Hazlitt Essays On The Past And The Future

Hazlitt Essays On The Past And The Future-13
About the overreliance, Gifford writes: “If a trifling thing is to be told, [Hazlitt] will not mention it in common language: he must give it, if possible, in words which the Bard of Avon has somewhere used”.This “constant stitching in of these patches”, Gifford argues, leads to “deformity” in Hazlitt’s style (Gifford 1818, 426).To make a subtle distinction of meaning that may easily be missed, while egotism names the quality of being excessively conceited or absorbed in oneself, “egoism”, which is often used interchangeably with “egotism”, is also a philosophical term for the theory that one’s self is—or should be—the fountain from which motivation springs.

In 87 pages, Hazlitt takes to task his staunchest critic’s comments about his work not only by pointing out Gifford’s selling out to power, or as Hazlitt puts it, his being “by appointment, literary toad-eater to greatness, and taster to the Court” (Hazlitt 1819, 41), but also by responding in detail, sometimes line by line and word by word, to Gifford’s many objections to his writing, among which is Hazlitt’s quoting and misquoting of Shakespeare.1 , contributed significantly to the canonization of Shakespeare in the early nineteenth century.

However, while as John Kinnaird points out, “after 1820 Hazlitt never returns (except, incidentally in one essay [“Sir Walter Scott, Racine, and Shakespear [ the echoing of Shakespeare, and he also points out inaccuracies in these quotations: “Next to want of precision, the most striking peculiarity of his style is the odd expression with which it is diversified, from popular poets, especially from Shakespeare” (Gifford 1818, 426).

The personal essay form has traditionally been shaped by two formidable forces, pulling in what may seem like diametrically opposed directions.

On the one hand, there is the centrality of the self of the essayist or what Virginia Woolf describes as the tendency of the essayist to veer towards “egoism”: [I]f you say that an essay is essentially egoistical you will not exclude many essays and you will certainly include a portentous number.

The essayist shows this openness by quoting freely and frequently.

Montaigne (1533–92), widely considered the father of the modern essay, already embodies these opposite forces as he quotes extensively, especially from classical sources, while, at the same time, writing about very personal issues in such a way that, as he puts it, his “kinsfolk and friends [may] therein recover some traits of [his] conditions and humors, and by that means preserve more whole, and more life-like, the knowledge they had of [him]” (Montaigne v).

L’essai personnel obéit traditionnellement à deux principes fondamentaux, qui peuvent sembler difficilement conciliables : la place centrale occupée par le sujet et une culture littéraire partagée.

Cet article examine cette dynamique contradictoire : la force centripète qui ramène constamment le propos à la figure de l’essayiste et la force centrifuge qui le conduit à se faire l’écho d’une communauté d’écriture partagée.

This essay explores these contrary dynamics: the centripetal force that pulls the world towards the essayist and the centrifugal veering of the essayist towards a shared community of writing through the echoing of others.

It does this by looking at William Hazlitt (1778–1830) and, more specifically, at Hazlitt’s assiduous echoing of Shakespeare in his personal essays.


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