William Hazlitt Selected Essays
Hate According To William Hazlitt
Humans are made up of a complex system of reasoning and emotions, that drive their activity through everyday life. Every decision that one makes can be traced back to how one feels, his or her emotions. As shown in William Hazlitt’s essay, he believes that hatred is chief among the emotions that drive human activity. Hazlitt argues that hatred has been and is going to be a constant throughout history because of the pleasure that people derive from hating. Hazlitt addresses how hating is hidden in even the most everyday things, states how hatred is chief among and rules the other emotions, and discusses how hatred will eventually turn the world against itself.
Hazlitt argues that hatred is going to be constant throughout history, because of its presence in everyday and accepted practices, practices such as religion and patriotism. Many people believe that hatred is obvious and blunt when in actuality hatred can be found hidden in many different places “it makes patriotism an excuse for carrying fire, pestilence, and famine into other lands,” meaning that hatred turns powerful feelings of joy into spiteful feelings of anger and resentment towards one’s neighbor. Throughout history people have used nationalism and patriotism as an excuse to conquer foreign lands and kill millions of people. These historical wars and killings have happened for the simple reason that one group hates a second group simply because of their differences, where they could instead look toward their similarities to find a sense of unity humans have actively chosen to hate one another. Hatred works its way into the some of the most righteous practices and “like a poisonous mineral, eats into the heart of religion,” causing the people who strive for goodness in religion to hate others who have different views and beliefs than them. Humans have seen the continuity of religious battles, farther back historically than the Crusades, and people continue to see these conflicts in Islam today as radicalistgroups attack and kill those who do not share their beliefs. However human nature is in part to blame for this conflict as Hazlitt believes hatred is what controls all other emotions that humans experience..
Without the inbred sense to hate things and the necessity to hate things, human beings would not have hated so much in history. People are always searching for a constant in life, something to ground them in a world of uncertain and ever-changing emotions, people turn to hate because “Pure good soon grows insipid, wants variety and spirit. Pain is bittersweet, wants variety and spirit. Love turns, with little indulgence, to indifference or disgust: hatred alone is immortal.” Hatred flows with humans, it grows and progresses throughout time just as the people that hate grow and progress. The parallel humans share with hatred is seen throughout history and will continue to be seen in the future. Without the constant of hatred that people strive for “life would turn to a constant stagnant pool,” and people would feel nothing, for no emotion can exist without its opposite, one cannot love his or her country without hating a different country, “if it inclines us to resent the wrongs of others, it impels us to be as impatient of their prosperity.” Feelings of hatred travel around with humans just as much as feelings of love do, and even as one loves himself and the work his or her ancestors did, he or she will eventually begin to hate oneself and therefore work his or her ancestors accomplished.
Hatred that people feel towards others quickly reflects back onto themselves. Just as people have feelings toward other topics of a time period they have feelings about themselves, and however good one’s self-image may be, eventually they will hate themselves. Even those that do good things for people, they repay “with ingratitude” and eventually this turns to hate, as Hazlitt believes all things do. This transference of hate can be applied to anything, not just those whom people love, “we hate old friends: we hate old books: we hate old opinions, and at last we come to hate ourselves.” Anything that has not helped someone recently, they grow to hate. Hate is the only constant throughout history, as while humans learn from history, they also grow to hate it.
Hazlitt’s essay expands upon the concept of hate, making connections between the feeling of hatred and everyday life. Hazlitt’s argument that hate is and will continue to be a constant in history is still relevant today as none of his points rely strictly on a time period, but instead they rely on a continuity in human nature. This continuity is hatred, and while some readers may not agree with Hazlitt’s stance on human nature they should still recognize that his points hold some merit because almost anything can be traced back to hatred, and the concept of hating someone or something.
William Hazlitt’s Understanding Of The Role Of Laughter
Each and every day, people encounter many hardships and adversities that inflict agonizing pain and sorrow. Misery and suffering linger with people’s minds, with little to no chance of recovering. Laughter however, provides relief from these types of feelings. Although forgetting pain and tragedy is extremely difficult, William Hazlitt uses first person point of view, passionate tone, and periodic syntax to propose that amusement provides comfort and healing from misfortunes, which shows that laughter is a necessary human trait to cope with life.
