Romantic Shakespeare: From Stage to Page

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5
Hazlitt and “Dialogic Communication”

HAZLITT’S CRITICAL PRACTICE DEVELOPED A WAY OF EARNING A reputation for consistency of opinion in such a way as to disapprove of the discrepancies in Coleridge’s literary or political accounts. The decisiveness and quickness of Hazlitt’s criticism were the means of measuring against Coleridge’s unsteadiness or diffuseness: the former pitched into the latter, saying that “Mr. Coleridge delights in nothing but episodes and digressions, neglects whatever he undertakes to perform, and can act only on spontaneous impulses, without object or method” (HW 2:36). According to J. P. Collier’s notes of a conversation at Lamb’s (27 November 1811), Hazlitt was of the opinion that Coleridge was inattentive to the cultivation and construction of his object to perfection, but instead “dug up the ground only for the encouragement of weeds”1 (LL 1:233): “Coleridge’s mind was full of materials for building, but he had not perseverance to employ those he had, but, always fancying himself deficient, was in constant search for more” (Jones, 65). Hazlitt established a parallel between the Coleridgean poetic vision and the mind of “a man on horseback on a roughroad who, instead of travelling on among the ruts and ruggedness, preferred the greensward at the side” (Jones, 64; LL 1:232).

Hazlitt’s image of Coleridge as a man of no industry was well demonstrated in his portrayal of Coleridge in The Spirit of the Age, which was defined through Shakespearean quotations and comparisons. The essay begins with the words which remind us of the murderer in Richard III, “Talkers are no good doers” (1.3.349): “The present age is an age of talkers, and not of doers; and the reason is, that the world is growing old” (HW 11:28). The talker-doer contrast is suggestive of the Hazlittish association of Coleridge with Hamlet. Then Hazlitt proceeds to a quality specified in the relationship

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