Page images
PDF
EPUB

obstacles than stupidity—and these are the very wells they are set to keep pure. interests and prejudices.

| Modern publishing styled with such inTo effect reforms, truth and abstract imitable innocence, “the trade,”-is pure justice have hitherto been found compre- and glorious by the side of modern criti. hensively insufficient; nor does the reason cism. And if there are honorable exceplie very deep. But if once you implicate in. tions, of what avail are tbey in this swarm terests and palliate prejudices, your victory of gadflies? Did not the plague of flies is assured, for these are things which “come darken the land of Egypt, and are not these home to the business and bosoms of men," writers, though individually beneath con

- they are palpable, calculable advantages tenipt, like grains of gunpowder, powerful felt by the dullest; while truth and justice in a mass? are neither readily conceived nor universal. | With so perfect an unanimity of execraly recognized. When backed by interest tion as exists on the subject of criticism, it and prejudice, it is so sweet to labor in would be tedious to enter into the question the cause of justice, and the banner of as to whether it be an abuse or not; all we truth makes such a triumphant rustle over have to inquire is, whether this evil be inthe orator's head, fanning him to victory! evitable; and if not, how can it be reformed?

With these prosaic convictions we are We are firmly convinced that it is not inreformers—with these views of obstacles evitable, and that it could be very materially we intend attacking an abuse. Our course reformed by the abolition and interdiction is therefore plain before us. We have first of the present infamous use of the anony. to prove it to be an abuse, then to prove it mous. susceptible of reform, and finally to prove The anonymous nature of all present that the interests of the world are implicat. criticism we regard, with many other wried, and their prejudices baseless. We are ters, as the parent evil, and although the not critical Quixottes, and have not there- subject is not new, yet we believe it has fore the sanguine madness of supposing a never been systematically discussed, and reform will follow our exposure; but every we shall therefore make an opening for energetic voice raised is of value, if it carry such a discussion, by examining the argu. conviction to half a dozen, and in time ments usually brought forward in defence one may reasonably hope the cause tri- of the anonymous, which may be thus sumumphant.

med up: Formally to demonstrate the working 1. Abolish the anonymous, and you des. abuses of criticism, in its present state, troy the influence of a criticism, by making would be too liberal an expenditure of re. it the opinion of an individual, and not that sistless logic. We need only point to criti- of an organ. It is the Times' that is quocism itself, and say, “Behold !” and its ted, and not the writer. imbecility and insincerity will, as the French II. You also abolish just severity. The say, leap up at your eyes. There is fortu. critic will feel his judgment hampered by nately no difference of opinion on this point publicity. No one will dare to blame.

-all men, journalists and critics included, III. You open the door to gross adulation are agreed in condemning it as rife with in the place of appreciation ; inducing men glaring ignorance and dogmatic incapacity to praise influential authors, when the -and the few honorable exceptions (which praiser can come forward in his own pert would be invidious to specify, and which, son. once for all, we beg to acknowledge and to IV. There is conceit in substituting the exempt from our remarks) only make the individual name and opinion for the vague general evil more apparent. No one doubts and mysterious “ we.” . Egotism is invaria. that it is distorted by shameless cupidity, bly disgusting. unblushing subserviency, and arrogant in. V. Writers would not accept the perils solence—no one doubts that its influence of criticism if they were not protected. on literature, and on the public taste, is Such are the most plausible defences we pernicious-in short, no one doubts that it have been able to collect in the course of

s a great and serious evil; the only pallia. an inquiry of some years, and they have intion offered is, that it is an inevitable one. variably been given by critics themselves,

Prove the abuses of criticism ? They are so that they may be taken as excuses for here--there-everywhere ; they rot and individual conduct, as well as general argustink around you ; they are on the highways ment. All the rabid nonsense has been set and byeways, infesting every corner; they aside, and only those selected which have a taint every breath drawn in by the great "show of reason." We assure the reader system of modern publishing, and poison Ithat, so far from suppressing any real or plausible argument, we have sought on all confessed that the opinion which would sides for the best, in order that our present have no weight in itself, must borrow the examination might be satisfactory ;-and weight of the journal ! the above summary may be taken as ex- For in truth the opinion is that of an inpressing the best arguments hitherto com-dividual after all. On party matters it is monly held: any stronger ones concocted the individual expression of party feeling, by the solitary thinker we of course ignore, but in purely literary matters (to which but shall be happy to see them brought for we confine ourselves) the opinion is simply ward and considered.

