HAZLITT ON ENGLISH LITERATURE
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE APPRECIATION OF LITERATURE
BY JACOB ZEITLIN, PH.D. ASSOCIATE IN ENGLISH UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS
NEW YORK OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS AMERICAN BRANCH: 35 WEST 32ND STREET
LONDON, TORONTO, MELBOURNE, AND BOMBAY HUMPHREY MILFORD
1913 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
BY OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
The present selection of Hazlitt's critical essays has been planned to serve two important purposes. In the first place it provides the materials for an estimate of the character and scope of Hazlitt's contributions to criticism and so acquaints students with one of the greatest of English critics. And in the second place, what is perhaps more important, such a selection, embodying a series of appreciations of the great English writers, should prove helpful in the college teaching of literature. There is no great critic who by his readableness and comprehensiveness is as well qualified as Hazlitt to aid in bringing home to students the power and the beauty of the essential things in literature. There is, in him a splendid stimulating energy which has not yet been sufficiently utilized.
The contents have been selected and arranged to present a chronological and almost continuous account of English literature from its beginning in the age of Elizabeth down to Hazlitt's own day, the period of the romantic revival. To the more strictly critical essays there have been added a few which reveal Hazlitt's intimate intercourse with books and also with their writers, whether he knew them in the flesh or only through the printed page. Such vivid revelations of personal contact contribute much to further the chief aim of this volume, which is to introduce the reader to a direct and spontaneous view of literature.
The editor's introduction, in trying to fix formally Hazlitt's position as a critic, of necessity takes account of his personality, which cannot be dissociated from his critical practice. The notes, in addition to identifying quotations and explaining allusions, indicate the nature of Hazlitt's obligations to earlier and contemporary critics. They contain a body of detailed information, which may be used, if so desired, for disciplinary purposes. The text here employed is that of the last form published in Hazlitt's own lifetime, namely, that of the second edition in the case of the Characters of Shakespeare's Plays, the lectures on the poets and on the age of Elizabeth, and the Spirit of the Age, and the first edition of the Comic Writers, the Plain Speaker, and the Political Essays. A slight departure from this procedure in the case of the essay on "Elia" is explained in the notes. "My First Acquaintance with Poets," and "Of Persons One Would Wish to Have Seen" are taken from the periodicals in which they first appeared, as they were not republished in book-form till after Hazlitt's death. Hazlitt's own spellings and punctuation are retained.
To all who have contributed to the study and appreciation of Hazlitt, the present editor desires to make general acknowledgement—to Alexander Ireland, Mr. W. C. Hazlitt, Mr. Birrell, and Mr. Saintsbury. Mention should also be made of Mr. Nichol Smith's little volume of Hazlitt's Essays on Poetry (Blackwood's), and of the excellent treatment of Hazlitt in Professor Oliver Elton's Survey of English Literature from 1780 to 1830, which came to hand after this edition had been completed. A debt of special gratitude is owing to Mr. Glover and Mr. Waller for their splendid edition of Hazlitt's Collected Works (in twelve volumes with an index, Dent 1902-1906). All of Hazlitt's quotations have been identified with the help of this edition. References to Hazlitt's own writings, when cited by volume and page, apply to the edition of Glover and Waller.
Finally I wish to express my sincere thanks to Professor G. P. Krapp for his friendly cooperation in the planning and carrying out of this volume, and to him and to my colleague, Professor S. P. Sherman, for helpful criticism of the introduction.
February 20, 1913.
CHRONOLOGY OF HAZLITT'S LIFE AND WRITINGS ix
I. THE AGE OF ELIZABETH 1
II. SPENSER 21
III. SHAKSPEARE 34
IV. THE CHARACTERS OF SHAKSPEARE'S PLAYS CYMBELINE 50 MACBETH 60 IAGO 72 HAMLET 76 ROMEO AND JULIET 84 MIDSUMMERNIGHT'S DREAM 85 FALSTAFF 88 TWELFTH NIGHT 96
V. MILTON 101
VI. POPE 118
VII. ON THE PERIODICAL ESSAYISTS 133
VIII. THE ENGLISH NOVELISTS 155
IX. CHARACTER OF MR. BURKE 172
X. MR. WORDSWORTH 191
XI. MR. COLERIDGE 205
XII. MR. SOUTHEY 216
XIII. ELIA 220
XIV. SIR WALTER SCOTT 227
XV. LORD BYRON 236
XVI. ON POETRY IN GENERAL 251
XVII. MY FIRST ACQUAINTANCE WITH POETS 277
XVIII. ON THE CONVERSATION OF AUTHORS 301
XIX. OF PERSONS ONE WOULD WISH TO HAVE SEEN 315
XX. ON READING OLD BOOKS 333
CHRONOLOGY OF HAZLITT'S LIFE AND WRITINGS
1778 William Hazlitt born at Maidstone in Kent, April 10.
1783-1786 Residence in America.
1787 ff. Residence at Wem in Shropshire.
1793-1794 Student in the Hackney Theological College.
1798 Meeting with Coleridge and Wordsworth.
1798?-1805 Study and practice of painting.
1802 Visit to Paris.
1805 Essay on the Principles of Human Action.
1806 Free Thoughts on Public Affairs.
1807 An Abridgment of the Light of Nature Revealed, by Abraham Tucker.
Reply to the Essay on Population by the Rev. T. R. Malthus.
Eloquence of the British Senate.
1808 Marriage with Sarah Stoddart and settlement at Winterslow.
1810 A New and Improved Grammar of the English Tongue.
1812 Removal to London.—Lectures on philosophy at the Russell Institution.
1812-1814 On the staff of the Morning Chronicle.
1814 Begins contributing to the Champion, Examiner, and the Edinburgh Review.
1816 Memoirs of the Late Thomas Holcroft.
1817 The Round Table.
The Characters of Shakespeare's Plays.
1818 A View of the English Stage.
Lectures on the English Poets. (Delivered at the Surrey Institution.)
1819 Lectures on the English Comic Writers. (Delivered at the Surrey Institution at the close of 1818.)
A Letter to William Gifford Esq., from William Hazlitt Esq.
1820 Lectures on the Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth. (Delivered at the Surrey Institution at the close of 1819.)
Joins the staff of the London Magazine.
1821-22 Table Talk, or Original Essays (2 volumes).
1822 Episode of Sarah Walker.—Journey to Scotland to obtain a divorce from his wife.
1823 Liber Amoris, or the New Pygmalion.
Characteristics in the Manner of Rochefoucauld's Maxims.
1824 Sketches of the Principal Picture-Galleries in England.
Select British Poets.
Marriage with Mrs. Bridgewater.—Tour of the Continent.
1825 The Spirit of the Age.
1826 Notes of a Journey through France and Italy.
The Plain Speaker, Opinions on Books, Men, and Things (2 volumes).
1828-1830 Life of Napoleon Buonaparte (4 volumes).
1830 Conversations of James Northcote.
Death of William Hazlitt, September 18.
Hazlitt characterized the age he lived in as "critical, didactic, paradoxical, romantic." It was the age of the Edinburgh Review, of the Utilitarians, of Godwin and Shelley, of Wordsworth and Byron—in a word of the French Revolution and all that it brought in its train. Poetry in this age was impregnated with politics; ideas for social reform sprang from the ground of personal sentiment. Hazlitt was born early enough to partake of the ardent hopes which the last decade of the eighteenth century held out, but his spirit came to ripeness in years of reaction in which the battle for reform seemed a lost hope. While the changing events were bringing about corresponding changes in the ideals of such early votaries to liberty as Coleridge and Wordsworth, Hazlitt continued to cling to his enthusiastic faith, but at the same time the spectacle of a world which turned away from its brightest dreams made of him a sharp critic of human nature, and his sense of personal disappointment turned into a bitterness hardly to be distinguished from cynicism. In a passionate longing for a better order of things, in the merciless denunciation of the cant and bigotry which was enlisted in the cause of the existing order, he resembled Byron. The rare union in his nature of the analytic and the emotional gave to his writings the very qualities which he enumerated as characteristic of the age, and his consistent sincerity made his voice distinct above many others of his generation.
Hazlitt's earlier years reveal a restless conflict of the sensitive and the intellectual. His father, a friend of Priestley's, was a Unitarian preacher, who, in his vain search for liberty of conscience, had spent three years in America with his family. Under him the boy was accustomed to the reading of sermons and political tracts, and on this dry nourishment he seemed to thrive till he was sent to the Hackney Theological College to begin his preparation for the ministry. His dissatisfaction there was not such as could be put into words—perhaps a hunger for keener sensations and an appetite for freer inquiry than was open to a theological student even of a dissenting church. After a year at Hackney he withdrew to his father's home, where he found nothing more definite to do than to "solve some knotty point, or dip in some abstruse author, or look at the sky, or wander by the pebbled sea-side." This was probably the period of his most extensive reading. He absorbed the English novelists and essayists; he saturated himself with the sentiment of Rousseau; he studied Bacon and Hobbes and Berkeley and Hume; he became fascinated, in Burke, by the union of a wide intellect with a brilliant fancy and consummate rhetorical skill. Though he called himself at this time dumb and inarticulate, and the idea of ever making literature his profession had not suggested itself to him, he was eager to talk about the things he read, and in Joseph Fawcett, a retired minister, he found an agreeable companion. "A heartier friend or honester critic I never coped withal." "The writings of Sterne, Fielding, Cervantes, Richardson, Rousseau, Godwin, Goethe, etc. were the usual subjects of our discourse, and the pleasure I had had, in reading these authors, was more than doubled." How acutely sensitive he was to all impressions at this time is indicated by the effect upon him of the meeting with Coleridge and Wordsworth of which he has left a record in one of his most eloquent essays, "My First Acquaintance with Poets." But his active energies were concentrated on the solution of a metaphysical problem which was destined to possess his brain for many years: in his youthful enthusiasm he was grappling with a theory concerning the natural disinterestedness of the human mind, apparently adhering to the bias which he had received from his early training.
