William Godwin's Diary


Hazlitt’s lectures 'On the English Comic Writers' were delivered at the Surrey Institution from 3 November 1818 to 5 January 1819. Since his last series of lectures, Hazlitt’s reputation had been damaged by attacks in the Quarterly Review and Blackwood’s Magazine which ensured a lower fee and smaller audiences. Godwin attended the introductory lecture, in which the Examiner thought ‘he handled his subject with equal solidity and sprightliness', and the second, on the comic characters of Shakespeare, Jonson and Beaumont and Fletcher, for which the same paper recorded that ‘the assembly was very crowded’ but which Crabb Robinson deemed ‘a dull performance’. The other lecture which Godwin attended was the sixth in the series, ‘On the English Novelists’, in which Hazlitt compared Godwin favourably to Scott and described Caleb Williams as ‘utterly unlike any thing else that ever was written …. one of the most original as well as powerful productions in the English language.’ St Leon also received sustained praise and Mandeville was held to be a ‘falling off in the subject, not in the ability’. Hazlitt went on to describe Political Justice as distinguished ‘by the utmost boldness of thinking, founded on a love and conviction of truth’ but ‘erroneous’ in its undervaluing of habit, association and affection. The following Sunday the section on Godwin was extracted and published in the Examiner under the simple headline ‘Mr. Godwin’. The entire series was published by Taylor and Hessey the following March as Lectures on the English Comic Writers.

See Examiner, 8 and 15 November and 27 December 1818; Selected Writings of William Hazlitt, ed. by Duncan Wu, 9 vols (London: Pickering and Chatto, 1998), vol. 5 and P.P. Howe, The Life of William Hazlitt (London: M Secker, 1922).