Epeating Selves: Hume, Hazlitt, and Periodic Repetition

  • Mark Schoenfield
Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


Gayatri Spivak relates that, in a “students’ English dictionary,” the etymology for the word “identity” stems from two languages:

[T]he source of the word was given as Latin idem or Sanskrit idam and both were cited as meaning “same.” Now the meaning of the Latin word idem is not exactly “same” in the sense of one, but rather “same” in the sense of multitudes or repetitions. Idam is not only not the undiminishing selfsame, as a pronoun … it is always enclitic or inclined towards the noun, always dependent on the proximity of a particular self for idam must remain monstrative, indexed. (774)


Personal Identity Impartial Spectator Paper Money Table Talk Late Romantic Period 
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  1. 1.
    Elsewhere, Montaigne asserts that in dying, a person reveals himself: “In judging the life of another, I always observe how it ended; and one of my principal concerns about my own end is that it shall go well, that is to say quietly and insensibly” (I:19). Hazlitt declares that “FEW things show the human character in a more ridiculous light than the circumstance of will-making”; among many examples, he notes that “we meet with continual examples of the desire to keep up the farce (if not the tragedy) oflife, after we, the performers in it, have quitted the stage, and to have our parts rehearsed by proxy” (Table Talk 113, 120).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Critical assessments confirm Ainslie’s point that “[i]t is notoriously difficult to make sense of Hume’s discussion of persons” (557–8). Geoffrey Scarre traces Hume’s changing views on identity (217–21). Martin and Barrisi argue as follows: “Rather than considering the nature of personal identity per se, Hume turned instead, and almost exclusively, to two other questions: first, … how the fiction of identity arises, … [and second] the role the fictional self plays in our emotions and motivations” (Naturalization 42).Terence Penelum suggests that Hume considered “personal identity not really a belief, but a convention” and that “the conventional ascription of identity to changing and complex objects is the expression of a belief that they somehow satisfy the conditions for ascribing strict identity to them” (113).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Damrosch makes a similar point about Boswell’s “street roles” in the London Journal and, peripherally, about Adam Smith (73–86).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Dialectics register stylistically as antithesis. Hazlitt claimed that Burke’s “antithetical style and verbal paradoxes … in which the epithet is a seeming contradiction to the substantive, such as ‘proud submission’ and ‘dignified obedience,’” derived from the Tatler (Comic Writers 116). “[S]ustained and controlled rhythms” and “antithetical movement,” as E.P. Thompson notes, characterize Hazlitt’s essays (822) and David Bromwich demonstrates that “through the whole range of its concerns, Hazlitt’s criticism has two voices. The first voice, emphatic and persuasive, seeks to restore values that were in danger of slipping into total eclipse, while the second, antithetical and observant, remains aware of all that qualifies the truth of those values” (145).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The extravagant result of Liber Amoris was that, within the text, S. is imagined dead, the easily seen-through preface announces that H. is dead (as a precondition of publication), and the cost to Hazlitt in both lawsuits and reputation was substantial. Kurt Koenigsberger has explored how the crisis of identity displayed in Liber Amoris “expose [s] the profoundly incoherent notion of the sovereign individual that underlies libel law” (304).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Joseph Mawman had used a similar description in his 1805 Excursion, a travel book that culminated in the Lake District, and begins with a flight from London’s “anxious inhabitants,” metonimized by “the Mansion-house, the Bank, the Exchange, streets teeming with wealth, noble churches and extensive structures erected by public and private charity” (7). Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    De Quincey also used “X. Y. Z.,” a signature that plays on the practice of signing with initials and on these letters as signaling reiteration and finality. In a burlesque doggerel in the Biographia, Coleridge had traced the transmutation from “I, I, I! I itself I!” to “X, Y, Z, the God infinitivus” (Biographia l:159–60). Margaret Russett, arguing that the “edge of this joke is honed on what Derrida calls the ‘grapheme,’” explores the tension between typography and the “assigned” (BL 160) self (Minor Romanticism Ch. 3).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation and Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things provide the conceptual basis for this claim. Polanyi demonstrates the transformation of labor into a commodity produced for sale within the enforced wage-market of laissez-faire economics (139). Foucault recognizes a corollary development in the intellectual perceptual frame of the “new empiricities,” scientific discourses that produce labor as “an irreducible unit of measurement” (223) and allows “general grammar to be logic” (296).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Peter Murphy has analyzed the appropriation of James Scott, an act that makes the question “Who was the real James Scott?” “interestingly difficult to answer” (Poetry 121). If, as Murphy demonstrates, “fictional characters poach reality from the real ones” in Blackwood’s (120), the poaching destabilizes the identity of the self—real or fictive—with itself.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    In a similar hijinks of publishing, William Hazlitt reviewed Coleridge’s Statesman’s Manual prior to the book’s appearance, on the basis of an advertisement. Robert Lapp, in his detailed study of Hazlitt’s reviews of Coleridge, notes that both “Hazlitt’s Review and Coleridge’s announcement” were “competing responses to the Edinburgh’s influencial reviewessay” on the “Present Distresses of the Country” (53–5).Google Scholar

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© Mark Schoenfield 2009

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