Page images
PDF
EPUB

fluential authors when the praiser can come insult; between a judgment and an attack. forward in his own person. This is only That it is possible to convey an absolute corollary from the foregoing, but we may condemnation of a work without otherwise place a word or two here on the subject. irritating the author, than condemnation

“ The pen," said the late James Smith, always must irritate, we well know; and we “is a weapon that may wound to distant have yet to learn why the courtesy which ages; both policy and humanity require it distinguishes civilized society should be to be wielded with caution." This excel- abolished from civilized literature ; why the lent remark strikes at the root of the subo amenities considered indispensable in a ject. If more adulation than abuse were to fleeting conversation, should be injurious result, would the influence be more per- in lasting print. nicious? Is it a worse social evil to in. It is not here argued that under every crease a man's complacency-perhaps mere. circumstance finding fault will not irritate ly to confirm it-than to tear open the certain thin-skinned authors (the present sensitive self-love, and pour into its quiver-writer has too often known his kindest in. ing wounds the gall of contempt and ridi. tentions construed into “an attack” when cule? Is inflation more dangerous to the the blame happened to be abundant), beopening faculties than depression? There cause the vanity is oftentimes so disprois a moral question involved in this of portioned to the judgment, that the justest very serious import. Some men are proud conclusions are distorted—but the general. enough to scorn attack, while they accept ity will readily distinguish between a fearless criticism ; they laugh at the fury of the opinion and a malevolent objection. In all critic's animus, while they sponge out the cases the critic is a man who sets up as a specks detected by the microscopic eye of teacher-a judgemor, at least, as a public hate ; they care little for the abuse, but taster, and must accomplish his duty with they consider the faults that are detected integrity ; if he shrink from the conse as truths discovered for the future. But quences, let him not take office; all men it is obvious that such men are not com- gladly would be heroes and mount the mon, and this indifference to abuses is the breach-were not the bullets so unfeeling! result of a very peculiar education acting If only then to induce a Christian courton a peculiar organization. But the gen- esy, it were well to abolish the anonymous; erality of authors-men who are authors for, as we have seen, real and serious obonly by reason of their extreme sensibility,jections would never be withheld, while and greedy love of praise-they are more rash, unfounded objections, and gross perthin-skinned, and to them objection is irritat- sonalities, would be diminished ; and on ing and abuse is torture. « The deprecia. this point we may cite the opinion of the tion of the lowest of mankind is more late estimable Dr. Arnold, who sayspainful than the applause of the highest is pleasing,” said Lord Byron ; " the sting my of a scorpion is more in torture than the press. The best of us, I am afraid, would be in possession of any thing couldbe in rapture;" danger of writing more carelessly without our and although this is an extreme opinion, names than with them. We should be tempted to yet it represents one large class of authors. weigh our statements lese, putting forward as true, Is this torture necessary?

what we believe, indeed, but have no sufficient Criticism killed poor Keats-or rather,

grounds for believing; to use sophistical argu.

:ments with less scruple, to say bitter and insulting hastened his death; embittered while it

15 death; embittered while it things of our adversaries with far less forbearroused Byron ; made the loving Shelley a ance?"* miserable exile, and depressed the goodnatured Coleridge. Are these facts noth

1 But here an argument must be noticed, ing? This is a question it were well that

which comes from no less a pen than that of every serious reader put to himself, and

Horace Smith, who, in the strength of his whether also the cause was inevitable.

integrity and kindliness, can thus feroNow, although we strongly deprecate

ciously judge mankind :any suppression of well-grounded objection,

“But," he says, “ the man who is hampered and and regard it as a treble injustice (towards disarmed by publicity will only exercise a portion

of the critic's functions; avoiding all notice of public, author, and the critic himself), quite

those whom he is afraid to attack, however mani. as bad as unjust abuse, yet we see a wide

fest may be his demerits ; overlauding the objects difference between the statement of a criti- of his favor, and attempting to neutralize the concal objection (which, after all, is no more scious excess of those encomiums by an undue than an individual opinion) and the manner of stating it; between a review and an "Lectures on Modern History," p 341.