Hazlitt uses first person point of view to argue that amusement alleviates distress from people. He uses first person point of view to relate himself to the audience and support his argument when he states, “we shed tears from sympathy…; as we burst into laughter from want of sympathy.” By connecting himself to the audience, he relates the same emotions he feels in times of distress and supports that everyone, including himself, finds comfort in amusement. He shows that it is not only a small minority, but a majority of people that find emotional rescue from distress through comical events. He strengthens his argument by being able to convey his own feelings about this subject towards his audience, to show that other people feel the same way. By arguing that amusement saves people from distress, he claims that amusement is necessary to live. Without some sort of pleasure, people would just live monotonous and mundane lives, which overall would affect social health.
Hazlitt also uses emotional diction to create a passionate tone, which supports his claim of laughter provides rescue from distress. He uses words such as, “misfortune” and “sympathy,” to reach out to his audience and make his argument very personal. By using words like these, people are more likely to understand from what context Hazlitt comes from. The emotional words Hazlitt uses creates the passionate tone he has throughout his lecture. Through his tone, he grasps the readers’ attention and instills the same feelings he has into his audience. Readers are able to feel his passion this subject and relate to Hazlitt. They are able to become more aware about how laughter is able to heal distress caused by hardship. At the same time, however, Hazlitt is able to imply that emotions, especially pleasure and amusement, provide the happiness within life. Without it, people would not be able to live life to its fullest enjoyment.
Also, Hazlitt supports that laughter soothes emotional distress through the use of periodic syntax. Within his periodic sentences, Hazlitt incorporates scenarios to illustrate the same devastation people experience due to misfortunes, then shows how laughter resolves it when he says, “if every thing that went wrong, if every vanity or weakness in another gave us a sensible pang, it would be hard indeed: but as long as the disagreeableness of the consequences of a sudden disaster is kept out of sight by the immediate oddity of the circumstances, and the absurdity or unaccountableness of a foolish action is the most striking thing in it, the ludicrous prevails over the pathetic, and we receive pleasure instead of pain.” By providing examples of similar depressing emotions, readers are able to relate to them and become more convinced to how amusement provides alleviating pleasure. Furthermore, his periodic sentences also include exclamation points to show that he is an advocate for laughter being incredibly important within human life, in which life requires some sort of pleasure to be meaningful.
The Idea of Meeting Yourself
Doppelgänger or Delusion?
One of Borges’s many obsessions was doubles – the idea of meeting yourself. Borges uses doubles to contrast himself against things and people that he is not or explore the things that he is. Norman Thomas di Giovanni explores it in detail in a chapter (titled “Borges at Play: the Self and the Selves”) of his book The Lesson of the Master: on Borges and his Work1. The double can appear in many forms and used to different effects, but at its core is about the question of self. It is clear that this is an innately human question, as the idea of the double pops up again and again across different cultures and languages. Borges’s readings of other authors are also affected by his thoughts on doubles, specifically Shakespeare and the American transcendentalists Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. While not strictly speaking doubles, alter egos and mirrors are also used to show a different side of a character by comparing them to themself. Four works of Borges’s in particular are singled out – “The South”, “The Other”, “Borges and I”, and “The Watcher”. These pieces are notable because they all use the idea of the double, but each in a different way. Di Giovanni’s analysis of the use of doubles is persuasive, but doesn’t develop some ideas as fully as they deserve.
The double is a pervasive idea across cultures. Borges himself explores this in The Book of Imaginary Beings, describing various forms of the double around the world. There are numerous sayings and words for a double, but the most interesting are the myths. The Scottish fetch and wraith are both said to be doubles that take you to death or seen before death, respectively. The Egyptian ka is supposed to be an exact double in every way, and exist for every living and non-living thing, even the gods. Jewish beliefs put the sighting of a double, far from a omen of death, as a sign that a person is a prophet. Di Giovanni includes this passage from Borges’s book, but fails to analyze what its addition to the original work could mean. The Book of Imaginary Beings was originally published in 1957, before any of the other stories discussed other than “The South” (which uses the concept of the double in a different way than the other three). This implies that Borges was just beginning to explore the idea of the double and how it could be used in literature. The double can either be the same as the original, pointing out things previously unseen, or they can be the opposite, acting as contrast against the original.
