Essays Picked by blupete

William Hazlitt's Spirit of the Age

Jeremy Bentham
"His eye is quick and lively; but it glances not from object to object, but from thought to thought. He is evidently a man occupied with some train of fine and inward association. He regards the people about him no more than the flies of a summer. He meditates the coming age. He hears and sees only what suits his purpose, or some 'foregone conclusion'; and looks out for facts and passing occurrences in order to put them into his logical machinery and grind them into the dust and powder of some subtle theory, as the miller looks out for grist to his mill!"
On William Godwin
"The fault, then, of Mr. Godwin's philosophy, in one word, was too much ambition ... He conceived too nobly of his fellows ... he raised the standard of morality above the reach of humanity ... The author of the Political Justice took abstract reason for the rule of conduct and abstract good for its end. He places the human mind on an elevation, from which it commands a view of the whole line of moral consequences, and requires it to conform its acts to the larger and more enlightened conscience which it has thus acquired. He absolves man from the gross and narrow ties of sense, custom, authority, private and local attachment, in order that he may devote himself to the boundless pursuit of universal benevolence."
Mr. Coleridge
"... surveying themselves [persons of the greatest capacity] from the highest point of view, amidst the infinite variety of the universe, their own share in it seems trifling, and scarce worth a thought; and they prefer the contemplation of all that is, or has been, or can be, to the making a coil [choice] about doing what, when done, is no better than vanity. ...
Such is the fate of genius in an age when, in the unequal contest with sovereign wrong, every man is ground to powder who is not either a born slave, or who does not willingly and at once offer up the yearnings of humanity and the dictates of reason as a welcome sacrifice to besotted prejudice and loathsome power."
Rev. Mr. Irving
"He merely makes use of the stronghold of religion as a resting place, from which he sallies forth, armed with modern topics and with penal fire."
Mr. Horne Tooke
"He who thinks first of himself, either in the world or in a popular assembly, will be sure to turn attention away from his claims, instead of fixing it there. He must make common cause with his hearers. To lead, he must follow the general bias."
Sir Walter Scott
"He is a learned, a literal, a matter-of-fact expounder of truth or fable ... It is no wonder that the public repay with lengthened applause and gratitude the pleasure they receive. He writes as fast as they can read, and he does not write himself down. He is always in the public eye, and we do not tire of him. His worst is better than any other person's best. ... His works (taken together) are almost like a new edition of human nature."
Lord Byron
"Perhaps the chief cause of most of Lord Byron's errors is, that he is that anomaly in letters and in, society, a Noble Poet. It is a double privilege, almost too much for humanity. He has all the pride of birth and genius. The strength of his imagination leads him to indulge in fantastic opinions; the elevation of his rank sets censure at defiance. He becomes a pampered egotist. He has a seat in the House of Lords, a niche in the Temple of Fame. Every-day mortals, opinions, things are not good enough for him to touch or think of."
Mr. Southey
"He was an enthusiast, a fanatic, a leveller; he stuck at nothing that he thought would banish all pain and misery from the world ... But when he once believed after many staggering doubts and painful struggles, that this was no longer possible, when his chimeras and golden dreams of human perfectibility vanished from him, he turned suddenly round, and maintained that 'whatever is, is right.'"
Mr. Wordsworth
"He takes a subject or a story merely as pegs or loops to hang thought and feeling on; the incidents are trifling, in proportion to his contempt for imposing appearances; the reflections are profound, according to the gravity and aspiring pretensions of his mind. ... No storm no shipwreck startles us by its horrors; but the rainbow lifts its head in the cloud, and the breeze sighs through the withered fern. No sad vicissitude of fate, no overwhelming catastrophe in nature deforms his page: but the dew-drop glitters on the bending flower, the tear collects in the glistening eye. ... The vulgar do not read them [Wordsworth's writings]; the learned, who see all things through books, do not understand them; the great despise. The fashionable may ridicule them: but the author has created himself an interest in the heart of the retired and lonely student of nature, which can never die. ... He has described all these objects [of nature] in a way and with an intensity of feeling that no one else had done before him, and has given a new view or aspect of nature. He is in this sense the most original poet now living, and the one whose writings could the least be spared: for they have no substitute elsewhere."
Sir James MacKintosh
"There is scarce an author that he has not read, a period of history that he is not conversant with, a celebrated name of which he has not a number of anecdotes to relate, an intricate question that he is not prepared to enter upon in a popular or scientific manner. If an opinion in an abstruse metaphysical author is referred to, he is probably able to repeat the passage by heart, can tell the side of the page on which it is to be met with ..."
Mr. Malthus
