Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Criticism was the Eldest Daughter of Labour and of Truth?

 March 27, 1750 - The Rambler, Johnson

Virtus, repulsæ nescia sordidæ,
Intaminatis fulget honoribus,
Nec sumit aut pouit secures
Arbitrio popularis auræ.
Hor. lib. iii. Od. II. 18.

Undisappointed in designs,
With native honours virtue shines;
Nor takes up pow’r, nor lays it down,
As giddy rabbles smile or frown.


...Though the nature of my undertaking gives me sufficient reason to dread the united attacks of this virulent generation [of Critics], yet I have not hitherto persuaded myself to take any measures for flight or treaty. For I am in doubt whether they can act against me by lawful authority, and suspect that they have presumed upon a forged commission, styled themselves the ministers of Criticism, without any authentick evidence of delegation, and uttered their own determinations as the decrees of a higher judicature.

Criticism, from whom they derive their claim to decide the fate of writers, was the eldest daughter of Labour and of Truth: she was at her birth committed to the care of Justice, and brought up by her in the palace of Wisdom. Being soon distinguished by the celestials, for her uncommon qualities, she was appointed the governess of Fancy, and empowered to beat time to the chorus of the Muses, when they sung before the throne of Jupiter.

When the Muses condescended to visit this lower world, they came accompanied by Criticism, to whom, upon her descent from her native regions, Justice gave a sceptre, to be carried aloft in her right hand, one end of which was tinctured with ambrosia, and inwreathed with a golden foliage of amaranths and bays; the other end was encircled with cypress and poppies, and dipped in the waters of OBLIVION. In her left hand she bore an unextinguishable torch, manufactured by Labour, and lighted by Truth, of which it was the particular quality immediately to shew every thing in its true form, however it might be disguised to common eyes. Whatever Art could complicate, or Folly could confound, was, upon the first gleam of the torch of Truth, exhibited in its distinct parts and original simplicity; it darted through the labyrinths of sophistry, and shewed at once all the ABSURDITIES to which they served for refuge; it pierced through the robes, which Rhetoric often sold to Falsehood, and detected the disproportion of parts, which artificial veils had been contrived to cover.

Thus furnished for the execution of her office, Criticism came down to survey the performances of those who professed themselves the votaries of the Muses. Whatever was brought before her, she beheld by the steady light of the torch of Truth, and when her examination had convinced her that the laws of just writing had been observed, she touched it with the amaranthine end of the sceptre, and consigned it over to immortality.
But it more frequently happened, that in the works, which required her inspection, there was some imposture attempted; that false colours were laboriously laid; that some secret inequality was found between the words and sentiments, or some dissimilitude of the ideas and the original objects; that incongruities were linked together, or that some parts were of no use but to enlarge the appearance of the whole, without contributing to its beauty, solidity, or usefulness.

Wherever such discoveries were made, and they were made whenever these faults were committed, Criticism refused the touch which conferred the sanction of immortality, and, when the errours were frequent and gross, reversed the sceptre, and let drops of lethe distil from the poppies and cypress, a fatal mildew, which immediately began to waste the work away, till it was at last totally destroyed.

There were some compositions brought to the test, in which, when the strongest light was thrown upon them, their beauties and faults appeared so equally mingled, that Criticism stood with her sceptre poised in her hand, in doubt whether to shed lethe, or ambrosia, upon them. These at last increased to so great a number, that she was weary of attending such doubtful claims, and, for fear of using improperly the sceptre of Justice, referred the cause to be considered by Time.

The proceedings of Time, though very dilatory, were, some few caprices excepted, conformable to Justice: and many who thought themselves secure by a short forbearance, have sunk under his scythe, as they were posting down with their volumes in triumph to futurity. It was observable that some were destroyed by little and little, and others crushed for ever by a single blow.

Criticism having long kept her eye fixed steadily upon Time, was at last so well satisfied with his conduct, that she withdrew from the earth with her patroness Astrea, and left Prejudice and False Taste to ravage at large as the associates of Fraud and Mischief; contenting herself thenceforth to shed her influence from afar upon some select minds, fitted for its reception by learning and by virtue.

