Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

"Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
Appear in writing or in judging ill;
But, of the two, less dang'rous is th' offence
To tire our patience, than mislead our sense.
Some few in that, but numbers err in this,
Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss;
A fool might once himself alone expose,
Now one in verse makes many more in prose.
'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own.
In Poets as true genius is but rare,
True Taste as seldom is the Critic's share;
Both must alike from Heav'n derive their
light,

These born to judge, as well as those to write.

Let such teach others who themselves excel,
And censure freely who have written well.
Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true,
But are not Critics to their judgment too?
-POPE, ALEXANDER, 1709, An Essay on
Criticism, v. 1-18.

There is nothing more absurd, than for a Man to set up for a Critick, without a good insight into all parts of learning.

[ocr errors]

One great Mark by which you may discover a Critick who has neither Taste nor Learning, is this, that he seldom ventures to praise any passage in an Author which has not been before received and applauded by the Public, and that his Criticism turns wholly upon little Faults and Errors. A true Critick ought to dwell rather upon Excellences than Imperfections, to discover the concealed Beauties of a Writer and communicate to the World such things as are worth their Observation. The most exquisite words, and finest Strokes of an Author, are those which very often appear the most doubtful and exceptionable to a man who wants a Relish for polite Learning; and they are these which a sour undistinguishing Critick generally attacks with the greatest Violence. ADDISON, JOSEPH, 1711-12, The Spectator, No. 291.

On a superficial view we may seem to differ very widely from each other in our reasonings, and no less in our pleasures:

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

of a wrong taste is a defect of judgment. And this may arise from a natural weakness of understanding (in whatever the strength of that faculty may consist). or, which is much more commonly the case, it may arise from a want of a proper and well-directed exercise, which alone. can make it strong and ready. Besides, that ignorance, inattention, prejudice, rashness, levity, obstinacy, in short, all those passions, and all those vices, which pervert the judgment in other matters, prejudice it no less in this its more refined and elegant province.-BURKE, EDMUND, 1756-57, The Sublime and Beautiful, Introduction.

Wit certainly is the property of those who have it, nor should we be displeased if it is the only property a man sometimes has. We must not underrate him who uses it for subsistence, and flies from the ingratitude of the age even to a bookseller for redress. for redress. If the profession of an author is to be laughed at by the stupid, it is certainly better to be contemptibly rich than contemptibly poor. For all the wit that ever adorned the human mind will at present no more shield the author's poverty from ridicule, than his hightopped gloves conceal the unavoidable omissions of his laundress.-GOLDSMITH, OLIVER, 1759, Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning.

The science of rational criticism tends to improve the heart no less than the understanding. It tends, in the first place, to moderate the selfish affections. By sweetening and harmonizing the temper, it is a strong antidote to the

turbulence of passion, and violence of pursuit. It procures, to a man, so much mental enjoyment, that, in order to be occupied, he is not tempted to deliver up his youth to hunting, gaming, drinking; nor his middle age to ambition, nor his old age to avarice. Pride and envy, two disgustful passions, find in the constitution no enemy more formidable than a delicate and discerning taste.HOME, HENRY (LORD KAMES), 1762-63, Elements of Criticism.

This age may be best characterised as the age of criticism-a criticism to which everything must submit. Religion, on the ground of its sanctity, and law, on the ground of its majesty, often resist this sifting of their claims. But in so doing, they inevitably awake a not unjust suspicion that their claims are ill-founded, and they can no longer expect the unfeigned homage paid by reason to that which has shown itself able to stand the test of free inquiry.-KANT, IMMANUEL, 1781, Critique of Pure Reason.

True criticism is the application of taste and of good sense to the several fine arts. The object which it proposes is, to distinguish what is beautiful and what is faulty in every performance; from particular instances to ascend to general principles; and so to form rules or conclusions concerning the several kinds of beauty in works of genius. The rules of criticism are not formed by any induction à priori, as it is called; that is, they are not formed by a train of abstract reasoning, independent of facts and observations. Criticism is an art founded wholly on experience.-BLAIR, HUGH, 1783, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres, ed. Mills, Lecture iii.

