Want to Read. Shelving menu. Shelve Bodily Pain in Romantic Literature. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Rate it:. Leigh Hunt's contributions to English literature,… More. This book visits the Romantic legacy that was cen… More. German Romanticism and Science by Jocelyn Holland. Men whose motive is gain can be Disinterested imagining and impersonal feeling 29 relied on only so long as their cause rewards them.
Yet the balance of profit and loss may shift while the cause remains the same. The love of gain, however active or persevering this principle may be in accomplishing its own particular ends, can never be safely trusted as an ally in a cause where there are other objects to be attended to.
Men who are actuated by this sole principle will very obstinately, no doubt, defend their wealth, while they can retain it; but when that is no longer the case, they will think nothing else worth retaining, and meanly compromise their independence for their safety. As they fail to imagine the common good, their sense of the identity of the nation comes to refer more and more to its possessions.
If there is a remedy for such contracted self-interest, it is to be found in education. Hazlitt looks for the best result from what he calls classical education, precisely because the value of its objects cannot be fixed in utilitarian terms. Trade makes self-interest determine value, and the spirit of trade, relying as it does on association and probability, transfers the past to the future in all our reckonings. It gives to those who have. The spirit of freedom, as Hazlitt understands it, cares for those whom we can imagine as neighbours, and is willing to call neighbours all whom we can imagine as ourselves.
Hazlitt alludes here to his first published work, An Essay on the Principles of Human Action with which he hoped to make his mark as a philosopher. It considers how identity, the idea of identity, conditions these writings, from the Essay on the Principles of Human Action onwards. Yet no such exclusive considerations apply to future objects, for no faculty gives the self a direct interest in the future distinct from the interests of others in this regard.
As Hazlitt argues, The imagination, by means of which alone I can anticipate future objects, or be interested in them, must carry me out of myself into the feelings of others by one and the same process by which I am thrown forward as it were into my future being, and interested in it. It expresses at once what is real in our notions of character and what is only apparent. What, then, is the self? Of even those past and present selves in which we can have a real interest, only the present self, directly conscious of its existence in a present moment, is fully realized at any given time.
By contrast, the self of even a moment before is historically mediated, the product of memory or consciousness recalled. The following passage explains the self as an ongoing and complex process of rationalization in which difference, not similarity, is the starting point: In the first place, we abstract the successive modifications of our being, and particular temporary interests into one simple nature, and general principle of self-interest, and then make use of this nominal abstraction as an artificial medium to compel those particular actual interests into the same close affinity and union with each other, as different lines meeting in the same centre must have a mutual communication with each other.
Just as we imaginatively project our selfish interests into an as yet unexperienced future, so we project a coherent sense of being through time, continually squaring our particular successive experiences with an imaginatively realized identity, a self.
Hazlitt seems here to elide his authorial identity in this portrait of the philosopher as portraitist, though perhaps he simply takes it for granted. Elsewhere, he reflects on authorship as a compound of different disciplinary methods. For Hazlitt this sphere, by which he effectively means what we mean when we say culture, is comparable to personal identity in its 34 James Mulvihill complex nature. Yet somehow emerging from the mass of particulars is the idea of a state, a consciousness that contains all these particulars within a distinct identity.
The design of Spirit of the Age is less a structural feature than an epistemological premise. One of them, the Reverend Edward Irving, was at the height of a brief but sensational celebrity when he was profiled in The Spirit of the Age. Irving drew huge congregations to his Caledonian Chapel in Hatton Garden, where he preached against the corruptions of modern London in the mids, his sensational strictures extending even to the noble and eminent who flocked to his sermons. Carriages lined Hatton Garden and the papers were full of him.
Three years later, he was already fading from the public mind, never to recover from either his meteoric fame or the punishing obscurity that swiftly followed. But he has contrived to jumble these several characters together in an unheard-of and unwarranted manner, and the fascination is altogether irresistible. What changed? Is it one thing at twenty, and another at forty? Is it at a burning heat in , and below zero in ? In the mercurial careers of Godwin and Irving, Hazlitt describes an age that is not only constituently diverse but is also never the same from one moment to the next.
