William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man by Duncan Wu - review by William St Clair

William St Clair

The Spirit of His Age

William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man


Oxford University Press 557pp £25

Of the many famous authors who flourished in the so-called ‘Romantic’ period, William Hazlitt is among the most easily accessible. After two centuries he appears to speak to us directly, concisely, and without condescension. His writings are short, sharp, witty and merciless. As an English essayist he is unsurpassed. His quips have not dated – ‘There is nothing good to be had in the country, or if there is, they will not let you have it.’ Two of his works are enduring masterpieces: The Spirit of the Age, a series of profiles of his contemporaries, and Liber Amoris, his pain-filled autobiographical account of his love for Sarah Walker, who beckoned him across the social as well as the age and gender divides.

Between 1930 and 1934, P P Howe collected and published all of Hazlitt’s printed books and articles in twenty-one large volumes. And although more has been found since, Howe’s edition, along with his biography of 1947, remains the indispensable foundation both for any judgement of Hazlitt’s achievement and influence, and

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