1. Introduction
William Hazlitt by J.B. Priestley

WILLLIAM HAZLITT was born at Maidstone on 10 April 1778. He died in London on 18 September 1830.

'THEY are never less alone', wrote Hazlitt of authors, 'than when alone. Mount them on a dinner-table, and they have nothing to say; shut them up in a room by themselves, and they are inspired. They are "made fierce with dark keeping". In revenge for being tongue-tied, a torrent of words flows from their pens, and the storm which was so long collecting comes down apace. It never rains but it pours. Is not this strange, unaccountable? Not at all so.... Till they can do justice to the feeling they have, they can do nothing.... What they would say (if they could) does not lie at the orifices of the mouth, ready for delivery, but is wrapped in the folds of the heart and registered in the chambers of the brain. In the sacred cause of truth that stirs them, they would put their whole strength, their whole being into requisition; and as it implies a greater effort to drag their words and ideas from their lurking-places, so there is no end when they are once set in motion. The whole of a man's thoughts and feelings cannot lie on the surface, made up for use; but the whole must be a greater quantity, a mightier power, if they could be got at, layer under layer, and brought into play by the levers of imagination and reflection. Such a person then sees farther and feels deeper than most others. He plucks up an argument by the roots, he tears out the very heart of his subject. He has more pride in conquering the difficulties of a question, than vanity in courting the favour of an audience. He wishes to satisfy himself before he pretends to enlighten the public...—(On the Difference Between Writing and Speaking.)

Who reads Hazlitt now? The casual manner and flattened style of our younger writers do not suggest his influence. His is not one of the voices their own unconsciously echo. Perhaps Hazlitt is out, even among the captive readers of 'Eng. Lit'. No matter: if reading is to continue, he will come back. When I was first beginning to write, over forty years ago, I read him at all hours; he was then my favourite, my model author, and the only one who directly influenced my own writing. To explain and to praise him here is merely to make a first payment reducing an old debt. Except for professors and students, reading is not a compulsory activity; nobody outside the trade should be expected to enjoy every author of genius; many readers of these pages may have decided long ago that Hazlitt was not to their taste; but there must be some, especially among the young, who will relish, admire, perhaps love, this author when they come to make his acquaintance, and it is chiefly to them that I now address myself.

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