Alastair Smart at the Telegraph asks a question that I have wondered about many many times – How did we forget William Hazlitt?
Seriously. The guy was a demon writer, and a genuine thinker. He was also interesting to read. How and why did he get so obscure?
Certainly, even by the non-specialist standards of his day, he had a mighty range: a philosopher, journalist, political commentator, grammar theorist, theatre critic, art critic, travel writer, memoirist – not to mention, biographer of Napoleon. Here was a serious thinker, for whom every pursuit fed into life’s deeper questions. His rise coincided with that of Romanticism. Indeed, though our popular image of the movement is dominated by its poets – Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats and Co. – Hazlitt was a key figure too.
And yet, he’s astonishingly neglected.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hazlitt racked up enemies at quite a rate. His attacks extended beyond the art world into literature, politics and most spheres of public life. He also maintained the highest regard for Napoleon, going on a depressed, drinking binge after Waterloo and insisting the dictator had remained true to the principles of the French Revolution.
What really did for Hazlitt, though, was an ill-advised affair with a landlord’s daughter half his age, followed by his even more ill-advised declaration of that affair in the book Liber Amoris. It became a stick which all his moralising opponents could beat him with. His reputation never really recovered – and nowadays he’s barely read.
Which is sad for all the people who’ve never read him.