Criticism’s best spiritual work which is to keep man from a self-satisfaction which is retarding and vulgarising, to lead him towards perfection, by making his mind dwell upon what is excellent in itself, and the absolute beauty and fitness of things. MATTHEW ARNOLD.
The whole history of criticism has been a triumph of authors over critics. R. G. MOULTON.
Our criticism is disabled by the unwillingness of the critic to learn from an author, and his readiness to mistrust him. D. H. HOWELLS.
We have too many small schoolmasters; yet not only do I not question in literature the high utility of criticism, but I should be tempted to say that the part it plays may be the supremely beneficent one when it proceeds from deep sources, from the efficient combination of experience and perception. In this light one sees the critic as the real helper of mankind, a torch-bearing outrider, the interpreter par excellence. HENRY JAMES.
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THE EDINBURGH REVIEW
“A confederacy (the word conspiracy may be libellous) to defend the worst atrocities of the French, and to cry down every author to whom England was dear and venerable. A better spirit now prevails in the Edinburgh Review from the generosity and genius of Macaulay. But in the days when Brougham and his confederates were writers in it, more falsehood and more malignity marked its pages than any other journal in the language.”
Landor is speaking, of course, with his usual impetuosity, particularly moved by antipathy to Lord Brougham. A fairer estimate of the “bluff and blue” exponent of Whig principles may be obtained from our brief estimate of Jeffrey below. His was the informing spirit, at least in its earliest days, and that spirit would brook no divided sway.
Jeffrey was editor of the Edinburgh Review from its foundation in October 10th, 1802, till June, 1829; and continued to write for it until June, 1848. He was more patronising in his abuse than either Blackwood or the Quarterly, and on the whole fairer and more dignified; though he was considerably influenced by political bias. In fact, his judgments—though versatile—were narrow, his most marked limitations arising from blindness to the imaginative.
The short, vivacious figure (so low that he might pass under your chin without ever catching the eye even for a moment, says Lockhart), was far more impressive when familiar than at first sight. Lord Cockburn praises his legal abilities (whether as judge or advocate) almost without qualification; but Wilson derides his appearance in the House:—“A cold thin voice, doling out little, quaint, metaphysical sentences with the air of a provincial lecturer on logic and belles-lettres. A few good Whigs of the old school adjourned upstairs, the Tories began to converse de omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis, the Radicals were either snoring or grinning, and the great gun of the north ceased firing amidst such a hubbub of inattention, that even I was not aware of the fact for several minutes.”