The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

VII. Hazlitt

§ 7. His influence

The influence of Hazlitt has been pervasive through the nineteenth century. Among his contemporaries, there were those who would have nothing to do with his idols, Rousseau and Napoleon, who did not share his radical views on politics, who despised his enthusiastic style as mere sentimental twaddle. On the other hand, there were those who, like Leigh Hunt, Lamb, Coleridge and De Quincey, recognised, in some measure, the worth of the man. Certain of the reviewers in the magazines, though they took delight in abusing him personally, had good cause for admiring his literary skill when they were the objects of his invective. Among the great writers of English since his day, he has found many admirers and imitators, many who have followed his lead in his appreciation of art and of literature. Macaulay had a fondness for the same balanced structure, the same tendency toward epigrammatic expression, the same persistent determination to write with unmistakable clearness. Newman’s style bore ample testimony to the eloquence which Hazlitt displayed in his most stately writing. Thackeray wrote heartily in admiration:

  • Hazlitt was one of the keenest and brightest critics that ever lived. With partialities and prejudices innumerable, he had a wit so keen, a sensibility so exquisite, an appreciation of humour or pathos or even of the greatest act so lively, quick and cultivated, that it was always good to know what were the impressions made by books or men or pictures on such a mind; and that, as there were not probably a dozen men in England with powers so varied, all the rest of the world might be rejoiced to listen to the opinions of this accomplished critic.
  • In similar vein wrote Froude, Bagehot, Lowell, Stevenson and many other worthy judges of our best literature. Perhaps the surest comment which indicates the estimate of to-day is by William Ernest Henley in the concluding paragraph of his introduction to the complete edition of Hazlitt’s works, already cited:

  • As a writer, therefore, it is with Lamb that I would bracket him: they are dissimilars, but they go gallantly and naturally together—par nobile fratrum. Give us these two, with some ripe Cobbett, a volume of Southey, some Wordsworth, certain pages of Shelley, a great deal of the Byron who wrote letters, and we get the right prose of the time. The best of it all, perhaps, is the best of Lamb. But Hazlitt’s, for different qualities, is so imminent and shining a second that I hesitate as to the pre-eminency. Probably the race is Lamb’s. But Hazlitt is ever Hazlitt; and at his highest moments Hazlitt is hard to beat, and has not these many years been beaten.