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the most important daily newspapers in London, the Morning Chronicle. And he never looked back. He began transcribing debates in the Commons before turning to editorial commentaries on politicians of the day.

Hazlitt did not invent the essay as a literary form, but did renovate it as the vehicle later used by Virginia Woolf, George Orwell and Clive James, all of whom acknowledge his influence. He admired Montaigne (1533–92), who he described as ‘a most magnanimous and undisguised egotist’, and was an avid reader of Addison and Steele, authors of The Spectator and The Tatler in the early eighteenth century. ‘The English journalist’, Hazlitt once said, ‘good-naturedly lets you into the secret both of his own affairs and those of his neighbours.’ That disinterested objective was what he wanted for his own writing, and it is discernible also in that of those with whom he is associated – especially Charles Lamb.

Before Hazlitt, newspapers were dry, lifeless documents: sports reporting was rudimentary, with little indication of what actually happened, while political articles were crudely partisan. Hazlitt was ideally suited to journalism because he was capable of assessing with an unbiased and appreciative eye even those with whom he disagreed. He created the political sketch and sports commentary as we know them, and turned reviewing into a fine art. At first his innovations shocked colleagues. Alarmed by his outspokenness, James Perry, his editor at the Chronicle, was moved to x

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