Sunday, September 16, 2007

Miss Anthropy's Commonplace Book

A Digression Concerning Criticks: excerpted from A Tale of a Tub; and I'm posting it partly to find it again.
By the Word, Critick, at this Day so frequent in all Conversations, there have sometimes been distinguished three very different species of Mortal Men, according as I have read in Antient Books and Pamphlets. [...] The Third, and Noblest Sort, is that of the TRUE CRITICK, whose Original is the most Antient of All. Every True Critick is a Hero born, descending in a direct line from a Celestial Stem, by Momus and Hybris, who begat Zoilus, who begat Tigellius, who begat Etcaetera the Elder, who begat Bently, and Rymer, and Wotton, and Perrault, and Dennis, who begat Etcaetera the Younger.

And these are the Criticks from whom the Commonwealth of Learning has in all Ages received such immense benefits, that the Gratitude of their Admirers placed their Origine in Heaven, among those of Hercules, Theseus, Perseus, and other great Deservers of Mankind. But Heroick Virtue it self hath not been except from the Obloquy of Evil Tongues. For it hath been objected, that those Antient Heroes, famous for their Combating so many Giants, and Dragons, and Robbers, were in their own Persons a greater Nuisance to Mankind, than any of those Monsters they subdued; and therefore, to render their Obligations more Compleat, when all other Vermin were destroy'd, should in Conscience have concluded with the same Justice upon themselves: as Hercules most generously did, and hath upon that Score, procured to himself more Temples and Votaries than the best of his fellows. For these Reasons, I suppose it is, why some have conceived, it would be very expedient for the Publick Good of Learning, that every True Critick, as soon as he had finished his task assigned, should immediately deliver himself up to Ratsbane, or Hemp, or from some convenient Altitude, and that no Man's Pretensions to so illustrious a Character, should by any means be received, before That Operation were performed.

Now, from this Heavenly Descent of Criticism, and the close analogy it bears to Heroick Virtue, 'tis easie to Assign the proper Employment of a True Antient Genuine Critick; which is, to travel thro' this vast World of Writings: to pursue and hunt those Monstrous Faults bred within them: to drag out the lurking Errors like Cacus from his Den; to multiply them like Hydra's Heads, and rake them together like Augeas's Dung. Or else to drive away a sort of Dangerous Fowl, who have a perverse Inclination to plunder the best Branches of the Tree of Knowledge, like those Stymphalian Birds that eat up the Fruit.

These Reasonings will furnish us with an adequate Definition of a True Critick; that, He is a Discoverer and Collector of Writers Faults. Which may be farther put beyond Dispute by the following Demonstration: That whoever will examine the Writings in all kinds, wherewith this antient Sect has honor'd the World, shall immediately find, from the whole Thread and Tenour of them, that the Idea's of the Authors have been altogether conversant, and taken up with the Faults and Blemishes, and Oversights, and Mistakes of other Writers; and let the Subject treated on be whatever it will, their Imaginations are so entirely possess'd and replete with the Defects of other Pens, that the very Quintessence of what is bad, does of necessity distill into their own: by which means the Whole appears to be nothing else but an Abstract of the Criticisms themselves have made.

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