“We may be intolerant even in advocating the cause of Toleration, and so bent on making proselytes to free-thinking as to allow no one to think freely but ourselves.”
I found this little green book in Hatchard’s, London a few months ago and had to pick it up – partly because I love essay collections, partly because on that same trip I stayed in the Hazlitt Hotel. The essay in general, and the personal or literary essay in particular, are one of my favourite mediums to explore new topics. William Hazlitt (1778-1830) had wanted to be an artist but the lack of success forced him to write about the arts instead – and then about a wide range of other topics – and while Hazlitt himself might have been disappointed we readers have won a great essayist. He was a free-thinker and never scared to criticise England or its government – my personal favourite in this collection is Character of John Bull in which Hazlitt wittily summarises and sharply criticises the English national character.
Despite being 200 years old, most of these essays still feel highly relevant to our lives and society today. Whether that is a mark of Hazlitt’s timeless and forward-thinking analytical skill and insight into human nature or an indictment of how little has changed, might depend on the reader’s interpretation. Some of these essays were more interesting to me than others; some statements I agreed with, others not so much but everything in All That Is Worth Remembering was certainly worth reading. Hazlitt’s writing is clear and often funny, and every page in this small book is thought-provoking. A fantastic book to keep on your bedside table to dive into one of the essays whenever you wish to have your mind woken up and your thinking challenged in the most humorous way.