many

[ocr errors]

severity towards the humbler aspirants whom he to find among them sometimes the highest thinks he may victimize with impunity."* authorities in such matters and yet the fact

A frightful picture-fortunately untrue! stares him in the face that this bepraised The rascality above predicted irould, of work is worthless. course, be practised by rascals-for it is! Mark another advantage of publicity! practised by them now-and we have no Under the present system a man may praise hope of making all the world honest. But a work, and subsequently quarrel with the the evil exists now—and flourishes under author ; he can then revenge himself in protection. The world does not know its another organ, or on the next work, and the rascals, and this is the grievance ; did it public be perfectly ignorant of the sincerity. once know them, and then put faith in them, Whereas, were the name affixed, you would one could only sigh; when the goose wad. exclaim-“Why, bow is this? you exalted dles to the fox for justice, then may we him to the skies in the pewspaper, and you “hang up philosophy” and burn our pens. tear him to pieces in the review !" Few

But is it pretended that all--or the ma. men bave effrontery enough to stand such jority of critics are rascals? Is it pre- an accusation. tended that when personal responsibility. There is one more difficulty, and we enforces a respect for public opinion, and willingly grapple with it. It is thought makes criticism both honorable and profit. that critics would affix their real names to able, that such rascality will be tolerated ? good articles, and assumed names to bad No--it is evident that if any thing can check ones; that, taking advantage of praise, they it, responsibility is the thing needful. Nor would screen themselves from the conse. is it true that the critic would seize the op- quences of abuse. If this were true, it portunity afforded him by affixing his name, would be almost insuperable; but it is not to introduce himself to the notice or friend

true. The same public opinion for which ship of influential authors by praising them. authors work, and by which they live, both Or, if it were done, it would not be done so in a moral and pecuniary sense, would much as at present, when every critic who here as elsewhere assert its power. No wishes such a thing sends the number con- upright man would do it at all;-few men taining the eulogy to the author, or man. who calculated the chances of detection ages to have the intelligence conveyed through inutual friends. The thing is sim. upright man has a conscience-the other ple enough-it is done secretly, and the re- has a fear. Concealment might be made a sult is secretly obtained. We do not ob. punishable offencem a sort of moral forgery; ject to it; on the contrary, when the praise and it would be more difficult effectually to is sincere, it is pleasant for those who preserve this concealment than is supposed, sympathize to be known to each other; but and for these reasons:for all bad purposes is it not as effectual 1. By affixing the name to a series of as signing the name? The public know articles, the critic's style, manner, and nothing of this they know nothing of the habitnal opinion would become known, and proofs that are sent to the author reviewed, / afford a clue to detection. So that when withia polite note, intimating that the critic these were seen under another name, a would be happy if the author would point suspicion would be created, and, as it could out any thing be objected to in the article, only be suspected when there was some as he would be sorry that any thing offen motive for concealment, it would be next to sive should escape bim! They know no. a certainty. thing of this--and of the thousand other! II. Whatever name were adopted, his toadyisms which are working in secret. To real name would be known to his editor. any one moderately acquainted with con. Before that editor he must blush at the mo. temporary literature, it must often have ex- tive which prompted concealment,-the cited surprise that authors the most worth-motive must be strong which would endure less can nevertheless alwaysp rint on a fly. this humiliation; unless, therefore, the edi. leaf, or in an advertisement, “ opinions of tor were a kindred scoundrel, concealment the press," establishing the work as beauti-would be rarely attempted ; and if he were ful, profound, worthy of all attention, a de. such an editor, his name and character sideratum, and the production of unques. I being known, it would be duly estimated tionable genius. On looking at the journal / by the public. quoted, the reader is still more astonished! III. Besides the editor, the printer and

reader must of course recognise the handBiog. Memoir prefixed to " James Smith's Let | writing, and the address of the critic, where ters and Miscellanies," vol i. p. 23.

the “proofs” are to be sent. Whenever

concealment is attempted suspicion is cre- I show the most skulking cowardice in the ated, and the closer it is endeavored to pettiest perils, and in the most important be kept, the greater will be the incitement, causes? Is it only our flag to those not implicated, to disclose it. IV. The editor is sure to “confiden.