But being come of age and finding it necessary to turn his mind to something more marketable than abstract speculation, he determined, though apparently without any natural inclination toward the art, to become a painter. He apprenticed himself to his brother John Hazlitt, who had gained some reputation in London for his miniatures. During the peace of Amiens in 1802, he travelled to the Louvre to study and copy the masterpieces which Napoleon had brought over from Italy as trophies of war. Here, as he "marched delighted through a quarter of a mile of the proudest efforts of the mind of man, a whole creation of genius, a universe of art," he imbibed a love of perfection which may have been fatal to his hopes of a career. At any rate it was soon after, while he was following the profession of itinerant painter through England, that he wrote to his father of "much dissatisfaction and much sorrow," of "that repeated disappointment and that long dejection which have served to overcast and to throw into deep obscurity some of the best years of my life."
When Hazlitt abandoned painting, he fell back upon his analytic gift as a means of earning a living. Not counting his first published work, the Essay on the Principles of Human Action, which was purely a labor of love and fell still-born from the press, the tasks to which he now devoted his time were chiefly of the kind ordinarily rated as job work. He prepared an abridgement of Abraham Tucker's Light of Nature, compiled the Eloquence of the British Senate, wrote a reply to Malthus's Essay on Population, and even composed an elementary English Grammar. It would be a mistake to suppose that these labors were performed according to a system of mechanical routine. Hazlitt impressed something of his personality on whatever he touched. His violent attack on the inhuman tendencies of Malthus's doctrines is pervaded by a glow of humanitarian indignation. For the Eloquence of the British Senate he wrote a sketch of Burke, which for fervor of appreciation and judicious analysis ranks with his best things of this class. Even the Grammar bears evidence of his enthusiasm for an idea. Whenever he has occasion to express his feelings on a subject of popular interest, his manner begins to grow animated and his language to gain in force and suppleness.
But Hazlitt continued firmly in the faith that it was his destiny to be a metaphysician. In 1812 he undertook to deliver a course of lectures on philosophy at the Russell Institution with the ambitious purpose of founding a system of philosophy "more conformable to reason and experience" than that of the modern material school which resolved "all thought into sensation, all morality into the love of pleasure, and all action into mechanical impulse." Though he did not succeed in founding a system, he probably interested his audience by a stimulating review of the main tendencies of English thought from Bacon and Hobbes to Priestley and Godwin.
At the conclusion of his last lecture, Hazlitt told the story of a Brahmin who, on being transformed into a monkey, "had no other delight than that of eating cocoanuts and studying metaphysics." "I too," he added, "should be very well contented to pass my life like this monkey, did I but know how to provide myself with a substitute for cocoanuts." But it must have become apparent to Hazlitt and his friends that he possessed a talent more profitable than that of abstract speculation. The vigor and vitality of the prose in these lectures, compared with the heavy, inert style of his first metaphysical writing, the freedom of illustration and poetic allusion, suggested the possibility of success in more popular forms of literature. He tried to work for the newspapers as theatrical and parliamentary reporter, but his temper and his habits were not adaptable to the requirements of daily journalism, and editors did not long remain complacent toward him. He did however, in the course of a few years, succeed in gaining admission to the pages of the Edinburgh Review and in establishing an enviable reputation as a writer, of critical and miscellaneous essays. Even in that anonymous generation he could not long contribute to any periodical without attracting attention. Readers were aroused by his bold paradox and by the tonic quality of his style. Editors appealed to him for "dashing articles," for something "brilliant or striking" on any subject. Authors looked forward to a favorable notice from Hazlitt, and Keats even declared that it would be a compensation for being damned if Hazlitt were to do the damning.
In his essays the features of Hazlitt's personality may be plainly recognized, and these reveal a triple ancestry. He claims descent from Montaigne by virtue of his original observation of humanity with its entire accumulation of custom and prejudice; he is akin to Rousseau in a high-strung susceptibility to emotions, sentiments, and ideas; and he is tinged with a cynicism to which there is no closer parallel than in the maxims of La Rochefoucauld. The union of the philosopher, the enthusiast, and the man of the world is fairly unusual in literature, but in Hazlitt's case the union was not productive of any sharp contradictions. His common sense served as a ballast to his buoyant emotions; the natural strength of his feelings loosened the bonds which attached him to his favorite theories; his cynicism, by sharpening his perception of the frailty of human nature, prevented his philanthropic dreams from imposing themselves on him for reality.
The analytical gift manifested itself in Hazlitt precociously in the study of human nature. He characterized some of his schoolmates disdainfully as "fit only for fighting like stupid dogs and cats," and at the age of twelve, while on a visit, he communicated to his father a caustic sketch of some English ladies who "require an Horace or a Shakespeare to describe them," and whose "ceremonial unsociality" made him wish he were back in America. His metaphysical studies determined the direction which his observation of life should take. He became a remarkable anatomist of the constitution of human nature in the abstract, viewing the motives of men's actions from a speculative plane. He excels in sharp etchings which bring the outline of a character into bold prominence. He is happy in defining isolated traits and in throwing a new light on much used words. "Cleverness," he writes, "is a certain knack or aptitude at doing certain things, which depend more on a particular adroitness and off-hand readiness than on force or perseverance, such as making puns, making epigrams, making extempore verses, mimicking the company, mimicking a style, etc.... Accomplishments are certain external graces, which are to be learnt from others, and which are easily displayed to the admiration of the beholder, viz. dancing, riding, fencing, music, and so on.... Talent is the capacity of doing anything that depends on application and industry, such as writing a criticism, making a speech, studying the law." These innocent looking definitions are probably not without an ironic sting. It requires no great stretch of the imagination, for example, to catch in Hazlitt's eye a sly wink at Lamb or a disdainful glance toward Leigh Hunt as he gives the reader his idea of cleverness or accomplishment.
Hazlitt's definitions often startle and give a vigorous buffet to our preconceptions. He is likely to open an essay on "Good-Nature" by declaring that a good-natured man is "one who does not like to be put out of his way.... Good-nature is humanity that costs nothing;" and he may describe a respectable man as "a person whom there is no reason for respecting, or none that we choose to name." Against the imputation of paradox, which such expressions expose him to, he has written his own defence, applying his usual analytical acuteness to distinguish between originality and singularity. The contradiction of a common prejudice, which always passes for paradox, is often such only in appearance. It is true that an ingenious person may take advantage of the elusive nature of language to play tricks with the ordinary understanding, but it is equally true that words of themselves have a way of imposing on the uninquiring mind and passing themselves off at an inflated value. No process is more familiar than that by which words in the course of a long life lose all their original power, and yet they will sometimes continue to exercise a disproportionate authority. Then comes the original mind, which, looking straight at the thing instead of accepting the specious title, discovers the incongruity between the pretence and the reality, and in the first shock of the disclosure annoyingly overturns our settled ideas. This is the spirit in which Carlyle seeks to strip off the clothes in which humanity has irrecognizably disguised itself, and it is the spirit in which Robert Louis Stevenson tries to free his old-world conscience from the old-world forms. To take a more recent parallel, it is the manner, somewhat exaggerated, in which Mr. G. K. Chesterton examines the upstart heresies of our own agitated day. There would be nothing fanciful in suggesting that all these men owed a direct debt to Hazlitt—Stevenson on many occasions acknowledged it. Hazlitt was as honest and sincere as any of them. Though the opening of an essay may appear perverse, he is sure to enforce his point before proceeding very far. He accumulates familiar instances in such abundance as to render obvious what at first seemed paradoxical. He writes "On the Ignorance of the Learned" and makes it perfectly clear that no person knows less of the actual life of the world than he whose experience is confined to books. On the other hand he has a whole-hearted appreciation of pedantry: "The power of attaching an interest to the most trifling or painful pursuits, in which our whole attention and faculties are engaged, is one of the greatest happinesses of our nature.... He who is not in some measure a pedant, though he may be a wise, cannot be a very happy man." These two examples illustrate Hazlitt's manner of presenting both views of a subject by concentrating his attention on each separately and examining it without regard to the other. On one occasion he anatomizes the faults of the dissenters, and on another he extols their virtues, "I have inveighed all my life against the insolence of the Tories, and for this I have the authority both of Whigs and Reformers; but then I have occasionally spoken against the imbecility of the Whigs, and the extravagance of the Reformers, and thus have brought all three on my back, though two out of the three regularly agree with all I say of the third party." The strange thing is not that he should have incurred the wrath of all parties, but that he should show surprise at the result.
Very often Hazlitt's reflections are the generalization of his personal experience. The essay "On the Disadvantages of Intellectual Superiority" is but a record of the trials to which he was exposed by his morbid sensitiveness and want of social tact, and amid much excellent advice "On the Conduct of Life," there are passages which merely reflect his own marital misfortunes. It is not so much that he is a dupe of his emotions, but in his view of life he attaches a higher importance to feeling than to reason, and so provides a philosophic basis for his strongest prejudices. "Custom, passion, imagination," he declares, "insinuate themselves into and influence almost every judgment we pass or sentiment we indulge, and are a necessary help (as well as hindrance) to the human understanding; to attempt to refer every question to abstract truth and precise definition, without allowing for the frailty of prejudice, which is the unavoidable consequence of the frailty and imperfection of reason, would be to unravel the whole web and texture of human understanding and society."