The peculiar impressions these selves have made on their age are the necessary result of what they and the age imagine themselves to be from one moment to the next. For Hazlitt, indeed, portraiture is less a matter of likeness than of tendency, an attempt to capture in the seemingly synchronic dimensions of the pictorial some sense of historically emergent character. Thus in his celebrated portrait of Hippolito de Medici, there is a keen, sharpened expression that strikes you, like a blow from the spear that he holds in his hand.
The look goes through you; yet it has no frown, no startling gesticulation, no affected penetration. It is quiet, simple, but it almost withers you. The whole face and each separate feature is cast in the same acute or wedge-like form. The forehead is high and narrow, the eye-brows raised and coming to a point in the middle, the nose straight and peaked, the mouth contracted and drawn up at the corners, the chin acute, and the two sides of the face slanting to a point.
The number of acute angles which the lines of the Hazlitt and the idea of identity 37 face form, are, in fact, a net entangling the attention and subduing the will. The effect is felt at once, though it asks time and consideration to understand the cause. It is a face which you would beware of rousing into anger or hostility, as you would beware of setting in motion some complicated and dangerous machinery.
The possessor of it, you may be sure, is no trifler. Such, indeed, was the character of the man. This is to paint true portrait and true history. Character thus reveals itself here as the cumulative effect of historical tendency. The difference lies in emphasis. In both instances, however, character is a product of history and nature: That is not the finest historical head which has least the look of nature, but which has most the look of nature, if it has the look of history also. The ideal is that which answers to the idea of something, and not to the idea of any thing, or of nothing.
Any countenance strikes most upon the imagination, either in a picture or in reality, which has most distinctness from others, and most identity with itself. The keeping in the character, not the want of character, is the essence of history. These questions concern the effect of a performance not only as it speaks to an authoritative text but also to more local but equally influential traditions of performance associated with a given play or role. It is too often filled with traditional common-place conceptions of the part, handed down from sire to son, and suited to the taste of the great vulgar and the small.
This circumstance makes theatre problematic from the views of both representation and reception. Beyond the obvious assumption that Mrs. Siddons must have been doing something right to justify regretting her retirement from acting, there is the fact that Hazlitt remembers her at all, that he remembers the actress on the basis of the innumerable performances that, in their incremental totality, are Mrs. Siddons for the play-going public.
It might be added that, for this public if not for the closeted readers of Shakespeare with whom Hazlitt commiserates on occasion, the idea of Mrs. Siddons extends itself to both the roles and plays with which she is associated in the minds of her audience. The result is a concept of the dramatic text as a continually evolving identity, never the same from production to production or even from performance to performance, a sense of the play itself — that is, the idea of the play — not as a fixed unitary entity but as something of an imaginary construction or fictional projection.
For Hazlitt, indeed, even the text itself is a complex idea. In his seemingly one-sided comparison of actors and authors, he seems to discount the respective epistemologies of theatre and book culture alike. In the other, he separates mortal humanity from material text so definitively as to seem to deny the mediating consciousness through which, as writers and readers, we define ourselves through books. Yet the subject of books is a personal one for Hazlitt, whose reflections on the printed text often underscore the problematic nature of identity.
As an erstwhile painter and a student of empirical psychology, he brings to his reading a concreteness of perception that enables him to view the physical dimensions of the printed text not as an accidental circumstance of transmission but as an essential element in the teleology of knowledge. At the same time, this materialism is only one aspect of an epistemology of reading that reaches beyond referentiality into the realm of subjective impression: For myself, not only are the old ideas of the contents of the work brought back to my mind in all their vividness, but the old associations of the faces and persons of those I then knew, as they were in their lifetime — the place where I sat to read the volume, the day when I got it, the feeling of the air, the fields, the sky — return, and all my early impressions with them.
