William Hazlitt Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bloom, Harold, ed. William Hazlitt. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. A collection of essays on Hazlitt, representing a spectrum of opinion and intended as a starting point for students.

Bromwich, David. Hazlitt: The Mind of a Critic. 1983. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. A classic intellectual biography, reissued with a new introduction and updated bibliography.

Grayling, A. C. The Quarrel of the Age: The Life and Times of William Hazlitt. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000. An up-to-date biography, contextualizing Hazlitt’s life in his times.

Jones, Stanley. Hazlitt: A Life from Winterslow to Frith Street. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Lapp, Robert Keith. Contest for Cultural Authority: Hazlitt, Coleridge, and the Distresses of the Regency. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000. Argues that Hazlitt’s harshly satirical reviews of Coleridge constitute an attempt to place Coleridge’s work in the political arena as a conservative response to the crises of Regency England.

Natarajan, Uttara. Hazlitt and the Reach of Sense: Criticism, Morals, and the Metaphysics of Power. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. A philosophical assessment.

Uphaus, Robert W. William Hazlitt. Boston: Twayne, 1985. Contains biography and a critical overview. Bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Wu, Duncan. William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man. Oxford: Oxford University, 2009. This work reveals the ups and downs of Hazlitt’s life, from his multiple love affairs with women to his close friendships with other writers. Wu also examines how Hazlitt’s journalism and prose have been viewed by critics from his own day, up to the present. Includes thirty black and white illustrations.