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a friend on his appearance in print ; in the shall describe it, not to expose the secrets present day we should rather felicitate our of trade, but simply to show the philosofriends for what they have left unwritten. phic process by which public instructors We never go into company without feeling are formed in modern times. tenipted to say to our several acquaintances, Trading criticism does not exclude learn
VOL. X.-N0. V.-MAY, 1837.
ON COTEMPORARY CRITICISM.
NEVER did heretics and schismatics in “ Good sir, how thankful should the world any age and country complain more bitterly be for your sparing them the infliction of of inquisitors, high commission courts, and an epic poem.” “ You cannot think, dear star chambers, than the present race of au- madam, how much obliged we feel for your thors do of their critics. Dramatists, poets, withholding a stupid novel.” novelists, historians, philosophers, and ma- master or miss, you have shewn more thematicians, join in one sweeping accusa- sense than I thought you possessed by tion against the injustice of reviewers ; suppressing your miscellany, a word or those who are condemned of course appeal title which publishers assert is derived against the sentence; those who are lauded from Miss-selling-any."
“ Worthy specudelare that eulogy is given to the quality lator, our heart is rejoiced by your keeping which least deserved praise, and that their to yourself plans for draining the ocean, real merit has eluded the critic's search. or making a railroad to the moon." That most anomalous body, “ the reading Why is there this contest between aupublic," is appealed to by both parties, its thors and critics ? and, still more, why does tribunal is daily beset by clamorous appel- 6 the reading public” regard the contest lants, who claim the reversal of the sen- with indifference? Simply because franktence pronounced upon their works, declar- ness is wanting in our literary judges; they ing that the condemnation was the result cannot, or rather they will not, give senof envy, party spirit, or sheer incapacity. tence by the unalterable rules of right and The authors are unanimous in their com- wrong. Nature has given a broad, but not plaints; the critics, on the other hand, seem a limitless charter to genius and imaginaagreed that the present scribbling genera- tion, but every school of criticism, however tion is very unreasonable, they declare that lovest, restricts the charter by a set of they are ready to find the praise, if authors bye-laws, sometimes at variance with its produce the merit, but until then they letter, always inconsistent with its spirit. declare that they must deal out eulogy Mediocrity has blighted judgment as well with caution, lest they might flatter medi- as invention ; reviewers will not say that ocrity into the conceit of greatness. There black is black, or white is white; they find is no doubt that both parties have good it necessary to detract from the darkness grounds for complaint. The qualified na- of the one, and the clearness of the other. ture of criticism in the present day is truly But great as is this evil, it is far from annoying; a review of any work of imagi- being the worst that besets modern critination in the Athenæum, or Gazette, is cism. Reviewing is now in too many injust like Canning's administration, a mix- stances a mere trade, and no very honest ture of liberality and illiberality, which can We speak not merely of the paid satisfy nobody; here a bit of praise, there paragraphs notoriously inserted for money a bit of blame, and an endless repetition of in most newspapers, they are advertiseGoldsmith's immortal conclusion, “the ments, and the world is fast learning the picture would have been better if the artist trick that is played by putting them in a had taken more pains.” On the other hand, place where they appear to be original it must be confessed that mediocrity is the articles. Neither do we speak of critiques general character of modern literature; written by an author on his friends, and we scarcely meet with a work which might inserted in a periodical by securing the not be produced “ by many men, many good-will of the editor. There is a far more women,
general system of trading criticism in vogue ; In old times it was usual to congratulate it flourishes, and is likely to flourish; we a friend on his appearance in print ; in the shall describe it, not to expose the secrets present day we should rather felicitate our of trade, but simply to show the philosofriends for what they have left unwritten. phic process by which public instructors We never go into company without feeling are formed in modern times. tenipted to say to our several acquaintances, Trading criticism does not exclude learn
VOL. x.-N0. v.-MAY, 1837.
ing or talent, though it gets on very well poraries ; it declares that the hostile rewithout either. It has no need of study view mistook in one place, and misrepreto prepare its decisions, no toil is required sented in another; and though it does not to discover the object and tendency of a care in the least for such a very weak atwork under consideration, and still less to tack, it is of opinion that the eyes of the determine its general bearing on the pro- world ought to be opened to the criminality gress of mind; it wants not an opinion to or the incapacity of those who attempt to guide, but an opinion to sell ; it has to guide the public taste. produce an article, not for the public trea- Trading criticism has now succeeded ; sury, but the private shop. There must be genius is caught in the toils, it has condedirt and mud to fling at enemies—there scended to be pitied, and can never again must be incense to gratify good pay- assume an independent part. It relies not masters. “ The reading public” knows on its own merits, but on the venal exerlittle, and cares less, about the process; all tions of a hireling ; Ion, or La Vallière, it wants is a ready-made opinion, and trad- must be supported, because they are the ing criticism has a plentiful supply of pets of their parents, and trading criticism opinions of all sorts and sizes in its ware- promises faithfully to undertake the task. house. Trading criticism is by no means The promise is fulfilled to the letter; the indolent, it cannot afford to waste a single enthusiasm the trading critic shews to his hour; nay, it has a fixed price for its very patron is without bounds or moderation. minutes. It has to raise a new faith and He commences his task at once, the whole worship in order to secure for itself the vocabulary of praise is exhausted in his profitable post of priest at the shrine. search for epithets of admiration. The Byron, Scott,Bulwer, Talfourd, and others, intellectual genealogy of the author is placed have been successively its gods for a day, before us with a fulness of description and were all the worse for listening to its which leaves Arabian and Highland pedidelusive suggestions. Let the idol of the grees far behind; the titles of former works hour produce such a satire as the Siamese are enumerated, their merits asserted with Twins, such a romance as Devereux, or oracular solemnity, and the writer's claims such a drama as the Duchess de la Vallière, to public gratitude and everlasting fame trading criticism is ready to raise the work established by “confirmation strong as to the very pinnacle of glory. Ere the proof of Holy Writ.” Loud lamentations genius wakes the critic is by his bed-side, are uttered, and bitter tears shed over the aids his dressing, administers soothing flat- wickedness that would detract from such tery while he shaves, worms himself into merit, and the apathy of the public to such the patron's confidence by pretending to wondrous deserts. At length, all the rehang enraptured on his words, and promises sources of eloquence are exhausted, and vengeance on the heretics who refuse to trading criticism winds up the Roman bow down before the new divinity. “My warrior by proposing that we should bear lear sir, you should not feel sore at the the new divinity to the capitol, and shew leview in the Weekly Censor, the author our gratitude to the gods by offering up a is cold-blooded, mathematical, and calcu- whole hecatomb of gainsayers as a hololating; besides the editor's journal is op- caust. posed by one to which you are known to Waverley could not tell what to make of be favourable,--party spirit blinded him to the Highland phrase, “ the chief with his your merits, the world understands all tail on ;" had he lived in our day, and that kind of thing. You shall see in the looked at a column of literary advertisenext number of our journal how the hos- ments, he would have seen“ genius with tile criticism will be answered. Entrust its tail on," in the list of notices appended me with your revenge, I will carry the war to every new book. A successful writer of into the enemy's camp, and take care that the present day rides in triumph like the impunity shall no longer be an incentive to Roman consul with a slave in his chariot ; injustice."
but the hireling does not as of old exclaim, Poor genius yields to the soothing ac- “ Remember that you are a man,” the cents of trading criticism, it mutters some modern lesson is, “ Believe that you are a few words about envy being the regular god.” attendant of merit, and the neglect that But the puffing is not all on one side ; intellectual supremacy meets from cotem- the author thinks it but just to praise the