The critical judgment “This book is good or bad” implies good or bad at all times, but in relation to the readers future a book is good now if its future effect is good, and, since the future is unknown, no judgment can be made. The safest guide therefore is the naive uncritical principle of personal liking. A person at least knows one thing about his future, that however different it may be from his present, it will be his. However he may have changed he will still be himself, not somebody else. What he likes now, therefore, whether an impersonal judgment approve or disapprove, has the best chance of becoming useful to him later.
I’ve written elsewhere about my discovery of irony, but today I wish to remember my discovery of criticism.
Joseph Addison, from the Tatler, on “the Critic” (1710):
This, in the common Acceptation of the Word, is one that, without entering into the Sense and Soul of an Author, has a few general rules, which, like mechanical Instruments, he applies to the Works of Every Writer, and as they quadrate with them, pronounces the author perfect or defective. . . . The Marks you may know him by are, an elevated Eye, and dogmatical Brow, a positive Voice, and a Contempt for everything that comes out, whether he has read it or not.
Jonathan Swift, from The Battle of the Books (1704):
Mean while, Momus fearing the worst, and calling to mind an Antient Prophecy, which bore no very good Face to his Children the Moderns; bent his Flight to the Region of a malignant Deity, call’d Criticism. She dwelt on the Top of a snowy Mountain in Nova Zembla; there Momus found her extended in her Den, upon the Spoils of numberless Volumes half devoured. At her right Hand sat Ignorance, her Father and Husband, blind with Age; at her left, Pride her Mother, dressing her up in the Scraps of Paper herself had torn. There, was Opinion her Sister, light of Foot, hoodwinkt, and headstrong, yet giddy and perpetually turning. About her play’d her Children, Noise and Impudence, Dulness and Vanity, Positiveness, Pedantry, and Ill-Manners. The Goddess herself had Claws like a Cat: Her Head, and Ears, and Voice resembled those of an Ass; Her Teeth fallen out before; Her Eyes turned inward, as if she lookt only upon herself: Her Diet was the overflowing of her own Gall: Her Spleen was so large, as to stand prominent like a Dug of the first Rate, nor wanted Excrescencies in form of Teats, at which a Crew of ugly Monsters were greedily sucking; and, what is wonderful to conceive, the bulk of Spleen encreased faster than the Sucking could diminish it.