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The beauty of the figure lies in the fullness, clearness, and appropriateness with which it conveys the meaning not only to the understanding, but also to the heart.
Even rhyme and measure in poetry must appear as essential to the adequate utterance of the idea and feeling which they contain, or they become intolerable. Whoever would attain to excellence in literature, must abandon all designs upon ornament, and think only of the most effective manner of uttering the conceptions within him, so that they may move the hearts of those who read, and achieve a valuable result in the well-being of his fellow men.
OF CRITICAL AUTHORITY.
ONE other question demands a reply under this head:—Whence does criticism derive its authority ? From the dictatorial style of the anonymous and mysterious reviewers of recent times, one is haunted with the impression that they must be something more than men, enjoying revelations on the subject of taste, which it must be impious to controvert. All the leading reviews of the day are addressed to such an impression. Taking for granted that they alone are correct, and that none other has a right to any opinion at all, they never manifest the shadow of a suspicion that they can, by any possibility, be guilty of a mistake. Behind the screen of the review, and the editorial we, the critic, no matter how ignorant or stupid, assumes to himself infallibility, and writes as one having authority. Constituting himself a judge, and regarding the author as a culprit arraigned at his bar, he proceeds in the awful majesty of office, to pronounce that sentence which he deems must be final — incontrovertible, because he has said it. Very rarely is there any, the least, show of reasoning on common principles, or any attempt to justify the decision by clear and cautious argument. The unknown critic is supreme ; his word the law. The Edinburgh, the Quarterly, or the North American Review, spreads her broad and dark wings over the whole body of her critics; and beneath their shade, the most puny presumes to mimic the airs of a giant. Many an opinion has been maintained in a Review which the author would not have run the risk of publishing in his own name. Even the great Aristarchus of North Britain, himself, loses much authority when emerging from the anonymous stronghold in his proper person. Many a decision received as the authoritative voice of the very Delphi of criticism, hardly resisted by a murmur, bent to as the arbitration of a god, has afterward been wofully shorn of its glory, contracted in its dimensions, and treated with a contemptuous every-day familiarity, when found to be only the private opinion of Lord Jeffrey, Mr. Smith, or Mr. Macaulay.
Notwithstanding, these Reviews, and others of a similar nature, have great excellencies, and upon the whole have done good service to the cause of literature. For they are sometimes correct. And when that is the case, although the correct may not be more than a tithe of the false, there is good done, inasmuch as by their number and their diversity of interests and views, they furnish a counterbalance to each other's errors; and the truth, once defined and spoken, remains, while the false, exposed, and in the course of time rightly estimated, molders away.
This, however, does not answer the present question. Through what means can one make himself acquainted with the principles of criticism, that he may not fluctuate from one whim to another of his own, or depend for his opinions on the mere say so of an unknown reviewer?
It is obvious that the works which have pleased many generations, must have been composed according to the principles on which men are pleased. The careful study of such works will therefore supply us with the knowledge of many such principles. From this source the most eminent critics have drawn their precepts. For example, Aristotle drew the rules of epic and dramatic poetry from the works of Homer and Sophocles. But whence did those eminent poets learn the rules which Aristotle collected from their works? Or did they write at random, and find mankind ready to receive their whims for laws? Some, for a time, might be weak enough to do so; but that centuries of thinking men should admire without a cause is inconceivable. Why did not Aristotle draw his rules from Chærillus instead of Homer? The great critic had observed that Homer was most admired, and culled as precepts those features on which especially approbation dwelt. But Homer must have discovered the force of those principles before he composed in accordance with them. He therefore is to be esteemed as the real discoverer. The intuition of genius, as usual, led the way, and criticism followed to define and classify.
Instead then of relying upon the bare authority of some eminent critic, whoever wishes to maintain his spiritual independence, will examine such works of permanent character for himself, and make use of the critic's rules only to guide and aid his investigations, not to stop them.
By thus carefully studying the works of approved writers of old time, one may deduce and feel the force of the most eminent laws of good writing; but he must beware of adopting the notion that ancient authors have observed and embodied every correct principle of art. Such is the doctrine of a set of pedants, who call themselves critics of the classic school; but would not be a logical inference, even had no hand wielded the pen since ancient times. Many fertile minds have
. recently discovered other, though not contradictory methods of conferring æsthetic delight. True, the martinets of criticism have endeavored to prove, that we ought not to be pleased with anything but obedience to ancient rules. In spite, however, of their proof, men will occasionally derive very high enjoyment from qualities of which Aristotle never conceived ; and that without any disparagement to the great Stagyrite.
The rules given by Aristotle for epic and dramatic poetry, are properly only the rules of the works of Homer and Sophocles, and all other poems dealing