individual. It may be said that the organ, On a first glance the above objections to the Times,' is a party paper, and therethe abolition of the anonymous are both fore the editor chooses his critic as one serious and practical; on nearer inspection who will support that party, and consethey turn out to be somewhat weak, and on quently the opinion is a collective one attentive consideration they will be found after all. True in one sense-but if the either to be built on gross misconception writer affixed his name (as if Twining laof human nature and of literature, or on ill-belled his sloe-leaves) this would still be concealed cowardice. Twist them how you the case (because the editor would not will, sophisticate with “forty-parson powo choose one who thought differently from er," and the glaring fact still remains that him), and yet no deception would be practhese defences are grounded on ignorance tised. The public would be aware that it or cowardice. We will argue them separ- was in some sort a collective opinion, but ately, and endeavor to lay bare the rotten- the stupidity would be the writer's ownness at their roots.

and no unfair influence would throw a nimI. The influence of a criticism, it is said, bus round his folly, making it an oracle. would be destroyed by making it an indivi- There can be no commercial objection to dual opinion. The verdict delivered by a Mr. Twining selling sloe-leaves, should John Smith (an ideal critic, of course, is there be a demand for them--but there are meant here) would be disregarded, whereas very weighty objections, moral and comthe verdict of the “Times'* commands as- mercial, against his selling them as “highsent and the sale of copies.” The writer, flavored souchong.” while unknown, may be supposed to be some But mark another consequence of the illustrious thinker employed for the occa- “we!” By reason of the equivocal pasion ; but if once you avow the authorship, rentage of articles, success is beneficial all such supposition is at an end.

to the journal, while blunders fail to injure This is a fact, and we at once accept it it. A criticism is either individual or col. —but what does it indicate ? Simply this: lective, according to circumstances. If the -that the journal chooses to avail itself writer goes on blundering and blundering, of a deceptive, dishonest influence, purely filling the enormous cavity of his deficienextrinsic, derived from its wealth and rep. cies with “ three-piled hyperbole," or writutation, and not from the intrinsic merit ofing absurdities in slovenly language, with the article! This is deliberate dishonesty. an ostentation of ignorance “only critics If you go to Messrs. Twining and Co. for know,"—the integrity and reputation of your tea, you go there confident that from the journal remains intact. People say, their reputation you will be sure not to “What an ass that writer must be," but no get sloe-leaves, and you purchase without one discontinues the journal, and no one hesitation; now if they chose to take ad- discontinues looking for its opinion on that vantage of their reputation, and sell their very subject so illustrious for stupidity. unsuspecting customers sloe-leaves, no one This is the effect of impersonality. It is would hesitate to pronounce it dishonest. the opinion of the Times ;' and as there Yet this is of precisely the same nature as are many writers employed on that journal, the argument which would palm off a bad ar- and no one knows whether the writer of toticle under an influential reputation-which day will be the writer of to-morrow, confirefuses to let John Smith be valued at his dence is never shaken by failure. On the othown merit, and insists on his being valued er hand, the mighty and mysterious “we” at the merit of the 'Times. It is coolly throws a falsifying nimbus over mediocrity,

and carries with it the force of a matured • The reader will of course understand that we collective judgment. select the Times' merely because the most influen | That such a system is iniquitous few tial, and therefore the filtest lype; but we beg, once sophists would deny. Observe also, that for all, to observe, that this article being one of principles, not persons, we have throughout rigidly

