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PREFACE

Among the amusing and instructive books that remain to be written, one of the most piquant would be a history of the criticism with which the most celebrated literary productions have been greeted on their first appearance before the world." It is quite possible that when Dr. William Matthews began his essay on Curiosities of Criticism with these words, he failed to grasp the full significance of that future undertaking. Mr. Churton Collins recently declared that “a very amusing and edifying record might be compiled partly out of a selection of the various verdicts passed contemporaneously by reviews on particular works, and partly out of comparisons of the subsequent fortunes of works with their fortunes while submitted to this censorship.” Both critics recognize the fact that such a volume would be entertaining and instructive; but, from another point of view, it would also be a somewhat doleful book. Even a reader of meagre imagination and rude sensibilities could not peruse such a volume without picturing in his mind the anguish and the heartache which those bitter and often vicious attacks inflicted upon the unfortunate victims whose works were being assailed.

Authors (particularly sensitive poets) have been at all times the sport and plaything of the critics. Mrs. Oliphant, her Literary History of England, said with much truth: “There are few things so amusing as to read a really 'slashing article'-except perhaps to write it. It is infinitely easier and gayer work than a well-weighed and serious criticism, and will always be more popular. The lively and brilliant examples of the art which dwell

in the mind of the reader are invariably of this class.” Thus it happens that we remember the witty onslaughts of the reviewers, and often ignore the fact that certain witticisms drove Byron, for example, into a frenzy of anger that called forth the most vigorous satire of the century; and others so completely unnerved Shelley that he felt tempted to write no more; and still others were so unanimously hostile in tone that Coleridge thought the whole detested tribe of critics was in league against his literary success. There were, of course, such admirable personalities as Wordsworth's—for the most part indifferent to the strongest torrent of abuse; and clever craftsmen like Tennyson, who, although hurt, read the criticisms and profited by them; but, on the other hand, there are still well-informed readers who believe that the Quarterly Review at least hastened the death of poor Keats.

It has been suggested that such a volume of the "choice crudities of criticism "as is here proposed would likewise fulfill the desirable purpose of avenging the author upon his ancient enemy, the critic, by showing how absurd the latter's utterances often are, and what a veritable farrago of folly those collected utterances can make. We may rest assured that however much hostile criticism may have pained an author, it has never inflicted a permanent injury upon a good book. If there appear to be works that have been thus more or less obscured, the fault will probably be found not in the critic but in the works themselves. According to this agreeable theory, which we would all fain believe, the triumph of the ignorant or malevolent critic cannot endure; sooner or later the author's merit will be recognized and he will come into his own.

The present volume does not attempt to fulfill the conditions suggested by Dr. Matthews and Mr. Collins. A history of contemporary criticism of famous authors would

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be a more ambitious undertaking, necessitating an extensive apparatus of notes and references. It seeks merely to gather a number of interesting anomalies of criticism, reviews of famous poems and famous poets differing more or less from the modern consensus of opinion concerning those poems and their authors. Although most of the chosen reviews are unfavorable, several others have been selected to afford evidence of an early appreciation of certain poets. A few unexpectedly favorable notices, such as the Monthly Review's critique of Browning's Sordello, are printed because they appear to be unique. The chief criterion in selecting these reviews (apart from the effort to represent most of the periodicals and the principal poets between Gray and Browning) has been that of interest to the modern reader. In most cases, criticisms of a writer's earlier works were preferred as more likely to be spontaneous and uninfluenced by his growing literary reputation. Thus the volume does not attempt to trace the development of English critical methods, nor to supply a hand-book of representative English criticism; it offers merely a selection of bygone but readable reviews—what the critics thought, or, in some cases, pretended to think, of works of poets whom we have since held in honorable esteem. The short notices and the well-known longer reviews are printed entire; but considerations of space and interest necessitated excisions in a few cases, all of which are, of course, properly indicated. The spelling and punctuation of the original texts have been carefully followed.

The history of English critical journals has not yet been adequately written. The following introduction offers a rapid survey of the subject, compiled principally from the sources indicated in the bibliographical list. I am indebted to Professor Felix E. Schelling of the University of Pennsylvania, and to Dr. Robert Ellis Thompson and

Professor Albert H. Smyth of the Philadelphia Central High School for many suggestions that have been of value in writing the introduction. Dr. Edward Z. Davis examined at my request certain pamphlets in the British Museum that threw additional light upon the history of the early reviews. Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach and Professor J. H. Moffatt read the proofs of the introduction and notes respectively, and suggested several noteworthy improvements.

J. L. H. CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL,

PHILADELPHIA.

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