1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hazlitt

John Scott, in Review of Hazlitt, Lectures on the Age of Elizabeth; London Magazine 1 (February 1820) 185-86.



Whatever faults Mr. Hazlitt may have, as a writer, want of meaning is not one of them. He has always something particular, and, in his view, important, to say, when he attempts to say any thing. Whether he may be deemed wrong or right in his opinions, they will always be found "cogent to the matter" — connected with the essential qualities of his subject, the fruit of thought, impelled by earnestness, and animated by feeling. We should say, judging by his style, that the wear and tear of his mind must be very considerable, and more than most people could support, for he never seems to avail himself of any thing conventional, or conveniently ready for use: the whole of his intellect seems always fairly put into play to elicit his sentiments, whatever the topic may be; so that we have nothing at second-hand from his pen, and he derives little or no advantage from any of the current saws, maxims, or principles, as they are called, of an enlightened and highly-polished state of society. It is astonishing how much, — and, as some may think, how needlessly, — he increases his labour by adhering to this process....

His style is always forcible, and generally correct — never affected; — but it does not seem to us, that, in the distribution and arrangement of his subject, he is so happy, or rather, we ought to say, so careful, as he might be. He will often go on, for pages, illustrating one thought with unbounded power of allusion, imagery, and diction: he dwells upon it with gusto, varies its statement, because he has pleasure in lingering with it, makes it a hint to suggest the finest passages of the finest writers; — kindles his imagination as he proceeds with it; — becomes extravagant and hyperbolical as he doats upon it; and, at length, in an evident consciousness that he has "got into his altitudes," resigns the reins to the humour of the moment, and, certain of the sympathy and understanding of a few select spirits, seems to think it a good joke to startle the literal capacities of the many, who are really giving him all the attention in their power to bestow, and are inclined to regard him with respect. The consequence is, (unless we are altogether mistaken in our view of his manner,) that what comes from his hand, is in general, neither complete nor exactly proportioned. The extraordinary profundity, and masculine force of many of his observations, afford more than glimpses into the very depts of nature and philosophy; — but the whole piece fails to give general satisfaction, or produce conviction; the arguments being often left for the sake of a vehement sally, and the favourite points in the author's mind monopolizing much more than their due share of the discussion while others of importance are left imperfectly noticed or wholly neglected.