Before her departure she broke her sceptre, of which the shivers, that formed the ambrosial end, were caught up by Flattery, and those that had been infected with the waters of lethe were, with equal haste, seized by Malevolence. The followers of Flattery, to whom she distributed her part of the sceptre, neither had nor desired light, but touched indiscriminately whatever Power or Interest happened to exhibit. The companions of Malevolence were supplied by the Furies with a torch, which had this quality peculiar to infernal lustre, that its light fell only upon faults.

No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv’d only to discover sights of woe.

With these fragments of authority, the slaves of Flattery and Malevolence marched out, at the command of their mistresses, to confer immortality, or condemn to oblivion. But the sceptre had now lost its power; and Time passes his sentence at leisure, without any regard to their determinations.


Jonson, Underwoods

From death and dark oblivion (near the same)
    The mistress of man’s life, grave History,
Raising the world to good and evil fame,
    Doth vindicate it to eternity.
Wise Providence would so : that nor the good
    Might be defrauded, nor the great secured,
But both might know their ways were understood,
    When vice alike in time with virtue dured :
Which makes that, lighted by the beamy hand
Of Truth, that searcheth the most hidden springs,
And guided by Experience, whose straight wand
    Doth mete, whose line doth sound the depth of things ;
She cheerfully supporteth what she rears,
    Assisted by no strengths but are her own,
Some note of which each varied pillar bears,
    By which, as proper titles, she is known
Time's witness, herald of Antiquity,
The light of Truth, and LIFE OF MEMORY.

 'Republican' Milton -

On Shakespeare. 1630

By John Milton

What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones,
The labor of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid   
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a live-long monument.
For whilst to th’ shame of slow-endeavouring art,   
Thy easy numbers flow, and that each heart   
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued book
Those DELPHIC lines with deep impression took,   
Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,   
Dost make us marble with too much conceiving;
And so sepúlchred in such POMP dost lie,
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.


Definition of pompous
  1. 1 :  excessively elevated or ornate pompous rhetoric
  2. 2 :  having or exhibiting self-importance :  arrogant a pompous politician
  3. 3 :  relating to or suggestive of pomp or splendor : magnificent

Definition of Delphic
  1. 1 :  of or relating to ancient Delphi or its oracle
  2. 2 often not capitalized :  ambiguous, obscure Delphic utterances

Samuel Johnson, Preface to Shakespeare

  The faults are more than could have happened without the concurrence of many causes. The stile of Shakespeare was in itself ungrammatical, perplexed and obscure; his works were transcribed for the players by those who may be supposed to have seldom understood them; they were transmitted by copiers equally unskilful, who still multiplied errours; they were perhaps sometimes mutilated by the actors, for the sake of shortening the speeches; and were at last printed without correction of the press.


Alexander Pope
It is not my design to enter into a Criticism upon this Author; tho' to do it effectually and not superficially would be the best occasion that any just Writer could take to form the judgment and taste of our nation. For of all English Poets Shakespeare must be confessed to be the fairest and fullest subject for Criticism, and to afford the most numerous as well as most conspicuous instances both of Beauties and Faults of all sorts. But this far exceeds the bounds of a Preface, the business of which is only to give an account of the fate of his Works and the disadvantages under which they have been transmitted to us. We shall hereby extenuate many faults which are his, and clear him from the imputation of many which are not: a design which, tho' it can be no guide to future Criticks to do him justice in one way, will at least be sufficient to prevent their doing him an injustice in the other.


Horace Of the Art of Poetry - transl. Ben Jonson

...Most writers, noble sire and either son,
Are, with the likeness of the truth, undone.
Myself for shortness labour, and I grow
OBSCURE. This, striving to run smooth,
and flow,
Hath neither soul nor sinews. Lofty he
Professing greatness, SWELLS; that, low by lee,
Creeps on the ground; too safe, afraid of storm.
This seeking, in a various kind, to form
One thing PRODIGIOUSLY, paints in the woods
A dolphin, and a boar amid the floods.
So shunning faults to greater fault doth lead,




25 decipimur specie recti : brevis esse laboro,
obscurus fio ; sectantem levia nervi
deficiunt animique ; professus grandia target ;
serpit humi tutus nimium timidusque procellae;
qui variare cupit rem prodigialiter unam,

30 delphinum silvis appingit, fluctibus aprum.
In vitium ducit culpae fuga, si caret arte.
Aemilium circa ludum f aber imus et ungues
exprimet et molles imitabitur acre capillos,

the result of a desire for variety,
as other faults are the result of the
desire to attain to some particular
virtue of style.'

