Reading Instructions

I see where Socialism in an Age of Waiting has picked up my plug for Hazlitt from a few days ago. I’m pleased about that – the more advertising Hazlitt gets the better, as far as I’m concerned. So since that N&C is now below the fold, as the saying goes, i.e. in the archive where no one will ever look at it again – why I’ll just revive the subject for this month. SiaW think I even understated the case –

Via Butterflies and Wheels, there’s a collection of essays by William Hazlitt of whom Ophelia Benson writes: “It’s a permanent, settled grievance of mine that Hazlitt is so little-known. I think he’s the single most inexplicably obscure writer in English. He ought to be at least as famous as Orwell and far more so than Lamb or Carlyle. He’s an absolutely brilliant, dazzling writer, and he’s no slouch as a thinker, either.” If anything, she’s understating the case for Hazlitt – but see for yourself.

Well I did understate the case, as a matter of fact. That ‘no slouch as a thinker’ was a bit of deliberate understatement. In fact he’s a very good thinker. It’s absurd that he’s not on every shelf. So I thought I might as well quote a bit from an excellent essay at Blue Pete, by way of illustration.

I have often been reproached with extravagance for considering things only in their abstract principles. And with heat and ill-temper, for getting into a passion about what no ways concerned me. If any one wishes to see me quite calm, they may cheat me in a bargain, or tread upon my toes; but a truth repelled, a sophism repeated, totally disconcerts me, and I lose all patience. I am not, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, a good-natured man; that is, many things annoy me besides what interferes with my own ease and interest. I hate a lie, a piece of injustice wounds me to the quick, though nothing but the report of its reache me. Therefore I have made many enemies and few friends; for the public know nothing of well-wishers, and keep a wary eye on those that would reform them. Coleridge used to complain of my irascibility in this respect, and not without reason . Would that he had possessed a little of my tenaciousness and jealousy of temper; and then, with his eloquence to paint the wrong, and acuteness to detect it, his country and the cause of liberty might not have fallen without a struggle!

That’s from ‘On Depth and Superficiality.’ O ye benighted ones, put down your Butler and your Bhabha, and read Hazlitt.

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