It is this infusion of passion and sentiment, the addition of the warm breath of his personal experience, that gives the motion of life to his analytic essays, and a deep and solemn humanity to his abstract speculations. Hazlitt felt life with an intensity which reminds us of a more spacious age. "What a huge heap, a 'huge, dumb heap,' of wishes, thoughts, feelings, anxious cares, soothing hopes, loves, joys, friendships, it is composed of! How many ideas and trains of sentiment, long and deep and intense, often pass through the mind in only one day's thinking or reading, for instance! How many such days are there in a year, how many years in a long life, still occupied with something interesting, still recalling some old impression, still recurring to some difficult question and making progress in it, every step accompanied with a sense of power, and every moment conscious of the 'high endeavour and the glad success!'" What an exultant sense of power over the resources of life! What an earnest delight in the tasting of every pleasure which the senses and the intelligence afford! His enjoyments comprehended the widest range of sensations and activities. He loved nature, he loved books, he loved pictures, he loved the theatre, he loved music and dancing. He loved good talk and good fellowship; he loved an idea and anyone who was susceptible to an idea. He also loved a spirited game of rackets, and though he hated brutality, he has left us a very vivid and sympathetic account of a prize-fight. Above all he loved the words truth and justice and humanity. With such sensibilities, it is no wonder that his last words should have been "I have had a happy life."
As the phrase is ordinarily understood, Hazlitt's dying expression might seem unaccountable. Outwardly few authors have been more miserable. Like the great French sentimentalist with whom we have compared him, a suspicious distrust of all who came near him converted his social existence into a restless fever. He had the gift of interpreting every contradiction to one of his favorite principles as a personal injury to himself, and in the tense state of party feeling then prevailing, the opportunities for taking offence were not limited. Hazlitt was one of the chief marks singled out for abuse by the critics of Government. To constant self-tormentings from within and persecution from without, there was added the misfortune of an unhappy marriage and of a still more unhappy love affair which lowered him in his own eyes as well as in the eyes of the world. From the point of view of the practical man, Hazlitt's life would be declared a failure.
The result of Hazlitt's hard experiences with the realities of life was to confirm him in a devoted attachment to the past. All his high enthusiasms, his sanguine dreams, his purest feelings continued to live for him in the past, and it was only by recurring to their memory in the dim distance that he could find assurance to sustain his faith. In the past all his experiences were refined, subtilized, transfigured. A sunny afternoon on Salisbury Plain, a walk with Charles and Mary Lamb under a Claude Lorraine sky, a visit to the Montpelier Gardens where in his childhood he drank tea with his father—occurrences as common as these were enveloped in a haze of glory. And rarer events, such as a visit to the pictures at Burleigh House, or to the galleries in the Louvre, tender visions of feminine grace and sweetness, were touched in the recollection with a depth and pathos which subdued even the most joyous impressions to a refined melancholy. In no other English writer is this rich sentiment of the past so eloquent, and no one was better qualified to describe its sources. "Time takes out the sting of pain; our sorrows after a certain period have been so often steeped in a medium of thought and passion, that they 'unmould their essence'; and all that remains of our original impressions is what we would wish them to have been.... Seen in the distance, in the long perspective of waning years, the meanest incidents, enlarged and enriched by countless recollections, become interesting; the most painful, broken and softened by time, soothe." The "Farewell to Essay Writing" is perfumed with the odor of grateful memories from which the writer draws his "best consolation for the future." He almost erects his feeling for the past into a religion. "Happy are they," he exclaims, "who live in the dream of their own existence, and see all things in the light of their own minds; who walk by faith and hope; to whom the guiding star of their youth still shines from afar, and into whom the spirit of the world has not entered!... The world has no hold on them. They are in it, not of it; and a dream and a glory is ever around them!"
But this impassioned sentiment for the past was only a refuge such as Byron might seek among the glories of by-gone ages or amid the solitary Alpine peaks, where it was possible to regain the strength spent in grappling with the forces of the actual world and return newly nerved to the battle. For fighting was Hazlitt's more proper element. He could hate with the same intensity that he loved, and his hatred was aroused most by those whom he regarded as responsible for the overturning of his political hopes. Politics had played the most important part in his early education. In his father's house he had absorbed the spirit of protest, accustomed himself to arguing for the repeal of the Test Act, and to declaiming against religious and political persecution. At the age of twelve he had written an indignant letter to the Shrewsbury Chronicle against the mob of incendiaries which had destroyed the house of Priestley, and as a student at Hackney he showed sufficient self-reliance to develop an original "Essay on Laws." The defence of the popular cause was with him not an academic exercise, but a religious principle. "Since a little child, I knelt and lifted up my hands in prayer for it." The emotional warmth of his creed was heightened by the reading of Rousseau, and in Napoleon it found a living hero on whom it could expend itself.
An uncompromising attachment to certain fundamental principles of democracy and an unceasing devotion to Napoleon constitute the chief elements of Hazlitt's political character. He sets forth his idea of representative government exactly in the manner of Rousseau when he proclaims that "in matters of feeling and common sense, of which each individual is the best judge, the majority are in the right.... It is an absurdity to suppose that there can be any better criterion of national grievances, or the proper remedies for them, than the aggregate amount of the actual, dear-bought experience, the honest feelings, and heart-felt wishes of a whole people, informed and directed by the greatest power of understanding in the community, unbiassed by any sinister motive." Hazlitt was not a republican, and he disapproved of the Utopian rhapsodies of Shelley, woven as they seemed of mere moonshine, without applicability to the evils that demanded immediate reform. But he did insist that there was a power in the people to change its government and its governors, and hence grew his idolatry of Napoleon, who, through all vicissitudes, remained the "Child and Champion of the Revolution," the hero who had shown Europe how its established despots could be overthrown.
The news of Waterloo plunged Hazlitt into deep distress, as if it had been the shock of a personal calamity. According to Haydon, "he walked about unwashed, unshaven, hardly sober by day, always intoxicated by night, literally for weeks." But his disappointment only strengthened his attachment to his principles. These remained enshrined with the brightest dreams of his youth, and in proportion as the vision faded and men were beginning to scoff at it as a shadow, Hazlitt bent his energies to fix its outline and prove its reality. "I am attached to my conclusions," he says, "in consequence of the pain, the anxiety, and the waste of time they have cost me." His doctrines contained nothing that was subversive of social order, and their ultimate triumph lends the color of heroism to a consistency which people have often interpreted as proof of a limited horizon. It is at least certain that he did not put his conscience out to market, and that his reward came in the form of the vilest calumny ever visited upon a man of letters.
These were the most infamous years of the Quarterly Review and Blackwood's Magazine, both of which had been founded as avowed champions of reaction. Their purpose was to discredit all writers whose politics or the politics of whose friends differed from the Government. Everybody knows of the fate which Keats and Shelley suffered at their hands, chiefly because they were friends of Leigh Hunt, who was the editor of a Liberal newspaper which had displeased George IV. Even the unoffending Lamb did not escape their brutality, perhaps because he was guilty of admitting Hazlitt to his house. The weapons were misrepresentation and unconfined abuse, wielded with an utter disregard of where the blows might fall, in the spirit of a gang of young ruffians who knew that they were protected in their wantonness by a higher authority. In the chastened sadness of his later years Lockhart, who was one of the offenders, confessed that he had no personal grudge against any of Blackwood's victims, in fact that he knew nothing about any of them, but that at the request of John Wilson, his fellow-editor, he had composed "some squibberies ... with as little malice as if the assigned subject had been the court of Pekin." The sincere regret he expressed for the pain which his "jokes" had inflicted ought perhaps to be counted in extenuation of his errors. It may be true, as his generous biographer suggests, that "his politics and his feud with many of these men was an affair of ignorance and accidental associations in Edinburgh," that under different circumstances "he might have been found inditing sonnets to Leigh Hunt, and supping with Lamb, Haydon, and Hazlitt." But meanwhile irreparable mischief had been done to many reputations, and the life of one man had been sacrificed to his sportiveness.
The signal for the attack on Hazlitt was given by the Quarterly in connection with a review of The Round Table, Hazlitt's first book. The contents of this volume were characterized as "vulgar descriptions, silly paradox, flat truisms, misty sophistry, broken English, ill humour and rancorous abuse." A little later, when the Characters of Shakespeare's Plays seemed to be finding such favor with the public that one edition was quickly exhausted, the Quarterly extinguished its sale by "proving that Mr. Hazlitt's knowledge of Shakespeare and the English language is on a par with the purity of his morals and the depth of his understanding." The cry was soon taken up by the Blackwood's people in a series on the Cockney School of Prose. Lockhart invented the expression "pimpled Hazlitt." It so happened that Hazlitt's complexion was unusually clear, but the epithet clung to him with a cruel tenacity. When an ill-natured reviewer could find nothing else to say, he had recourse to "pimpled essays" or "pimpled criticism." The climax of abuse was reached in an article entitled "Hazlitt Cross-Questioned," which a sense of decency makes it impossible to reproduce, and which resulted in the payment of damages to the victim. Even the publisher Blackwood speaks of it, with what sincerity it is not safe to say, as disgusting in tone, and Murray, who was the London agent for the Magazine, refused to have any further dealings with it. But the harm was done. Hazlitt could not walk out without feeling that every passer-by had read the atrocious article and saw the brand of the social outcast on his features.
