Introduction: Making and Unmaking Romantic Systems

This essay introduces the essays in the current volume by beginning with the work of William Hazlitt. Hazlitt’s relation to the work of noted system-builders of the age (from Kant to Bentham) was far from straightforward: he criticized their “derangement” but admired and even envied their vision. Hazlitt’s views echo a range of other writers (Blake, Wollstonecraft, and Godwin, to name a few) who were adept at constructing systems as well as attacking them. Such responses demonstrate the startling range of positions that could be taken with respect to systematic thinking of the age, and the essays in the volume demonstrate that Romanticism presents us not with a unified set of beliefs or ideologies about systems but rather with a vibrant display of contrasting arguments, anxieties, and ambitions.