Now, my recent absence has led to me slipping up on the grand plan of talking about Hazlitt a lot whenever the Guardian run something on him – I missed this article on the great man:
Unfortunately, it’s by Tom Paulin, who’s my least favourite defender of W.H. Paulin gives great panto on the Late Review, but I cannot stand him as a poet, and have gone off his criticism. I liked Minotaur, but The Day-Star of Liberty was a poor book: “Blah blah journalism, blah blah unitarianism, more unitarianism, blah blah, let’s do some practical criticism.” Plus, his forays into the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries have been really poor. Professional friends in that area observe with clenched teeth and curled toes.
I hate that thing he does of taking one word from a text, then extrapolating to make a big, radical political point. He does it in the essay (the misbroken verse is sic, from the website):
Recalling this as I followed a twisting path above Grasmere, I thought of these lines from “Tintern Abbey”:
“the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and
The mountain in French, I remembered, is “la montagne”, and that was the name given to the sloping benches in the French National Assembly, where Robespierre and his fellow Jacobins sat. Wordsworth is here remembering the Jacobins…
This is so eccentric, so semi-demi-hemi-rational, that there’s really only one way to argue. I could research Wordsworth for a few years, build up a sophisticated argument about the text, publish a book (Dreary Intercourse: Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey and the Topographical Bathetic), and possibly win some coveted academic position (shortly afterwards lost in a scandal with a student. A heated debate about Rochester, too much wine, I fell), but it would still amount to the same thing: “No he fucking isn’t. He just fucking isn’t you fucking divwad. Stop saying weird, dull stuff. And get a prose style.”
That last is a bit pot/kettle. Sorry world.
Oh, we’ll be coming back to Paulin.
Here’s the best resource for Hazlitt’s essays.