William Hazlitt has had the flattering misfortune of being celebrated as one of the greatest essayists in England, his literary heritage limited to the British Isles. Further, the genre of his fame has sometimes led critics to view his writings as Turner did the coastal seas—impressionistic and occasionally glittering with illumination. However, I argue that Hazlitt is an important heir of and contributor to the Swiss-German theory of the characteristic, which he consistently, if not programmatically, pursues throughout the gamut of his works. The characteristic is a concept of aesthetic semblance first articulated by Aloys Hirt, and then by such figures as Goethe and Henry Fuseli, that straddles the classical and romantic movement, and Hazlitt receives it from Fuseli. The characteristic—of which portraiture, because of its relation to sympathetic representation, is for Hazlitt the highest symbol—is in fact a defining feature of Hazlitt's aesthetics and connects him to the major art-theoretical figures of European Romanticism.


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pp. 835-856
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