"That braved a thousand years,

The battle and the breeze ?" tially confide" the secret to some friend, who confides it to a second, and a third, and were we all blustering bullies? Or do and so fugit irrevocabile verbum!

we face the cannon's mouth, and tremble These and other chances of detection, es at an angry author's wrath ? pecially if backed with a punishment of some This is all nonsense. No man ever feared sort, would restrain concealment. We do the consequences of a just and earnest not, however, deny that there are risks criticism ; but when envy, hatred, and malwhich would be sometimes run, as thieves ice have dipped the critic's pen in gall of well know the chances of detection, and yet all uncharitableness, and have ridiculed, re. are thieves; but as we must again repeat viled, misquoted, and defamed,-then, inthat we only look for amelioration, and not deed, is secrecy a blessing! It is so pleaperfection, we cannot be expected to pro- sant, and so Christian too, to stand masked pose a plan that would utterly prevent all by a parapet, and, taking a steady aim, fire dishonesty. But of one thing we are certain, a bullet through the heart of your enemy, viz. that the present system fosters dishon- who falls and curses, but knows not his esty, and affords honesty no recompense. slayer! It is so great and noble an exerIf a man be honest, he cannot boast of it; it cise for our proud and noble Britons! It is a negative virtue ; he cannot plume him. must tend so much to humanize and enself on any particular merit for having done courage virtue (with the sale of the jourhis duty. If he pursue inflexible justice nal)! for a series of years, nobody knows of it; In a word, the man who fears publicly to this perhaps is a small matter, but remem. proclaim truth will privately sell falsehood ber, also, that if he pursue inflexible in- / at so much per sheet ; fearing openly to justice for a series of years, he has the same confront his enemy, he will not fear to stab obscure security; nobody knows of it,-and him in the dark. If our arguments go for this is not a small matter.

nothing,-if neither the implication of a Having demolished this sophism, we man's self-love; nor the force of public opin. proceed to

ion, can make him conscientiously severe, IV. which says: there is conceit in the surely no one is mad enough to suppose constant intimation of an individual opin- he would be so when that self-love was not ion for the vague and inysterious “ we.” implicated, and no public opinion could Egotism is invariably disgusting. Admit. reach him? This is the vital point of the ted: the perpetual iteration of I think, I question; responsibility will not make the conceive, it is my opinion, &c., would be dishonest virtuous, but it will fix the waverunpleasant, if not arrogant; but it depends ing. upon him that uses it, not on the mere form The office of criticism in these days of expression.

seems to be almost as little understood as But on nearer consideration, is not this the science of criticism, which is in a truly perpetual indication of the criticism being deplorable condition. No man can read only an individual, not a collective, opinion, without forming an opinion of some sort, a very truthful and salutary matter ? Il which it is natural he should express at all John Smith were to talk of the aristocracy fitting opportunities: but this is a distinct as " we," you would laugh at his presump- thing from formal criticism. He may give tion; yet why should he identify himself expression to an error or an absurdity, for with the voice of the nation whenever he which he must bear the ridicule consequent utters his limited opinion ? Besides, after on such things; this is no more than if he all, if egotism is disgusting, is, therefore, gave utterance to an absurdity on astrono. wegotism so fascinating ?

my or politics : you cannot prevent it, beV. It is said that writers would not ac cause you cannot help men being absurd. cept the perils of criticism if they were not But the effect is very different when the protected. What they would not accept same error is perpetrated in a formal critithe perils of speaking the truth, of expos- cism, because it comes as no individual ing sophisms, of correcting false taste, of opinion, but as the verdict of the “Times," detecting dishonest plagiarisms! not accept which may make or mar the sale of the these? Where, then, is all that so-much- work. This effect it is certainly desirable boasted “British spirit,” that we must needs to counteract, because, as we proved in

