Miss Marie Corelli’s Opinion of it.
It was Mr. G.B. Burgin, in the September number of the Idler, who let the Great Heart loose this time—unwittingly, I am sure; for Mr. Burgin, when he thinks for himself (as he usually does), writes sound sense and capital English. But in the service of Journalism Mr. Burgin called on Miss Marie Corelli, the authoress of Barabbas, and asked what she thought of the value of criticism. Miss Corelli “idealised the subject by the poetic manner in which she mingled tea and criticism together.” She said—
“I think authors do not sufficiently bear in mind the important fact that, in this age of ours, the public thinks for itself much more extensively than we give it credit for. It is a cultured public, and its great brain is fully capable of deciding things. It rather objects to be treated like a child and told ‘what to read and what to avoid’; and, moreover, we must not fail to note that it mistrusts criticism generally, and seldom reads ‘reviews.’ And why? Simply ‘logrolling.’ It is perfectly aware, for instance, that Mr. Theodore Watts is logroller-in-chief to Mr. Swinburne; that Mr. Le Gallienne ‘rolls’ greatly for Mr. Norman Gale; and that Mr. Andrew Lang tumbles his logs along over everything for as many as his humour fits....”
—I don’t know the proportion of tea to criticism in all this: but Miss Corelli can hardly be said to “idealise the subject” here:—
“... The public is the supreme critic; and though it does not write in the Quarterly or the Nineteenth Century, it thinks and talks independently of everything and everybody, and on its thought and word alone depends the fate of any piece of literature.”
Mr. Hall Caine’s View.
Then Mr. Burgin called on Mr. Hall Caine, who “had just finished breakfast.” Mr. Hall Caine gave reasons which compelled him to believe that “for good or bad, criticism is a tremendous force.” But he, too, confessed that in his opinion the public is the “ultimate critic.” “It often happens that the public takes books on trust from the professed guides of literature, but if the books are not right, it drops them.” And he proceeded to make an observation, with which we may most cordially agree. “I am feeling,” he said, “increasingly, day by day, that rightness in imaginative writing is more important than subject, or style, or anything else. If a story is right in its theme, and the evolution of its theme, it will live; if it is not right, it will die, whatever its secondary literary qualities.”
In what sense the Public is the “Ultimate Critic.”