In an atmosphere like this, it is scarcely to be wondered at if Hazlitt's temper, never of the amiable sort, should have become embittered, nor is it strange that he should sometimes, through ignorance, have committed the fault of which his enemies had been guilty in wantonness. Not content with retaliating the full measure of malice upon the heads of his immediate assailants, he turned the stream of his abuse upon Sir Walter Scott, whom he singled out deliberately as the towering head of a supposed literary conspiracy. He is credited with remarking; "To pay these fellows in their own coin, the way would be to begin with Walter Scott, and have at his clump foot." Very mean-spirited this sounds to us, who are acquainted with the nobility of Scott's character and who know with what magnanimous wisdom he kept himself above the petty altercations of the day. But for Hazlitt, Sir Walter was the father-in-law and friendly patron of John Lockhart, he was the person who had thrown the weight of his powerful influence to make John Wilson Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh! He did not carry his prejudice against the Author of Waverley.
In some instances Hazlitt was consciously the aggressor, but his attacks were never wanton. He denounced Wordsworth and Coleridge and Southey because they were renegades from the cause which lay nearest to his heart. Their apostasy was an unforgivable offence in his eyes, and his wrath was proportioned to the admiration which he otherwise entertained for them. It is true that he treated their motives hastily and unjustly, but none of his opponents set him the example of charity. In the earlier years of their acquaintance Coleridge had spoken of Hazlitt as a "thinking, observant, original man." one who "says things that are his own in a way of his own," whereas after their estrangement he discovered that Hazlitt was completely lacking in originality. Wordsworth, being offended at Hazlitt's review of the "Excursion," peevishly raked up an old scandal and wrote to Haydon that he was "not a proper person to be admitted into respectable society." Perhaps Hazlitt was not as "respectable" as his poet-friends, but he had a better sense of fair play. At any rate, in a complete balancing of the accounts, Hazlitt's frequent displays of ill-temper are offset by the insidious, often unscrupulous baitings which he suffered from his opponents.
Naturally his bitterness was extended to his reflections on mankind in general. He felt as if the human race had wilfully deceived his sanguine expectations, and he poured out his grievances against its refractoriness, taking revenge for his public and his private wrongs, in a passage in which high idealism is joined with personal spite, in which he has revealed himself in all his strength and weakness, and involved his enemies in a common ruin with himself. It concludes the essay "On the Pleasure of Hating":
"Instead of patriots and friends of freedom, I see nothing but the tyrant and the slave, the people linked with kings to rivet on the chains of despotism and superstition. I see folly join with knavery, and together make up public spirit and public opinions. I see the insolent Tory, the blind Reformer, the coward Whig! If mankind had wished for what is right, they might have had it long ago. The theory is plain enough; but they are prone to mischief, 'to every good work reprobate.' I have seen all that had been done by the mighty yearnings of the spirit and intellect of men, 'of whom the world was not worthy,' and that promised a proud opening to truth and good through the vista of future years, undone by one man, with just glimmering of understanding enough to feel that he was a king, but not to comprehend how he could be king of a free people! I have seen this triumph celebrated by poets, the friends of my youth and the friends of man, but who were carried away by the infuriate tide that, setting in from a throne, bore down every distinction of right reason before it; and I have seen all those who did not join in applauding this insult and outrage on humanity proscribed, hunted down (they and their friends made a bye-word of), so that it has become an understood thing that no one can live by his talents or knowledge who is not ready to prostitute those talents and that knowledge to betray his species, and prey upon his fellow-man.... In private life do we not see hypocrisy, servility, selfishness, folly, and impudence succeed, while modesty shrinks from the encounter, and merit is trodden under foot? How often is 'the rose plucked from the forehead of a virtuous love to plant a blister there!' What chance is there of the success of real passion? What certainty of its continuance? Seeing all this as I do, and unravelling the web of human life into its various threads of meanness, spite, cowardice, want of feeling, and want of understanding, of indifference towards others and ignorance of ourselves—seeing custom prevail over all excellence, itself giving way to infamy—mistaken as I have been in my public and private hopes, calculating others from myself, and calculating wrong; always disappointed where I placed most reliance; the dupe of friendship, and the fool of love; have I not reason to hate and to despise myself? Indeed I do; and chiefly for not having hated and despised the world enough."—This is not exactly downright cynicism; it is more like disappointment, beating its head frantically against the wall of circumstance. Yet through his bitterest utterances there is felt the warm sentiment that, "let people rail at virtue, at genius and friendship as long as they will—the very names of these disputed qualities are better than anything else that could be substituted for them, and embalm even the most angry abuse of them."
It is no wonder that Hazlitt has never been a popular favorite. With a stronger attachment to principles than to persons, lavishing upon ideas or the fanciful creations of art a passionate affection which he grudgingly withheld from human beings, stubbornly tenacious of a set of political dogmas to which he was ready to sacrifice his dearest friends, morbidly sensitive to the faintest suggestion of a personal slight, and prompter than the serpent to vent against the aggressor the bitterness of his poison, he plays the role of Ishmael among the men of letters in his day. The violence of his retorts when he felt himself injured and his capacity for giving offence even when he was not directly provoked, begot a resentment in his adversaries which blinded them to an appreciation of his genuine worth. At best they might have assented, after his death, to the sublime pity with which Carlyle, from his spiritual altitudes, moralized upon his struggles. "How many a poor Hazlitt must wander on God's verdant earth, like the Unblest on burning deserts; passionately dig wells, and draw up only the dry quicksand; believe that he is seeking Truth, yet only wrestle among endless Sophisms, doing desperate battle as with spectre-hosts; and die and make no sign!" We must appeal to the issue to determine whether Hazlitt's battle was altogether against spectre-hosts, and whether in his quest for truth and beauty he has drawn up nothing but quicksand. But at least Carlyle's expression recognizes the earnestness of his purpose and the bravery with which he maintained the conflict.
Hazlitt gave himself freely and without reserve to his reader. By his side Leigh Hunt appears affected, De Quincey theatrical, Lamb—let us say discreet. Affectation and discretion were equally alien to Hazlitt's nature, as they concerned either his personal conduct or his literary exercises. In regard to every impression, every prejudice, every stray thought that struggled into consciousness, his practice was, to use his own favorite quotation,
"To pour out all as plain As downright Shippen or as old Montaigne."
He has drifted far from the tradition of Addison and Steele with which his contemporaries sought to associate him. There was nothing in him of the courtier-like grace employed in the good-humored reproof of unimportant vices, of the indulgent, condescending admonition to the "gentle reader," particularly of the fair sex. In Hazlitt's hands the essay was an instrument for the expression of serious thought and virile passion. He lacked indeed the temperamental balance of Lamb. His insight into human nature was intellectual rather than sympathetic. Though as a philosopher he understood that the web of life is of a mingled yarn, he has given us none of those rare glimpses of laughter ending in tears or of tears subsiding in a tender smile which are the sources of Lamb's depth and his charm. The same thing is true of his humor. He relished heartily its appearance in others and had a most wholesome laugh; but in himself there is no real merriment, only an ironic realization of the contrasts of life. When he writes, the smile which sometimes seeks to overpower the grim fixity of his features, is frozen before it can emerge to the surface. He lacks all the ingratiating arts which make a writer beloved. But if one enjoys a keen student of the intricacies of character, a bold and candid critic of human imperfections, a stimulating companion full of original ideas and deep feelings, he will find in Hazlitt an inexhaustible source of instruction and delight. Hazlitt has long appealed to men of vigorous character and acute intellect, men like Landor, Froude, Walter Bagehot, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Ernest Henley, who have either proclaimed his praise or flattered him with imitation. By the friend who knew him longest and was better qualified than any other to speak of him, he has been pronounced as "in his natural and healthy state, one of the wisest and finest spirits breathing."
The discovery in the seventeenth century of the Greek treatise "On the Sublime," attributed to Longinus, with its inspired appreciation of the great passages in Greek literature so different from the analytic manner of Aristotle, gave a decided impulse to English criticism. It was at the same time that English prose, under the influence of French models, was developing a more familiar tone than it had hitherto been acquainted with. The union of the enthusiasm of Longinus with this moderated French prose resulted in the graceful prefaces of Dryden, which remained unmatched for more than a century. The Longinian fire, breathed upon too by the genius of Shakespeare, preserved the eighteenth century from congealing into the utter formalism of pseudo-Aristotelian authority. Though they did not produce an even warmth over the whole surface, the flames are observed darting through the crust even where the crust seems thickest. It is significant that Dr. Johnson should exclaim with admiration at the criticism of Dryden, not because Dryden judged according to rules but because his was the criticism of a poet. And he singles out as the best example of such criticism the well-known appreciation of Shakespeare, the very passage which Hazlitt later quoted as "the best character of Shakespeare that has ever been written." The high-priest of classicism wavered frequently in his allegiance to some of the sacred fetishes of his cult, and had enough grace, once at least, to speak with scorn of the "cant of those who judged by principles rather than by perception."
But to judge by perception is a comparatively rare accomplishment, and so most critics continued to employ the foot-rule as if they were measuring flat surfaces, while occasionally going so far as to recognize the existence of certain mountain-peaks as "irregular beauties." In a more or less conscious distinction from the criticism of external rules there developed also during the eighteenth century what its representatives were pleased to call metaphysical criticism, to which we should now probably apply the term psychological. This consisted in explaining poetic effects by reference to strictly mental processes in a tone of calm analysis eminently suited to the rationalistic temper of the age. It methodically traced the sources of grandeur or of pathos or of humor, and then illustrated its generalization by the practice of the poets. It could thereby pride itself on going back of the rules to the fundamental laws of human nature. Kames's Elements of Criticism, written in 1761, became a work of standard reference, though it did not impose on the great critics. In commending it Dr. Johnson was careful to remark, "I do not mean that he has taught us anything; but he has told us old things in a new way." But in general Kames was considered a safer guide than the enthusiastic Longinus, who throughout the century was looked upon with distrust. "Instead of shewing for what reason a sentiment or image is sublime, and discovering the secret power by which they affect a reader with pleasure, he is ever intent on producing something sublime himself, and strokes of his own eloquence." So runs the complaint of Joseph Warton. The distrust was not without ground. The danger that the method of Longinus in the hands of ungifted writers would become a cloak for critical ignorance and degenerate into empty bluster was already apparent. Only rarely was there a reader who could distinguish between the false and the true application of the method. Gibbon did it in a passage which impressed itself upon the younger critics of Hazlitt's generation. "I was acquainted only with two ways of criticising a beautiful passage: the one, to shew, by an exact anatomy of it, the distinct beauties of it, and whence they sprung; the other, an idle exclamation, or a general encomium, which leaves nothing behind it. Longinus has shewn me that there is a third. He tells me his own feelings upon reading it; and tells them with such energy, that he communicates them." That vital element, the commentator's power of communicating his own feelings, constituting as it does the difference between phrase-making and valuable criticism, did not become prominent in English literature before the nineteenth century.
