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Lectures on the English Poets by William Hazlitt

LECTURES ON THE ENGLISH POETS

Delivered at the Surrey Institution

by

WILLIAM HAZLITT

CONTENTS.

LECTURE I. INTRODUCTORY.--ON POETRY IN GENERAL.

LECTURE II. ON CHAUCER AND SPENSER.

LECTURE III. ON SHAKSPEARE AND MILTON.

LECTURE IV. ON DRYDEN AND POPE.

LECTURE V. ON THOMSON AND COWPER.

LECTURE VI. ON SWIFT, YOUNG, GRAY, COLLINS &c.

LECTURE VII. ON BURNS, AND THE OLD ENGLISH BALLADS.

LECTURE VIII. ON THE LIVING POETS.

LECTURE I.--INTRODUCTORY ON POETRY IN GENERAL.

The best general notion which I can give of poetry is, that it is the natural impression of any object or event, by its vividness exciting an involuntary movement of imagination and passion, and producing, by sympathy, a certain modulation of the voice, or sounds, expressing it.

In treating of poetry, I shall speak first of the subject-matter of it, next of the forms of expression to which it gives birth, and afterwards of its connection with harmony of sound.

Poetry is the language of the imagination and the passions. It relates to whatever gives immediate pleasure or pain to the human mind. It comes home to the bosoms and businesses of men; for nothing but what so comes home to them in the most general and intelligible shape, can be a subject for poetry. Poetry is the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself. He who has a contempt for poetry, cannot have much respect for himself, or for any thing else. It is not a mere frivolous accomplishment, (as some persons have been led to imagine) the trifling amusement of a few idle readers or leisure hours--it has been the study and delight of mankind in all ages. Many people suppose that poetry is something to be found only in books, contained in lines of ten syllables, with like endings: but wherever there is a sense of beauty, or power, or harmony, as in the motion of a wave of the sea, in the growth of a flower that "spreads its sweet leaves to the air, and dedicates its beauty to the sun,"--_there_ is poetry, in its birth. If history is a grave study, poetry may be said to be a graver: its materials lie deeper, and are spread wider. History treats, for the most part, of the cumbrous and unwieldly masses of things, the empty cases in which the affairs of the world are packed, under the heads of intrigue or war, in different states, and from century to century: but there is no thought or feeling that can have entered into the mind of man, which he would be eager to communicate to others, or which they would


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