Friday, 9 January 2009

The first blogger?

I spent much of the holiday period reading Duncan Wu's biography of William Hazlitt. For anyone interested in the Romantic period, and in early nineteenth-century English radicalism, it's a fascinating read. Not everyone will be enamoured of Wu's occasional dramatisation of scenes from Hazlitt's life, though the prologue, which reconstructs the writer's life-changing meeting as a young man with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is a tour de force.

Wu's account is fiercely partisan and combative, tirelessly refuting both contemporary and more recent critics of his subject with a defensiveness that must have alienated even some of his fellow Hazlittians. Nevertheless, the book makes a compelling case for Wu's thesis that Hazlitt was, in the words of his subtitle 'the first modern man'. (His suggestion that one of Hazlitt's boxing reports was responsible for the invention of the phrase 'they think it's all over' is more tenuous: I can't imagine that Kenneth Wolstenhome was paying homage to a 19th century essayist when he uttered those immortal words.)

It also occurred to me that an argument could be made for Hazlitt as a prototype of the blogger: Wu's description of him composing theatre reviews in his head as he ran back to the newspaper office to dictate them made me think how much he would have thrived on the immediacy of the internet.

I've now moved on to a radical writer of a later era: I've started reading Sheila Rowbotham's new biography of Edward Carpenter (another Christmas present). It will be interesting to compare the two.

2 comments:

Sarah Franco said...

I think the first blogger could also be Montaigne, with his essays...

Martin said...

Sarah - I've often thought that Pessoa had much in common with today's bloggers and would have been a natural blogger - his many heteronyms are similar to the 'aliases' behind which bloggers (including myself!) hide - and blogging offers an opportunity to endlessly reinvent oneself, just as he did...
Martin