the first sort, the slashing criticism, tradition keeps
us in mind. There were the spacious days of The Quarterly
and The Edinburgh, when our friends Lord
Byron and Mr. Keats were handled without hesitation
and criticism was held in repute and fear. And down
in our own time the prophetic voices have been heard,
unimpaired in Carlyle and Ruskin, revilers of the times,
mentors and chastisers of their age. Since their splendid
hour, unflinching criticism (or perhaps one ought to
say ruthless criticism) has lached for a distinguished
exponent, unless Mr. Henley can be called ruthless.
Mr. Robert Buchanan, while sufficiently ruthless, has
hardly the prominence that one speaks of as distinguished.
Mr. Swinburne's essays, so full of distinction and so
courageous, one hardly classes as ruthless criticism
either. His ire is so godlike, his invective so voluble,
his denunciations so unmeasured, that one (I for one)
must read him rather for diversion than for instruction.
When the great poet of "Atalanta in Calydon"
takes up his war-quill there is a delicious exhibition
in store for the appreciative reader whose humor is
unjaded. As criticism, however, I doubt if anyone would
call his work conclusive.
all, it as a thankless task to tell even an artist his
faults, unless you can manage somehow to reŽstablish
his own good opinion of himself at the same time-very
much in the way that one says, "So-and-So is a
blank poor actor, but he is good to his mother."
And perhaps our current criticism is not so very dissimilar
to that; except that we omit to tell the man that he's
a poor actor.
is no doubt that we are more humane than our fathers
in the matter of criticism; whether or not we are more
effective or useful may be an open question. Many persons
will hold that the happy medium was struck by the author
of Culture and Anarchy, in his trenchant style,
at once fearless and urbane, cutting and kindly. If
the medicine of sharp criticism can ever can be made
palatable to the patient, it would seem that Arnold's
prescription must be used-one ounce of irony to two
ounces of logic, applied hypodermically. And if the
patient gets up a temperature, repeat the application.
our own immediate time this thorough method has largely
been superseded by salve and lotion treatment, very
pleasant to take. No radical cure can be effected, and
an eruption is liable to reappear at any time. Moreover,
the salve remedy has one great drawback, it renders
the skin hypersensitive, so that the least harsh criticism
causes intense irritation. This is particularly true
of actors, in whom the malady is almost always of a
virulent order. For the moment, however, this massaging
of the soul with unguents of praise is most agreeable.
It has a sedative, megalocephic effect, entirely delightful.
And it is not until frequent repetition has dulled its
potency that we perceive the degree of lassitude and
debility to which it has reduced us.
I could have only one gift from Heaven I would say:
"Give me an honest friend-one who will tell me
my faults without asperity and without fear."
is the business of every critic (may we not say?) to
put himself in a position of just such a chosen friend
toward the man whose work comes within his study. True,
the artist cannot choose his critic. If he could he
would probably choose a sycophant every time, and that
would be unfortunate. So the rough-and-ready way of
things as they are, where the critic picks out his artist,
is better for us all. But the critic should have in
mind his self-appointed office, surely.
much being premised, I cannot find any other obligation
binding on criticism but to find out the truth and tell
it. This in itself will be a task of sufficient magnitude
and courage to enlist our best powers. If you are fondly
cherishing the idea that the world is only waiting to
be instructed in its errors you have not grasped the
first rudiments of the situation. And you may remember,
if you have the notion of making criticism your calling,
that a pinch of ridicule is worth a pound of railing.
It lasts longer and cures more thoroughly. And this
saving salt of humor, which will enable you to excoriate
others with precision, to their lasting benefit, will
also help you to bear their discomfiture with a feeling
akin to equanimity.
will be no shadow of levity, however, in your devotion
to the cause of truth. You may use ridicule, irony,
humor, invective or any other weapon with which you
are endowed as a means to compass your aim. But that
aim itself will always be the truth, the whole truth
and nothing but the truth. If facts are unpleasant,
that is not your business; it is only your business
to see that they are true, and to drive them home. If
your hearer hasn't an open mind, open it. If he hasn't
any mind at all, but only a ganglion of prejudices,
it is the will of God; you cannot alter it.
for ever and ever say the simple truth as you believe
it to be. Then, however you may be in error, you will
at least be establishing honesty and making a way for
the truth when it shall arrive.