it."
On The Feeling of Immortality in Youth
(March, 1827)
"... so in the outset of life we see no end to our desires nor to the opportunities of gratifying them. We have as yet found no obstacle, no disposition to flag, and it seems that we can go on so for ever. We look round in a new world, full of life and motion, and ceaseless progress, and feel in ourselves all the vigour and spirit to keep pace with it, and do not foresee from any present signs how we shall be left behind in the race, decline into old age, and drop into the grave."
On Disagreeable People
(August, 1827)
"Those people who are uncomfortable in themselves are disagreeable to others. ... If we look about us, and ask who are the agreeable and disagreeable people in the world, we shall see that it does not so much depend on their virtues or vices - their understanding or stupidity - as on the degree of pleasure or pain they seem to feel in ordinary social intercourse."
On A Sun-Dial
(October, 1827)
"Of the several modes of counting time, that by the sun-dial is perhaps the most apposite and striking, if not the most convenient or comprehensive. ... I should also like to have a sun-flower growing near it with bees fluttering round. It should be of iron to denote duration, and have a dull, leaden look. I hate a sun-dial made of wood, which is rather calculated to show the variations of the seasons, than the progress of time, slow, silent, imperceptible, chequered with light and shade."
Project For A New Theory Of Civil And Criminal Legislation
"It is surely a distinct question, what you can persuade people to do by argument and fair discussion, and what you may lawfully compel them to do, when reason and remonstrance fail. ... One individual has no right to interfere with the employment of my muscular powers, or to put violence on my person, to force me to contribute to the most laudable undertaking if I do not approve of it, any more than I have to force him to assist me in the direct contrary."
On Cant and Hypocrisy
(December, 1828)
"He is a hypocrite who professes what he does not believe; not he who does not practice all he wishes or approves. ... If any one really despised what he affected outwardly to admire, this would be hypocrisy. If he affected to admire it a great deal more than he really did, this would be cant. ... There is a cant about Shakespear. There is a cant about Political Economy just now. In short, there is and must be a cant about everything that excites a considerable degree of attention and interest, and that people would be thought to know and care rather more about them than they actually do. Cant is the voluntary overcharging or prolongation of a real sentiment; hypocrisy is the setting up a pretension to a feeling you never had and have no wish for. There are people who are made up of cant, that is of mawkish affectation and sensibility; but who have not sincerity enough to be hypocrites, that is, have not hearty dislike or contempt enough for anything, to give the lie to their puling professions of admiration and esteem for it."
Malthus And The Liberties Of The Poor"
(From: Reply to Malthus, 1807)
"It is a fearful shame and calamity ... The greater part of a community ought not to be paupers or starving. When the interests of the many are thus regularly and outrageously sacrificed to those of the few, the social order needs repairing. A street lined with coaches and with beggars dying at the Steps of the doors, gives a strong lesson to common thought and political foresight, if not to humanity."

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[TOC -- Hazlitt's Page]
[Hazlitt's Works]
[General Essays]
[Round Table]
[Political Essays]
[The Spirit of the Age]
[The Plain Speaker]

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Peter Landry