To regulate our intellectual pleasures, to free literature from the tyranny of the notion that there is no disputing about tastes, to constitute an exact science, intent rather on guiding than gratifying the mind.-NISARD, JEAN MARIE NAPOLÉON

DÉSIRÉ, 1844, Historie de la Littérature Française, vol. I.

Those who consider the science of criticism as nothing more than a collection of arbitrary rules, and the art of criticism but their dextrous or declamatory application, rejoice in a system of admirable simplicity and barren results. It has the advantage of judging every thing and accounting for nothing, thus gratifying the pride of intellect without enjoining any intellectual exertion. By a steady adherence to its doctrines, a dunce may exalt himself to a pinnacle of judgment, from which the first authors of the world appear as splendid madmen, whose enormous writhings and contortions, as they occasionally blunder into grace and grandeur of motion, show an undisciplined strength, which would, if subjected to rule, produce great effects. A Bondstreet exquisite complacently surveying a thunder-scarred Titan through an operaglass, is but a type of a Grub-street critic, measuring a Milton or a Shakspeare with his three-foot rule.-WHIPPLE, EDWIN PERCY, 1848, Shakspeare's Critics, Essays and Reviews, vol. II, p. 248.

The following brief remarks on the critical faculty are chiefly intended to show that, for the most part, there is not such thing. It is a rara avis; almost as rare, indeed, as the phoenix, which appears only once in five hundred years. The preceptive critical taste is, so to speak, the female analogue to the male quality of productive talent or genius. Not capable of begetting great work itself, it consists in a capacity of reception, that is to say, of recognising as such what is right, fit, beautiful, or the reverse; in other words, of discriminating the good from the bad, or discovering and appreciating the one and condemning the other. That which distinguishes genius,

[ocr errors]

and should be the standard for judging it, is the height to which it is able to soar when it is in the proper mood and finds a

[ocr errors]

fitting occasion-a height always out of the reach of ordinary talent. There are critics who severally think that it rests with each one of them what shall be accounted good, and what bad. They all mistake their own toy-trumpets for the trombones of fame. A drug does not affect its purpose if the dose is too large; and it is the same with censure and adverse criticism when it exceeds the measure of justice. of justice. SCHOPENHAUER, ARTHUR, 1851-91, The Art of Literature, tr. Saunders, pp. 87, 88.

[ocr errors]

The Supreme Critic on the errors of the past and the present, and the only prophet of that which must be, is the great nature in which we rest as the earth lies in the soft arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-soul, within which every man's particular being is contained and made one with all other; that common heart of which all sincere conversation is the worship, to which all right action is submission; that overpowering reality which confutes our tricks and talents, and constrains every one to pass for what he is, and to speak from his character and not from his tongue, and which evermore tends to pass into our thought and hand and become wisdom and virtue and power and beauty.-EMERSON, RALPH WALDO, 185683, The Over-Soul, Essays, First Series; Complete Works, Riverside ed., vol. II, p. 252. Each order of greatness has its own eminence and should not be contrasted with another. The critical sense is not inoculated in an hour; he who has not cultivated it by a long scientific and intellectual discipline will always find adverse arguments to oppose to the more delicate inductions. Criticism

displaces admiration, but does not destroy it... That delicate feeling for shades of thought which we call criticism, without which there is no insight into the past and consequently no extended understanding of human affairs. - RENAN, JOSEPH ERNEST, 1859-64, Studies of

Religious History and Criticism, tr. Frothingham, pp. 40, 217, 263, 310.