This is better to me — those places, those times, those persons, and those feelings that come across me as I retrace the story and devour the page, are to me better far than the wet sheets of the last new novel from the Ballantyne press. In this way, the material impression of print is translated into an emotional impression much as particular landscapes in the Romantic lyric act as catalysts for reconstructing a sense of continuing identity through memory and association.
If the unstable romantic self is traditionally defined against the permanence of nature, then, here it finds its definition both within and beyond the margins of the print text. And art thou come to this? It is not, then, that Lear simply asks this bare man who he is or what is the matter with him. Far more violently, he seems immediately to recognize something about him. But to Hazlitt, I believe, such a response would be the mere static, secondary language of retrospective explanation.
Madly, even as he feels he is reaching out to Tom, Lear is actually turning back inward upon himself. For here still, in his turn towards Tom, are the rudiments of imagination, thought and sympathy in Lear — even though they are trapped within the distortions of a ruined mind. The mad egoism and the sudden sense of violent sympathy in fact come from the same source and are involved in each other. In the earlier original text, which Shakespeare offers and which the Essay on the Principles of Human Action seeks to recover, life is more dynamic and passionately unpredictable than that.
Self-love is not the original principle of human action. But poetry to Hazlitt — and in particular dramatic poetry — is about process, time and movement, not stasis. It is through drama that thinking is experienced as taking place in the midst of living time. It is about immersion in the midst of action, about present time reaching imaginatively towards a future for itself which is as yet by definition unknown, uncreated and untried. On the contrary, imagination is the quick faculty that lets us conceive of the very existence of a future and makes us capable of creating it by acting towards it.
In its fast transience, then, drama and in particular Shakespearean drama are for Hazlitt the image of life itself — leaving the past behind, in the pull of the present towards a future. It is the struggle of a life-force to create a future just ahead of itself — calling into being a space that its thinker can then occupy.
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Drama is thus the great creative test of our preconceptions, the great unplanned experiment upon our very nature, in the sheer instant of speech and act: As, in our dreams, we hold conversations with ourselves, make remarks or communicate intelligence, and have no idea of the answer which we shall receive, and which we ourselves are to make, till we hear it; so, the dialogues in Shakespear are carried on without any consciousness of what is to follow, without any appearance of preparation or premeditation. The dramatic poet, Hazlitt concludes, is not one safely established person but splits himself disinterestedly — dialogically we might now say — into many persons.
He does not already know the results which he himself will provide in the ensuing process. And if I spy anyone who of his own will holds back from the ships, I will surely bring about his death. For the Essay insists that the idea of the Self is just that — an idea, created in retrospect, further down the path of human evolution, as something slow and heavy. Then we find what we are in the very act of becoming it. That is why, for Hazlitt, Shakespeare has to be so fast and sudden in thought — the sheer pace of his thinking is set by its constantly seeking a verbal future for itself in order to stay alive.
And Hazlitt means really alive and not just a continuing existence.
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Impatient of detailed interpretation, the mind in its excited heat goes for a meaning beyond the settlement of past knowledge, as if to snatch meaning out of a suddenly glimpsed future of unformulated possibility. He brings together images the most alike, but placed at the greatest distance from each other; that is, found in circumstances of the greatest dissimilitude. From the remoteness of his combinations, and the celerity with which they are effected, they coalesce the more indissolubly together.
The more the thoughts are strangers to each other, and the longer they have been kept asunder, the more intimate does their union seem to become. For here is a language of full and generous life instinctively opposed to the idea of self-containment and thus bursting out of it through complex similes. Achilles will find what he is, not by staying where he is, on his own and doing nothing, but by being taken out of himself — to action, into the future, and towards others. Again, what makes for the vitality of life here is, first, the quickness of mind, outpacing the preconceptions of its own identity, and then, the rich density of the material upon which that quickness finds itself employed — the diverse elements forged into new compounds of existence in the whiteheat of new creation.
This, then, is how Hazlitt describes Shakespeare setting up his imaginative experiments — within a demanding space which is crowded both linguistically and physically: Within the circle of dramatic character and natural passion, each individual is to feel as keenly, as profoundly, as rapidly as possible, but he is not to feel beyond it, for others or for the whole.
