William Hazlitt

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What advice does William Hazlitt give his son in "On the Conduct of Life"?

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William Hazlitt, in "On the Conduct of Life," advises his son, as he goes off to boarding school, to keeps his thoughts positive, to not judge others for things they can't control, to respect other people, to dress carefully, to cultivate the social graces, to avoid too much focus on studying, and to do his best to lead a balanced and healthy life.

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Hazlitt tells his son to "hope for the best" from his new school and not to decide in advance that he won't like the people there. Hazlitt notes that if his son expects the worst or gets upset if everything is not the way he would like it, he will create an unhappy experience for himself.

Hazlitt says to his son that he should have been friendlier to the other boys when he first met them and that he made a mistake in judging some for their clothes. He tells his son never to condemn others for what they cannot help, such as being poor. He advises his son, too, not to be scornful or disrespectful of the other students because they do not think as he does.

Although he doesn't want his son to judge others, Hazlitt advises him not to be "slovenly," as that implies disrespect for others. He advises his son to pay attention to the social graces and to moving gracefully, as these are important to getting along with people. He counsels his son not to spend too much time studying, but to be balanced in how he lives.

Hazlitt also advises his son to cultivate an air of "gravity" or seriousness and to avoid making friends by being ridiculous. He tells him, above all, to take care of his health by exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep. He says that choosing a career can wait, but that he would like it if his son could become a painter.

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How does Hazlitt advise his son about reading in "On the Conduct of Life"?

William Hazlitt, famous essayist and literary critic, wrote several essays. One of these essays, "On the Conduct of Life," was addressed to his son, also named William (the only one of Hazlitt's three sons to survive infancy). This essay was published in a collection titled Literary Remains of the Late William Hazlitt: With Notice of His Life in 1836. Thus, much of the essay is directed to Hazlitt's son as though Hazlitt himself were no longer living. Specifically, Hazlitt cautions his son that he may not be a part of his life for much longer, both owing to Hazlitt's own declining health and to the occasion of his son starting school.

In the content of the essay itself, Hazlitt tells his son that excessive reading can be dangerous. This advice is rather counterintuitive, since Hazlitt himself made a career of writing and literary criticism. Specifically, he enjoins his son never to read during meals, nor in the company of others—even if the conversation is trivial. The reason for this advice, according to Hazlitt, is that health and "good spirits" (i.e., being in a good mood) are as important as book learning. Hazlitt explains that, when himself a boy, he applied himself too closely to his studies, with the result that he missed out on other opportunities to learn from life itself.

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