William Hazlitt Prose Style: Energy, Vigor, Ease and Effectiveness

William Hazlitt’s prose style combines energy and vigor, ease and effectiveness. His many essays are famous for the lucidity and brilliance in both style and content. Thus his influence on the English essay has been healthier than Lamb’s. His essays are remarkable for their fearless expression of an honest and individual opinion. He lacked the learned critical apparatus of modern critics, His emotional reactions rather than objective applied principles helped him to make his judgments. His brief, abrupt sentences had the vigor and directness of his views and sentiments. His lectures had a manly simplicity. Essays and lectures expressed a fondness for the apt and skillfully blended quotation. Apart from brilliant prose style and wide-ranging knowledge of art, literature, and philosophy, Hazlitt was involved in many literary disputes of the day and did not hesitate to turn his writing powers against authors and critics who disagreed with him or criticized his work.  Hazlitt shared Lamb’s interest in oddities of character, but not Charles’s relish of oddity for own sake:

“I hate to be surfeited with anything, however sweet. I do not want to be always tied to the same question, as if there were no other in the world. I like a mind more catholic.”

As a literary critic Hazlitt elaborated the popular view of the Romantic position in his catholicity of liking and his dislike of rules in ‘On criticism’:
“If you like correctness and smoothness of all things in the world, there, they are for you in Pope. If you like ither things better, such as strength and sublimity, you know where to go for them… If we have a taste for some one precise style or manner, we may keep it to ourselves and let others have theirs. If we are more catholic in our notions and want variety of excellence and beauty, it is spread abroad for us to profusion in the variety of books and in the several growths of men’s minds, fettered by no capricious or arbitrary rules.”

William Hazlitt
He begins his essay ‘On Poetry in General’ with an announcement:
“The best general notion which I can give of poetry is that it is the natural impression of any object or event, by vividness exiting an involuntary movement of imagination and passion, and producing, by sympathy, a certain modulation of the voice or sounds expressing it.” Hazlitt lectured extensively on English drama. He collected his lectures and some of his articles in Characters of Shakespeare's Plays (1817), Lectures on the English Poets (1818), Views of the English Stage (1818), Essays on the English Comic Writers (1819), and Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth (1821). With these works Hazlitt established himself as one of the foremost literary critics of the romantic period and as a master of the informal essay. His admiration for Napoleon led him to write a Life of Napoleon (4 volumes, 1828-30). Hazlitt is regarded as one of the greatest masters of English prose; his smooth, colourful style greatly influenced both his contemporaries and many subsequent writers.

In conclusion we may say that William Hazlitt was a more consistent prose eerier of clear and English in the early period of the 19th century. He wrote vigorously. He had no mannerisms. He thought more of his matter than his manner (style). If we read his essay ‘The Flight’ we can find ourselves absorbed in the struggle, not paying attention to the style. The following extract from his account of Jeremy Bentham, the Utilitarian philosopher, is a fair example of his way of writing. The style is clear, incisive and easy:
“He (Jeremy Bentham0 has no great fondness for poetry, and can hardly extract a moral out of Shakespeare. His house is warmed and lighted by steam. He is one of those who prefer the artificial to the natural in most things, and thinks the mind of man omnipotent. He has a great contempt for out-of-doors prospects, for green fields and trees, and is for referring everything to Utility.”

Ref: Encarta, wiki


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