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little imagination, loving books and flowers, and able to treat any subject in a pleasant and cultured style. The indisputable decline of his reputation is to be accounted for by his want of any striking originality, and by his being overshadowed by his greater contemporaries. Prior to the appearance of the Indicator, Hazlitt had done some of his best critical work, while Lamb, having given the results of his loving study of the early dramatists, was on the point of coming forward in the character of Elia. The exclusion of critical papers necessarily gives a totally inadequate representation of Hazlitt, who wrote his best only when art or literature was his theme. In him, much more distinctly than in Hunt or Lamb, a modern spirit is apparent. Save for a certain exuberance of style, there is nothing in his essays to suggest even now the flavour of antiquity; he approached his subjects with perfect originality and freshness; his style cannot be definitely linked to any prototype; and, as critics of his own day were quick to observe, “his taste was not the creature of schools and canons, it was begotten of Enthusiasm by Thought". It is enthusiasm, indeed, that is the most obvious characteristic of the essays—and they are his best essays which he contributed between 1820 and 1830 to the Examiner and other papers. The traditional limits of the periodical essay, however, were somewhat narrow for the full display of Hazlitt's genius. He craved for “more elbow-room and fewer encumbrances", and, as Professor Saintsbury has said, "what he could do, as hardly any other man has ever done in England, was a causerie of about the

same length as Sainte-Beuve's”. None of his writings display those emotional qualities on which the reputation of the chief English essayists is based, and his success must be attributed to the virile excellence of his style, and to his passionate and unaffected love of letters. "My sun", he wrote, "arose with the first dawn of liberty.

The new impulse to ardour given to men's minds imparted a congenial warmth and glow to mine; we were strong to run a race together.” Burke was the one author whom he never wearied of commending, and it was at the torch of Burke's eloquence that the fire of his own style was kindled. Fortunately for literature, it was to it and not to politics that Hazlitt directed his enthusiasm, with the result that, in spite of some prejudices and exaggerations, his writings are unrivalled as a stimulating introduction to the study of literature. His knowledge of books was as extensive as his devotion was profound; they were to him “the first and last, the most home-felt, the most heart-felt of all our enjoyments". Hazlitt's position among the essayists depends on the fact that he devoted himself less to the delineation of character than to the exposition of literature. If not the first, he was the most influential of those who bent the essay to this purely literary purpose, and he may be regarded as standing midway between the old essayists and

It was a fashion in his own time, and one that has often since been followed, to insist too strongly on Hazlitt's limitations as a critic. Yet, after all has been said, his method was essentially the same as Sainte-Beuve's, and his essays cannot

the new.

even now be safely neglected by students of the literary developments with which they deal. It is impossible to read them without catching something of the ardour of his own enthusiasm, and it says much for the soundness of his taste and judgment that the great majority of his criticisms emerged undistorted from the glowing crucible of his thought.

While there is a strong egotism in his essays, Hazlitt can scarcely be called a "personal essayist”, for he had no Jonsonian “humour", and he rode no Shandean hobby-horse. With him, indeed, any survey of the essay's history might end, for it would be possible to trace some affinity between him or some of his predecessors, and any of those who have subsequently used the essay form. At least one exception must be made in favour of Charles Lamb, who occupies in so many ways a unique place in the development, and who more closely than any other went back to the practice of Montaigne in allowing his personality to colour everything he wrote. The Essays of Elia began in 1822, at a time when Sydney Smith had already a secure reputation as a wit, and Christopher North was beginning to make the fame of Blackwood's Magazine by his riotous humour. Unlike either of these, Lamb was an anachronism. Everywhere around him literature was striking out new channels, and exaggerated protests were being made against the alleged artificiality of the previous century. Except at the demands of private friendship Lamb took little interest in contemporary writing; he remained constant to his first love for the past, and drew his inspiration from the pure wells of Elizabethan literature. He had mined deeply in Burton and in Fuller, in the old dramatists, and in the writers of artificial comedy; their idioms became his idioms, and he unconsciously brocaded his language with their quaint conceits and similitudes. “He evades the present”, in the words of Hazlitt, “he mocks the future. He pitches his tent in the suburbs of existing manners . . . and occupies that nice point between egotism and disinterested humanity.” In his own phrase, he venerated an honest obliquity of understanding, and due weight must always be attached to the influence of his idiosyncrasies upon his style. As the works of Goldsmith and Hood derive new meaning when interpreted in the light of the records of their lives, so the Essays of Elia must be viewed against the tragic background of their author's life, before due appreciation can be made of the delicacy of their humour and of the infinite tenderness of their unobtrusive pathos. It leads rather to a misconception of Lamb to associate him only with so hackneyed an essay as the Dissertation on Roast Pig. Exquisite fooling, no doubt, it is, but it has not the recondite beauties, the quaint paradoxes, the felicitous characterization, the intermingling of humour and pathos, that are everywhere apparent in his best essays. The descriptions of Mrs. Battle and of the Convalescent are masterpieces which more readily than most of his essays can be directly compared with the work of Addison and Goldsmith; Dream- Children is typical of Lamb's whimsical pathos and of the extreme delicacy of his touch; Thoughts on Books is the most charming confession

extant of a literary creed; while All Fools' Day and the New Year's Coming of Age depict him in his most fantastic mood, toying with his subject, and wresting from it innumerable pleasantries. Lamb can scarcely be classed along with any other essayist; the archness and piquancy of his humour, if they sometimes remind one of Sterne, had for the most part an ancestry older than Addison and Steele, and it is only by going back to the writers of the seventeenth century that one fully detects the atavism of his style. “There is an inward unction, a marrowy vein both in the thought and feeling, an intuition deep and lively of his subject, that carries off any quaintness or awkwardness arising from an antiquated style and dress." In these happy words Hazlitt has pointed out the most indefinable feature in Lamb's essays—the rich marrowiness of their style. With their extraordinary nimbleness of fancy and grace of expression the Essays of Elia are indeed “a paradise of dainty devices", redolent of the sweetness and old-world air of Cowley. His quaint paradoxes, too, seem to rise naturally from the subject and do not grate on the ear with the metallic ring of modern epigram. The obliquity of Lamb's genius precluded in his own day, as it still precludes, the possibility of successful imitation; he created no new school of essayists, and he left no abiding mark on the development of English prose; but he is within certain well-defined limits one of the most artistic exponents of the essay, and the power of fully appreciating the delicacy of his work is one of the surest indications of a literary epicure.

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