Halleck's New English Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 491 pages of information about Halleck's New English Literature.

This age produced much prose criticism.  Coleridge remains one of England’s greatest critics, and Lamb and De Quincey are yet two of her most enjoyable ones.  Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864) and William Hazlitt (1778-1830) also deserve mention in the history of English prose criticism.  Both men were unusually combative.  Landor was sent away from Oxford “for criticizing a noisy party with a shot gun,” which he discharged against the closed shutters of the room where the roisterers were holding their festivities.  He went to Italy, where most of his literary work was done.  He avoided people, and even boasted that he took more pleasure with his own thoughts than with those of others.  For companionship, he imagined himself conversing with other people.  The titles of his best two works are Imaginary Conversations (1824-1848) and Pericles and Aspasia (1836), the latter a series of imaginary letters.  His writings are notable for their style, for an unusual combination of dignity with simplicity and directness.  A statement like the following shows how vigorous and sweeping his criticisms sometimes are:  “A rib of Shakespeare would have made a Milton; the same portion of Milton, all poets born ever since.”  In spite of many splendid passages and of a style that suggests sculpture in marble, twentieth-century readers often feel that he is under full sail, either bound for nowhere, or voyaging to some port where they do not care to land.

Hazlitt is less polished, but more suggestive, and in closer touch with life than Landor.  In seizing the important qualities of an author’s works and summarizing them in brief space, Hazlitt shows the skill of a trained journalist.  His three volumes, Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays (1817), Lectures on the English Poets (1818), and Lectures on the English Comic Writers (1819) contain criticism that remains stimulating and suggestive.  He loves to arrive somewhere, to settle his points definitely.  His discussion of the frequently debated question,—­whether Pope is a poet, shows this characteristic:—­

“The question,—­whether Pope was a poet, has hardly yet been settled, and is hardly worth settling; for if he was not a great poet, he must have been a great prose writer, that is, he was a great writer of some sort.”

His two volumes of essays, The Round Table (1817) and Table Talk (1821-1822), caused him to be called a “lesser Dr. Samuel Johnson.”

While the combative dispositions of Landor and Hazlitt did not make them ideal critics of their contemporaries, the taste of the age liked criticism of the slashing type.  The newly established periodicals and reviews, such as The Edinburgh Review (started in 1802), furnished a new market for critical essays.  Francis Jeffrey (1773-1850), editor of The Edinburgh Review, accused Wordsworth of “silliness” in his Lyrical Ballads; and said vehemently of a later

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Halleck's New English Literature from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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