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“Exhilaration is Hazlitt’s signature as a critic,” Herschel Baker says; this book is his demonstration. Hazlitt is alive here. Rapid, keen, blunt—“Perhaps it was right to dissemble your love,” a friend wrote, “but why did you kick us down stairs?”—the man is one with his work; Hazlitt’s own evaluation applies equally to both: “If there is haste or want of method,” he said, “there is no common-place, nor a line that licks the dust.” Baker, recognizing this unity, and using much unpublished and hitherto neglected manuscript material, consummately correlates historical, biographical, and critical analysis.
Isolated and acute, Hazlitt saw all men and things in his time. Politics, poetry, drama, art—“the thoughts of a metaphysician expressed by a painter”—coincide in his essays; romantic personalities fill his life: Haydon, Keats, Lamb, Leigh Hunt. Contemporaries share in a book that does justice to the man and his work, from Hazlitt’s early writings to “the march of his great essays through successive numbers of the London Magazine.”