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This article is taken from PN Review 132, Volume 26 Number 4, March - April 2000.

Radical Deception: Tom Paulin and Hazlitt's Imagination Alan Munton

'I observed that these contemptible narrow-minded prejudices made me feel irritable and impatient.' - Hazlitt on puritanism, in Conversations of [with] James Northcote, 1830


It's all there in the first four paragraphs: Hazlitt's life and writing dominated by the French Revolution; Hazlitt, as the son of a Unitarian minister, brought up in a radical dissenting tradition; Hazlitt the internationalist, his political passions set alight by a reading of Rousseau; and Hazlitt the principled revolutionary who persists when the great poets of his time, notably Wordsworth and Coleridge, defect to reaction.

That is not Tom Paulin, of course, but Edgell Rickword, arguing in 1944 that this figure of the English radical tradition has meaning for those then fighting fascism. The first four paragraphs of Paulin's opening chapter give us a different Hazlitt - one for whom history begins with the Reformation, and who, with his father's Unitarian sermons in his head, wishes to renew his own Protestant identity; a Hazlitt who is poor, gets evicted, and has an affair with Sarah Walker; and finally a Hazlitt who goes back to the Elizabethan writers to seek men who were 'truly English'.

Paulin's intention is to save Hazlitt for English puritanism. This is part of his wider critical project, which is to construct a Protestant tradition in English prose and poetry. Milton and Blake, MacNeice and Ted Hughes: all have been appropriated. Now it is Hazlitt's turn. The great English radical's ...

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