lv while it generates the most extreme careabstained from personalities of every sort. I lessness of the public as to the writer, directing all the attention to the journal, I to our notions, yet fortunately we have it fosters and disseminates mediocrity and facts to point to as confirmatory. In France bad taste, represses healthy criticism, and and Germany criticism is open, and accordcloaks skulking cowardice with immunity.lingly we find in those countries extensive Merit can stand on its own broad basis, and reputations grounded almost exclusively on needs borrow no force from the “ we,” but criticism, viz., Nisard, Sainte Beuve, Guswe have yet to learn that dullness is so ex- tave Planche, Philarète Chasles, Jules Janin, cellent a thing that it must needs be pat. Théophile Gautier, &c., in France, and such ronized, and that incompetence should gomen as Menzel and Rellstab in Germany, forth with the seal of approval.

Without asserting the excellence of all But admitting as we do, while deploring these writers, we must admit that they are it, that the impersonality of criticism in- men of ability, and their reputations are un. creases its influence, we contend that on questionable and European. Much as our a proper basis the personality of criticism literature is studied abroad, we may assert would be still more influential, and would with safety that no critic's name has crossed be unalloyed by dishonesty, intentional or the frontier--simply because no critic's otherwise-surely no small consideration name is known. If therefore only as an in a Christian country! That is to say, if encouragement to excellence, the anony: instead of uneducated nobodies, self-con-mous ought to be abolished. stituted judges, a set of competent critics There is one remaining argument on this were engaged-men who had qualified point it may be well to notice. It is said themselves by special previous study-the that editors very often want their own reputation they would speedily earn for opinions expressed, and not the opinions of themselves would far exceed the anony- individual writers, and that the onus of mous influence, because the public would these opinions being shifted from the have the double security of personal res. shoulders of the writer on to those of the ponsibility and personal reputation. To journal, they may be expressed without intake a broad instance, no one doubts that volving his conviction or honesty ; which if one of the witty Smiths—the Rev. Syd- could not be done if writers owned their ney, the late James, or the present Horace articles.

-were to affix his signature to a favorable This is intelligible, but sophistical. Critics opinion of some witty work, the public con. are not machines—at least they should not fidence and curiosity would be more stim. be. Besides, the office of criticism is not ulated than by the same opinion unavowed that of expressing the personal predilections in any of the reviews. The opinion of John of some "able editor, but that of conscienMill on a philosophical treatise would be tiously giving deliberate and impartial worth all the anonymous reviews put opinions for the guidance of public taste together. The proof of this is seen by the and correction of an author's errors. An ostentation with which all such personal ideal state, not to be realized by editorial criticisms are paraded by the delighted "cues." There is bitter irony in every authors.

prospectus of a journal or review when it Abolish the anonymous, and competent lays so much stress on the "impartiality" men must be engaged, because the public of the criticisms it will be its object to place would not tolerate avowed mediocrity; and before the world. This impartiality we all moreover, as a critical reputation might know, and although journalists and reviewthen be made, some men of superior abili.ers have manifold excuses of haste and idleties would gladly undertake the task and ness, with a readiness at “making up their execute it conscientiously. This reputa- minds" upon works they have not read, and tion would in turn be a guarantee for their speaking of performances which did not opinions, while the incapacity of the in- take place, still we cannot be made to accompetent would daily become prominent. cept an editorial convenience as an argu. The daily reader of criticisms, signed Johnment for the continuance of a moral Smith, would in a fortnight detect his pecu. iniquity. Men defending unjust causes liar bias, prejudices, and standards of com- have faltering consciences and feeble logic; parison, so that, however previously un-1-thus only can we explain the seebleness known, John Smith would rapidly become of the arguments for the anonymous. famous or infamous in proportion to ability. Having proved No. I. to be iniquitous in or dishonesty.

its foundation, pernicious in its result, and This we say must take place, and al. very effectually to be reformed, let us prothough we are here taking the “high priori ceed to II., which says: abolish the anonyroad,” and arranging the future according Imous, and you abolish just severity. This

is a case of misconception. It is true that they would be said, owing to the heat of by affixing the name of the writer you personal argument being absent. Perhaps would abolish much, if not all, personality a stronger and apter illustration is to be