' So it is, in seeking va-
riety of ornament, that one falls
into the absurdities of which I was
speaking above.' cupit: is anx-
ious, as the desires are expressed
above by strong words, laboro,
sectantem, professus. PRODIGIA-
LITER : a rare word, perhaps coined
by Horace (cf. Epist. 2, 2, 119) ;
to be taken with variare ; ' to in-
troduce such variety as to be LIKE
A MIRACLE,' 'to be wonderfully
varied.' unam: with emphasis,
at the end of the verse and in con-
trast to prodigialiter. The in-
stances in vs. 30 are merely vivid
expressions of the thought of vss.
1 6- 1 8 and especially vs. 20 f.

 William Cartwright (Son of Ben):

To the Deceased Author of these Poems (William Cartwright)
By Jasper Mayne

…And as thy Wit was like a Spring, so all
The soft streams of it we may Chrystall call:
No cloud of Fancie, no mysterious stroke,
No Verse like those which antient Sybils spoke;
No ORACLE of LANGUAGE, to amaze
The Reader with a dark, or Midnight Phrase,
Stands in thy Writings, which are all pure Day,
A cleer, bright Sunchine, and the mist away.
That which Thou wrot’st was sense, and that sense good,
Things not first written, and then understood:
Or if sometimes thy Fancy soar’d so high
As to seem lost to the unlearned Eye,
‘Twas but like generous Falcons, when high flown,
Which mount to make the Quarrey more their own.
For thou to Nature had’st joyn’d Art, and skill.
In Thee Ben Johnson still HELD Shakespeare’s Quill:
A Quill, rul’d by sharp Judgement, and such Laws,
As a well studied Mind, and Reason draws.
Thy Lamp was cherish’d with supplied of Oyle,
Fetch’d from the Romane and the Graecian soyle. (snip)

4. To impose restraint upon; to limit in motion or action; to
bind legally or morally; to confine; to restrain.
We can not hold mortality's strong hand. --Shak.
Death! what do'st? O,hold thy blow. --Grashaw.
He hat not sufficient judgment and self-command to
hold his tongue. --Macaulay.


Author: Holland, Abraham, d. 1626.
Title: Naumachia, or Hollands sea-fight Date: 1622

A Caveat to his Muse

You deem it a matter of high worth
To have a fame among 'em: New come forth:
And thinke your chiefe felicity is marr'd
If you be not perch't up in Paules Church-yard
Where men a farre may know you in a trice,
By some new-fangled, brasse-cut Frontispice.
Such book's indeed as now-dayes can passé
Had need to have their FACES made of BRASSE.(note - refer to Droeshout engraving)
Is it not then sufficient for you
To stay at home among the residue
Of better sisters: where my dearest Will, (my note - Will Browne?)
And other friends would praise and love thee still:
Him and my other harts-halfes I account
Intire assemblies, and thinke they surmount
A GLOBE of ADDLE Gallants: I averre
One judging Plato worth a Theater.


"become putrid," hence "be spoiled, be made worthless or ineffective," 1640s (implied in addled), from archaic addle (n.) "urine, liquid filth," from Old English adela "mud, mire, liquid manure" (cognate with East Frisian adel "dung," Old Swedish adel "urine," Middle Low German adel "mud," Dutch aal "puddle").


Cartwright, William, Jonsonus Virbius

...Blest life of Authors, unto whom we owe
Those that we have, and those that we want too:
Th'art all so good, that reading makes thee worse,
And to have writ so well's thine onely curse.
Secure then of thy merit, thou didst hate
That servile base dependance upon fate:
Successe thou ne'r thoughtst vertue, nor that fit,
Which chance, and th'ages fashion did make hit;
*Excluding those from life in after-time*,
Who into Po'try first brought luck and rime:
Who thought the peoples breath good ayre: sty'ld name
What was but noise; and getting Briefes for fame
Gathered the many's suffrages, and thence
Made commendation a benevolence:
THY thoughts were their owne Lawrell, and did win
That best applause of being crown'd within..