The official criticism of the early nineteenth century as represented by the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews, derives its descent directly from the eighteenth. Whatever the Government might have thought of the politics of the Edinburgh, its literary outlook remained unexceptionably orthodox. Jeffrey's "Essay on Beauty" is a direct copy of Alison's "Essay on Taste." Much as Dr. Johnson in the preceding age, Jeffrey prided himself on the moral tendency of his criticism—a morality which consisted in censuring the life of Burns and in exalting the virtuous insipidities of Maria Edgeworth's tales as it might have been done by any faithful minister of the gospel. To be sure he cannot be said to have held tenaciously to the old set of canons. Though he stanchly withstood the new-fangled poetic practices of Wordsworth and of Southey, he bowed before the great popularity of Scott and Byron, even at the cost of some of his favorite maxims. In his writings the solvents of the older criticism are best seen at work. Jeffrey both by instinct and training was a lawyer, and his position at the head of the most respected periodical formed a natural temptation to a dictatorial manner. He was a judge who tried to uphold the literary constitution but wavered in the face of a strong popular opposition. When the support of precedent failed him, he remained without any firm conviction of his own. While his poetic taste was quite adequate to the appreciation of a Samuel Rogers or a Barry Cornwall, it was incomparably futile in the perception of a Wordsworth or a Shelley. In a passage composed at the end of his long editorial career in 1829, he unconsciously announced his own extinction as a critic:
"Since the beginning of our critical career, we have seen a vast deal of beautiful poetry pass into oblivion, in spite of our feeble efforts to recall or retain it in remembrance. The tuneful quartos of Southey are already little better than lumber:—and the rich melodies of Keats and Shelley,—and the fantastical emphasis of Wordsworth,—and the plebeian pathos of Crabbe, are melting fast from the field of our vision. The novels of Scott have put out his poetry. Even the splendid strains of Moore are fading into distance and dimness, except where they have been married to immortal music; and the blazing star of Byron himself is receding from its place of pride. We need say nothing of Milman, and Croly, and Atherstone, and Hood, and a legion of others, who, with no ordinary gifts of taste and fancy, have not so properly survived their fame, as been excluded by some hard fatality, from what seemed their just inheritance. The two who have the longest withstood this rapid withering of the laurel, and with the least marks of decay on their branches, are Rogers and Campbell; neither of them, it may be remarked, voluminous writers, and both distinguished rather for the fine taste and consummate elegance of their writings, than for that fiery passion, and disdainful vehemence, which seemed for a time to be so much more in favour with the public."
But the authority of Jeffrey did not long remain unchallenged. His unfortunate "This will never do" became a by-word among the younger writers who were gradually awaking to the realization of a new spirit in criticism. The protest against the methods of the dictatorial quarterlies found expression in the two brilliant monthly periodicals, Blackwood's and the London Magazine, founded respectively in 1817 and 1820. In these no opportunity was neglected to thrust at the inflated pretensions of the established reviews, and, though the animus of rivalry might be suspected of playing its part, the blows usually struck home. There is an air of absolute finality about Lockhart's "Remarks on the Periodical Criticism of England," and his characterization of Jeffrey in this article is a bold anticipation of the judgment of posterity. The editor of the London Magazine writes with equal assurance, "We must protest against considering the present taste as the standard of excellence, or the criticisms on poetry in the Edinburgh Review as the voice even of the present taste." The test of critical eligibility in this age is an appreciation of Wordsworth and a proper understanding of Coleridge his prophet, and it is by virtue of what inspiration they drew from these oracles that John Lockhart and John Scott became better qualified than Jeffrey or Gifford to form the literary opinions of the public.
Coleridge more than any other person was responsible for bringing about a change in the attitude of literature toward criticism. As Hazlitt puts it with his inimitable vividness, he "threw a great stone into the standing pool of criticism, which splashed some persons with the mud, but which gave a motion to the surface and a reverberation to the neighbouring echoes, which has not since subsided." Whether his ideas were borrowed from the Germans or evolved in his own brain, their importance for English literature remains the same. Coleridge's service lay in asserting and reasserting such fundamental principles as that a critical standard is something quite distinct from a set of external rules; that the traditional opposition between genius and laws was based on a misconception as to the function of the critic; that all great genius necessarily worked in accordance with certain laws which it was the function of the critic to determine by a study of each particular work of art; that art, being vital and organic, assumed different shapes at different epochs of human culture; that only the spirit of poetry remained constant, while its form was molded anew by each age in accordance with the demands of its own life; that it was no more reasonable to judge Shakespeare's plays by the practice of Sophocles than to judge sculpture by the rules of painting. "O! few have there been among critics, who have followed with the eye of their imagination the imperishable yet ever wandering spirit of poetry through its various metempsychoses; or who have rejoiced with the light of clear perception at beholding with each new birth, with each rare avatar, the human race frame to itself a new body, by assimilating materials of nourishment out of its new circumstances, and work for itself new organs of power appropriate to the new sphere of its motion and activity." This rare grasp of general principles was combined in Coleridge with poetic vision and a declamatory eloquence which enabled him to seize on the more ardent and open-minded men of letters and to determine their critical viewpoint.
William Hazlitt was among the earliest to fall under Coleridge's spell. Just how much he owed to Coleridge beyond the initial impulse it is impossible to prove, because so much of the latter's criticism was expressed during improvised monologues at the informal meetings of friends, or in lectures of which only fragmentary notes remain. At any rate, while Coleridge's chief distinction lay in the enunciation of general principles, Hazlitt's practice, in so far as it took account of these general principles at all, assumed their existence, and displayed its strength in concrete judgments of individual literary works. His criticism may be said to imply at every step the existence of Coleridge's, or to rise like an elegant superstructure on the solid foundation which the other had laid. Hazlitt communicated to the general public that love and appreciation of great literature which Coleridge inspired only in the few elect. The latter, even more distinctly than a poet for poets, was a critic for critics, and three generations have not succeeded in absorbing all his doctrines. But Hazlitt, with a delicate sensitiveness to the impressions of genius, with a boundless zest of poetic enjoyment, with a firm common sense to control his taste, and with a gift of original expression unequalled in his day, arrested the attention of the ordinary reader and made effective the principles which Coleridge with some vagueness had projected. To analyze in cold blood such living criticism as Hazlitt's may expose one to unflattering imputations, but the attempt may serve to bring to light what is so often overlooked, that Hazlitt's criticism is no random, irresponsible discharge of his sensibilities, but has an implicit basis of sound theory.
In his History of Criticism, Mr. Saintsbury takes as his motto for the section on the early nineteenth century a sentence from Sainte-Beuve to the effect that nearly the whole art of the critic consists in knowing how to read a book with judgment and without ceasing to relish it. We are almost ready to believe that the French critic, in the significant choice of the words judgment and relish, is consciously summarizing the method of Hazlitt, the more so as he elsewhere explicitly confesses a sympathy with the English critic. Hazlitt has indeed himself characterized his art in some such terms. In one of his lectures he modestly describes his undertaking "merely to read over a set of authors with the audience, as I would do with a friend, to point out a favorite passage, to explain an objection; or if a remark or a theory occurs, to state it in illustration of the subject, but neither to tire him nor puzzle myself with pedantical rules and pragmatical formulas of criticism that can do no good to anybody." This sounds dangerously like dilettantism. It suggests the method of what in our day is called impressionism, one of the most delightful forms of literary entertainment when practiced by a master of literature. The impressionist's aim is to record whatever impinges on his brain, and though with a writer of fine discernment it is sure to be productive of exquisite results, as criticism it is undermined by the impressionist's assumption that every appreciation is made valid by the very fact of its existence. But this was scarcely Hazlitt's idea of criticism. Against universal suffrage in matters literary he would have been among the first to protest. We might almost imagine we were listening to some orthodox theorist of the eighteenth century when we hear him declaring that the object of taste "must be that, not which does, but which would please universally, supposing all men to have paid an equal attention to any subject and to have an equal relish for it, which can only be guessed at by the imperfect and yet more than casual agreement among those who have done so from choice and feeling." Though not the surest kind of clue, this indicates at least that Hazlitt's rejection of "pedantical rules and pragmatical formulas" was not equivalent to a declaration of anarchy.
