The Function of Criticism at the Present Time

Topics: Time, Present Pages: 30 (12618 words) Published: March 24, 2013
Matthew Arnold


Table of Contents
THE FUNCTION OF CRITICISM AT THE PRESENT TIME.........................................................................1 Matthew Arnold.............................................................................................................................................1


Matthew Arnold
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"Our antagonist is our helper. This amicable conflict with difficulty obliges us to an intimate acquaintance with our object, and compels us to consider it in all its relations. It will not suffer us to be superficial."−−BURKE.

THE FUNCTION OF CRITICISM AT THE PRESENT TIME. MANY objections have been made to a proposition which, in some remarks of mine on translating Homer, I ventured to put forth; a proposition about criticism, and its importance at the present day. I said: "Of the literature of France and Germany, as of the intellect of Europe in general, the main effort, for now many years, has been a critical effort; the endeavour, in all branches of knowledge, theology, philosophy, history, art, science, to see the object as in itself it really is." I added, that owing to the operation in English litera− ture of certain causes, "almost the last thing for which one would come to English literature is just that very thing which now Europe most desires−−criticism;" and that the power and value of English literature was thereby impaired. More than one rejoinder declared that the importance I here assigned to criticism was excessive, and asserted the inherent superiority of the creative effort of the human spirit over its critical effort. And the other day, having been led by an excellent notice of Wordsworth published in the North British Review, to turn again to his biography, I found, in the words of this great man, whom I, for one, must always listen to with the profoundest respect, a sentence passed on the critic's business, which seems to justify every possible disparagement of it. Wordsworth says in one of his letters:−− "The writers in these publications" (the Reviews), "while they prosecute their inglorious employment, can− not be supposed to be in a state of mind very favour− able for being affected by the finer influences of a thing so pure as genuine poetry."

And a trustworthy reporter of his conversation quotes a more elaborate judgment to the same effect:−− "Wordsworth holds the critical power very low, in− finitely lower than the inventive and he said to−day that if the quantity of time consumed in writing critiques on the works of others were given to original com− position, of whatever kind it might be, it would be much better employed; it would make a man find out sooner his own level, and it would do infinitely less mischief. A false or malicious criticism may do much injury to the minds of others; a stupid invention, either in prose or verse, is quite harmless."

It is almost too much to expect of poor human nature, that a man capable of producing some effect in one line of literature, should, for the greater good of society, voluntarily doom himself to impotence and obscurity in another. THE FUNCTION OF CRITICISM AT THE PRESENT TIME 1

THE FUNCTION OF CRITICISM AT THE PRESENT TIME Still less is this to be expected from men addicted to the composition of the "false or malicious criticism," of which Wordsworth speaks. How− ever, everybody would admit that a false or malicious criticism had better never have been written. Every− body, too, would be willing to admit, as a general propo− sition, that the critical faculty is lower than the inventive. But is it true that criticism is really, in itself, a baneful and injurious employment; is it true that all time given to writing critiques on the works of others would be much better employed if it were...
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