In Memory of Mr. William Cartwright.--John Berkenhead
But Thou art gone: and groveling Trifles crawl
About the World, which but confirm thy Fall.
The Belgick Floud, which drank down fifty Townes,
At dead-low water shews their humble Crowns:
So, since thy flowing Brain ebb'd down to death,
Small Under-witts do shoot up from beneath.
They spread and swarm, as fast as Preachers now,
New, Monthly Poets (and their Pictures too)
Who, like that Fellow in the Moon, look bright,
Yet are but Spots because they dwell in Light.
For thy Imperiall Muse at once defines
Lawes to arraign and brand their weak strong lines,
Unmask's the Goblin-Verse that fright's a page
As when old time brought Devills on the Stage.
Knew the right mark of things, saw how to choose,
(For the great Wit's great work, is to Refuse,)
And smil'd to see what shouldering there is
To follow Lucan where he TROD AMISS.
Thine's the RIGHT METTALL, Thine's still big with Sense,
And stands as square as a good Conscience.
No Traverse lines, all written like a man:
Their Heights are but the Chaff, their Depths the Bran:
Gross, and not Great; which when it best does hit
Is not the strength but Corpulence of Wit:
Stuft, swoln, ungirt: but Thine's compact and bound
Close as the Atomes of a Diamond.
Substance and Frame; Raptures not Phrensies grown;
No Rebel-Wit, which bears its Master down;
But checks the Phansy, tames that Giant's Rage
As he that made huge Afcapart his Page.
Such Law, such Conduct, such Oeconomy,
No Demonstrator walks more steadily.
Nothing of Chance, Thou handled'st Fortune then
As roughly as she now does Vertuous men.
Yet not meer Forme and Posture, built of SLIME;
'Tis Substantive with or without its Rime.
Nor were these drunken Fumes, Thou didst not write
Warm'd by male Claret or by female White:
Their Giant Sack could nothing heighten Thee,
As far 'bove Tavern Flash as Ribauldry.
Thou thought'st no rank foul line was strongly writ,
That's but the SCUM or SEDIMENT of Wit;
Which sharking Braines do into Publike thrust,
(And though They cannot blush, the Reader must;)
Who when they see't abhor'd, for fear, not shame,
*TRANSLATE their BASTARD to some Other's NAME.*
No rotten Phansies in thy Scenes appear;
Nothing but what a Dying man might hear.


An Essay on Criticism
Great Wits sometimes may gloriously offend,
And rise to faults true Critics dare not mend;
From vulgar bounds with brave DISORDER PART,
And snatch a grace beyond the reach of Art,
Which, without passing thro' the judgment, gains
The heart, and all its end at once attains.
But tho' the ancients thus their rules invade,
(As Kings dispense with laws themselves have made)
Moderns, beware! or if you must offend
Against the precept, ne'er transgress its end;
Let it be seldom, and compell'd by need;
And have at least their precedent to plead;
The Critic else proceeds without remorse,
SEIZES YOUR FAME, and puts his laws in force. -- Alexander Pope

Samuel Johnson, Preface to Shakespeare

A quibble is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures; it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspense, let but a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight, that he was content to purchase it, by the sacrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it.


Word Origin and History for quibble
1610s, "a pun, a play on words," probably a diminutive of obsolete quib "evasion of point at issue," based on an overuse of Latin quibus? in legal jargon, which supposedly gave it the association with trivial argument. Meaning "equivocation, evasion of the point" is attested from 1660s.
"equivocate, evade the point, turn from the point in question or the plain truth," 1650s, from quibble (n.). Earlier "to pun" (1620s). Related: Quibbled ; quibbling.

  A trivial or minor complaint, objection or argument.
He harped on his quibble about how the dark red paint should be described as carmine rather than burgundy.
  A shift or turn from the point in question; a trifling or evasive distinction; a cavil.
 * I. Watts
Quibbles have no place in the search after truth.
 (obsolete) A pun.


