I think… I think we might end up going the long way round to nowhere here. Let’s see.
I like Hazlitt. You should probably stop staring at this screen now and go read some Hazlitt: he’s a better writer than me in most regards, and in fact it’s only really in lives of Napoleon where I’m really confident I have the edge, and that’s only because the sexy stuff I threw in between Boney and Ney gave a lift to some dull bangbangbang it’s-war sections.
Anyhow, being a Hazlitt liker, I was glad to see this article on ReadySteadyBook. But it’s a bit confused; this idea of ‘neglect’ is a little odd, esp w/r/t Hazlitt.
Let’s start with the little practical things:
A fairly flimsy copy of his Collected Essays by Oxford World Classics is the only book readily available on Amazon, itself dating from 1991.
The only book by Hazlitt? The Tom Paulin selected and the OUP selected are both readily available; that Paulin selection is 650pp. Also I don’t know what this ‘Collected Essays’ would be. If it’s 1991, it’s the OUP Selected, 450 pages or so. I think you’d have been stuck with the Ronald Blythe Penguin before that came out; and there was no Amazon or Abe to help you dig up cheap copies of Winterslow or Table Talk.
Three studies by Tom Paulin, Duncan Wu and AC Grayling made a bold stand in favour of his recognition in the past two decades, but are themselves not exactly bestsellers.
rly, the author should give up on the ‘neglected’ hook here: 3 books, all pushed v heavily for a literary subject. They weren’t bestsellers because almost no books like that are: The Day Star of Liberty got plenty of publicity, and did alright, from what I remember, and they all got a fair bit of space, because leftish thinking journalists love Hazlitt, or the idea of Hazlitt. He had a column in the Guardian in about 2001! They organised a whip-round to get him a new headstone!
Basically, Hazlitt’s had a good 20 years: he’s been talked about, a lot, and he’s back as the central figure in Romantic prose (speaking of which, NOTES ON SOME CONTEMPORARIES: I don’t think there’s a really representative selection for De Quincey available; Leigh Hunt only gets a little attention (he is quite boring tbf); Landor is truly neglected. Going a bit later, Pater’s also missing a decent selection. Discursive prose got buried sometime in the 20th.)
I can nit-pick, but really the essay picks up in the second half; sympathetic politics, a heartening call-to-arms.
(By the way, worst essay I’ve ever read on Hazlitt was the long middle by Paul Johnson that the TLS published last year. Thoughtless critical clichés from the 1940s school that scolds Hazlitt for the embarrassment of Liber Amoris. I know the TLS leans Tory, but that’s no reason to host outright fucking divviness.)
It’s just this idea of ‘neglect’ I don’t trust: same as ‘underrated’ – ‘by whom?’ is the question that follows, and I just don’t know who’s neglecting Hazlitt, or why we should mind if the answer is ‘the books pages’. But even that seems untrue: the canons of the 19th and 20th centuries have lost their authority and I think I’ve seen more articles on Hazlitt in the last 10 years than I have on Pope, on Browning, on Spenser (ooh. Hadn’t seen this. In fact can’t see all of it. But Fenton playing the ‘neglected’ card with a bit more style and fit hesitancy there.)
But to step back further, it’s not how things are now: everything is available and the gatekeepers – journalism and academia – look frail. So there’s no need to say Hazlitt is neglected; it looks like a cheap rhetorical position to me; it’s enough to argue that we should read him.