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Each character, on the contrary, must be a kind of centre of repulsion to the rest; and it is their hostile interests, brought into collision, that must tug at their heartstrings, and call forth every faculty of thought, of speech, and action. They must not be represented like a set of profiles, looking all the same way, nor with their faces turned round to the audience; but in dire contention with each other: their words, like their swords, must strike fire from one another.
Within the tight space of the dramatic circle, as within the playwright himself, each character and each passion struggles for existence and fights for centrality. Hazlitt had learnt from Joseph Priestley that all matter existed — and the universe itself was held together — through the powers of attraction and repulsion, balancing each other out. But, as Hazlitt knows, there is never space enough in Shakespeare: like nature according to Aristotle, Shakespeare abhors a vacuum.
As the two profiles of Antony and Octavius face each other in conflict, Octavia is like the Grecian urn in the famous illusion that emerges between the profiles of two opposing faces, the impossible in-between space humanized and made painfully articulate. In another of his rewrites of the great Essay on the Principles of Human Action in the Fragments of Lectures on Philosophy of , the distinction between Chaucer and Shakespeare reappears as that between life as mere continuance and life as co-existence, respectively: Now, in coexisting things, one part may by means of this communication mutually act and be acted upon by others, but where the connexion is continued, or in successive identity of the individual, though what follows may depend intimately on what has gone before, that is, be acted upon it, it cannot react upon it.
What Hazlitt sees Shakespeare doing, especially in the tragedies, is bringing together, under pressure of confined space, forces which cannot escape each other. Till the experiment is tried, we do not know the result, the turn which the character will take in its new circumstances. This is why Hazlitt thinks that Shakespeare is the poet truly imitative of nature, because it is as though his language is not merely descriptive but a kind of poetic science or natural philosophy that has keyed into the secret underlying language of creation itself. That is why a Shakespearean play seems fundamentally so full of life to Hazlitt.
It is not mere life-likeness or liveliness or anything that can retain the same vitality in a paraphrase: it is as if everything is being created in life as though for the first time again, every faculty of thought, of speech, of character and action called into being in extremis by forces of both need and opposition. For in these cases a cause amounts to little more than an antecedent. At the most it means only a conductor of the causative influence.
Rather, there is process and interchange. As Coleridge goes on to add in an important footnote: Thus we may say of a River that it originates in such or such a fountain; but the water of a Canal is derived from such or such a River. The Power which we call Nature, may be thus defined: A Power subject to the Law of Continuity … which law the human understanding, by a necessity arising out of its own constitution, can conceive only under the form of Cause and Effect … This becomes evident as soon as we attempt to apply the pre-conception directly to any operation of Nature.
For in this case we are forced to represent the cause as being at the same instant the effect, and vice versa the effect as being the cause — a relation which we seek to express by the terms Action and Re-action; but for which the term Reciprocal Action or the law of Reciprocity germanice Wechselwirkung would be both more accurate and more expressive. It is because there is insufficient time or space for separateness in Nature that there must be a social reciprocity.
It must exist, that there may be a something to be counteracted, and which by its re-action, aids the force that is exerted to resist it. For Imagination is the faculty which means we are not mentally tied to replicating the sequence of past associations, but can rework them in new combinations, and thus change the very order of things. As Hazlitt himself says in the Essay, It is of the very nature of the imagination to change the order in which things have been impressed on the senses, and to connect the same properties with different objects, and different properties with the same objects; to combine our original impressions in all possible forms, and to modify these impressions themselves to a very great degree.
And yet, even so, such drama is the testing-ground of such human freedom as there may still be. No agent acts without suffering. To Hazlitt, we are mainly either transmitters, merely passing on the pressures around us; or reactors who, as the external pressures bear in upon us, rather than merely receiving or continuing their force, employ such inner resources as those pressures call forth, in order to modify them. Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband? He quotes the words of the ruined father reviving from his madness: Do not laugh at me, For, as I am a man, I think this lady To be my child Cordelia.