-·iled or -·illed, -·il·ing or -·il·ling
to object when there is little reason to do so; resort to trivial faultfinding; carp; quibble (at or about)
Origin of cavil
Old French caviller ; from Classical Latin cavillari ; from cavilla, jeering ; from an unverified form calvilla ; from calvari, to deceive; akin to calumnia, calumny
a trivial objection; quibble


How absolute the knave is! We must speak by the card, or equivocation will undo us. By the Lord, Horatio, these three years I have taken a note of it. The age is grown so picked that the toe of the peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier he galls his kibe.—How long hast thou been a grave-maker? 

Samuel Johnson, Preface to Shakespeare

Yet it must be at last confessed, that as we owe every thing to him, he owes something to us; that, if much of his praise is paid by perception and judgement, much is likewise given by custom and veneration. We fix our eyes upon his graces, and turn them from his deformities, and endure in him what we should in another loath or despise. If we endured without praising, respect for the father of our drama might excuse us; but I have seen, in the book of some modern critick, a collection of anomalies, which shew that he [Shakespeare] has corrupted language by every mode of DEPRAVATION, but which his admirer has accumulated as a monument of honour.


Jonson, Timber, or Discoveries

Censura de poetis. - Nothing in our AGE, I have observed, is more PREPOSTEROUS than the running judgments upon poetry and poets;  when we shall hear those things commended and cried up for the best writings which a man would scarce vouchsafe to wrap any wholesome drug in; he would never light his tobacco with them. And those men almost named for MIRACLES, who yet are so VILE that if a man should go about to examine and correct them, he must make all they have done but one BLOT. Their good is so entangled with their bad as forcibly one must draw on the other’s death with it. A sponge dipped in ink will do all:-

“ - Comitetur Punica librum

Spongia. - ” {44a}

Et paulò post,

“Non possunt . . . multæ . . . lituræ
. . . una litura potest.”

Cestius - Cicero - Heath - Taylor - Spenser. - Yet their vices have not hurt them; nay, a great many they have profited, for they have been loved for nothing else. And this false opinion grows strong against the best men, if once it take root with the IGNORANT.



I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penn'd) hee never BLOTTED out line. My answer hath beene, would he had BLOTTED a thousand. Which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their IGNORANCE, who choose that circumstance to commend their friend by, wherein he most FAULTED...


 Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra
SCENE XIV. The same. Another room.

 Shakespeare - Antony and Cleopatra

 Pope, Preface to Shakespeare

I will conclude by saying of Shakespeare that, with all his faults, and with all the irregularity of his Drama, one may look upon his works, in comparison of those that are more finish'd and regular, as upon an ancient majestick piece of Gothick Architecture compar'd with a neat Modern building: the latter is more elegant and glaring, but the former is more strong and solemn. It must be allow'd that in one of these there are materials enough to make many of the other. It has much the greater variety, and much the nobler apartments; tho' we are often conducted to them by dark, odd, and uncouth passages. Nor does the whole fail to strike us with greater reverence, tho' many of the Parts are childish, ill-plac'd, and unequal to its grandeur.

Figuring Irregularity and Absurdity:


Samuel Jonson, Preface to Shakespeare

 To dread the shore which he sees spread with wrecks, is natural to the sailor. I had before my eye, so many critical adventures ended in miscarriage, that caution was forced upon me. I encountered in every page Wit struggling with its own sophistry, and Learning confused by the multiplicity of its views. I was forced to censure those whom I admired, and could not but reflect, while I was dispossessing their emendations, how soon the same fate might happen to my own, and how many of the readings which I have corrected may be by some other editor defended and established.
Criticks, I saw, that other’s names efface,

and fix their own, with labour, in the place;

Their own, like others, soon their place resign’d,

Or disappear’d, and left the first behind.

  That a conjectural critick should often be mistaken, cannot be wonderful, either to others or himself, if it be considered, that in his art there is no system, no principal and axiomatical truth that regulates subordinate positions. His chance of errour is renewed at every attempt; an oblique view of the passage, a slight misapprehension of a phrase, a casual inattention to the parts connected, is sufficient to make him not only fail, but fail ridiculously; and when he succeeds best, he produces perhaps but one reading of many probable, and he that suggests another will always be able to dispute his claims.
  It is an unhappy state, in which danger is hid under pleasure. The allurements of emendation are scarcely resistible. Conjecture has all the joy and all the pride of invention, and he that has once started a happy change, is too much delighted to consider what objections may rise against it.