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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 155 pages of information about Backlog Studies.
them to a comparison with somebody else, merely because the critic will not take the trouble to ascertain what they are.  If, indeed, the poet and novelist are mere imitators of a model and copyists of a style, they may be dismissed with such commendation as we bestow upon the machines who pass their lives in making bad copies of the pictures of the great painters.  But the critics of whom we speak do not intend depreciation, but eulogy, when they say that the author they have in hand has the wit of Sydney Smith and the brilliancy of Macaulay.  Probably he is not like either of them, and may have a genuine though modest virtue of his own; but these names will certainly kill him, and he will never be anybody in the popular estimation.  The public finds out speedily that he is not Sydney Smith, and it resents the extravagant claim for him as if he were an impudent pretender.  How many authors of fair ability to interest the world have we known in our own day who have been thus sky-rocketed into notoriety by the lazy indiscrimination of the critic-by-comparison, and then have sunk into a popular contempt as undeserved!  I never see a young aspirant injudiciously compared to a great and resplendent name in literature, but I feel like saying, My poor fellow, your days are few and full of trouble; you begin life handicapped, and you cannot possibly run a creditable race.

I think this sort of critical eulogy is more damaging even than that which kills by a different assumption, and one which is equally common, namely, that the author has not done what he probably never intended to do.  It is well known that most of the trouble in life comes from our inability to compel other people to do what we think they ought, and it is true in criticism that we are unwilling to take a book for what it is, and credit the author with that.  When the solemn critic, like a mastiff with a ladies’ bonnet in his mouth, gets hold of a light piece of verse, or a graceful sketch which catches the humor of an hour for the entertainment of an hour, he tears it into a thousand shreds.  It adds nothing to human knowledge, it solves none of the problems of life, it touches none of the questions of social science, it is not a philosophical treatise, and it is not a dozen things that it might have been.  The critic cannot forgive the author for this disrespect to him.  This isn’t a rose, says the critic, taking up a pansy and rending it; it is not at all like a rose, and the author is either a pretentious idiot or an idiotic pretender.  What business, indeed, has the author to send the critic a bunch of sweet-peas, when he knows that a cabbage would be preferred,—­something not showy, but useful?

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