Hazlitt may lack Jarrell's mastery of the Groucho-like wisecrack, but in other respects they are surprisingly alike, as though defining the scope of a genre--the brilliantly crisp opening gestue, the dance of register between formally essayistic and freely conversational, the thrilling gift for an unexpected summative simile. "When you have read Paterson", said Jarrell, "you know for the rest of your life what it is like to be a waterfall"; "He seems always hurrying from his subject, even while describing it", said Hazlitt no less wonderfully about Shakespeare, "but the stroke, like the lightning's, is as sure as it is sudden."
Wordsworth and Coleridge called up his wittiest masterpieces of misgiving. "It is as if there were nothing but himself and the universe", he wrote of The Excursion. "He lives in the busy solitude of his own heart; in the deep silence of thought." That is superb, genuinely illuminating an aspect of Wordsworthian idiosyncrasy, and only Hazlitt could have said it.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
TLS April 18 2008
From Seamus Perry's review of New Writings of William Hazlitt, edited by Duncan Wu: