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ADVERTISEMENT TO THE LAST LONDON EDITION,
BY THE AUTHOR'S SON.
The former editions of the Lectures, originally delivered by the author at the Surrey Institution in 1818, and published in the same year, having become exhausted, the present reprint has been undertaken, for the purpose of supplying the constant and increasing demand which is made for it.
There is no feature in the retrospect of the last few years, more important and more delightful than the steady advance of an improved taste in literature: and both as a cause and as a consequence of this, the works of William Hazlitt, which heretofore have been duly appreciated only by the few, are now having ample justice done them by the many. With reference to the present work, the Edinburgh Review eloquently observes, “Mr. Hazlitt possesses one noble quality at least for the office which he has chosen, in the intense admiration and love which he feels for the great authors on whose excellencies he chiefly dwells. His relish for their beauties is so keen, that while he describes them, the pleasures which they impart become almost palpable to the sense, and we seem, scarcely in a figure, to feast and banquet on their nectared sweets.' He introduces us almost corporally into the divine presence of the great of old time-enables us to hear the living oracles of wisdom drop from their lips—and makes us partakers, not only of those joys which they diffused, but of those which they felt in the inmost recesses of their souls. He draws aside the veil of time with a hand tremulous with
mingled delight and reverence; and descants with kindling enthusiasm, on all the delicacies of that picture of genius which he discloses. His intense admiration of intellectual beauty seems always to sharpen his critical faculties. He perceives it, by a kind of intuitive power, how deeply soever it may be buried in rubbish ; and separates it in a moment from all that would encumber or deface it. At the same time, he exhibits to us those hidden sources of beauty, not like an anatomist, but like a lover. He does not coolly dissect the form to show the springs whence the blood flows all eloquent, and the divine expression is kindled; but makes us feel in the sparkling or softened eye, the wreathed smile, and the tender bloom. In a word, he at once analyzes and describes—so that our enjoyments of loveliness are not chilled, but brightened by our acquaintance with their inward
The knowledge communicated in his lectures breaks no sweet enchantment, nor chills one feeling of youthful joy. His criticisms, while they extend our insight into the causes of poetical excellence, teach us, at the same time, more keenly to enjoy, and more fondly to revere it.”
AGE OF ELIZABETH, &c.
General View of the Subject.
The age of Elizabeth was distinguished, beyond, perhaps, any other in our history, by a number of great men, famous in different ways, and whose names have come down to us with unblemished honours; statesmen, warriors, divines, scholars, poets, and philosophers, Raleigh, Drake, Coke, Hooker, and higher and more sounding still, and still more frequent in our mouths, Shakspeare, Spenser, Sidney, Bacon, Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, men wham fame has eternized in her long and lasting scroll, and who by their words and acts were benefactors of their country, and ornaments of human nature. Their attainments of different kinds Bore the same general stamp, and was sterling: what they did had the mark of their age and country upon it. Perhaps the gengus of Great Britain (if I may so speak without offence or flattery) never shone out fuller or brighter, or looked more like itse, than at this period. Our writers and great men had something in them that savoured of the soil from which they grew : they were not French, they were not Dutch, or German, or Greek, or Latin ; they were truly English. They did not look out of themselves to see what they should be; they sought for truth and nature, and found it in themselves. There was no tinsel, and but little art; they were not the spoiled children of affectation and refinement, but a bold, vigorous, independent race of thinkers, with prodigious strength and energy, with none but
natural grace, and heartfelt, unobtrusive delicacy. They were not at all sophisticated. The mind of their country was great in them, and it prevailed. With their learning and unexampled acquirement they did not forget that they were men: with all their endeavours after excellence, they did not lay aside the strong original bent and character of their minds. What they performed was chiefly nature's handiwork; and time has claimed it for his own.—To these, however, might be added others not less learned, nor with a scarce less happy vein, but less fortunate in the event, who, though as renowned in their day, have sunk into “ mere oblivion,” and of whom the only record (but that the noblest) is to be found in their works. Their works and their names, poor, poor, dumb names,” are all that remairis of such men as Webster, Decker, Marston, Marlowe, Chapman, Hey. wood, Middleton, and Rowley! “How lov'd, how honour'd once avails them not :” though they were the friends and fellowlabourers of Shakspeare, sharing his fame and fortunes with him, the rivals of Jonson, and the masters of Beaumont and Fletcher's well-sung woes! They went out one by one unnoticed, like evening lights; or were swallowed up in the headlong torrent of puritanic zeal which succeeded, and swept away everything in its unsparing course, throwing up the wrecks of taste and at random, and at long fitful intervals, amidst the painted gew. gaws and foreign frippery of the reign of Charles II., and from which we are only now recovering the scattered fragments and broken images to erect a temple to true Fame! How long before it will be completed ?
If I can do anything to rescue some of these writers from hgpeless obscurity, and to do them right, without prejudice to welldeserved reputation, I shall have succeeded in what I chienly propose. I shall not attempt, indeed, to adjust the spelling, or restore the pointing, as if the genius of poetry lay hid ini errors of the press, but leaving these weightier matters of criticism io those who are more able and willing to bear the burden, try to bring out their real beauties to the eager sight, “ draw the curtain of Time, and show the picture of Genius,” restraining my own admiration within reasonable bounds.
There is not a lower ambition, a poorer way of thoug'c, than
that which would confine all excellence, or arrogate its final accomplishment to the present, or modern times. We ordinarily speak and think of those who had the misfortune to write or live before us, as labouring under very singular privations and disadvantages in not having the benefit of those improvements which we have made, as buried in the grossest ignorance, or the slaves “ of poring pedantry ;” and we make a cheap and infallible estimate of their progress in civilization upon a graduated scale of perfectibility, calculated from the meridian of our own times. If we have pretty well got rid of the narrow bigotry that would limit all sense or virtue to our own country, and have frater. nized, like true cosmopolites, with our neighbours and contempo. raries, we have made our self-love amends by letting the generation we live in engross nearly all our admiration, and by pronouncing a sweeping sentence of barbarism and ignorance on our ancestry backwards, from the commencement (as near as can be) of the nineteenth, or the latter end of the eighteenth century. From thence we date a new era, the dawn of our own intellect, and that of the world, like “ the sacred influence of light” glimmering on the confines of “Chaos and old night;" new manners rise, and all the cumbrous “ pomp of elder days” vanishes, and is lost in worse than Gothic darkness. Pavilioned in the glitter. ing pride of our superficial accomplishments and upstart preten. sions, we fancy that everything beyond that magic circle is prejudice and error; and all, before the present enlightened period, but a dull and useless blank in the great map of time. We are so dazzled with the gloss and novelty of modern discoveries, that we cannot take into our mind's eye the vast expanse, the length. ened perspective of human intellect, and a cloud hangs over and conceals its loftiest monuments, if they are removed to a little distance from us—the cloud of our vanity and short-sightedness. The modern sciolist stultifies all understanding but his own, and that which he conceives like his own. We think, in this age
of reason and consummation of philosophy, because we knew nothing twenty or thirty years ago, and began then to think for the first time in our lives, that the rest of mankind were in the same predicament, and never knew anything till we did ; that the world had grown old in sloth and ignorance, had dreamt out its long