The Book-Notice and the Criticism

— As I lay down the paper, or the magazine, I often wish the line might be more visibly drawn between the book-notice, not pretending to do more than give a book a good send-off, from the publisher’s point of view, and the candid criticism, aiming to inform the public as to its real merits. Each may have its uses, but we would like to know which is which. Not that the thing that claimed the dignity of genuine criticism would always be found to fulfill its definition. “Alas ! for the rarity,” not so much of “ charity,” — we seem to have too much of that in our notices of books, — but of the judicial mind. Many critics appear to believe that the judicial attitude consists in saying violent things pro, and then violent things con, or vice versa: as if the judge should soften the death penalty by an invitation to dinner ; or as if the critic’s ways were like those of Herrick’s Venus, with her erring Cupids, when she “for their boldness stript them,” and “ with rods of myrtle whipt them,”

“ Which done, to still their wanton cries,
She kissed and wiped their dove-like eyes.”

It is not enough for this sort of a critic that he should say simply what he thinks of the book. He must “ take on.” He is not satisfied to affirm quietly, but he must swear, either at the author or at his enemies ; as if he thought that Richelieu’s dictum, slightly modified, would be an excellent epitaph for the true critic, — His pen was mightier when he swored.