Adventures in Criticism eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 306 pages of information about Adventures in Criticism.

     “The Death-Angel smote Alexander McGlue....”

while the methods of the Roman Experimental can hardly be better illustrated than by the rest of the famous stanza—­

     “—­And gave him protracted repose: 
     He wore a check shirt and a Number 9 shoe,
       And he had a pink wart on his nose.”


May 4, 1895.  Hazlitt.

“Coming forward and seating himself on the ground in his white dress and tightened turban, the chief of the Indian jugglers begins with tossing up two brass balls, which is what any of us could do, and concludes with keeping up four at the same time, which is what none of us could do to save our lives.” ...  You remember Hazlitt’s essay on the Indian Jugglers, and how their performance shook his self-conceit.  “It makes me ashamed of myself.  I ask what there is that I can do as well as this.  Nothing.....  Is there no one thing in which I can challenge competition, that I can bring as an instance of exact perfection, in which others cannot find a flaw?  The utmost I can pretend to is to write a description of what this fellow can do.  I can write a book; so can many others who have not even learned to spell.  What abortions are these essays!  What errors, what ill-pieced transitions, what crooked reasons, what lame conclusions!  How little is made out, and that little how ill!  Yet they are the best I can do.”

Nevertheless a play of Shakespeare’s, or a painting by Reynolds, or an essay by Hazlitt, imperfect though it be, is of more rarity and worth than the correctest juggling or tight-rope walking.  Hazlitt proceeds to examine why this should be, and discovers a number of good reasons.  But there is one reason, omitted by him, or perhaps left for the reader to infer, on which we may profitably spend a few minutes.  It forms part of a big subject, and tempts to much abstract talk on the universality of the Fine Arts; but I think we shall be putting it simply enough if we say that an artist is superior to an “artiste” because he does well what ninety-nine people in a hundred are doing poorly all their lives.


When people compare fiction with “real life,” they start with asserting “real life” to be a conglomerate of innumerable details of all possible degrees of pertinence and importance, and go on to show that the novelist selects from this mass those which are the most important and pertinent to his purpose. (I speak here particularly of the novelist, but the same is alleged of all practitioners of the fine arts.) And, in a way, this is true enough.  But who (unless in an idle moment, or with a view to writing a treatise in metaphysics) ever takes this view of the world?  Who regards it as a conglomerate of innumerable details?  Critics say that the artist’s difficulty lies in selecting the details proper to his purpose, and his justification rests on the selection he makes.  But where lives the

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Adventures in Criticism from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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