reality, the opinion is an individual one, and "handling," "chiaroscuro," &c.; suggest. should not be palmed off for more than it ing that Michael Angelo's “Last Judgment" is worth. It may not suit editorial con- wants repose; and, to crown all, we constant. venience to have criticism appreciated at ly see a singer praised for “great breadth its just value ; but it would suit morality of style!” There is an education required and the public convenience much better for the man of science-there is an educa. The critic who is appointed as the public tion required for the artist; but for those taster, proclaiming the merits, wholesome- who are to judge the productions of sciness, and price of the various sorts of men-ence and art, no education is thought to tal food indiscriminately set before the ma- be required. It is a glorious democracy, tion, must have an eye to the public rather wherein every citizen may aim at the high. than his editor. He is the purifier of false est honors; accordingly, any one who can tastes and mischievous tendencies, which write at all is thought, and thinks himself, always abound; the indicator of hidden competent to the task of criticism; a month's treasures, which the mass are slow in de diligent perusal of the journals and reviews tecting ; the admirer of beauty, pointing will soon place him au courant of all the neout the latent meaning of a passage of|cessary terms to be employed, and of all “imagination all compact,” and placing it the reputations to be respected; he then in the clear light of the understanding. takes up the pen, and plunges into the subThis is the highest office of criticism—the lject with all the fervor of ignorance. translation of the poet's emotions into their It will perhaps be answered, that we are fundamental or correspondent ideas. speaking only of the “ small fry;" but

The critic having, therefore, to guide the though, in truth, the “large fry" come very public taste, and regulate it in the purchase much under the same category, it must also of books, it is not unimportant for the pub- be remembered, that precisely these “small lic to have some sort of corroborative proof fry," from their number and security, pro. of his possessing the requisite qualifications. duce the greatest mischief. What is the This can only be done by publicity, which meaning of the “silent contempt" with on the one hand secures a reputation, and which we are told to treat them when on the other, checks presumption. The the daily and weekly papers address thou. first requisite of a judge is that he know sands upon thousands of unsuspecting readsomething of the matter judged ; this is ers who are guided by them? Does not never to be ascertained at present. There everybody know the impetus given to the are many very worthy people and very con- sale of a work from a favorable notice in fident critics who would

the “ Times?" and shall such an impetus "Grin intelligence from ear to ear,"

be disregarded, or is it unimportant to

know by whom the notice was written? if you placed before them Laplace's “ Mé- Take a glaring instance. Mr. Whewell's canique Celeste," or Fichte's “Wissens- “History of the Inductive Sciences” is to chaftelshre," and honestly tell you, that for be reviewed, and such a subject can only their parts, they did not understand much be spoken of by men profoundly versed in of the subject; so that you would attach it. It is important, therefore, that the pubno great value to their opinion. There is lic should know on whose ipse dixit it is to no harm in this : each man “in his time believe that the work is very profound or plays many parts,” but is proficient in few very flashy; the critic must be a man of matters, and you only heed his opinion on sufficient acquirements, and with a reputhose matters. But under the present sys- tation to peril, otherwise he must stop to tem, if a critic speaks on a subject he does prove every assertion ;-an endless task. not understand, who is to confront him? No one doubts this; but somehow people Who is to say, “Why B., you reviewed never think the same caution necessary D's Mathematics : you don't understand with regard to works of art or speculative Mathematics !” Who can put so pertinent philosophy. Anybody may criticise a pica question to so impertinent a critic, shroud-ture or a poem-no education is necessary ed in the “ We?"

for that, they think. The result is legible This is no caricature. Men in conscious on all sides. security discourse on all matters with the Yet if a book be praised or abused, both same enviable fluency; the current formulæ public and author have a right to know on and cant terms of criticism are indiscrimi- whose authority they are to purchase-on nately applied, and we have critics of paint. whose authority they are pronounced asses. ing, ignorant of complementary colors, talk- If a man tells you that your poem is not ad. ing profusely about “breadth,” “tone,” | mired, and your irritable self-love snappish

ly demands by whom, and he answers, “By I doubt; and as their great master began the my landlady," your choler subsides, and you ascending series of belief by belief in his "smile superior.” Indeed, it would save own existence, so they begin with a vivid authors a pang if they knew by whom they belief in their own excellence-where they were abused, as it would lessen their self mostly stop. congratulation if they knew by whom they We had written thus far, when we rememwere eulogized. As Yriarte says, bered that Sir Lytton Bulwer had, some "Garde para su regalo

years ago, ably argued the matter in his Esia sentencia un autor :