It is a split second in which she emotionally receives the whole weight of his life. The future will be formed by her reply. Thus, the 54 Philip Davis very pain of Lear brings out more of sheer life of those who bear witness, in their attempt to bear, or oppose or comfort it. For suddenly in the momentary tight space between one speech and the need to reply and react, passion fills the potential breach — a world of compressed time bursting emotionally into confined space, with all the force of life itself: Tragic poetry … in the rapid whirl of events, lifts us from the depths of woe to the highest contemplations on human life.
It is the means by which human beings become the creators as well as the creations of their age. And behind both Hazlitt and Carlyle of course lie Coleridge and the influence of German idealism.
For in that book Myers speaks of certain powers that — because they were not immediately necessary to mere utilitarian survival — remained stored and latent below the level of everyday evolved consciousness. They are the powers that genius taps into, in particular in the realms of discovery and of art. For at its most releasing, action is not first of all merely practical or routine: it is creative, imaginative, new, extempore, and dramatic. You can actually see how the mind copes with something which it is trying to understand.
If we enter wholeheartedly into this relation then all the steps of understanding and reincarnating are steps towards making a world in the present tense, in the present moment. For how far the dynamic of imaginative action rediscovered in the Essay and exemplified in Shakespeare can live on in the later age not only of an individual but of a culture is what is at stake here. His specific focus in numerous essays on selfishness, which derives from prejudice, partisanship and passion, constitutes a major exploration of one of the key concerns of his Essay on the Principles of Human Action Here Hazlitt attempted to establish the possibility of a moral imagination which enabled him to defend human action from utilitarian claims of its essential selfishness.
This would later be developed, particularly in his aesthetic writings on literature and the fine arts, into his own specific version of the sympathetic imagination. His major achievement in his Essay on the Principles of Human Action is his refutation of the utilitarian argument that the mind is essentially selfish. His response to his opponents is to turn the idea of selfishness on its head. Any self-projecting into the future must contemplate a self not yet in existence and can do so only through recourse to that agent of sympathetic projection, the imagination.
Looking at oneself in the future, Hazlitt argues, is equivalent — as an act of sympathetic knowledge — to a disinterested consideration of another being. It is a topic to which he returns throughout his career as a writer and one which culminates in Liber Amoris. At the heart of his argument in The Principles of Human Action Hazlitt acknowledges the exceptional nature of sexual passion. There is, according to Hazlitt, but one instance in which appetite hangs about a man as a perpetual clog and dead-weight upon the reason, namely the sexual appetite, and that here the selfish habit produced by this constant state of animal sensibility seems to have a direct counterpoise given to it by nature in the mutual sympathy of the sexes.
Mere bodily appetite is here already mediated by the potentially more altruistic passion of sympathy and sexual relations are accorded a natural mutuality. There are several striking examples of this given by Rousseau in relating the progress of his own passions. Consequently as the desire of the ultimate gratification of the appetite is not the same with the appetite itself, that is mere physical uneasiness, but an indirect result of its communication to the thinking or imaginative principle, the influence of appetite over the will must depend on the extraordinary degree of force and vividness which it gives to the idea of a particular object; and accordingly we find that the same cause, which irritates the desire of selfish gratification, increases our sensibility to the same desires and gratification in others, where they are consistent with our own, and where the violence of the physical impulse does not overpower every other consideration.
By widening his argument to include other forms of pleasure and addiction, Hazlitt turns the case for selfishness on its head: if selfishness leads to self-destruction, it cannot be self-interested and its inclusion of sympathy and the involvement of others confirms its favourable inclination towards altruism and sociality: The question which I have proposed to examine is whether there is any general principle of selfishness in the human mind, or whether it is not naturally disinterested.
Now the effects of appetite are so far from being any confirmation of the first supposition, that we are even oftener betrayed by them into actions contrary to our own well-known, clear, and lasting interest than into those which are injurious to others.
