Essay Street Quarrel

To the mortification of his friends it was a desire he rarely felt.In one good sense, then, to meet Hazlitt almost in the flesh, one need only open his works and read'.'His inveterate misanthropy was constitutional,' De Quincey wrote.

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This is not to say that he wrote without artistry and even artifice, but his material was his own thought and feeling, his own dealings with lifes' intractabilities, and he used that material unsparingly.

The autobiographical richness of Hazlitt's writings might itself seem a problem.

In writing Hazlitt's biography the task of connecting inner and outer in this way is made easy by the fact that he is a completely autobiographical author, utterly himself in his writings. He lived a confessional existence, transposing his experience into literature, writing with stark honesty.

He is among the very few who lived and wrote without a mask.

Through their eyes Hazlitt appears at his best, because when he was with friends like them – ambitious young men of talent – he was relaxed and expansive, ready to talk endlessly about art and philosophy – not in monologue, as Coleridge did, but as a conversationalist in the same mould as his friend Charles Lamb.

In a letter of April 1817 Reynolds describes entertaining Hazlitt to dinner: On Thursday last Hazlitt was with me at home, and remained with us till 3 o'clock in the morning!

'Hazlitt was not one of those non–committal writers who shuffle off in a mist and die of their own insignificance,' Virginia Woolf wrote. So thin is the veil of the essay as Hazlitt wore it, his very look comes before us.' Because Hazlitt is so autobiographical an author, his work has, for all its diversity and range, an intensely personal character, as if it constitutes a single long anecdote about a man responding to his world – to art, literature and drama, to politics and ideas – with nerves naked to their pressure.

Some of the usual resources of biographers are in Hazlitt's case lacking: few letters to or from him survive, and he kept no diary.

A friend of his it was Ð a friend wishing to love him, and admiring him almost to extravagance Ð who told me, in illustration of the dark sinister gloom which sate for ever upon his countenance and gestures, that involuntarily, when Hazlitt put his hand within his waistcoat (as a mere unconscious trick of habit), he himself felt a sudden recoil of fear, as from one who was searching for a hidden dagger.' These two portraits Ð drawn from a number of either kind Ð could scarcely be more at variance.

They mark the contradictory views taken of Hazlitt in his own day and afterwards.


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