6. Summary
William Hazlitt by J.B. Priestley

It is not easy to write like Hazlitt. As he wrote himself in an essay which perfectly summarized as well as exemplified his own approach to prose:

'It is not easy to write a familiar style. Many people mistake a familiar for a vulgar style, and suppose that to write without affectation is to write at random. On the contrary, there is nothing that requires more precision, and, if I may so say, purity of expression, than the style I am speaking of. It utterly rejects not only all unmeaning pomp, but all low, cant phrases, and loose, unconnected, slipshod allusions. It is not to take the first word that offers, but the best word in common use; it is not to throw words together in any combinations we please, but to follow and avail ourselves of the true idiom of the language. To write a genuine familiar or truly English style, is to write as anyone would speak in common conversation who had a thorough command and choice of words, or who could discourse with ease, force, and perspicuity, setting aside all pedantic and oratorical flourishes.... It is easy to affect a pompous style, to use a word twice as big as the thing you want to express: it is not so easy to pitch upon the very word that exactly fits it. out of eight or ten words equally common, equally intelligible, with nearly equal pretensions, it is a matter of some nicety and discrimination to pick out the very one the preferableness of which is scarcely perceptible, but decisive... '(On Familiar Style.)

Hazlitt remains, to my mind, the supreme essayist for young men, bent on writing themselves, to study and to devour. A course of him might be prescribed for those young writers, clever, not dishonest, but altogether too dubious and fearful, who consider anything too far removed from saloon-bar talk and boiled cabbage and washing-up to be 'phoney'. He could give then a lift they badly need. And much of what he said needs saying even more urgently today.

'Happy are they who live in the dream of their own existence, and see all things in the light of their own minds; who walk by faith and hope; to whom the guiding star of their youth still shines from afar, and into whom the spirit of the world has not entered! They have not been "hurt by the archers", nor has the iron entered their souls. The world has no hand on them.'(Mind and Motive)

Here our 'angry young men' can find a man who knew what he had to be angry about, and yet, throughout a life harrowed by ill luck, poverty, toil, insult and calumny, a man who celebrated with gratitude and joy every intense moment that pierced the heart and irradiated the mind.

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