William Hazlitt (Unitarian minister)
The Reverend William Hazlitt, from a miniature portrait by his son John
18 April 1737|
Shronell, County Tipperary, Ireland
|Died||July 20, 1820
Crediton, Devon, England
|Resting place||Crediton Parish Church|
|Alma mater||University of Glasgow|
|Spouse(s)||Grace Loftus (1746 – 1837)|
|Children||John, Loftus, Margaret, William, Thomas, Harriet, Esther|
William Hazlitt (18 April 1737 – 16 July 1820) was a Unitarian minister and author, and the father of the Romantic essayist and social commentator of the same name. He was an important figure in eighteenth-century English and American Unitarianism, and had a major influence on his son's work.
Early life 
Hazlitt was born to Presbyterian parents at Shronell in Ireland, and – after a grammar school education – matriculated at the University of Glasgow in 1756, where he was taught by Adam Smith, Joseph Black and James Watt. Hazlitt was exposed to a range of controversial religious and philosophical views while at university, and it is possible that he converted to Unitarianism at this time. After graduating he became a chaplain to Sir Conyers Joscelyn at Hyde Hall in Hertfordshire, and then worked as a minister at Wisbech. In 1766 he married Grace Loftus, before moving to Marshfield in Gloucestershire. In the same year he commenced his literary career, when Benjamin Davenport and Joseph Johnson published Hazlitt's Sermon on Human Mortality.
Preaching in England and Ireland 
In 1770 William and Grace Hazlitt, along with their sons John and Loftus, moved to Maidstone in Kent. Soon after their arrival, their son Loftus, only two and a half years old, died. A daughter, Margaret, was born in December. During this period Hazlitt maintained ties with figures such as Joseph Priestley, Richard Price and Benjamin Franklin, and was an active writer, contributing to Priestley's Theological Repository under the pseudonyms "Philalethes" and "Rationalis", and publishing five volumes of religious works. His work provoked a substantial body of writing by other authors. In 1778 his son William was born.
In 1780 Hazlitt returned to Ireland, ministering to a congregation at Bandon in County Cork for three years. Another son, Thomas, was born soon after the Hazlitts' arrival in 1780; he survived only a few weeks. A daughter, Harriet, was born in late 1781 or early 1782. During this time Hazlitt exposed in the press the abuse of American prisoners of war at Kinsale prison, which led to the replacement of the regiment accused of perpetrating the abuses. He also defended Roman Catholics from violent abuse by British soldiers. However, the consequence of this was that Hazlitt himself became the target of abuse, it being reported that people cried out "beware of the black rebel" when he walked down the street.
America, 1783–6 
Hazlitt's sympathy with the American cause, and the threats of physical harm which he received in Ireland, led him to emigrate to America in April 1783, sailing on the first ship which departed following the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War. He lived first in Philadelphia and then in Boston. Not long after their arrival in Philadelphia, the Hazlitt family was doubly stricken with loss. Harriet died in June at about eighteen months old. Another daughter, Esther, the last of the seven Hazlitt children, was born a few weeks later, only to die in September. Their loss was noted to have deeply affected their father. When Dickinson College was founded in 1783, Hazlitt had the opportunity to become its first principal, in addition to being appointed to a living at Carlisle which brought 400 guineas a year. However, the congregation of Carlisle demanded that Hazlitt sign a confession of faith as a condition of his appointment – Hazlitt refused, thereby rejecting the greatest opportunity for personal enrichment that he would have in his entire life, stating (according to his daughter, Margaret) that "he would sooner die in a ditch than submit to human authority in matters of faith". During this time Hazlitt delivered lectures on the evidences of Christianity at the University of Pennsylvania, and published popular sermons and tracts, in addition to writing for several local periodicals. In Boston, Hazlitt edited a collection of three pamphlets by Priestley, which was issued by Robert Bell, the publisher of Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Indeed, the publication of Hazlitt's edition of Priestley's writings was motivated by the need to publish a profitable work, which would make up for the losses that Common Sense incurred. Hazlitt had an important influence on James Freeman's conversion of the King's Chapel in Boston into America's first Unitarian congregation.
Minister at Wem 
Despite achieving some success as a writer, Hazlitt was unable to secure a permanent post, and in 1786 he returned to England. After failing to obtain a steady income in London, Hazlitt settled with his family at Wem in Shropshire. Hazlitt ministered at a dissenting meeting house in the town, for which he received a meagre annual stipend of £30, and ran the local school. He devoted much attention to the education of his son, William, with the intention that he would also become a Unitarian minister. While the Reverend William Hazlitt's intensive tutoring of his son may explain in part the brilliance of the latter's subsequent writings, it was also responsible for his physical and mental breakdown under the strain of his father's expectations. When the younger Hazlitt left the New College at Hackney after only two years, thereby signalling that he would never follow his father into the Unitarian ministry, the latter was bitterly disappointed. In 1798, Samuel Taylor Coleridge visited Hazlitt at Wem – an encounter which was later described by Hazlitt's son in the essay "My First Acquaintance with Poets". In the essay, Hazlitt's life at Wem is described as follows:
After being tossed about from congregation to congregation in the heats of the Unitarian controversy, and squabbles about the American war, he had been relegated to an obscure village, where he was to spend the last thirty years of his life, far from the only converse that he loved, the talk about disputed texts of Scripture, and the cause of civil and religious liberty. Here he passed his days, repining, but resigned, in the study of the Bible and the perusal of the Commentators – huge folios, not easily got through, one of which would outlast a winter! ... My father's life was comparatively a dream; but it was a dream of infinity and eternity, of death, the resurrection, and a judgment to come!