For Hazlitt the assertion of individual taste meant emancipation from arbitrary codes and an opportunity to embrace a compass as wide as the range of literary excellence. Realizing that every reader, even the professed critic, is hemmed in by certain prejudices arising from his temperament, his education, his environment, he was unwilling to pledge his trust to any school or fashion of criticism. The favorite oppositions of his generation—Shakespeare and Pope, Fielding and Richardson, English poetry and French—had no meaning for him. He was glad to enjoy each in its kind. "The language of taste and moderation is, I prefer this, because it is best to me; the language of dogmatism and intolerance is, Because I prefer it, it is best in itself, and I will allow no one else to be of a different opinion." This passage, in connection with the one last quoted, may be considered as fixing the limits within which Hazlitt gave scope to personal preference. The sum of his literary judgments reveals a taste for a greater variety of the works of genius than is displayed by any contemporary, and the absence of "a catholic and many-sided sympathy" is one of the last imputations that should have been brought against him. His criticism has limitations, but not such as are due to a narrowness of literary perception.
Even Hazlitt's shortcomings may frequently be turned to his glory as a critic. The most remarkable thing about his violent political prejudices is the success with which he dissociated his literary estimates from them. Such a serious limitation in a critic as deficiency of reading in his case only raises our astonishment at the sureness of instinct which enabled him to pronounce unerringly on the scantest information. Never was there a critic of nearly equal pretensions who had as little of the scholar's equipment. If, as he tells us, he applied himself too closely to his studies at a certain period in his youth, he atoned for it by his neglect of books in later life. A desultory education had left him without that intimacy with the classics which belonged of right to every cultivated Englishman. His allusions to the Greek and Latin writers are in the most general terms, but with a note of reverence which did not enter into his speech concerning even Shakespeare. "I would have you learn Latin (he is writing to his son) because there is an atmosphere round this sort of classical ground, to which that of actual life is gross and vulgar." His knowledge of Italian was no more thorough, though here he was more nearly on a level with his contemporaries. For Boccaccio indeed he showed an intense affection, and he could write intelligently, if not deeply, concerning Dante and Ariosto and Tasso. With French he naturally had a wider acquaintance, but still nothing beyond the reach of the very general reader. The notable point is that he refrains from passing judgment on the entire body of French poetry because it is unlike English poetry. He is not infected with the wilful provincialism of Lamb nor with the spirit of John Bullishness which seriously proclaims in its rivals "equally a want of books and men." "We may be sure of this," says Hazlitt, "that when we see nothing but grossness and barbarism, or insipidity and verbiage in a writer that is the God of a nation's idolatry, it is we and not they who want true taste and feeling." Having this wholesome counsel ever before him, he can be more generously appreciative of the genius of Moliere, more justly discerning in his analysis of the spirit of Rousseau, and more free of the puritanical clatter against Voltaire than any of his fellow-critics. With German literature his familiarity was bounded on the one hand by Schiller's "Robbers," on the other by the first part of "Faust," the entire gap between these being filled by the popular versions of Kotzebue's plays and Mme. de Stael's book on Germany. Yet he dared to write a character of the German people which is almost worth quoting.
In English his range of reading was correspondingly narrow. Such a piece of waywardness as his enthusiasm for John Buncle, derived no doubt from Lamb, is unique. Broadly speaking, he prefers to accept the established canon and approaches new discoveries with a deep distrust. He is very little concerned with writers of the second order, and in his Lecture on the Living Poets he shocked his audience unspeakably, when he came to the name of Hannah More, by merely remarking, "She has written a great deal which I have never read." He looked upon most living writers through the eyes of the somewhat jaded reviewer, who, though susceptible to a romantic thrill from one or the other, is usually on his guard against spurious blandishments and reluctant to admit the claims of new pretenders. Even in poets of the first rank he slurred over a great deal; but what he loved he dwelt on with a kind of rapt inspiration until it became his second nature, its spirit and its language fused intimately with his own. This revolutionist in politics was a jealous aristocrat in the domains of art, and this admission does not impair our earlier assertion of his openness to a greater variety of impressions than any of his contemporaries in criticism.
Hazlitt's professed indifference to system is probably due as much to lack of deep reading as to romantic impatience of restraint. When he declared that it was beyond his powers "to condense and combine all the facts relating to a subject" or that "he had no head for arrangement," it was only because he did not happen to be a master of the facts which required combination or arrangement. For he did have an unusual gift for penetrating to the core of a subject and tearing out the heart of its mystery; in fact, his power of concrete literary generalization was in his age unmatched. To reveal the distinctive virtue of a literary form, to characterize the sources of weakness or of strength in a new or a by-gone fashion of poetry, to analyze accurately the forces impelling a whole mighty age—these things, requiring a deep and steady concentration of mind, are among his most solid achievements. In a paragraph he distils for us the essence of what is picturesque and worth dwelling on in the comedy of the Restoration. In a page he triumphantly establishes the boundary-line between the poetry of art and nature—Pope and Shakespeare—which to the present day remains as a clear guide, while at the same time Campbell and Byron and Bowles are filling the periodicals with protracted and often irrelevant arguments on one side or the other which only the critically curious now venture to look into. In the space of a single lecture he takes a sweeping view of all the great movements which gave vitality and grandeur to the Elizabethan spirit and found a voice in its literature, so that in spite of his little learning he seems to have left nothing for his followers but to fill in his outline. The same keenness of discernment he applied casually in dissecting the genius of his own time. He associated the absence of drama with the French Revolution, its tendency to deal in abstractions and to regard everything in relation to man and not men—a tendency irreconcilable with dramatic literature, which is essentially individual and concrete. To be sure the eighteenth century before the Revolution was as void of drama as Hazlitt's generation, but what is true of the period which produced Political Justice and the Edinburgh Review would hold equally of the time which produced the "Essay on Man" and the deistic controversy. He sometimes harshly exposes the weaker side of contemporary lyricism as a "mere effusion of natural sensibility," and he regrets the absence of "imaginary splendor and human passion" as of a glory departed. But with all this he had the true historical sense. It breaks out most unmistakably when he says, "If literature in our day has taken this decided turn into a critical channel, is it not a presumptive proof that it ought to do so?" Of the actual application of historical principles, which were just beginning to be realized in the study of literature, we find only a few faint traces in Hazlitt. Some remarks on the influence of climate and of religious and political institutions occur in his contributions to the Edinburgh, but occasionally their perfunctory manner suggests the editorial pen of Jeffrey. Doubtless Hazlitt's discriminating judgment would have enabled him to excel in this field, had he been equipped with the necessary learning.
It may also be a serious limitation of Hazlitt's that he neglects questions of structure and design. Doubtless he was reacting against the jargon of the older criticism with its lifeless and monotonous repetitions about invention and fable and unity, giving nothing but the "superficial plan and elevation, as if a poem were a piece of formal architecture." In avoiding the study of the design of "Paradise Lost" or of the "Faerie Queene" he may have brought his criticism nearer to the popular taste; but he deliberately shut himself off from a vision of some of the higher reaches of poetic art, perhaps betraying thereby that lack of "imagination" with which he has sometimes been charged. His interpretation of an author is therefore occasionally in danger of becoming an appreciation of isolated characters, or scenes, or passages, as if he were actually reading him over with his audience. But this is a limitation which Hazlitt shares with all the finer critics of his day.
After all these shortcomings have been acknowledged, the permanence of Hazlitt's achievement appears only the more remarkable. It is clear that the gods made him critical. The two essential qualities of judgment and taste he seems to have possessed from the very beginning. It is impossible to trace in him any development of taste; his growth is but the succession of his literary experiences. One looks in vain for any of those errors of youth such as are met even in a Coleridge enamored of Bowles. What extravagance of tone Hazlitt displayed in his early criticism he carried with him to his last day. If any change is to be noted, it is in the growing keenness of his appreciation. The early maturity of his judicial powers is attested by the political and metaphysical tendency of his youthful studies. His birth as a full-fledged critic awaited only the stirring of the springs of his eloquence, as is evident from the excellence of what is practically his first literary essay, the "Character of Burke."
No critic has approached books with so intense a passion as Hazlitt. That sentimental fondness for the volumes themselves, especially when enriched by the fragrance of antiquity, which gives so delicious a savor to the bookishness of Lamb, was in him conspicuously absent. For him books were only a more vivid aspect of life itself. "Tom Jones," he tells us, was the novel that first broke the spell of his daily tasks and made of the world "a dance through life, a perpetual gala-day." Keats could not have romped through the "Faerie Queene" with more spirit than did Hazlitt through the length and breadth of eighteenth century romance, and the young poet's awe before the majesty of Homer was hardly greater than that of the future critic when a Milton or a Wordsworth swam into his ken. This hot and eager interest, deprived of its outlet in the form of direct emulation, sought a vent in communicating itself to others and in making converts to its faith. So intimately did Hazlitt feel the spell of a work of genius, that its life-blood was transfused into his own almost against his will. "I wish," he exclaims, "I had never read the Emilius ... I had better have formed myself on the model of Sir Fopling Flutter." He entered into the poet's creation with a sympathy amounting almost to poetic vision, and the ever-present sense of the reality of the artist's world led him to interpret literature primarily in relation to life. The poetry of character and passion is what he regards of most essential interest. This point of view unintentionally converts his familiar essays on life into a literary discourse, and gives to his formal criticism the tone of a study of life at its sources, raising it at once to the same level with creative literature. Though he nowhere employs the now familiar formula of "literature and life," the lecture "On Poetry in General" is largely an exposition of this outlook.
Life in its entire compass is regarded as the rough material of literature, but it does not become literature until the artist's imagination, as with a divine ray, has penetrated the mass and inspired it with an ideal existence. Among the numerous attempts of his contemporaries to define the creative faculty of the poet, this comparatively simple one of Hazlitt's is worth noting. "This intuitive perception of the hidden analogies of things, or, as it may be called, this instinct of imagination, is perhaps what stamps the character of genius on the productions of art more than any other circumstance: for it works unconsciously, like nature, and receives its impressions from a kind of inspiration." It is this power that he has in mind when he says "Poetry is infusing the same spirit in a number of things, or bathing them all as it were, in the same overflowing sense of delight." It shows Hazlitt to have fully apprehended the guiding principle of the new ideal of criticism which, looking upon the work of art as an act of original creation and not of mechanical composition, based its judgment on a direct sympathy with the artist's mind instead of resorting to a general rule. In the light of this principle he is enabled to avoid the pitfalls of a moralistic interpretation of literature and to decide the question as to the relative importance of substance and treatment with a certainty which seems to preclude the possibility of any other answer.
