One of the great English critics, William Hazlitt (HAZ-luht) was also one of the first great journalistic essayists. He was a political liberal, writing eloquent defenses of the principles of the French Revolution, and he replied savagely to the attacks of the Scottish Tory reviewers, though he himself was not free from politically prejudiced literary criticism. He attacked the later work of the Lake Poets mainly because they had turned politically conservative. He wrote a positive biography of Napoleon at a time when the memory of the French emperor still rankled in the minds of many English. He advocated a plain, colloquial writing style, illuminated by the insights of common sense. All of his work is marked by a complete independence of spirit. He cannot be classed with any particular “school” of criticism; he was simply a courageous, honest, and sensitive man who brought his serious mind to bear upon literature.
Hazlitt inherited his liberalism from his father, a Unitarian minister who sympathized with the American struggle for independence. In 1783, the Reverend William Hazlitt immigrated with his family to America, but after an unsuccessful struggle he returned to England in the winter of 1786. He took a small parish in Wem, Shropshire, where young William Hazlitt attended school. In 1793, Hazlitt was sent to the Hackney Theological College to become a dissenting minister. He soon decided against that profession and returned to Wem. He heard...
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