However, while Hazlitt's failure to secure a powerful position in the Unitarian ministry may have been a source of disappointment for him, it was not the case that he ceased to participate in Unitarian debate on a national level. In addition to producing three volumes of sermons while living at Wem, he was a regular contributor to periodicals such as the Protestant Dissenter's Magazine and the Universal Theological Magazine.
In 1801, Hazlitt's son William returned to Wem in order to paint his portrait. Sitting in the chapel at Wem, with the winter sun raking across the subject's face, the painter described his father as "then in a green old age, with strong-marked features, and scarred with the smallpox", who read an old copy of Shaftesbury's Characteristics as he sat. The painting – now in Maidstone Museum and Art Gallery – was shown at the prestigious Royal Academy summer exhibition in 1802.
Religious views 
Hazlitt was, in the words of Duncan Wu, "essentially a Socinian". His views would later become aligned with those of Joseph Priestley, although Priestley's own conversion to a form of Socianianism occurred after that of Hazlitt.
- Wardle 1971, pp. 4–6, 9, 12.
- Wu 2007.
- Burley 2009, pp. 259, 273–5.
- Wu 2000, pp. 172–3.
- Wu 2006, p. 222.
- Wardle, p.5.
- Wu 2008, p. 25.
- Burley 2009, p. 261.
- Wu 2005, p. 761.
- Burley 2009, pp. 271–2.
- Wardle 1971, p. 6.
- Wu 2008, p. 27.
- Moyne 1964, p. 289.
- Wu 2005, p. 764.
- Moyne 1964, p. 295.
- Moyne 1964, p. 297.
- Wu 2008, pp. 27–8.
- Grayling 2000, pp. 351–2.
- Burley 2009, p. 260.
- Moyne 1961, p. 300.
- Wu 2006, pp. 222–3.
- Wu 2006, pp. 223–6.
- Wu 2006, pp. 226–8.
- Grayling 2000, pp. 9–12.
- Wu 2008, pp. 43, 49.
- Grayling 2000, pp. 41–2.
- Wu 2007.
- "My First Acquaintance with Poets" (1823).
- Burley 2010, pp. 9–10.
- Grayling 2000, pp. 70–1. This episode was recounted in the essay "On the Pleasure of Painting". The painting itself can be seen on the "BBC Your Paintings website". Retrieved 5 December 2011.
- Burley, Stephen (2009). "The Lost Polemics of William Hazlitt (1737-1820)". The Review of English Studies 61 (249): 259–275. doi:10.1093/res/hgp059.
- Burley, Stephen (2010). "'In this Intolerance I Glory': William Hazlitt (1737-1820) and the Dissenting Periodical", The Hazlitt Review (3), 9–24.
- Grayling, A. C. (2000). The Quarrel of the Age: The Life and Times of William Hazlitt. London: Phoenix Press.
- Moyne, E. J. (1961). "The Reverend William Hazlitt and Dickinson College". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 85 (3): 289–302. doi:10.2307/20089418. JSTOR 20089418.
- Moyne, E. J. (1964). "The Reverend William Hazlitt: A Friend of Liberty in Ireland during the American Revolution". The William and Mary Quarterly 21 (2): 288–297. doi:10.2307/1920390.
- Wardle, Ralph M (1971). Hazlitt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971.
- Wu, Duncan (2000). "'Polemical divinity': William Hazlitt at the University of Glasgow", Romanticism (6), 163–77.
- Wu, Duncan (2005). "William Hazlitt (1737-1820), the Priestley Circle, and the Theological Repository: A Brief Survey and Bibliography". The Review of English Studies 56 (227): 758–766. doi:10.1093/res/hgi107.
- Wu, Duncan (2006). "The Journalism of William Hazlitt (1737-1820) in Boston (1784-5): A Critical and Bibliographical Survey". The Review of English Studies 57 (229): 221–246. doi:10.1093/res/hgl024.
- Wu, Duncan (2007). "Hazlitt, William (1737–1820)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press accessed 25 Nov 2011.
- Wu, Duncan (2008). William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Further reading 
- Burley, Stephen (2011). 'Hazlitt the Dissenter: Religion, Philosophy, and Politics, 1766-1816', PhD thesis (Queen Mary, University of London).
- Stephen Burley, A Bibliography of the Writings of William Hazlitt (1737-1820) (PDF)