HAZLITT AS AN ESSAYIST: DR. HARESHWAR ROY



INTRODUCTION:William Hazlitt is one of the greatest essayist of English literature. As an essayist he enjoys infallible reputation. His contribution to the English essay is noteworthy.

AS AN ESSAYIST :  Hazlitt was the son of a Unitarian minister. After a brief stay at America he returned to England where his literary genius ultimately flowered. Coleridge influenced his mind and art to a great extent. From 1814 till his death he contributed to the Edinburgh Review, The Examiner, The Times and The London Magazine. His well known essays were collected in the Round Table, Table Talk  or Original Essays on Men and Manners and The Spirit of the Age or Contemporary Portraits. By his bold and radical views, Hazlitt attracted a lot of attention and criticism. But he always wrote undaunted.

VAST RANGE OF TOPICS : Hazlitt was a prolific writer. He was a keen observer of life. His sharp memory remembered the past incidents with astonishing vividness and detail. He was eager to inquire into human life with all its variety. Thus he wrote on a vast range of topics. His essay deals with the world of men and women. It records their action, assigns their motives and exhibits their whims. He writes on books of all kinds, politics, sports, stage etc. He writes on them with equal wit and wisdom. The views he expresses are his own. In short, all these things impart a rare charm to his essays.

INFORMALITY: Hazlitt puts his ideas in an informal manner. But it is not Lamb's informality. Hazlitt's informality depends upon systematic enquiry into the topic. In spite of this informality Hazlitt's essays are not light in nature. They are serious and thought provoking. They show his philosophic bent of mind.

THOUGHT PROVOKING IDEAS: Hazlitt is more interested in ideas than form. A large number of his essays are on abstract ideas such as Egotism, Reason, Imagination, the Fear of Death etc. A leading idea is talked about. Thus new ideas are brought forward. This was the underlying practice in the two collections of essay 'The Round Table' and 'Table Talk'. But Hazlitt does not indulge in moralizing. According to critics he is rather a moral historian than a moral philosopher.

ENJOYMENT AND OBSERVATION: Hazlitt has conveyed his enjoyment and observation through his essays. Whatever the theme of his essays, each of them is a reflection on human nature. They are the reflections of a man who lived and loved life. With penetrating sympathy and feelings, Hazlitt observes life. The reflection that we find in Hazlitt's essays are not the products of head, but come straight from the heart. His personal prejudices often vitiate his judgement. Thus Hazlitt is not out of date and does not become stale.

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ELEMENT: Hazlitt belongs to the group of personal essayist. In his hand essay became a means of self expression. He puts himself in the centre whatever be the topic of the essay. He often glides into the past. He weaves the texture of his essays by the threads of memory. He, thus, reveals his life and mind. He is passionately alive to men and matters around him in the present. If he finds foible and frailties in them, he ridicules them. His writings are thus also employed for exposing the follies of the society and human life in general.

HAZLITT'S STYLE: Hazlitt wrote with convictions which were deep and firm. He wrote with an aim to communicate with his readers. He had a style of his own. It is called the familiar style. There is no affectation or vulgarity in it. It reflects all that is loose and unconnected. It has precision and purity of expression. Hazlitt does not use archaic, irrelevant and superfluous words. His figures of speech offer vividness and clarity of expession. He even describes abstract ideas in concrete terms. Hazlitt's sentences are brief and abrupt, vigorous and direct. He often writes balanced, antithetical sentences to present the contrasting ideas. He is also praised for the use of epigrams and paradoxes. Like Bacon, he is aphoristic. Another distinctive feature of his style is the use of quotations.

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