When once the liquor gets into his head, to use the common phrase, the force which it gives to his predominant feeling gets the better of every other idea, and he from that time loses all power of self-control. Both before, and after this, however, the same feeling of actual excitement, which urges him on, makes him enter more cordially into the convivial dispositions of his companions, and a man is always earnest that others should drink as he becomes unwilling to desist himself.
Much of his effort in the following pages is taken up with an attempt to undermine this proposition by reference to historical and cultural differences. His critique focuses intently therefore on the culturally constructed nature of sexuality and is motivated by an optimistic belief in the power of social improvement. It was not a raging heat, a fever in the veins: but it was like a vision, a dream, like thoughts of childhood, an everlasting hope, a distant joy, a heaven, a world that might be.
The dream is still left, and sometimes comes confusedly over me in solitude and silence, and mingles with the softness of the sky, and veils my eyes from mortal grossness. After all, Mr. Malthus may be right in his opinion of human nature. Perhaps the workings of the heart are best expressed by a gloating countenance, by mawkish sentiments and lively gestures. Cupid often perches on broad shoulders, or on the brawny calf of a leg, a settlement is better than a love-letter, and in love not minds, but bodies and fortunes meet.
I have therefore half a mind to retract all that I have said, and prove to Mr. Malthus that love is not even so intellectual a passion as he sometimes admits it to be, but altogether gross and corporal. The end of the letter and of the book as a whole turns into a rather fractured response to his own agonized experience of sexual morality. Rousseau, in his Emilius, proposed to educate a perfectly reasonable man, who was to have passions and affections like other men, but with an absolute controul over them. He was to love and to be wise. This is a contradiction in terms.
Here he sides with its absurdity, fantasy and dangerously delusive capacity in order to deny the spectre of utility. The human, particularly where love is concerned, is marked by a behavioural dynamic dangerously out of touch not only with self-interest, but also with self-preservation. The mark of the human here is clearly divorced from a rational economy of interest.
The mind is beset with superstitious fears, imaginary cares, and desirous fantasies. Once again, in proving his point that human beings are not, at root, self-interested creatures, Hazlitt makes them dangerously irrational ones. Where his cherished belief in romantic love is threatened or severely challenged, the spectre of utilitarian sexual appetite resurfaces with devastating consequences. At such moments, Hazlitt turns spectacularly on the literary culture which surrounds and constructs him.
Here he turns the cynical lens upon himself in an excoriating attack upon the nature of the man of letters. Here Hazlitt offers a rather worrying and unedifying representation of the nature of sexual passion. Interestingly, it was Malthus who was equated with Iago by Hazlitt in This leads to a more general denial of the possibility of the sexual passion being attached to a culture of refinement and the exalted state of our souls which Hazlitt had urged so strenuously in his Reply to Malthus. The idea that love has its source in moral or intellectual excellence, in good nature or good sense, or has any connection with sentiment or refinement of any kind, is one of those preposterous and wilful errors, which ought to be extirpated for the sake of those few persons who alone are likely to suffer by it, whose romantic generosity and delicacy ought not to be sacrificed to the baseness of their nature; but who treading securely the flowery path, marked out for them by poets and moralists, the licensed artificers of fraud and lies, are dashed to pieces down the precipice, and perish without help.
In this highly contentious text, Hazlitt offers his readers an opportunity to explore the selfishness of passion in a self-lacerating and autobiographical form. Here the capacity of imagination to transform the self, to move beyond the self-preserving aspects of ego, meets head-on with the selfishness of sexual obsession; the liberation of fantasy posed against agonized selfdestruction.
But, ever since its publication in , the meaning and motivation of Liber Amoris has been a bone of contention among readers and critics, particularly as to whether its function is cathartic, ironic, or celebratory. Though it asks us to celebrate the transformation of H through the power of love, it also forces us to witness his ignominious unmanning at the hands of treacherous femininity. Nor is this wonderful, when we consider that all passion is a species of madness; and that the feeling in the mind towards the beloved object is the most amiable and delightful thing in the world.