It is of the last importance that English criticism should clearly discern what rule for its course, in order to avail itself of the field now opening to it, and to produce fruit to the future, it ought to take. The rule may be summed up in one word,— disinterestedness. And how is criticism to show disinterestedness? By keeping aloof from practice; by resolutely following the law of its own nature, which is to be a free play of the mind on all subjects which it touches; by steadily refusing to lend itself to any of those ulterior, political, practical considerations about ideas which plenty of people will be sure to attach to them, which perhaps ought often to be attached to them which in this country at any rate are certain to be attached to them quite sufficiently, but which criticism has really nothing to do with. Its business is, as I have said, simply to know the best that is known and thought in the world, and, by in its turn making this known, to create a current of true and fresh ideas. Its business is to do this with inflexible honesty, with due ability; but its business is to do no more, and to leave alone all questions of practical consequences and applications, questions. which will never fail to have due prominence given to them. It is because criticism has so little kept in the pure intellectual sphere, has so little detached itself from practice, has been so directly polemical and controversial, that it has so ill accomplished, in this country, its best spiritual work; which is to keep man from a self-satisfaction which is retarding and vulgarizing, to lead him. towards perfection, by making his mind dwell upon what is excellent in itself, and the absolute beauty and fitness of things. ARNOLD, MATTHEW, 1865, The Function of Criticism at the Present Time, Essays in Criticism.

[ocr errors]

Good composition is far less dependent

upon acquaintance with its laws, than upon practice and natural aptitude. A clear head, a quick imagination, and a sensitive ear, will go far towards making all rhetorical precepts needless.-SPENCER, HERBERT, 1871, The Philosophy of Style.

Though a thousand critics determine that a book ought not to live, if it is a real book it lives, without the slightest reference to their opinions and protests. What the critics prove by their work is, simply their lack of power to comprehend and appreciate it. They prove nothing against the book whatever. There has not lived a great British author within the last century whose works have not been subjected to the most scorching criticisms and the most slashing and sweeping condemnations. Yet those criticisms and condemnations have passed for nothing. The criticisms, often profoundly ingenious, and full of learning and power, die, and the books live. They are often exceedingly creditable productions-so creditable, indeed, that they form the basis of great personal reputations-but they accomplish absolutely nothing except the revelation of the men who produce them. Criticism thus becomes a form of personal expression, and is just as thoroughly individualized as if it were poetry, or picture, or sculpture. The critic takes a book in one hand, and uses the other to paint himself with. When his work is done we may fail to find the book in it, but we are sure to find him.-HOLLAND, JOSIAH GILBERT, 1876, Every-Day Topics, First Series, p. 58.

It is difficult to strike the balance between the educational needs of passivity or receptivity, and independent selection. We should learn nothing without the tendency to implicit acceptance; but there must clearly be a limit to such mental submission, else we should come to a stand-still. The human mind would be no better than a dried specimen, representing

an unchangeable type. When the assimilation of new matters ceases, decay must begin. In a reasoned self-restraining deference there is as much energy as in rebellion; but among the less capable, one must admit that the superior energy is on the side of the rebels. And certainly a man who dares to say that he finds an eminent classic feeble here, extravagant there, and in general overrated, may chance to give an opinion which has some genuine discrimination in it concerning a new work or a living thinker an opinion such as can hardly ever be got from the reputed judge who is a correct echo of the most approved phrases concerning those who have been already canonised.ELIOT, GEORGE, 1880-83, Leaves from a Note Book, Essays, p. 365.

Only of late have we begun to look for criticism which applies both knowledge and self-knowledge to the test; which is penetrative and dexterous, but probes only to cure; which enters into the soul and purpose of a work, and considers every factor that makes it what it is;the criticism which, above all, esteems it a cardinal sin to suffer a verdict to be tainted by private dislike, or by partisanship and the instinct of battle with an opposing clique or school.-STEDMAN, EDMUND CLARENCE, 1885, Poets of America, p. 25.

The whole history of criticism has been a triumph of authors over critics.-MOULTON, RICHARD GREEN, 1885, Shakespeare as a Dramatic Artist.

Our true critic renounces idiosyncratic whims and partialities, striving to enter with firm purpose into the understanding of universal goodness and beauty. In so far as he finds truth in Angelico and Rubens, will he be appreciative of both.

SYMONDS, JOHN ADDINGTON, 1886, Renaissance in Italy, The Catholic Reaction, vol. II, p. 397.

Learn your trade, gentlemen, or your art, if it be an art, before you attempt to practise it. Science points you the path,

« AnteriorContinuar »