chapter  5
Hazlitt: ventures of the self
Pages 19

Hazlitt's lectures and essays respond to the pressures of the literary marketplace in which he had to earn his living, but also to political pressures of the time. The period of his greatest involvement in lecturing and essay-writing (from 1810 to his death in 1830) was also a highly politicized one. The era of The

Spectator was too, but Hazlitt did not attempt to emulate the detachment of that fictional persona, and in fact dispensed with that device altogether (the main example of it in Hazlitt's day was of course Charles Lamb's Elia, an eccentric whose foibles make an interesting contrast with those of the Spectator). Hazlitt accepted, indeed embraced, the need for taking explicit and personal political positions in his work, while remaining independent of any particular party, especially in his capacity as literary critic. He could pay tribute, for example, to the magnificence of Edmund Burke's style and the honesty and penetration of his thought, while repudiating his conservative conclusions. At other times, however, he produced superb specimens of personal abuse and invective, of precisely the kind that the Spectator would have abhorred. A classic of this genre is his portrait of William Gifford, the editor of the Quarterly Review and the author of the Pope imitations, the Baviad and the Maeviad, in The Spirit of the Age (1825). A typical sentence reads: "No statement in the Quarterly Review is to be trusted: there is no fact that is not misrepresented in it, no quotation that is not garbled, no character that is not slandered, if it can answer the purposes of a party to do so" (11:124).