From The Coleridge Bulletin The Journal of the Friends of Coleridge New Series 31 (NS) Summer 2008 © 2008 Contributor all rights reserved http://www.friendsofcoleridge.com/Coleridge-Bulletin.htm
Helen Boyles reads
The New Writings of William Hazlitt (2 vols, Oxford University Press, 2007)
edited by Duncan Wu ____________________________________________________________________________________________
HESE TWO VOLUMES, each a little over 500 pages in length, collect more than 200 texts which can reliably be attributed to Hazlitt. The items
include parliamentary reports, essays and reviews, ranging from incisive political commentary, literary and artistic analysis to witty reflections on human nature and idiosyncrasy. The diversity of subject matter has made it more appropriate to arrange them by order of publication than by subject, and they are accordingly listed in a clearly dated index. They range in length from one to over a dozen pages, while the response to the case of William Hone's conviction for blasphemy, for example, forms a sequence of articles. Each is prefaced by an explanatory Headnote supplying a detailed rationale for the editor's attribution, with additional scholarly citations where appropriate. Though on the basis of persuasive composite evidence, most texts are graded A, the fewer B and C gradings generally reflect a lack of decisive circumstantial support rather than the doubtful nature of content or style. Examples of other editors' 'Questionable Attributions' in the briefer Part III of Volume 2 effectively endorse, by contrast, Wu's careful attributions.
In a letter of 1998 to Tom Paulin referring to his recently published Day Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style, Ted Hughes praises Paulin's fine reading of what he suggests could be seen as 'the psycho-genetics' of English prose, 'the fine blending of the psychic DNA that determines the difference between one prose style and another.' Hughes's arresting scientific analogy for Paulin's analytical method and achievement seems equally apposite for Wu's meticulous attention to the structural components of Hazlitt's style. The investigative technique necessary for identifying the distinctive idiolect of Hazlitt also requires the same 'forensic' precision and critical alertness with which Wu credits Hazlitt himself, with particular reference to his dissection of argument. Even more appropriate for the process of identification, however, is Hughes' comparison to 'reading the chemical components of a star by analysing the colour bands of its light',1 suggesting as it does the capacity of Hazlitt's prose to reflect the light of his intelligence and illuminate the mind of the reader in its turn. This star analogy encapsulates the sparkle of Hazlitt's linguistic fluency and the complex rational structure sustaining it. To identify such qualities demands a similarly acute receptiveness to the cast of mind and turn of phrase which distinguish this writer. Wu is alert...