Hazlitt does not simply echo Shakespeare repeatedly, but he often quotes him or adapts his words, rarely citing him by name.
The nature and function of these misquotations are key considerations in this essay, in which it is claimed that Hazlitt’s misquotations of Shakespeare are not simply errors but a signature element of an essayistic style marked by an echoing that recalls the well-known original—thus appealing to the relevance of that which is already known by his readers—while veering from it, over and over again, into new directions as a form of self-fashioning through style.
What follows explores these contrary dynamics: the centripetal force that pulls the world towards the personality of the essayist and the centrifugal veering of the essayist towards a shared community of writing through the echoing of others.
It does this by looking at William Hazlitt (1778-1830) and, more specifically, at Hazlitt’s echoing of Shakespeare in his personal essays.
However, it is also a common characteristic of the personal essay that the essayist tends to be open to, and sometimes dependent on, a “shared literary culture” (Lopate 131), or what William H.
Gass calls “the community of writers” (Gass 109) and essayists who have come before.(Hazlitt 1928 , 124-125) Thomas De Quincey, like Gifford, identifies Hazlitt’s reliance on quotation as one “vice of Mr.Hazlitt’s composition”, and, using pejoratively words that post-structuralist theorists of intertextuality would use descriptively, censures him for reducing his essays to “a series of mosaics, a tessellation made up from borrowed fragments” (De Quincey 1873 , 134-135).Those who are ready to fancy themselves Raphaels and Homers are very inferior men indeed—they have not even an idea of the mighty names that “they take in vain”.They are as deficient in pride as in modesty, and have not so much as served an apprenticeship to a true and honourable ambition.L’essai personnel obéit traditionnellement à deux principes fondamentaux, qui peuvent sembler difficilement conciliables : la place centrale occupée par le sujet et une culture littéraire partagée.Cet article examine cette dynamique contradictoire : la force centripète qui ramène constamment le propos à la figure de l’essayiste et la force centrifuge qui le conduit à se faire l’écho d’une communauté d’écriture partagée.To make a subtle distinction of meaning that may easily be missed, while egotism names the quality of being excessively conceited or absorbed in oneself, “egoism”, which is often used interchangeably with “egotism”, is also a philosophical term for the theory that one’s self is—or should be—the fountain from which motivation springs.It is in this sense that Woolf writes that the essay is primarily an “egoistical” form, that is, a form which is primarily “an expression of personal opionion”.The essayist shows this openness by quoting freely and frequently.Montaigne (1533–92), widely considered the father of the modern essay, already embodies these opposite forces as he quotes extensively, especially from classical sources, while, at the same time, writing about very personal issues in such a way that, as he puts it, his “kinsfolk and friends [may] therein recover some traits of [his] conditions and humors, and by that means preserve more whole, and more life-like, the knowledge they had of [him]” (Montaigne v).