AD's English Literature : William Hazlitt’s Style : Reference to "On Gusto"

William Hazlitt’s Style : Reference to "On Gusto"

William Hazlitt has a sharp, idiomatic, familiar style. His is the pure diction and aphorism. Consciousness and propriety of words and phrases is a great characteristic of him. Its true’s to say in the least possible space. There is always in the style of Hazlitt a certain amount of refine taste which becomes his most marked characteristic. In whatever that Hazlitt did he had an enthusiasm and a courageous spirit. It was this that enabled him to say things with a conviction and spirited. He was keen to keep in his memory certain experiences that he had come across-books that he had read’, plays which he had seen; pictures that he had admired, actually, the fact was that he liked to say something’s he liked and to say them in his own way critically. In his present essay On Gusto, while defining artistic sensibility in the piece of art, he is fearlessly expressing an honest and individual opinion. He has his own enjoyment and his own gift for evoking unnoticed beauties. Here his judgments’ are based on his emotional relations rather than an objectively applied principle.

In style Hazlitt in fact strongly contrasts with the elaborate or chest ration of the complex sentence and the magic of the delicate word tracery which we have seen in de quinsy. His brief, abrupt sentences have the vigor and directness which his views demand. His lectures are mainly of simplicity and something of the looseness of organization which is typical of good conversation. For example ,
“learning is in too many cases, but a foil to common sense; a substitute for true knowledge”.

“The faculties of mind, when not exerted, or when not exerted, or when cramped by custom and authority, becomes listless, torpid, and unfit for the purposes of thought or action”.
                        On the ignorance of the learned 

 “There is gusto in the coloring of Titian. Not only do his heads seem to think – his bodies seem to feel”.
“The infinite quantity of dramatic invention in Shakespeare takes from his gusto. The power he delights to show is not intense, but discursive”. ––On Gusto.

Still another great characteristic of Hazlitt’s style is his use of parallel constructions and contrast. He liked to rein his subjects in praise e.g.-cant and Hypocrisy; wit and humors, ‘past and future genius and commonsense; thought and action. In On Gusto while defining the gusto or overexert   influence of artistry he comparatively parallels several visual painters. He contrasts an compares them to elucidate their qualities or distinctiveness’ For Example, he analyses Tiziano Vecelli, Irancesco Albani, Rubens, Sir Anthony Vandyke, Benjamin West, Michael Angelo etc. collectively and comparatively. Further, while shifting his analysis to the field of literature, he is truthfully defining the gusto or uniqueness in Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Dryden, Prior, Boccaccio and Rabelais. It is here better to quote few memorable lines from the text: - “Rubens makes his flesh color like flowers: albano is like ivory; Tilian’s is likes flesh and like nothing else”. “The infinite quantity of dramatic invention in Shakespeare takes from his gusto. The power he delights to show is not intense, but discursive. He never insists on anything as much as he might, except a quibble. Milton has great gusto. He repeats his blows twice; grapples with and exhaust his subject”.   –––On Gusto

People, who have been nourished on the Victorian model and have grown priggish, murmur at the lack of amoral purpose in Hazlitt. It is no doubt a fact that in Hazlitt one does not discover any of such moral purpose; a theory or a principle as one finds in Ruskin, Carlyle and Arnold, neither is there the shallowness and railing of a pessimist. He has an abiding faith in human nature, a devotion to beauty and a belief and honesty –all these things being clearly exhibited in a clear and courageous style that he possessed.

The somewhat discursive manner of his writings is a strong point with him as well as a weakness. His style is forcible and spontaneous; it progresses by means of successive traits which issue from one and the same central act of perception; subjected to the continuous light of consciousness and examined in turn under all its aspects. Such a device ensures movements, sincerity and a telling force of style. But this discontinuity in an order which is wholly organic is not entirely happy. It gives no safety against repetition and prolixity at times it wearies that mind that cannot readily perceive the logical sequence of thought, the point of departure or the goal. At bottom, extremely English and national, Hazlitt’s critical method finds, in the sufficiency of composition, the defect of its quality. Our present essay On Gusto is no exception in this manner.

  Ardhendu De

 Ref:William Hazlitt: a reference guide, James A Houck  ; Boston: G. K. Hall, 1977


  1. Thank you very much for your immortal articles...........go on sir......

  2. Thanks Parag for your inspiring words.


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