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BORN in 1778 and dying in 1830, HAZLITT
was the contemporary of the group of brilliant writers who were at the flood of creative activity during the first quarter of the century. The younger men who were to continue and give new direction to the English literary movement during the second and third quarters of the century, were also in many instances the friends or acquaintances of his later years. There remain, in consequence, many personal impressions of Hazlitt of the highest interest to his readers. De Quincey, who had an unhappy gift of depreciation, describes him as a constitutional misanthrope wrapped in sinister gloom. There was something sinister in Hazlitt's occasional moods; something almost savage in his occasional outbursts of passion; there was a lack of harmony in his nature, as there was a lack of adjustment in his life. But the gloom and the passion were mainly temperamental; there was essential soundness in
Hazlitt's character, as in his mind. Charles Lamb, whose instinct rarely led him astray, and who never affected indifference to Hazlitt's faults, declared him to be, in his natural and healthy state, one of the wisest and finest spirits breathing; and he adds: I think I shall go to my grave without finding, or expecting to find, such another companion.' Upon that judgment it is safe to rest. A man of vehement and passionate nature, lacking the repose and quietness of spirit and ease of habit and life which flow from the harmony of mind and body, of temperament and intellect, Hazlitt was sincere, courageous, faithful, and devoted.
His literary work reflects his mind and character; it has obvious defects, but it has great and enduring qualities. It bears throughout the impress of a powerful and original mind; it is full of insight into the elements of beauty; it is penetrated with imagination, and abounds in passages of lofty eloquence both of thought and diction. He was one of the first English critics to discard the conventional method of dealing solely and didactically with the work in hand, and to impart to criticism the depth and breadth of a comprehensive view of life and art. He gave himself with his thought, and so transformed criticism from derivative and secondary work, to work of original and
primary quality and importance.
declared him to be one of the keenest and brightest critics that ever lived. With partialities and prejudices innumerable, he had a wit so keen, a sensibility so exquisite, an appreciation of humour or pathos, or even of the greatest art, so lively, quick, and cultivated that it was always good to know what were the impressions made by books or men or pictures on such a mind.' There are many who hold Hazlitt to be, all things considered, the greatest of English critics. However this may be, it is certain that he is a writer whom no reader or lover of English literature can afford to leave unread. In the hope that his great force, his rugged sincerity, his fine critical gift, and the deep interest of his personality may be disclosed anew to lovers of good literature on this side the Atlantic, this edition of Hazlitt's Lectures on the English Poets' has been prepared. It is a work which not only reveals the man, but is peculiarly useful and timely at a moment when the interest in literary study is so genuine and so widespread. The lectures were originally delivered at the Surrey Institute in 1818.
THE best general notion which I can give of poetry is, that it is the natural impressionof any object or event, by its vividness exciting an involuntary movement of imagination and passion, and producing, by sympathy, a certain modulation of the voice, or sounds, expressing it.
In treating of poetry, I shall speak first of the subject-matter of it; next of the forms of expression to which it gives birth; and afterwards of its connection with harmony of sound.
Poetry is the language of the imagination and the passions. It relates to whatever gives immediate pleasure or pain to the human mind. It comes home to the bosoms and businesses of men; for nothing but what so comes home to