Mirrors are used in literature to discuss doubles while including less of the fantastic in the piece. Even some of the language we use to discuss doubles implicitly uses metaphors of mirrors, such as the double being a person’s reflection. While Borges is no stranger to the fantastic, he still utilized mirrors, usually to represent final self-knowledge and death. For example, in his poem “May 20, 1928” Borges used the mirror to symbolize a loss of control by stating that the man in the mirror is the original and the person outside is merely a double copying his actions. Adding another level of abstraction, in “Conjectural Poem” a metaphor compares the night to a mirror in which the protagonist can see who he truly is before he dies. One of his later poems, “In Praise of Darkness”, has Borges reflecting on his upcoming death. He writes, “Now I can forget them. I reach my center, / my algebra and my key, / my mirror. / Soon I shall know who I am.” Again, this uses a mirror as a metaphor for self-knowledge and death. The idea that you see yourself when you die (or that you die when you see yourself), is connected to several of the myths explored earlier, specifically the fetch and the wraith.
Borges was a fan of the American transcendentalists Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and in them he saw a part of himself, his wish for a different life. Borges was a very academic man his entire life, and wished that he could be a man of arms like his ancestors. This often turned up in his writings, creating works about a life that he didn’t and couldn’t lead. Borges saw that Whitman did something similar, writing himself in House of Leaves as “outgoing and orgiastic” while in reality being “chaste, reserved, and somewhat taciturn.” Borges saw in Emerson’s writings, particularly his poem “Days”, a dissatisfaction with the way his life turned out. These alter ego are a form of double, but are used as implied literary doubles to the real authors rather than being entirely within the work.
Di Giovanni paints Borges as “a magpie,” taking ideas and themes from all around the world. This presents another sort of double, in that Borges (and, according to di Giovanni, many Argentinian writers) could draw from everything but “was nothing in himself”, to quote Borges quoting William Hazlitt about Shakespeare. Borges felt a similarity to Shakespeare in that sense, having taken so many things from so many places. In writing about so many things and so many people, Borges felt that he lost his own personal identity.
Borges had a fascination with combat and often included knife fights in his stories. In particular, “The South” is about a man much like Borges who ends up in a knife fight, ambiguously ending in his presumed death. This man (Juan Dahlmann, a librarian) is a stand in for Borges and acts as his alter ego. It’s clear that Juan is meant to be an avatar for Borges rather than just a conduit for fantasizing about knife fights by the biographical similarities that he shares with Borges. Borges had an identical injury down to the date when the story was set, a dedicated interest in the book that Juan was reading (One Thousand and One Nights), and the same job as a librarian. “The South”’s use of an alter ego is in contrast to the next three pieces in which the doubles are very explicit within the text. This predilection for knife fights, especially in the work of such a literary author, is explained by di Giovanni and Borges himself as being influenced by the fact that his relatives and ancestors on every side were “men of action” rather than a “bookish kind of person” like Borges was. While this is undoubtedly true, one must account for the fact that the grass always looks greener on the other side and that Borges just wanted something because it was denied to him.
Up until this point in Borges’s stories the doubles have been metaphors and symbolism, but the double that appears in “The Other” is literal – a 70 year old Borges meets Borges at 18 sitting on a bench. The both believe that the bench is in their location in space and time, and they establish that neither is dreaming the other. Di Giovanni includes the passage saying that “each of [them] was a caricature copy of the other “, but fails to analyze what deeper meaning the story holds. “The Other” is about the consistency of “self” – while the younger and older Borges are the same person, they cannot understand each other despite the older Borges having lived through the younger Borges’s life. This raises the question that if we change over time, can people really be considered to be the same person that they were years before?
“Borges and I” takes an approach based on the difference between the public versus the private self. There is a perceived difference between the “Borges” and the “I” in this story, where “Borges” is the author and the “I” is what Borges feels is his true inner self. The “I” feels as if he is drifting away, and when he dies “Borges” is all that will be remembered. Even “Borges”, the public self, will fade away into obscurity, leaving behind his works to literature. Di Giovanni compares this feeling of being overshadowed by your public self to similar sentiments expressed by other authors such as William Faulkner, Samuel Beckett, and Ernest Hemmingway. Each of these writers dealt with it in their own way, Faulkner by sharply dividing his public and private life, Beckett by avoiding having a public life, and Hemmingway by turning his private life into his public life. In the final line of the piece it says “I do not know which of us is writing this page”, meaning that even though it is being written about Borges’s private self, his public self, the writer, cannot help but influence him. In this way Borges and double, his public and private life, are intertwined.