It is not the dignity of the theme which constitutes the great work of art, for in that case a prose summary of the "Divine Comedy" would be as exalted as the original, and it would be necessary merely to know the subject of a poem in order to pass judgment upon it. A low or a trivial subject may be raised by the imagination of the artist who recognizes in it the elements of beauty or power. No definition of poetry can be worth anything which would exclude "The Rape of the Lock"; and Murillo's painting of "The Two Beggar Boys" is as much worth having "as almost any picture in the world." "Yet it is not true that execution is everything, and the class or subject nothing. The highest subjects, equally well-executed (which, however, rarely happens), are the best." Though each is perfect in its kind, there can be no difficulty in deciding the question of greatness between "King Lear" and "The Comedy of Errors." "The greatest strength of genius is shewn in describing the strongest passions: for the power of imagination, in works of invention, must be in proportion to the force of the natural impressions, which are the subject of them." One also finds a test of relative values in the measure of fulness with which the work of art reflects the complex elements of life. If we estimate a tragedy of Shakespeare above one of Lillo or Moore, it is because "impassioned poetry is an emanation of the moral and intellectual part of our nature, as well as of the sensitive—of the desire to know, the will to act, and the power to feel; and ought to appeal to these different parts of the constitution, in order to be perfect."
In treating of the specific distinction of poetry Hazlitt does not escape the usual difficulties. Taking his point of departure from Milton's "thoughts that voluntary move harmonious numbers," he defines poetry in a passage that satisfactorily anticipates the familiar one of Carlyle, as "the music of language answering to the music of the mind.... Wherever any object takes such a hold of the mind as to make us dwell upon it, and brood over it, melting the heart in tenderness, or kindling it to a sentiment of enthusiasm;—wherever a movement of imagination or passion is impressed on the mind, by which it seeks to prolong or repeat the emotion, to bring all other objects into accord with it, and to give the same movement of harmony, sustained and continuous, or gradually varied according to the occasion, to the sounds that express it—this is poetry. The musical in sound is the sustained and continuous; the musical in thought is the sustained and continuous also. There is a near connection between music and deep-rooted passion." In this mystical direction a definition could go no further, but like nearly all writers and speakers Hazlitt is inclined to use the word poetry in a variety of more or less connected meanings, ordinarily legitimate enough, but somewhat embarrassing when it is a question of definition. "That which lifts the spirit above the earth, which draws the soul out of itself with indescribable longings, is," he says, "poetry in kind, and generally fit to become so in name, by 'being married to immortal verse.'" If it is true that Pilgrim's Progress and Robinson Crusoe possess the "essence and the power of poetry" and require only the addition of verse to become absolutely so, then the musical expression is only a factitious ornament, to be added or removed at the caprice of the writer. But Hazlitt is careful to declare that verse does not make the whole difference between poetry and prose, leaving the whole question as vaguely suspended as ever.
Bare theorizing, according to his own confession, was no favorite pursuit with Hazlitt. He enjoyed himself much more in the analysis of an individual author or his work. His aversion to literary cant, his love of "saying things that are his own in a way of his own," were here most in evidence. What he says of Milton might appropriately be applied to himself, that he formed the most intense conception of things and then embodied them by a single stroke of his pen. In a phrase or in a sentence he stamped the character of an author indelibly, and, enemy to commonplace though he was, became a cause of commonplace in others. No matter how much might already have been written on a subject (and Hazlitt did not make a practice of celebrating neglected obscurity) his own view stood out fresh and clear, and yet his judgments were never eccentric. He wrestled with a writer's thoughts, absorbed his most passionate feelings, and mirrored back his most exquisite perceptions with "all the color, the light and the shade." His fertility is more amazing than his intensity, for no critic of nearly equal rank has enriched English literature with so many valuable and enduring judgments on so great a variety of subjects. Dr. Johnson is by common consent the spokesman of the eighteenth century, or of its dominant class; Coleridge and Lamb are entitled to the glory of revealing the literature between Spenser and Milton to English readers, and the former rendered the additional service of acting as the interpreter of Wordsworth. But to give an idea of Hazlitt's scope would require a summary of opinions embracing poetry from Chaucer and Spenser to Wordsworth and Byron, prose sacred and profane from Bacon and Jeremy Taylor to Burke and Edward Irving, the drama in its two flourishing periods, the familiar essay from Steele and Addison to Lamb and Leigh Hunt, the novel from Defoe to Sir Walter Scott. This does not begin to suggest Hazlitt's versatility. His own modest though somewhat over-alliterative words are that he has "at least glanced over a number of subjects—painting, poetry, prose, plays, politics, parliamentary speakers, metaphysical lore, books, men, and things."
The importance of Hazlitt's Shakespearian criticism is no longer open to question. Though Coleridge alluded to them slightingly as out-and-out imitations of Lamb, Hazlitt's dicta on the greatest English genius are equal in depth to Lamb's and far more numerous; and while in profoundness and subtlety they fall short of the remarks of Coleridge himself, they surpass them in intensity and carrying power. To both of these men Hazlitt owed a great deal in his appreciation of Shakespeare, and perhaps even more to August Wilhelm Schlegel, whose Lectures on Dramatic Literature he reviewed in 1815. His allusions to Schlegel border on enthusiasm and he makes it a proud claim that he has done "more than any one except Schlegel to vindicate the Characters of Shakespeare's Plays from the stigma of French criticism." But however great his obligation, there was some point in the compliment of the German critic when he declared that Hazlitt had gone beyond him (l'avoit depasse) in his Shakespearian opinions. A few years later Heine maintained that the only significant commentator of Shakespeare produced by England was William Hazlitt. Coleridge's notes, it is to be remembered, were not at that time generally accessible.
Hazlitt's attitude toward Shakespeare was wholesomely on this side of idolatry. He did not make it an article of faith to admire everything that Shakespeare had written, and refused his praise to the poems and most of the sonnets. Even Schlegel and Coleridge could not persuade him to see beauties in what appeared to be blemishes, but in a general estimate of Shakespeare's all-embracing genius he conceived his faults to be "of just as much consequence as his bad spelling." He saw in him a genius who comprehended all humanity, who represented it poetically in all its shades and varieties. He examined all the fine distinctions of character, he studied Shakespeare's manner of combining and contrasting them so as to produce a unity of tone above even the art of the classic unities. From the irresponsible comedy of Falstaff to the deepest tragic notes of Lear, the whole gamut of human emotions encounters responsive chords in the critic's mind—the young love of Romeo and Juliet or the voluptuous abandonment of Antony and Cleopatra, the intellect of Iago irresistibly impelled to malignant activity or Hamlet entangled in the coils of a fatal introspection. To the sheer poetry of Shakespeare he is also acutely sensitive, to the soft moonlit atmosphere of the "Midsummernight's Dream," to the tender gloom of "Cymbeline," to the "philosophic poetry" of "As You Like It." Some of his interpretations of isolated passages are hardly to be surpassed. He comments minutely and exquisitely on what he considers to be a touchstone of poetic feeling,
"Daffodils That come before the swallow dares, and take The winds of March with beauty."
And with what complete insight he translates a speech of Antony's:
"This precarious state and the approaching dissolution of his greatness are strikingly displayed in the dialogue of Antony with Eros:
'Antony. Eros, thou yet behold'st me?
Eros. Ay, noble lord.
Antony. Sometime we see a cloud that's dragonish; A vapour sometime, like a bear or lion, A towered citadel, a pendant rock, A forked mountain, or blue promontory With trees upon't, that nod unto the world And mock our eyes with air. Thou hast seen these signs, They are black vesper's pageants.
Eros. Ay, my lord.
Antony. That which is now a horse, even with a thought The rack dislimns, and makes it indistinct As water is in water.
Eros. It does, my lord.
Antony. My good knave, Eros, now thy captain is Even such a body,' etc.
"This is, without doubt, one of the finest pieces of poetry in Shakspeare. The splendour of the imagery, the semblance of reality, the lofty range of picturesque objects hanging over the world, their evanescent nature, the total uncertainty of what is left behind, are just like the mouldering schemes of human greatness. It is finer than Cleopatra's passionate lamentation over his fallen grandeur, because it is more dim, unstable, unsubstantial."
If an understanding of Shakespeare in Hazlitt's day may be taken as a measure of a critic's depth of insight, his attitude toward Shakespeare's fellow-dramatists will just as surely reveal his powers of discrimination. Lamb was often carried away by a pioneer's fervor and misled persons like Lowell, who, returning to Ford late in life, found "that the greater part of what [he] once took on trust as precious was really paste and pinchbeck," and that as far as the celebrated closing scene in "The Broken Heart" was concerned, Charles Lamb's comment on it was "worth more than all Ford ever wrote." Hazlitt's dispassionate sanity in this instance forms an instructive contrast: "Except the last scene of the Broken Heart (which I think extravagant—others may think it sublime, and be right) they [Ford's plays] are merely exercises of style and effusion of wire-drawn sentiment." The same strength of judgment rendered Hazlitt proof against the excessive sentimentality in Beaumont and Fletcher and gave a distinct value to his opinions even when they seemed to be wrong, which was not often. But in writing of Marlowe, of Dekker and of Webster, he spreads out all his sail to make a joyous run among the beauties in his course.
