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Hazlitt - Political Essays

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"We do not connect the same feelings with the works of art as with those of Nature, because we refer them to man, and associate with them the separate interests and passions which we know belong to those who are the authors or possessors of them."
"Poetry is in all its shapes the language of the imagination and the passions, of fancy and will. Nothing, therefore, can be more absurd than the outcry which has been sometimes raised by frigid and pedantic critics, for reducing the language of poetry to the standard of common sense and reason: for the end and use of poetry, 'both at the first and now, was and is to hold the mirror up to nature', seen through the medium of passion and imagination, not divested of that medium by means of literal truth or abstract reason."
"His Ancient Mariner is his most remarkable performance, and the only one that I could point out to anyone as giving an adequate idea of his great natural powers. ... He talked on for ever; and you wished him to talk on for ever. His thoughts did not seem to come with labour and effort; but as if borne on the gusts of genius, and as if the wings of his imagination lifted him from off his feet."
"An author wastes his time in painful study and obscure researches, ... when he thinks to grasp the luckless prize, finds it not worth the trouble ... He thinks that the attainment of acknowledged excellence will secure him the expression of those feelings in others, which the image and hope of it had excited in his own breast, but instead of that, he meets with ... squint-eyed suspicion, idiot wonder, and grinning scorn."
"A writer who has been accustomed to take a connected view of a difficult question and to work it out gradually in all its bearings, may be very deficient in that quickness and ease which men of the world, who are in the habit of hearing a variety of opinions, who pick up an observation on one subject, and another on another, and who care about none any farther than the passing away of an idle hour, usually acquire. An author has studied a particular point -- he has read, he has inquired, he has thought a great deal upon it: he is not contented to take it up casually in common with others, to throw out a hint, to propose an objection: he will either remain silent, uneasy, and dissatisfied, or he will begin at the beginning, and go through with it to the end."
"I have more confidence in the dead than the living. ... If you want to know what any of the authors were who lived before our time, and are still objects of anxious inquiry, you have only to look into their works. But the dust and smoke and noise of modern literature have nothing in common with the pure, silent air of immortality."
"... there is such a thing as an essential difference of character in different individuals. We do not change our features with our situations; neither do we change the capacities or inclinations which lurk beneath them."
"You do not go enough into society ... You would there find many people of sense and information whose names you never heard of. It is not those who have made most noise in the world who are persons of the greatest general capacity. It is the making the most of a little ... that brings men into notice. Individuals gain a reputation as they make a fortune, by application and by having set their minds upon it. ... By setting the opinion of others at defiance, you lose your self-respect. It is of no use that you still say, that you will do what is right; your passions usurp the place of reason and whisper you, that whatever you are bent upon doing is right. You cannot put this deception on the public however, false or prejudiced their standard may be; and the opinion of the world, therefore, acts as a seasonable check upon wilfulness and eccentricity."
"In the first round everyone thought it was all over. After making play a short time, the Gas-man flew at his adversary like a tiger, struck five blows in as many seconds, three first, and hen following him as he staggered back, two more, right and left, and down he fell ...."
"Do not be surprised ... to find men talk exceedingly well on different subjects, who do not derive their information immediately from books. ... common sense is not a monopoly, and experience and observation are sources of information open to the man of the world as well as to the retired student."
"Prejudice is so far then an involuntary and stubborn association of ideas, of which we cannot assign the distinct grounds and origin; and the answer to the question, 'How do we know whether the prejudice is true or false?' depends ... Whether the subject in dispute falls under the province of our own experience, feeling, and observation, or is referable to the head of authority, tradition, and fanciful conjecture? Our practical conclusions are in this respect generally right; ... it is in trusting to others (who give themselves out for guides and doctors) that we are ... at the mercy of quackery, impudence, and imposture. Any impression, however absurd, or however we may have imbibed it, by being repeated and indulged in, becomes an article of implicit and incorrigible belief. The point to consider is, how we have first taken it up, whether from ourselves or the arbitrary dictation of others."
"Would it not be hard upon a little girl, who is busy in dressing up a favorite doll, to pull it in pieces before her face in order to show her the bits of wood, the wool, and rags it is composed of? So it would be hard upon that great baby, the world, to take any of its idols to pieces, and show that they are nothing but painted wood. Neither of them would thank you, but consider the offer as in insult."
"Perfect love has this advantage in it, that it leaves the possessor of it nothing farther to desire. ... the soul finds absolute content, for which it seeks to live, or dares to die."
"We passed Dunster on our right, a small town between the brow of the a hill and the sea. ... We had a long day's march -- (our feet kept time to the echoes of Coleridge's tongue) -- through Minehead and by the Blue Anchor, and on to Linton, which we did not reach till near midnight ... [where we were] repaid for our apprehensions and fatigue by some excellent rashers of fried bacon and eggs. The view in coming along had been splended. We walked for miles and miles on dark brown heaths overlooking the Channel, with the Welsh hills beyond ..."
"We could pass our lives in Oxford without having or wanting any other idea -- that of the place is enough. We imbibe the air of thought; we stand in the presence of learning."