"Utopian philosophers .... both ancient and modern, [supposed] ... a state of society possible in which the passions and wills of individuals would be conformed to the general good, in which the knowledge of the best means of promoting human welfare and the desire of contributing to it would banish vice and misery from the world ... Mr. Malthus ... assumes, a state of perfectibility such as his opponents imagine, in which the general good is to obtain the entire mastery of individual interests, and reason of gross appetites and passions: and then he argues that such a perfect structure of society will fall by its own weight, or rather be undermined by the principle of population ..."
The Right Hon. George Canning
"It is his business [as a speech making politician] and his inclination to embellish what is trite, to gloss over what is true, to vamp up some feeble sophism, to spread the colours of a meretricious fancy over the unexpected exposure of some dark intrigue, some glaring iniquity It is his business [as a speech making politician] and his inclination to embellish what is trite, to gloss over what is true, to vamp up some feeble sophism, to spread the colours of a meretricious fancy over the unexpected exposure of some dark intrigue, some glaring iniquity ... Mr. Canning piles the lofty harangue, high over-arched with metaphor, dazzling with epithets, sparkling with jests -- take it out of doors, or examine it by the light of common sense, and it is no more than a paltry string of sophisms, of trite truisms, and sorry buffooneries."
Mr. Gifford
"He cannot conceive of anything different from what he finds it, and hates those who pretend to a greater reach of intellect or boldness of spirit than himself. He inclines, by a natural and deliberate bias, to the traditional in laws and government, to the orthodox in religion, to the safe in opinion, to the trite in imagination, to the technical in style, to whatever implies a surrender of individual judgment into the hands of authority and a subjection of individual feeling to mechanic rules."
Mr. Jeffrey
"Mr. Jeffrey is the Editor of the Edinburgh Review ... he holds a brief in his hand for every possible question. This is a fault. Mr. Jeffrey is not obtrusive, is not impatient of opposition, is not unwilling to be interrupted; but what is said by another seems to make no impression on him; he is bound to dispute, to answer it, as if he was in Court, or as if it were in a paltry Debating Society, where young beginners were trying their hands. This is not to maintain a character, or for want of good-nature: it is a thoughtless habit. He cannot help cross-examining a witness, or stating the adverse view of the question. He listens not to judge, but to reply. In consequence of this, you can as little tell the impression your observations make on him as what weight to assign to his."
Mr. Brougham -- Sir F. Burdett
"Mr. Brougham is rather a powerful and alarming, than an effectual debater. In so many details (which he himself goes through with unwearied and unshrinking resolution) the spirit of the question is lost to others who have not the same voluntary power of attention or the same interest in hearing that he has in speaking ... He moves in an unmanageable procession of facts and proofs, instead of coming to the point at once; and his premises (so anxious is he to proceed on sure and ample grounds) overlay and block up his conclusion ..."
Lord Eldon and Mr. Wilberforce
"Lord Eldon is an exceedingly good-natured man; but this does not prevent him, like other good-natured people, from consulting his own ease or interest. ... All people are passionate in what concerns themselves, or in what they take an interest in. The range of this last is different in different persons; but the want of passion is but another name for the want of sympathy and imagination. ... We can readily believe that Mr. Wilberforce's first object and principle of action is to do what he thinks right: his next (and that we fear is of almost equal weight with the first) is to do what will be thought so by other people."
Mr. Cobbett
"Cobbett with vast industry, vast information and the utmost power of making what he says intelligible, never seems to get at the beginning or come to the end of any question ... He changes his opinions as he does his friends, and much on the same account. He has no comfort in fixed principles: as soon as any thing is settled in his own mind, he quarrels with it. ... His ideas are served up, like pancakes, hot and hot."
Mr. Campbell and Mr. Crabbe
"Mr. Crabbe gives us one part of nature: the mean, the little, the disgusting, the distressing ... He gives us discoloured paintings of-life: helpless, repining, unprofitable; unedifying distress. He is not a philosopher, but a sophist, a misanthrope in verse ..."
Mr. T. Moore -- Mr. Leigh Hunt
Leigh Hunt ... improves upon acquaintance. The author translates admirably, into the man. ... in conversation he is all life and animation, combining the vivacity of the school-boy with the resources of the wit and the taste of the scholar.
Elia, and Geoffrey Crayon
"Mr. Lamb has the very soul of an antiquarian, as this implies a reflecting humanity; the film of the past hovers forever before him. He is shy, sensitive, the reverse of every thing coarse, vulgar, obtrusive, and common-place. ... He is borne along with no pompous paradoxes, shines in no glittering tinsel of a fashionable phraseology, is neither fop nor sophist. He has none of the turbulence or froth of new-fangled opinions. ... [Irving:] The first Essay in the Sketch-book, that on National Antipathies, is the best; but, after that, the sterling ore of wit or feeling is gradually spun thinner and thinner, till it fades to the shadow of a shade."

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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]

2011 (2020)

Peter Landry