Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

There is another race of critics who might be designated as the Occult School-verè adepti. They discern no beauties but what are concealed from superficial eyes, and overlook all that are obvious to the vulgar part of mankind. Their art is the transmutation of styles. By happy alchemy of mind they convert dross into gold —and gold into tinsel. They see farther into a millstone than most others. If an author is utterly unreadable, they can read him for ever: his intricacies are their delight, his mysteries are their study. They prefer Sir Thomas Brown to the Rambler by Dr. Johnson, and Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy to all the writers of the Georgian Age. They judge of works of genius as misers do of hid treasure—it is of no value unless they have it all to themselves. They will no more share a book than a mistress with a friend. If they suspected their favourite yolumes of delighting any eyes but their own, they would immediately discard them from the list. Theirs are superannuated beauties that every one else has left off intriguing with, bed-ridden hags, a “ stud of night-mares.” This is not envy or affectation, but a natural proneness to singularity, a love of what is odd and out of the way. They must come at their pleasures with difficulty, and support admiration by an uneasy sense of ridicule and opposition. They despise those qualities in a work which are cheap and obvious. They like a monopoly of taste, and are shocked at the prostitution of intellect implied in popular productions. In like manner, they would chuse a friend or recommend a mistress for gross defects; and tolerate the sweetness of an actress's. voice only for the ugliness of her face. Pure pleasures are in their judgment cloying and insipid —

An ounce of sour is worth a pound of sweet!"

Nothing goes down with them but what is caviare to the multitude. They are eaters of olives and readers of black-letter. Yet they smack of genius, and would be worth any money, were it only for the rarity of the thing !

The last sort I shall mention are verbal critics --mere word-catchers, fellows that pick out a word in a sentence and a sentence in a volume, and tell you it is wrong*. These erudite persons constantly find out by anticipation that you are deficient in the smallest things-that you cannot spell certain words or join the nominative case and the verb together, because to do this is the height of their own ambition, and of course

* The title of Ultra-Crepidarian critics has been given to a variety of this species.

they must set you down lower than their opinion of themselves. They degrade by reducing you to their own standard of merit; for the qualifications they deny you, or the faults they object are so very insignificant, that to prove yourself possessed of the one or free from the other, is to make yourself doubly ridiculous. Littleness is their element, and they give a character of meanness to whatever they touch. They creep, buzz, and fly-blow. It is much easier to crush than to catch these troublesome insects; and when they are in your power, your self-respect spares them. The race is almost extinct :-one or two of them are sometimes seen crawling over the pages of the Quarterly Review!

ESSAY VII.

ON GREAT AND LITTLE THINGS.

« AnteriorContinuar »