Selected Essays of William Hazlitt, 1778: 1830

Selected Essays of William Hazlitt, 1778: 1830

Selected Essays of William Hazlitt, 1778: 1830

Selected Essays of William Hazlitt, 1778: 1830

Excerpt

William Hazlitt was born on April 10, 1778, and died a hundred years ago on September 18, 1830. His father, the Rev. William Hazlitt, was a Unitarian minister, who in 1778 had been preaching for eight years at the Chapel in Maidstone. He was the son of a poor Irish farmer, and after preparing for the ministry at Glasgow University had married in 1766 the daughter of an iron- monger at Wisbeach in Cambridgeshire. William was their fourth child and his early years were somewhat chequered, as the family moved from place to place in search of a permanent home. In 1784 they had gone to America, where the elder Hazlitt had founded the first Unitarian Church at Boston. In 1787 they returned to England, and it was at Wem in Shropshire that William Hazlitt first had a settled home and systematic education. He was described at the age of about ten as "one of the most entertaining and prepossessing children ever seen," but by the time he was twelve he had lost his social charms, and, as adolescence approached, his rather resentful attitude towards the world, which ever after characterised him, began to make its appearance.

In 1793, at the age of fifteen, he was sent to London to complete his education at Hackney College. He lived with his elder brother John in Long Acre, and immediately began to develop, too intensely for health of mind and body, his faculties of thought and composition, elaborating a treatise on a Project for a New Theory of Civil and Criminal Legislation, which he presented to his tutor in place of the theme that had been set. He had been sent to Hackney College with the object of preparing him for the Unitarian ministry, but he developed such a distaste for this that the project was after three years reluctantly . . .

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