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If this workmanlike biography, by the editor of the two-volume New Writings of William Hazlitt, does not live up to the expansive promise of its subtitle, it nonetheless extends a welcome new hand to a transitional figure of the romantic age. Wu admirably reveals his subject's faults and virtues at every point of a crowded life. Always hard up for cash, and often considering himself a failure in the eyes of his Unitarian minister father, Hazlitt (1788-1830) was generally celebrated as a journalist and prose stylist by his contemporaries. He was also an exceptional philosopher and painter. Among his intimates, Hazlitt counted Dorothy and William Wordsworth, Coleridge, Bryon and Keats, Charles Lamb and Robert Southey. Hazlitt was a passionate lover of many women and frequent brothel visitor, all of which doomed his marriage to a wealthy woman from the start. He was also done in by an understandably suspicious brother-in-law. Hazlitt has been more fortunate in his modern critics, among them Somerset Maugham and Virginia Woolf. As Wu notes, Hazlitt's modernity depends on his penetrating grasp of psychology and on his place as "the father of modern literary criticism." 30 b&w illus. (Jan.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.