Reading Essays: An Invitation

By G. Douglas Atkins | Go to book overview

An Allegory of Essaying?
Process and Product in William Hazlitt’s
“On Going a Journey”

Walking, rambling, sauntering, strolling, wandering are more than
recurrent topics of essay writing; they’re images by which essayists like
to figure their particular mode of discoursing, tropes of essaying itself.

—Lydia Fakundiny, The Art of the Essay

“THE SOUL OF A JOURNEY,” writes William Hazlitt, friend of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Charles Lamb and one of the premier nineteenth-century essayists, “is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, feel, do just as one pleases” (93). For such perspectives, Tom Paulin has recently written of, and embraced, his “radical style.” As an essayist, Hazlitt anticipates Thoreau, in “Walking,” who likewise “saunters” (a sans terre, opines the latter, in one of his more egregious puns), but the differences tell more than the similarities. Hazlitt is more companionable, despite his wellknown anger and despite his preference for solitary walking, less a “hairshirt of a man” (E. B. White). Unlike Thoreau, who, although he hoped to walk “at least” four hours a day, Hazlitt allows that “We go a journey chiefly to be free of all impediments and of all inconveniences” (ibid.; italics mine). For him, journeying, which carries an altogether richer connotation than mere walking, provides a needed respite and particular, distinct opportu-

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