Monday, January 12, 2009

William Hazlitt and Aristocratic Distance

Even if we can forgive Michael Dirda for comparing Hazlitt to "the snarkiest of modern-day bloggers," and again for calling his abruptness "Asperger's-like," we are still left wanting to read less Dirda and more Hazlitt. In that sense the review is a success.

Further to that end, David Bromwich (in Hazlitt: The Mind of a Critic) on Hazlitt on Coriolanus:
"There is nothing heroical in a multitude of miserable rogues not wishing to be starved, or complaining that they are likely to be so." . . . Coriolanus stands for power, "the cause of the people" for disinterested justice, and only the former commands the submission by evoking the awe of the imagination.

. . . Perhaps there is a love of justice even in the compulsion to make and remake history as "a romance, a mask, a tragedy, constructed upon the principles of poetic justice." But the only hope for some good to mankind is that now and then we shall choose a hero whose way of keeping his distance is to become our benefactor. (RTWT, from 318)
Anyone noticing the similarity between Hazlitt's mythologized hero and Burkean "decent drapery" will be interested to know that Hazlitt believed speaking "with contempt" of Edmund Burke "might be made the test of a vulgar democratical mind."

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