And it is so with the rest of his criticism—throughout the same susceptibility to all that is true, or lofty, or refined, vigilantly controlled by a firm common sense, the same stamp of originality unmistakably impressed on all. "I like old opinions with new reasons," he once said to Northcote, "not new opinions without any." But he did not hesitate to express a new opinion where the old one appeared to be unjust. His heretical preference of Steele over Addison has found more than one convert in later days. On Spenser or Pope, on Fielding or Richardson, he is equally happy and unimprovable. In the opinion of Mr. Saintsbury, Hazlitt's general lecture on Elizabethan literature, his treatment of the dramatists of the Restoration, of Pope, of the English Novelists, and of Cobbett have never been excelled; and who is better qualified than Mr. Saintsbury by width of reading to express such an opinion?
Of Hazlitt's treatment of his own contemporaries an additional word needs to be said. No charge has been repeated more often than that of the inconsistency, perversity, and utter unreliableness of his judgments on the writers of his day. To distinguish between the claims of living poets, particularly in an age of new ideas and changing forms, is a task which might test the powers of the most discerning critics, and in which perfection is hardly to be attained. Yet one may ask whether in the entire extent of Hazlitt's writing a great living genius has been turned into a mockery or a figurehead been set up for the admiration of posterity. Of his personal and political antipathies enough has been said, but against literary orthodoxy his only great sin is a harsh review of "Christabel." If in general we look at the age through Hazlitt's eyes, we shall see its literature dominated by the figures of Wordsworth and Scott, the one regarded as the restorer of life to poetry, the other as the creator or transcriber of a whole world of romance and humanity. Coleridge stands out prominently as the widest intellect of his age. Byron's poetry bulks very large, though it is not estimated as superlatively as in the criticism of our own day. It is a pity that Hazlitt never wrote formally of Keats, for his casual allusions indicate a deep enjoyment of the "rich beauties and the dim obscurities" of the "Eve of St. Agnes" and an appreciation of the perfection of the great odes. If he failed to give Shelley his full dues, he did not overlook his exquisite lyrical inspiration. He spoke of Shelley as a man of genius, but "'all air,' disdaining the bars and ties of mortal mould;" he praised him for "single thoughts of great depth and force, single images of rare beauty, detached passages of extreme tenderness," and he rose to enthusiasm in commending his translations, especially the scenes from Faust. He has been accused of writing a Spirit of the Age which omitted to give an account of Shelley and Keats, but in the title of the book consists his excuse. As it was not his idea to anticipate the decision of posterity but only to sketch the personalities who were in control of the public attention, he passed over the finer poets who were still neglected, and wrote instead about Campbell and Moore and Crabbe. It is sufficient praise for the critic that those of whom he has undertaken to treat stand irreversibly judged in his pages. He is generous toward Campbell and Moore, who were both personally hostile to him; he is scrupulously honest toward Bentham, with whose system he had no sympathy. The concluding pages of his sketch of Southey, in view of that poet's rancor against him, are almost defiant in their magnanimity. His adverse judgments, moreover, are as permanent as his favorable ones. He pronounced the verdict against the naked realism of Crabbe's poetry, which persons like Jeffrey thought superior to Wordsworth's, and he pricked the bubble of Edward Irving's popularity while it was at its pitch of highest glory. If he was often bitter toward men whom he at other times eulogized, it was in the heat and hurry of journalistic publication in a period when blows were freely dealt and freely taken. If he sometimes censured even Wordsworth and Scott and grew impatient with Byron and Coleridge, it must be remembered that these men of genius had imperfections, and that the imperfections of men of genius are of far greater concern to their contemporaries than to posterity. Time dispels the mists and allows the gross matter to settle to the bottom. We now have Wordsworth in the selections of Matthew Arnold, we read the Waverley Novels with Lockhart's Life of Scott before us, and we render praise to Coleridge for what he has accomplished since his death. With none of these advantages, Hazlitt's performance seems remarkable enough. No contemporary with the exception of Leigh Hunt displayed as wide a sympathy with the writers of that time, and Hazlitt so far surpasses Hunt in discrimination and strength, that he deserves to be called, strange as it may sound, the best contemporary judge of the literature of his age.
It has already been suggested that much of Hazlitt's appeal as a critic rests on the force of his popular eloquence, so that a brief consideration of his prose is not in this connection out of place. "We may all be fine fellows," said Stevenson, "but none of us can write like Hazlitt." To write a style that is easy yet incisive, lively and at the same time substantial, buoyant without being frothy, glittering but with no tinsel frippery, a style combining the virtues of homeliness and picturesqueness, has been given to few mortals. Writing in a generation in which the standards of prose were conspicuously unsettled, when the most ambitious writers were seeking an escape from the frozen patterns of the eighteenth century in a restoration of the elaborate artifices of the seventeenth, when quaintness and ornateness were the evidence of a distinguished style, Hazlitt succeeded in preserving the note of familiarity without fading into colorlessness or in any degree effacing his individuality. He cannot be counted among the masters of finished prose, he is as a matter of fact often very negligent, but he developed the best model of an undiluted, sturdy, popular style that is to be found in the English language.
Perhaps an adherence to the eighteenth century tradition of plainness is the most prominent characteristic of Hazlitt's prose. But his plainness is not precisely of the blunt type associated with Swift and Arbuthnot. It is modified by the Gallic tone of easy familiarity, by the ideal deemed appropriate for dignified converse among educated people of the world. His periods are of the simplest construction and they are not methodically combined in the artificial patterns beloved of the eighteenth century followers of the plain style. Not that he altogether neglects the devices of parallelism and antithesis when he wishes to give epigrammatic point to his remarks, but he more generally develops his ideas in a series of easily flowing sentences which are as near as writing can be to "the tone of lively and sensible conversation." It is impossible to match in the English essay such talk as Hazlitt reproduces in his accounts of the evenings at Lamb's room or of his meeting with Coleridge, in which high themes and spirited eloquence find spontaneous and unaffected expression through the same medium as might be employed in a deliberate definition of the nature of poetry. The various sets of lectures are pitched in the same conversational key and are found adequate to conveying a notion of the grandeur of Milton as well as of the familiarity of Lamb.
Those who have praised Hazlitt's simplicity have often given the impression that his prose is a single-stringed instrument, and have failed to suggest the range comprised between the simple hammer-strokes of the essay on Cobbett and the magnificent diapason in which he unrolls the panorama of Coleridge's mind. In both passages there is the same sentence-norm. In the first, the periods, not bound by any connecting words, strike distinctly, sharply, with staccato abruptness. The movement is that of a clean-limbed wrestler struggling with confident energy to pin down a difficult opponent:
"His principle is repulsion, his nature contradiction: he is made up of mere antipathies; an Ishmaelite indeed, without a fellow. He is always playing at hunt-the-slipper in politics. He turns round upon whoever is next to him. The way to wean him from any opinion, and make him conceive an intolerable hatred against it, would be to place somebody near him who was perpetually dinning it in his ears. When he is in England, he does nothing but abuse the Boroughmongers, and laugh at the whole system: when he is in America, he grows impatient of freedom and a republic. If he had staid there a little longer, he would have become a loyal and a loving subject of his Majesty King George IV. He lampooned the French Revolution when it was hailed as the dawn of liberty by millions: by the time it was brought into almost universal ill-odour by some means or other (partly no doubt by himself) he had turned, with one or two or three others, staunch Bonapartist. He is always of the militant, not of the triumphant party: so far he bears a gallant show of magnanimity; but his gallantry is hardly of the right stamp: it wants principle. For though he is not servile or mercenary, he is the victim of self-will. He must pull down and pull in pieces: it is not in his disposition to do otherwise. It is a pity; for with his great talents he might do great things, if he would go right forward to any useful object, make thorough-stitch work of any question, or join hand and heart with any principle. 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 anything is settled in his own mind, he quarrels with it. He has no satisfaction but in the chase after truth, runs a question down, worries and kills it, then quits it like vermin, and starts some new game, to lead him a new dance, and give him a fresh breathing through bog and brake, with the rabble yelping at his heels and the leaders perpetually at fault."
In the other passage the clauses and phrases follow in their natural order, but they are united by the simplest kind of connective device in an undistinguishable stream over which the reader is driven with a steady swell and fall, sometimes made breathlessly rapid by the succession of its uniformly measured word-groups, but delicately modulated here and there to provide restful pauses in the long onward career:
"Next, he was engaged with Hartley's tribes of mind, 'etherial braid, thought-woven,'—and he busied himself for a year or two with vibrations and vibratiuncles and the great law of association that binds all things in its mystic chain, and the doctrine of Necessity (the mild teacher of Charity) and the Millennium, anticipative of a life to come—and he plunged deep into the controversy on Matter and Spirit, and, as an escape from Dr. Priestley's Materialism, where he felt himself imprisoned by the logician's spell, like Ariel in the cloven pine-tree, he became suddenly enamoured of Bishop Berkeley's fairy-world, and used in all companies to build the universe, like a brave poetical fiction, of fine words—and he was deep-read in Malebranche, and in Cudworth's Intellectual System (a huge pile of learning, unwieldly, enormous) and in Lord Brook's hieroglyphic theories, and in Bishop Butler's Sermons, and in the Duchess of Newcastle's fantastic folios, and in Clarke and South and Tillotson, and all the fine thinkers and masculine reasoners of that age—and Leibnitz's Pre-established Harmony reared its arch above his head, like the rainbow in the cloud, covenanting with the hopes of man—and then he fell plump, ten thousand fathoms down (but his wings saved him harmless) into the hortus siccus of Dissent" etc.