William Hazlitt was the son of a Unitarian minister. He went to Paris in his youth with the aim of becoming a painter, but gradually convinced himself that he could not excel in this art. He then turned to journalism and literature, and came into close association with Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lamb, Hunt, and others of the Romantic School.
He was, however, of a sensitive and difficult temperament, and sooner or later quarrelled with most of his friends. Though a worshiper of Napoleon, whose life he wrote, he was a strong liberal in politics, and supposed himself persecuted for his opinions.
Of all Hazlitt’s voluminous writings, those which retain most value to-day are his literary criticisms and his essays on general topics. His clear and vivacious style rose at times to a rare beauty; and when the temper of his work was not marred by his touchiness and egotism he wrote with great charm and a delicate fancy.
The essay Of Persons One Should Wish To Have Seen shows in a high degree the tact and grace of Hazlitt’s best writing, and his power of creating a distinctive atmosphere.
It would be difficult to find a paper of this length which conveys so much of the special quality of the literary circle which added so much to the glory of English letters in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.