Duncan Wu, ed. The Selected Writings of William Hazlitt. 9 vols. London: Pickering & Chatto (Publishers) Limited, 1998. ISBN: 1-85196-369-3. Price: £650 (US$1050).Tom Paulin and David Chandler, eds. William Hazlitt's The Fight and Other Writings. London: Penguin, 2000. ISBN: 1-357910-864-2. Price: £9.99.[Record]

  • Michael Eberle-Sinatra

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  • Michael Eberle-Sinatra
    Northrop Frye Centre, Victoria University

Editor's Note

For more information on Wu's edition, The Selected Writings of William Hazlitt, and order the set, please visit Pickering & Chatto's webpage.

Duncan Wu's nine-volume edition, The Selected Writings of William Hazlitt, is another important set in Pickering & Chatto's ongoing series of new editions of Romantic authors. However, unlike previous and forthcoming sets from this press, where the need for a complete or selected edition was called forth by the absence of a twentieth-century scholarly annotated edition, Hazlitt's works have already appeared in the 21-volume P. P. Howe centenary edition in 1930-4. The need for a new edition, especially a selected one, might therefore not seem evident, except for the fact that Howe's edition has been long out-of-print and is hard to find on the second-hand market. Wu's 'Editor's Introduction' answers in great and convincing detail any queries one might have regarding the motivation behind this new edition. 'The central aim of this edition', Wu states, 'is to establish reliable texts of Hazlitt's major book-length works, and most important uncollected essays' (vol. 1, p. xxxv). Access to reliable texts is indeed crucial to a proper understanding of Hazlitt's works and their reception during the Romantic period. Although Wu acknowledges the importance of Howe's scholarship for Hazlitt studies, his observation of editorial inconsistency and inaccuracies in quotations and references in the Howe edition serves as a persuasive argument for a new edition. Howe's notes derive largely from Waller and Glover's 1902-6 edition, include many references to outdated editions (whereas Wu's set uses standard scholarly editions throughout), and are often inaccurate (Wu offers a long list of inexact annotations to sustain his argument). Howe also makes repeated use of cross-references to other volumes in his edition (and not always accurately), whereas Wu chose to reprint notes rather to refer the reader elsewhere, which is a great practical improvement on Howe's edition. Each volume begins with an introductory note which presents the work under consideration, the publication history of the text, any information on surviving manuscripts, and the reception history. The latter section always contains a wealth of information and is most helpful in conveying a proper sense of the contemporary reception of Hazlitt's works. Wu's judicious remarks on the style and content of each work reflect the editor's acute sensitivity to Hazlitt's prose. Wu also includes a very useful directory of selected personages, which consists of brief biographical information on figures mentioned or referred to by Hazlitt in the volume. Wu's notes are a model of accuracy and, though concise, identify quotations and elucidate allusions, as well as provide some contextual information at times. Tom Paulin's general introduction in volume 1 is an useful introduction to the edition, particularly in his treatment of Hazlitt's religious background; Paulin's discussion of Unitarianism illuminates Hazlitt's writings and T. S. Eliot's views of the Romantic writer. Paulin is also very good at discussing Hazlitt's prose style, and he quotes extensively from various essays to illustrate his points. Paulin also touches on Hazlitt's wide range of interests, from opera and theatre to politics and art, and his introduction certainly entices the reader to begin perusing this edition immediately, and to read not only the familiar Hazlitt—the Hazlitt of Characters of Shakespear's Plays or The Spirit of the Age—but also Hazlitt the ultimate prose stylist and theorist of style of his final collection of essays, The Plain Speaker. Volume 1 contains An Essay on the Principles of Human Action, Hazlitt's first book-length work published in 1805, and Characters of Shakespear's Plays. This series of short essays, alongside the theatrical criticism reprinted in A View of the English Stage (available in volume 3), constitutes the corpus of Hazlitt's dramatic criticism, probably one of his most …