-all cowardly insult and irrelevant jeer. found in the debates in Parliament. Here ing—all insinuation of unworthy motives—men are placed in an analogous position to all enumeration of an author's pimples when that of the critic. They have to argue for his errors are not abundant-and by so do the public benefit and their own advance. ing it would purify the press of its greatest ment. They are aware that the perception, disease. The fear of personal chastisement ridicule, and exposure of errors, and the and the force of public opinion would re- utterance of important truths, is the duty strain the licentious pen, the bold scandal, they owe their country and themselves. We the basty accusation, or the venal eulogy. find no want of fault-finding here. Errors But that critical severity or minute fault- are not passed over in friendliness and idlefinding, even violent reprobation, would also ness—absurdities meet with no courteous disappear, could only be supposed by those silence! An honorable member proposes utterly misconceiving one of the most po- a measure, and in the discussion all the tent springs of human action-self-love. weak points are brought into view, not al

There would be as much severity, most ways in perfect grammar, seldom in adeprobably more than at present. It would quate perception of the meaning of words, be often unjust-for who is not so ?—but still seldomer with any dialectical accuracy; mostly conscientious and always responsi- nevertheless, one way or the other they are ble. Rash blame would be rarer when the dragged forth, and exposed to the fire of blamer might be called upon to substantiate sarcasms (not always in good taste or good it; but the blame which convictions always breeding) and placed in the vice-grip of bestow on errors would be still more plen- syllogisms. In this way does what Carlyle tiful than it is now; and for this reason :- calls the “ National Palaver” perform its

The error or absurdity which the irres. duty. Without holding it up as a model, ponsible critic may now in friendliness or we may point to it as confirmation of what idleness pass over, would then impeach his the severity of criticism would be were it own judgment, and as his reputation would avowed. be involved, we may safely leave all to its A writer once told us, with an air of secare. For a man to praise a bad book, or rene knowingness, that he had become a to abuse a good one under the present sys- “ brigand in literature, attacking all and tem, is simple enough; he is not convicted sparing none." Whatever we might think of want of taste or judgment; but were he of the profession he had chosen, we could forced to own it, bis judgment or his hones pot but admire his frankness; but as all the ty would be periled, and they know little brigands in literature do not thus confidentof authors who suppose them capable of ly carry their colors, we wish at any rate sacrificing their vanities to their partialities. that they were not encouraged by immunity. Friends are not always the most friendly cri. That there will always be brigands and tics—their method of showing how they ad- blackguards, ready to plunder or stab at mire your work is indeed mostly to add-mire. random, we admit; but it is one thing to

The result may be correctly anticipated admit the existence of an evil and another from what takes place in conversation to protect it, and it is our object to make where religious, moral, and political errors this protection cease. We anticipate no are exposed and pursued with a rancor perfection from the adoption of reform, but quite as fierce as any journalism-where a simply amelioration. We do not hope to man tells you to your face that you are an eradicate vice, but to expose it. When a atheist if you suspect the infallibility of the man is declared an outlaw, his name and bishops, or tells you that you want to plunge person are described-when a man is known the nation in blood if you express a desire as a swindler, prudent people shun his con. for more general humanity-and where ab. nection-so would we have the literary surdities and illogicalities are ridiculed and scoundrel shunned and punished by public combated with flushed and eager violence. opinion in proportion to bis infamy. If a Now, if such things are said to a man's face man chooses to prostitute his pen for pat—with all the decencies of society, and all ronage—to stifle his honesty in dinners, let the personal risks acting as restraints—will the public know him as such : compel him they not be said with equal boldness when to sign his disgrace, and he is welcome to the reviewer is speaking to the world at it. In the present state of things he has large ? Obviously ;-the only difference every temptation to be dishonest, and to be would be the greater courtesy with which honest none.