Finally, “The Watcher” has an even more psychological take on the idea of doubles where Borges is split into two as in “Borges and I”, but where both halves are of his inner self instead of the halves being his public and private life. Alternatively, the split could be interpreted as between the body and the mind, with the body being a constant reminder that the mind is Borges instead of being someone else. Either way, the relationship between the doubles is hostile, seemingly only coming together to write, and doing that reluctantly. The narrator seems to have a resentment of aging, with the only good part being that “he” is aging as well. Additionally, the final line says that this struggle between “I” and “he” will continue even after Borges dies, giving no relief. Borges is quoted talking about the piece, saying that he meant it to be about being “constrained to be a particular individual, living in a particular city, in a particular time, and so on.” However, this interpretation isn’t borne out in the text of “The Watcher”. In particular the line “He thrusts on me the petty drudgery of each day, the fact of living in a body” implies a sense of dissatisfaction with the fact of existing in any life, not just the one he lives. Borges’s double would hound him no matter how many lives he lived.
While many noticed the theme of the double in Borges’s works, it was rarely analyzed because of the need to perform a meta-analysis on the various pieces. Di Giovanni successfully achieves his goal of examining Borges’s use of doubles in The Lesson of the Master: on Borges and his Work, but is hampered by the brevity required by putting the analysis in a single chapter. Borges went back to many topics over the course of his writing career, but none as human as the concept of the double. Infinity, time, and space are all important universal concepts, but often overshadow human lives when discussed in literature.
How Hazlitt in “On Gusto” and Steele in The Spectator No. 84 Appeal to the Reader’s Emotions
The scholar Denise Gigante described the great age of the English essay as “a vibrant gallery of personae speaking in a multiplicity of voices”. This can be represented vividly by the two essays “On Gusto” by William Hazlitt and Richard Steele’s essay No. 84 in The Spectator. Both essays are starkly different in style and approach, and more importantly both rely heavily on the emotional response of the reader. They are two excellent examples of how diverse and intense the English essay can be, whilst at the same time employing an abundance of literary techniques to coax the desired response from the reader, whether this is frustration, shock or wonder. They also achieved this through the boundaries that the genre of the English essay allowed them to cross, giving them more freedom to the hearts of readers; “essayists preferred to address readers as confidants, taking them into the private space of the study to consider human nature and events in a more relaxed manner”.
There is the same sort of passion detected in both of the essays, but in Steele’s essay it is a lot more dramatic, heavy and melancholy: Pharamond calls his friends entrance as “The Gate of the Unhappy” and his crying “Tears of the Afflicted”. Of course, the use of capitals is important in creating almost ridiculously dramatic titles and scenes, which in turn create a theatrical image in our imaginations. Although this makes the reader a lot more emotionally responsive, it also acts as a barrier. In creating scenes through unrealistic language Steele pushes the reader away, which is in fact intentional because it allows the reader to see the metaphorical representations in the essay, for example, the reader acknowledges quite consciously that essay No. 84 is highly emotionally charged and dramatic. (However, it is interesting to note that there are only theatrical aspects in language, not in action. The action is actually very normal: Eucrate enters a room to a somewhat tired Pharamond who informs him that his friend was killed in a duel.) Steele can then achieve his aim in revealing to the reader the true intention of the narrative, which is withheld.
The reason Steele withholds the point of the narrative is to create a more emotional and effective response. The skill in doing this is that a reader subconsciously creates a preconceived idea of where the narrative might lead or one might feel they have the style figured out, but in actual fact, when the crux of the essay is revealed later on then not only are our senses surprised but it also transforms what we previously read, remoulding it into the perspective of the main argument. But Steele’s objective was never “designed to give any Man any secret wound by concealment”. Instead, he does the complete opposite and uses his initial evasiveness in the essay to reinforce the main argument and create more of a sympathetic response to Steele’s message. He goes on to make his plight explicit by explaining the cause of why men practice the terrible act of duelling. Men feel they have to protect their “Point of Honour”. Steele give this phrase capitals to heighten its status which is an act of mockery because there is nothing noble in it, there is only a waste of human life when men are willing to die to protect their pride.
It is also a mark of vanity in the sense that it encourages the highest state of pride in a man. In protecting himself a man avoids shame, which is “the greatest of all Evils”. This bold remark is made with justified cause and its confidence makes is a very attractive statement. Steele is deploying the use rhetoric, which is similar to Hazlitt’s essay ‘On Gusto’, in making matter-of-fact statements which, with dramatic high language, convinces the reader that duelling is a calamity and that it is worth collapsing in “a Flood of Tears”. Throughout the essay looming words are built up to give the text a sense of great authority and emotion: “Anguish”, “Sorrow”, “Vengeance”, “Tears of Rage” and “Agony” are some of the words used. We discover a man was “killed in a Duel”, which is the reason for the wallowing of Eucrate and is the focus of the essay. The use of a dramatic and high style language makes the text emotionally charged and we are forced to sympathise with Eucrate’s sense of injustice: “Pharamond has taken him from me! […] The merciful Pharamond does destroy his own Subjects, the Father of his Country does murder his own people.” Here we begin to see clearly that Steele is protesting against the lack of humanity and “Negligence” in allowing duelling.