"There are those ... who seem always to be practising on their audience, as if they ... hold a general retainer, by which they are bound to explain every difficulty, and answer every objection that can be started. This, in private society, and among friends, is not desirable. You thus lose the two great ends of conversation, which are to learn the sentiments of others, and see what they think of yours."
"I have observed that those who are the most inclined to assist others are the least forward or peremptory with their advice; for having our interest really at heart, they consider what can, rather than what cannot be done, and aid our views and endeavour to avert ill consequences by moderating our impatience and allaying irritations, instead of thwarting our main design, which only tends to make us more extravagant and violent then ever."
"Set the same person [the talker] to write a common paragraph, and he cannot get through it for very weariness: ask him a question, ever so little out of the common road, and he stares you in the face. What does all this bustle, animation, plausibility, and command of words amount to? A lively flow of animal spirits, a good deal of confidence, a communicative turn, and a tolerably tenacious memory with respect to floating opinions and current phrases. Beyond the routine of the daily newspapers and coffee-house criticism, such persons do not venture to think at all ... cant-phrases, arranged in sounding sentences ... levy no tax on the understanding. To give a reason for anything is to breed a doubt of it ... He who offers to go into the grounds of an acknowledged axiom, risks the unanimity of the company ... he who digs to the foundation of a building to show its solidity, risks it falling."
"I am sometimes, I suspect, a better reporter of the ideas of other people than expounder of my own. I pursue the one too far into paradox or mysticism; the others I am not bound to follow farther than I like, or than seems fair and reasonable."
"Our unconscious impressions necessarily give colour to, and re-act upon our conscious ones; and it is only when these two sets of feelings are in accord, that our pleasures are true and sincere; where there is a discordance and misunderstanding in this respect ... [then things ring] false and hollow. ... Both knowledge and sagacity are required, but sagacity abridges and anticipates the labour of knowledge and sometimes jumps instinctively at a conclusion; that is, the strength or fineness of the feeling by association or analogy, sooner elicits the recollection of a previous and forgotten one in different circumstances, and the two together, by a sort of internal evidence and collective force, stamp any proposed solution with the character of truth or falsehood."
"We feel the full force of the spirit of hatred with all of them in turn. ... we throw aside the trammels of civilization, the flimsy veil of humanity. ... The wild beast resumes its sway within us, we feel like hunting animals, and as the hound starts in his sleep and rushes on the chase in fancy the heart rouses itself in its native lair, and utters a wild cry of joy, at being restored once more to freedom and lawless unrestrained impulses. Every one has his full swing, or goes to the Devil his own way. Here are no ... long calculations of self-interest -- the will takes its instant way to its object, as the mountain-torrent flings itself over the precipice: the greatest possible good of each individual consists in doing all the mischief he can to his neighbour."
"The moon had risen, and threw its gleams across the fading twilight; the snowy tops of the mountains were blended with the clouds and stars; their sides were shrouded in mysterious gloom, and it was not till we entered Susa, with its fine old drawbridge and castellated walls, that we found ourselves on terra firma, or breathed common air again."
"Fortune does not always smile on merit ... the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong ... To be thought wise, it is for the most part only necessary to seem so; and the noisy demagogue is easily translated, by the popular voice, into the orator and patriot. ... Men are in numberless instances qualified for certain things, for no other reason than because they are qualified for nothing else. ... a dull plodding fellow will often do better than one of a more mercurial and fiery cast - the mere unconsciousness of his own deficiencies, or of any thing beyond what he himself can do, reconciles him to his mechanical progress, and enables him to perform all that lies in his power with labour and patience. By being content with mediocrity, he advances beyond it; whereas the man of greater taste or genius may be supposed to fling down his pen or pencil in despair, haunted with the idea of unattainable excellence, and ends in being nothing, because he cannot be every thing at once."
"There are two classes of people that I have observed ... - those who cannot keep their own money in their hands, and those who cannot keep their hands from other people's. The first are always in want of money, though they do not know what they do with it. They muddle it away, without method or object, and without having anything to shew for it. ... they hire two houses at a time ... they purchase a library, and dispose of it when they move house. With all this sieve-like economy, they can only afford a leg of mutton and a single bottle of wine, and are glad to get a lift in a common stage ... they set no value upon money, and throw it away on any object or in any manner that first presents itself, merely to have it off their hands, so that you wonder what has become of it."
"... so in the outset of life we see no end to our desires nor to the opportunities of gratifying them. We have as yet found no obstacle, no disposition to flag, and it seems that we can go on so for ever. We look round in a new world, full of life and motion, and ceaseless progress, and feel in ourselves all the vigour and spirit to keep pace with it, and do not foresee from any present signs how we shall be left behind in the race, decline into old age, and drop into the grave."

Publication date 1819

PublisherLondon: : Printed for William Hone ...


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Book from the collections ofNew York Public Library

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Printer's imprint on verso of t.p. and at foot of p. 439: J. M'Creery, printer ... London

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Keynes, G. Hazlitt


The pieces in this volume are political and personal commentary. Hazlitt deals with political subjects and figures (Chatham, Burke, Fox, Pitt), and literary personalities (Coleridge, Malthus, Southey). There are reviews of works of immediate social and intellectual importance eg. Robert Owen's New view of society. There are also articles on topics of perennial interest such as the spy-system. He provides a unique perspective on his contemporaries and his times.

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