V

V

om victims to their virtues | National.' Madame Sand is not only of her are seldom honest but by restraint. the extreme republican party, and therefore Restraint. so necessary in all periods of so- a fighter in the same cause as the National.' cierr, becomes daily more urgent as it be- but she is the friend of its remarkable edi. wames more material. The true high feel-tor, Armand Marrast, and a shareholder of ing of morals may be said to be extinct. the property. From these circumstances Lofty virtue now leans with grim graceful. one would anticipate nothing but eulogy: ness against a baggard gallows, instead of but we find, on the contrary, that one of the reposing on great convictions; and in the most violent attacks on her Compagnon du absence of this internal regulation there is Tour de France' appeared in its columns. the greater urgency of external restraint, by Louis Reybaud.* Can a similar instance which now assumes two forms, viz., public be quoted in English criticism ? opinion and law (with a subsidiary prospect. Now, although we by no means approve of the gallows)--these make the responsio of the violence of party feeling and personal bility of actions still a serious matter ;-so prejudice which so often disgrace French serious as effectually to keep the mass hon-criticism, yet we may refer to them as est. Yet if some theorist, deploring the proof of our position, that to abolish the aptness of men to crime, were to suggest anonymous is not to disarm severity. We as a reform that all personal responsibility must again repeat that party feelings and should cease at once, and all misdemeanors prejudices, inasmuch as they will always be laid to the charge of “society at large,” exist, must always find vent; we do not you would laugh in his face. Yet precisely therefore hope to be rid of them, but simply this doctrine do you maintain for critics. to be enabled to recognise them. If the You allow a man the indulgence of en. Bishop of London were to review Lovett's venomed malice, of careless scandal, of Chartism, all the world would be aware of the obtuse ignorance, or of wilful defamation, opinions and prejudices which must necesand yet you maintain that all this should be sarily influence him, and the public would irresponsible. Now, to make men honest therefore “allow for the wind ;” but if he is no easy task, but the first step towards it were to review this without affixing his is unquestionably to make them responsi- name, who would know how much to "al. ble, or if not, then is irresponsibility an low for the wind ?" This is the point we anomaly in the moral world worthy of all wished gained. study.

We foresee a slight objection it may be We see, therefore, that the misconcep- as well to anticipate. It may be said that tion on which has been founded the suppo. in France the articles are not always signed, sition of the anonymous favoring severity or have assumed signatures, and therefore has been a misconception of the springs of cannot be adduced as fair illustrations. human action; and although nothing will But who does not know that “J. J." is entirely extirpate the evils of criticism till Jules Janin, that “XXX.is Rolle, that the the golden age of honesty, the millenoium“ Vicomte de Launay” is Madame Emile of morals, arrives, yet we think that the Girardin, that “Quelqu'un" is Gérard, abolition of the anonymous would consider. &c. ? If any one in France is ignorant of ably lessen the evils ; first, by bringing good such assumptions he can always learn them, criticism into the field ; secondly, by pre many of them being as notorious as “Boz," venting a number of easy-tempered men“ Barry Cornwall," " Father Prout," “ The from indulging in the popular sophism of Opium Eater,” &c. So that to all intents their not being responsible (for are they not and purposes criticism is open and acknowresponsible to their own souls ?); and third. ledged. ly, by rousing their self-love by implicating II. It is said that the door would be their judgments. These would give hon-opened to gross adulation in the place of esty a premium, talent a reward, and medi. appreciation ; inducing critics to praise in. ocrity the death-blow. Mistaken as well as mercenary kindness would greatly disap-lihat the National has a profound admiration for

To prevent misconception it is necessary to state pear, and malevolence and ignorance would the genius of George Sand-as who has not ?-but stand exposed.

that the work in question contains doctrines which

I that journal opposes, and therefore was it attacked. To conclude our argument with an illus.

On a closer inspection, however, a suspicion arises n, we refer to the state of criticism in that the reviewer's judgment was somewhat influFrance as a proof that the publicity of crienced by George Sand's having exposed, in her tics does not disarm their severity —a curi preface, a gross plagiarism by the National' from ous example of which may be noticed in the

Tihe work which first gave her the idea of her own

e viz., 'Le Compagnonnage.'— Vide Preface to her case of George Sand's reviewers in the novel.

« PreviousContinue »