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PAPERS ON LITERATURE AND ART.
A SHORT ESSAY ON CRITICS.
An essay on Criticism were a serious matter; for, though this age be emphatically critical, the writer would still find it neces. sary to investigate the laws of criticism as a science, to settle its | conditions as an art. Essays, entitled critical, aro epistles ad. dressed to the public, through which the mind of the recluso relieves itself of its impressions. Of these the only law is, “Speak the best word that is in thee.” Or they are regular ar. ticles got up to order by the literary hack writer, for the literary mart, and the only law is to make them plausible. There is not yet deliberate recognition of a standard of criticism, though we hope the always strengthening league of the republic of letters must ere long settle laws on which its Amphictyonic council may act. Meanwhile let us not venture to write on criticism, but, by classifying the critics, imply our hopes and thereby our thoughts.
First, there are the subjective class, (to make use of a conve. nient term, introduced by our German benefactors.) These are persons to whom writing is no sacred, no reverend employment. They are not driven to consider, not forced upon investigation by the fact, that they are deliberately giving their thoughts an inde. pendent existence, and that it may live to others when dead to th They know no agonies of conscientious rescarch, no tim. idities of self-respect. They see no ideal beyond the present hour, which makes its mood an uncertain tenure. How things
affect them now they know ; let the future, let the whole take care of itself. They state their impressions as they rise, of other men's spoken, written, or acted thoughts. They never drcam of going out of themselves to seek the motive, to trace the law of another nature. They never dream that there are statures' which cannot be measured from their point of view. They love, they like, or they hate; the book is detestable, immoral, absurd, or admirable, noble, of a most approved scope ;-these statements they make with authority, as those who bear the evangel of pure laste and accurate judgment, and need be tried before no human synod. To them it seems that their present position commands the universe.
Thus the essays on the works of others, which are called criti. cisirs, are often, in fact, mere records of impressions. To judge of their value you must know where the man was brought up, under what influences,-his nation, his church, his family even. He himself has never attempted to estimate the value of theso circumstances, and find a law or raise a standard above all cir. cumstances, permanent against all influence. He is content to be the creature of his place, and to represent it by his spoken and written word. He takes the same ground with a savage, who does not hesitate to say of the product of a civilization on which he could not stand, “ It is bad,” or “ It is good.”
The value of such comments is merely reflex. They charac. terize the critic. They give an idea of certain influences on a certain act of men in a certain time or place. Their absolute, essential value is nothing. The long review, the eloqueut arti. cle by the man of the nineteenth century, are of no value by themselves considered, but only as samples of their kind. The writers were content to tell what they felt, to praise or to de. nounce without needing to convince us or themselves. They sought not the divine truths of philosophy, and she proffers them not if unsought.
Then there are the apprehensive. These can go out of them. selves and enter fully into a foreign existence. They breathe its life; they live in its law; they tell what it meant, and why it so expressed its meaning. They reproduce the work of which they spcak, and make it better known to us in so far as two statements are better than one. There are beautiful specimens in this kind They are pleasing to us as bearing witness of the genial sympa thics of nature. They have the ready grace of love with some. what of the dignity of disinterested friendship. They some. times give more pleasure than the original production of which they treat, as melodies will sometimes ring sweetlier in the echo. Besides there is a peculiar pleasure in a true response ; it is the assurance of equipoise in the universe. Thesc, if not true critics, come nearer the standard than the subjective cluss, and the value of their work is ideal as well as historical.
Then there are the comprehensive, who must also be appre. hensive. They enter into the nature of another being and judge his work by its own law. But having done so, having ascer. tained his design and the degree of his success in fulfilling it, thus measuring his judgment, his energy, and skill, they do also know how to put that aim in its place, and how to estimate its re. lations. And this the critic can only do who perceives the anal. ogies of the universe, and how they are regulated by an absolute, invariable principle. He can see how far that work expresses this principle, as well as how far it is excellent in its details. Sustained by a principle, such as can be girt within no rule, no formula, he can walk around the work, he can stand above it, he can uplift it, and try its weight. Finally, he is worthy to judge it.
Critics are poets cut down, says some one by way of jeer; but, in truth, they are men with the poetical temperament to appre. hend, with the philosophical tendency to investigate. The maker is divine ; the critic sees this divine, but brings it down to hu.