More interestingly, however, it shifts the blame of the crime onto the highest authority, because Pharamond is the king. This is a controversial statement because Hazlitt is blaming the eighteenth century king George III for the legitimacy of duelling. On the other hand, Hazlitt adopts an argumentative style that address the heart of emotionally provocative and charged issues as seen in ‘On Gusto’ and ‘On Common-Place Critics’. Hazlitt recognizes the difficulty of his concept ‘gusto’ directly in his essay when he says, “this is not easy to explain”. In admitting this, Hazlitt redirects the reader into grappling with his definition and solidifies his own judgment as true, forcing the reader to accept that even if what Hazlitt means isn’t communicated well enough to convince, it is still true. Within Hazlitt’s forceful rhetoric, he also forces the reader in another way, which reflects on Hazlitt’s greatest quality. This is his argumentative and writing style. His arguments in his essays are accumulative. The word ‘accumulative’ is essential here because it highlight how Hazlitt is unique in the English essay in the way he introduces an argument and creates layer after layer of evidence and explanation to prove that opening argument. In this way Hazlitt somewhat overwhelms the reader into submission and one cannot help but agree that Hazlitt is the master of ‘gusto’ and in discriminating between works of art. This technique is greatly emotive because it can cause the reader to either feel awe or frustration and anger.
It is easy to feel one is being force-fed Hazlitt’s views; his statements become like the Greek sculpture he so aptly describes as “immoveable”.Hazlitt goes on to say in the essay, “he saw the atmosphere, but he did not feel it”. Somehow this quote’s implication of feeling as essential acts to symbolise a certain aspect of Hazlitt’s essay that can make the reader infuriated. Here Hazlitt not only demands genius of a painter’s brush but more. In what way can we want more ‘genius’? Doesn’t the word in itself represent something beyond human limitations? Although there should be a negative answer Hazlitt forces us to realise the logic of his truth. There can be no painting with gusto without “imagination” or “feeling”. Not only does the very painting have to have a unique creativity that depicts energy or a painterly quality but there has to be a fluidity too. Here the same obstacle of articulation is being reached as Hazlitt knew too well. However, what is important is that each work of art has to be judged on its individual merits. There can be no neat phrase into which ‘gusto’ can fall, “it is not easy to explain”.
It has been asserted that “The undeclared stylistic objective [of the English essay] was to teach readers how to read critically and to create meaning from the fluid, freewheeling form of the essay.” The reason why the English essay stormed the English language the way it did was because it gained new access to the reader’s emotions and senses in a new way that had never been properly discovered. William Hazlitt and Richard Steele are perfect examples to display this. They both use rhetoric in an innovative way, revealing their own principles and messages almost too effectively as to become burdensome to the reader. So radical was the essayist in piercing the hearts of readers and their imagination that they can boldly be named as “Chaucers of their age”. Those who attack Hazlitt’s essays as being “vulgarisms and broken English” only fail to see the object of his writings.
Greenblatt, Stephen (General Editor), The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol 2, 8th ed, (W. W. Norton & Co: London: 2006) Addison, Joseph and Richard Steele, The Spectator, Volume 1, http://www.fullbooks.com/The-Spectator-Volume-110.html [Accessed 22 April 2010] Gigante, Denise, (editor), The Great Age of the English Essay: An Anthology, (Yale University Press: London: 2008)  Greenblatt, Stephen (General Editor), The Norton Anthology of English Literature, (2006), Introduction, p.xi.  (see note 1 above) Introduction, p.xxi.  Richard Steele, ‘No. 84’ in The Spectator.  (see note 3 above)  (see note 1 above) Introduction, p.xviii.  (see note 3 above)  (see note 3 above)  (see note 3 above)  (see note 3 above)  (see note 3 above)  (see note 3 above)  William Hazlitt, ‘On Gusto’ in The Norton Anthology of English Literature. p.541.  (see note 12 above) p.540.  (see note 12 above) p.540.  (see note 12 above) p.541.  (see note 1 above) Introduction, p.xvii.  (see note 1 above) Introduction, p.xxiv.  (see note 12 above) p.287.