William Hazlitt on the lot of the writer

January 22, 2009 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

William Hazlitt is a name we hear little of today, but in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, he was a well-known and well read journalist and essayist (when those people were really valued) in England.

Here is what he wrote on the lot of the writer:

An author wastes his time in painful study and obscure researches, to gain a little breath of popularity, meets with nothing but vexation and disappointment in ninety-nine instances out of a hundred; or when he thinks to grasp the luckless prize, finds it not worth the trouble — the perfume of a minute, fleeting as a shadow, hollow as a sound. . . . He thinks that the attainment of acknowledged excellence will secure him the expression of those feelings in others, which the image and hope of it had excited in his own breast, but instead of that, he meets with nothing (or scarcely nothing) but squint-eyed suspicion, idiot wonder, and grinning scorn. — It seems hardly worth while to have taken all the pains he has been at for this!

A new biography of Hazlitt, William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man by Duncan Wu, has been published recently, and it was reviewed by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago.

The review is certainly worth reading, and so too, I suspect, is the book.

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