Friday, April 11, 2008

On Criticism

I'm currently reading Matthew Lewis' 1794 novel The Monk, one of the most popular of the early gothic novels (and by far the most scandalous). I'll have a full review up when I finish it, but did want to post an interesting excerpt (from Chapter 2 of Volume II) regarding authorship and literary criticism.

In the scene, the Marquis de las Cisternas discovers his young page, Theodore, hard at work writing poetry. Upon reading the lad's verses, the Marquis opines:

"... I was going to say, that you cannot employ your time worse than in making verses. An Author, whether good or bad, or between both, is an Animal whom every body is privileged to attack; For though All are not able to write books, all conceive themselves able to judge them. A bad composition carries with it its own punishment, contempt and ridicule. A good one excites envy, and entails upon its Author a thousand mortifications. He finds himself assailed by partial and ill-humoured Criticism: One Man finds fault with the plan, Another with the style, a Third with the precept, which it strives to inculcate; and they who cannot succeed in finding fault with the Book, employ themselves in stigmatizing its Author. They maliciously rake out from obscurity every little circumstance, which may throw ridicule upon his private character or conduct, and aim at wounding the Man, since They cannot hurt the Writer. In short to enter the lists of literature is wilfully to expose yourself to the arrows of neglect, ridicule, envy, and disappointment. Whether you write well or ill, be assured that you will not escape from blame; Indeed this circumstance contains a young Author's chief consolation: He remembers that Lope de Vega and Calderona had unjust and envious Critics, and He modestly conceives himself to be exactly in their predicament. But I am conscious, that all these sage observations are thrown away upon you. Authorship is a mania to conquer which no reasons are sufficiently strong; and you might as easily persuade me not to love, as I persuade you not to write. However, if you cannot help being occasionally seized with a poetical paroxysm, take at least the precaution of communicating your verses to none but those whose partiality for you secures their approbation."

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