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pages I am subjected to more censure and in others am treated with more munificence of praise, in none of them am I consigned to unqualified condemnation. In one indeed of these vehicles of critical remark I find a charge brought against me of republicanism;. and in another, of insincere attachment to the church of which I am a member: but neither of these charges can touch me with the irritation of a feather, as they are repelled by the evidence of my work, of my connexions, and of the uniform tenor of my writings and my conduct through life.
Satisfied however as I ought to be with the general result of public criticism, I have been struck, and at the same time pleased, as I will confess, with the variety and, in some instances, the contradiction of its opinions. Here a fault has been objected to me, and there with another name it has been thrown into scale for merit. By one my prose
composition has been censured, and by another This critic discovers that my
translations are superfluous, and that pro
nounces my numbers to be defective; while a third boldly affirms my style to be unfit for narration, as it rises to turgidity and bombast, and surpasses the modesty, not only of biographical narrative but, of prose itself! My translations shall plead for themselves, and shall find in me as silent an advocate as they do in the ingenuous Mr. Hayley: but of my prose, which has been thus fearfully arraigned, I must be permitted to suggest something in the defence.
Between the false and the true in composition the separating line is strong and broad. Where ideas strut in a pomp pression, to which they can allege no claim; where they are oppressed with an incumbency of words; where, from vague conception, they are indistinct, or, from wrong perception, broken and disordered, the style suggests the sense of incongruity, disproportion, and deformity, and we justly brand it as turgid, bombastic, and not calculated to fulfil
See his publication of Cowper's translations of Milton's Latin and Italian poetry.
the first duty of language, that of communicating thought with propriety and precision. This is the false in composition, and while the critic may explain the causes of the error, the illiterate will feel and will recoil from it with disgust: all that is not thus incongruous and disproportioned, undefined and confused in the ideas and the diction is true; and the space between the very simple and the very figurative is sufficiently wide to allow the writer to walk or to run, as his spirits may prompt or his taste may direct. If my composition, therefore, be convicted of any of these enumerated crimes it must necessarily be condemned:-if it be found innocent, it must be acquitted; and the greater number of my readers will not perhaps complain if while their understandings are not abused, their fancies should be entertained. vening, indeed, between the true and the false there are the several degrees of the better and the worse, not ascertainable by any fixed standard of principle, but left for discrimination to the loose and floating sentiment of
taste. In this nicer graduation of styles, if mine should be determined by a plurality of voices to be too remote from the just point, I must submit to be censured, and must content myself with imputing the fault to the vice rather of my nature than of my judgment. I never strain after allusion, or laboriously beat the thicket for game: it springs around me in abundance; and I am compelled to refuse more than I take. If I could show my readers what I reject before it drops upon the paper and what is subsequently withdrawn by my prudence, they would perhaps pardon the errors which I have committed, for those which, under the impulse of temptation and with something of violence to my feelings, I have virtuously abstained from committing.
Having intimated, with reference to my own case, a contrariety in some of the decisions of public criticism, I may be asked the cause of this opposition of judgment in writers, who profess to determine without passion and on principles which are established and
invariable. But not to remark that, in the trial of literary composition, much must always be left to the discretion of individual taste, and that in criticism, as in law, there is something of a glorious uncertainty, it must be observed that, in consequence of the present eager demand for periodical criticism which seems to be increasing with the hour, every man, who can arrange a common sentence, is invited, with the helmet. of Orcus on his head, to assume the office of a critic, and thus to pass sentence on the merits, if not on the destinies of authors. The pen on these occasions is frequently, as I know, in the hand of ability and learning: but it is also, as I am likewise certain, not infre quently in that of imbecillity and ignorance, I am far however from objecting to this indiscriminate exercise of criticism, which, productive as it may be of partial evil, must, in my view of its operation, have a tendency to general good. I wish, indeed, that every man who can spell would turn critic; and from the extended agitation of opinion, which.