Our love to her is heavenly, and so the heart whispers us must hers be to us — though it were buried at the bottom of the sea; nay, from the tomb our self-love would revive it! Significant attention has rightly been paid to the exchange and shattering of the bronze figurine of Napoleon at the heart of Liber Amoris, at once signifying the breakdown of self, masculine identity and political idealism.
It is, of course, dashed only a short time later. There is a pragmatism at work here which concedes the differences and disappointments of a rank-based society while keeping alive a democratic sense of equality based on candour. At this point, the letter begins to draw a sharp line between realism and idealism. The change begins with Hazlitt warning his son against the physically debilitating effect of books: Another thing I would caution you against is not to pore over your books till you are bent almost double — a habit you will never be able to get the better of, and which you will find of serious ill consequence.
A stoop in the shoulders sinks a man in public and in private estimation. As the letter progresses it develops into an agonized self-portrait of ruined masculinity. The habit of fixing the attention on the imaginary and abstracted deprives the mind equally of energy and fortitude. By indulging our imaginations on fictions and chimeras, where we have it all our own way and are led on only by the pleasure of the prospect, we grow fastidious, effeminate, lapped in idle luxury, impatient of contradictions, and unable to sustain the shock of real diversity, when it comes; as by being taken up with abstract reasoning or remote events in which we are merely passive spectators, we have no resources to provide against it, no readiness, or expedients for the occasion, or spirit to use them, even if they occur.
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Instead of yielding to the first natural and lively impulse of things, in which they would find sympathy, they screw themselves up to some far-fetched view of the subject in order to be unintelligible. Realities are not good enough for them, till they undergo the process of imagination and reflection … But their faculty for thinking must be set in motion, before you can put any soul into them. They are intellectual dram-drinkers; and without their necessary stimulus, are torpid, dead, insensible to every thing. They have great life of mind, but none of body. They do not drift with the stream of company or of passing occurrences, but are straining at some hyperbole or striking out a bye-path of their own.
Follow them who list. Their minds are a sort of Herculaneum, full of old, petrified images; — are set in stereotype, and little fitted to the ordinary occasions of life. It returns masculinity to the vigorous body and empirical sense perception. As a result, the gap between literary love and actual physical passion is conceived of as constituting a mockery of truth in which the masculine self has been duped and undone. Even though the letter ends on a more optimistic note with the proud father relishing the possibility of his son 66 John Whale becoming a painter, the epistle never quite recovers from its all too candid portrait of a romantically ruined father.
That it does so in such crude terms is less surprising than the way it locates truth in relation to the division. In such texts, Hazlitt, ostensibly at least, accords the realm of physical appetite and appearances all the power of reality. The realm of the literary and of the aesthetic more generally is considered to be no more than a mockery, a cheat aimed at those most susceptible to forms of refinement and idealization.
As a consequence, the narrative of the disappointed male lover takes the form of a paranoid conspiracy. They even provide us with moments at which, as we have seen, he seems willing to concede to his most hated adversaries. Passion pushes Hazlitt to the very depths of what he conceives of as the utilitarian nightmare: man is simply an ignoble beast at the mercy of mere appetite and all the promises of an exalted, refined, and improved nature are no more than a cruel hoax which mocks our misguided aspirations.
If I know that she has read any thing I have written, I cut her acquaintance immediately. This sort of literary intercourse with me passes for nothing. Her critical and scientific acquirements are carrying coals to Newcastle. I do not want to be told that I have published such or such a work. I knew all this before. It makes no addition to my sense of power.
I do not wish the affair to be brought about in that way. I would have her read my soul: she should understand the language of the heart: she should know what I am, as if she were another self! She should love me for myself alone. I like myself without any reason: I would have her do so too.
His disgust and shame throw him back on himself. He describes it less as an accessible expansion of shared assumptions not usually brought to reflection, more as a philosophical adventure, one experienced in swimming against the prevailing empiricist tide in British theoretical speculation.
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