William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man Paperback – 19 Dec 2010
- Choose from over 13,000 locations across the UK
- Prime members get unlimited deliveries at no additional cost
- Find your preferred location and add it to your address book
- Dispatch to this address when you check out
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Would you like to tell us about a lower price?
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Hazlitt is a terrific subject and Wu does him proud. (The Independent)
About the Author
Duncan Wu is Professor of English at Georgetown University.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
A forceful paradox seems to lie at the heart of Hazlitt's character, as portrayed here: in print he could be (and frequently was) splenetic even about his friends, but in person he was often diffident and awkward (Mary Russell Mitford once memorably described Hazlitt's habit of "enter[ing] a room as if he had been brought back to it in custody"). He was anxiously, fervently productive, yet more often than not wasteful of the fruits this would bring. Fickleness and inconstancy made him furious, yet he seems to have subconsciously courted precisely that in his disastrous obsession with Sarah Walker, his landlady's daughter. It is frustrating that Wu does not explore more deeply the emotional and psychological hinterland of Hazlitt's behaviour because it is so fascinating.
I would also question why Wu feels the (defensive?) need to write extravagantly, even grandiosely, about his subject. Can it really be true that Hazlitt's Unitarian father "sparked a revolution" in America during the 1780s (p. 40) or that William is indeed "the father of modern literary criticism" (p. 238)? The only flaws that Wu is prepared to ascribe to his subject are tellingly couched as potential strengths: "If Hazlitt had a fault, it was that he was too trusting of his acquaintances" (p. 249); "his crime was honesty" (p. 339). Intriguingly, Wu is prone - very much like Hazlitt - to outbursts, railing against "the stupidity of modern literary criticism" (p. 328), calling Coleridge "a bore" (p. 237), and characterising Keats's friend Charles Brown as "a venal, self-important blackguard" (p. 364)! With a biographer this emotionally and psychologically invested in his subject, it shouldn't surprise us that Wu admits in his Acknowledgements that the writing of this book "coincided with Hazlittian traumas in [his] own life" (p. x).
And yet I feel a thirst to know more about Hazlitt, to read more of his writing, to hear more of his voice, after reading this book. Wu does a good job of convincing us that "Hazlitt's talent lay in his analytical firepower" (p. 149) and the biographer's vivid recreation of the lectures his hero gave enliven the narrative. I didn't find the partly invented conversations jarring, but Wu's relegation of doubt to his footnotes is sometimes troubling: it is only in the small print that we learn it is not known whether Hazlitt visited Keats's and Shelley's graves at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, although in this body of his text he recreates the scene as if it were undisputed truth. Wu repeats Andrew Motion's conviction that Keats visited prostitutes and contracted venereal disease (it is, in fact, not known why Keats was taking a course of mercury after his trip to Oxford in 1817); he also excludes from his Life the biting remarks that Hazlitt made about Keats's supposed "unmanliness" after the death of his friend.
With Wu's book, you can learn a lot about Hazlitt - especially the vicissitudes of his life - but it may be wise to take up one of the four other biographies - Catherine Macdonald Maclean's Born under Saturn (1943), Ralph Wardle's Hazlitt (1971), Stanley Jones's Hazlitt: A Life (1989) or A.C. Grayling's The Quarrel of the Age: The Life and Times of William Hazlitt (2001) - if you are looking for a more even-handed, level-headed approach to this complex and compelling subject. (3.5 stars)
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
What I got was a detailed history of the politics, cultural and literary scene of that time. This is a well researched, well-written book. Hazlitt got the biographer (serious and perceptive) that he deserves!
Wu is unabashed partisan of Hazlitt (which is probably why he undertook this task in the first place; Hazlitt is one of those figures now largely overlooked, along with Leigh Hunt, as the spotlight shines on the Romantic poets rather than on their prose-writing counterparts) and that enthusiasm for sharing Hazlitt's side in any quarrel can sometimes become a bit wearying. (I'm a fan of Hazlitt's, but find it hard to muster up much enthusiasm for HIS enthusiasm for Napoleon, for instance.) But where Wu succeeds brilliantly is in bringing alive the spirit of the age in which Hazlitt lived and wrote: the era which saw the triumph of the American Revolution (some of his earliest years were spent in the just-born United States) and then the French Revolution, followed by a British crackdown on anything that smelled like 'subversion'. Wu's case for Hazlitt as the first 'modern' man rests on the fact that he saw clearly what could be: a world in which birthright did not determine status or success, and where a man (or woman) could succeed on his or her own merits without having to grovel and win patronage from his social superiors but intellectual inferiors.
A testimony to the power of this biography is the fact that weeks after reading it, the events that Wu describes -- Hazlitt's financial struggles, his occasional triumphs, his tendency to become his own worst enemy and his lack of discretion -- continue to resonate in my memory. I'll be reading or thinking about something completely different, and suddenly a stray word or idea will push my mind back to Hazlitt and his falling out with some of his earliest friends, such as Coleridge, or to his friendship with Charles and Mary Lamb, or his fascination with the theater and his ability to spot some of his era's biggest talents the first time they strode across the stage. Best of all, Wu captures the discomfort of a young man, raised in a non-conformist yet religious household, who loses his faith, who must carve out a place for himself as a 'jobbing writer' in a world that has no place for non-conformists, whether that non-conformity is religious or social in nature. While reading this, I feel as if I inhabited the streets in which my prized first edition was printed.
Even if you're not interested in Hazlitt the person, this book is a great introduction to his times -- his path crossed that of all the great literary figures of his generation, and he engaged in his writings all the major themes, from the need for 'gusto' in life to the individual experience of nature that was part of the romantic era. (Hazlitt himself, however, still strikes me as more professional skeptic than a classic Romantic -- or perhaps, a Curmudgeonly Romantic?) And even if you're not interested in reading about the late 18th and early 19th century literary world, do pick up some of Hazlitt's essays. They are, indeed, treasures in their own right.
Highly recommended to anyone interested in this era, and in the Romantic poets or essay-writing.