– ALL THAT IS WORTH REMEMBERING – private life – infatuation with a much younger woman, divorce, a failed second marriage, and bankruptcy. He writes as a man who has embraced failure and so looks at the world with compassion, regardless of his subject: ‘Whatever interests, is interesting’ (p.50).
Our pleasure in reading Hazlitt is due in part to his ability to engage. He understands what flawed creatures we are and how desperately we aspire to be something better. Like his erstwhile mentors, Wordsworth and Coleridge, he knows that such aspirations live most intensely in the recognition of our shared humanity:
It is in vain to tell me that what excites the heart-felt sigh of youth, the tears of delight in age, and fills up the busy interval between with pleasing and lofty thoughts, is frivolous, or a waste of time, or of no use. You only by that give me a mean opinion of your ideas of utility. (p.51)
Utility: that most blinkered of doctrines. It is hard now to describe the grip on the liberal imagination which Utilitarianism exerted in Hazlitt’s day. To many, including his friends, it appeared the only alternative to the conservatism that then dominated British politics. Yet he did not hesitate to condemn the manner in which Benthamite thought ‘first reduces every thing to pleasure and pain, and then tramples upon and crushes these by its own sovereign will’ (p.149).
Several of these essays being preoccupied explicitly with politics, it is worth reminding ourselves of the ideo-