* England and the English,” and on turning Si el sabio no aprueba, malo;

to the work were gratified to find our agreeSi el necio applaude, peor."

ment with his views therein expressed. A. once met B., a brother author, who, He is entitled to speak on the subject, and with the keen malice of a fiend, asked him

n to speak feelingly; for, independent of his

to if he had seen the dreadful abuse with

acquaintance with contemporary literature, which his (A.'s) work had been treated in

he has suffered as much as almost any man a certain journal, and began deploring with

from anonymous slander and abuse. Many him on the subject. “Abused me!" replied is have been

me! replied as have been the critical objections, we beA. ; “very natural 100—didn't they praise Ilieve they have been exceeded by the moral you?"

and personal attacks. He therefore anticiIn a word, the anonymous has prevented

pates much of what we have said ; and in the necessity for critical education, and we

we acknowledging his priority, we are anxious see no portion of literature in so decrepit a la

a also to enforce our arguments with his austate as criticism: it is the eunuch of lite- thority. There is no shame,” he says, rature-incapable itself, it is set to watch o

" where there is no exposure; where there

h over the capacity of others; and the best liene

best lis no shame, there is no honesty." There argument for its faithful defence of morality (lies the whole rationale of anonymous criti. consists in its own unbridled licentiousness. I cism! In the following passage, he humor. Pimp and pander to the worst of passions, lously describes a great evil: it has the tenderest suscep:ibility to the faults and the keenest nostril to the “taine"|

hans « Nearly all criticism at this day is the public of its enemies. It always stabs in the name

Jeffect of private acquaintance. When a work has

been generally praised in the reviews, even if deof public morals—it slanders on religious ser

it sianders on religious servedly, nine times out of ten the author has sescruples. While lauding to the skies the cured a large connection with the press. Good corrupt literature of its own party, it “shud- heavens! what machinery do we not see exerted ders” at the thought of a “French novel;" 10 get a book tenderly nursed into vigor. I do not while deifying -- it curses George Sand. say that the critic is dishonest in his partiality ; Oh, it is a great and glorious thing in a free

perhaps he may be actuated by feelings that, judged and glorious country!

by the test of private sentiments, would be consid

ered fair and praiseworthy. Ah, poor So-and-so's The patronage of ignorance and the en- l book : well, it is no great things; but So-and-so is couragement of careless speaking (with an a good fellow; I must give him a helping hand.' allowable limit of lying and slandering) have "C—- has sent me his book to review; that's of course prevented any science of criticism a bore, as it's devilish bad; but as he knows I sball becoming possible ; and, in the absence of be his critic, I must be civil.' all principle (moral as well as critical)! ".What, D.'s poems ? it would be unhandsome whereby to justify admiration, the safest liini

dining at his house yesterday.' Such, and a variety and commonest procedure has naturally of similar private feelings, which it may be easy to been one of absolute negation. To praise censure, and which the critic himself will laughwhen every body is abusing, requires a ingly allow you to blame, color the lone of the great knowledge few critics possess : besides, to mass of reviews. This veil, so complete to the find fault, is showing so enviable a superi.world, is no veil to the book-writing friends of the ority over the artist—had only we been

person who uses it. They know the hand which

deals the blow, or lends the help; and the critic consulted !

willingly does a kind thing by his friend, because "C'est dommage, Garo, que tu n'est point entré, it is never known that in so doing he has done an Au conseil de celui que prêche ton curé, unjust one by the public."

Tout en eut été mieux."
Then the finding fault is so easy, when los

Another passage, bearing on a former part

of our argument, we may cite as full of feelno conscience or knowledge of the matter;

"ing and propriety: interferes. “You have only,” as Göthe says, “to apply a different standard from lan

med "An argument has been adduced in favor of

"anonymous criticism, so truly absurd, that it would mal on the author, and he is sure to nave not be worth alluding to, were it not so often al. failed.” Modern critics are mostly disci-leged, and so often suffered to escape unridiculed. ples of Descartes, starting from universal' It is this : that the critic can thus take certain lib.

Vol. I. No. III. 31

« PreviousContinue »