Page images


very great reason to love them. book in Syriac, because I do not He is a being whom “there are know a word of that language ; few to praise and not a soul to and I always refused to review love."

books on the currency, because I I do not on this occasion hold have (for reasons based on obserany brief for the reviewer; but as vation) made it a rule to refrain it has long seemed to me that from understanding anything whatthere is not only a good deal of ever about that subject. I can passion in some of the things that thus, at least, plead experience, are said against him, but a con and as I never wish to write ansiderable deficiency of knowledge other review of the ordinary kind, in very many of the things that I can also plead complete disinare said, if not against yet about terestedness. him, I have thought that it In respect I may be might not be uninteresting to found disappointing, for I have hear what a reviewer of pretty no mystery of iniquity to reveal, considerable experience, who has no 'Satan's Invisible World 'to disgiven up reviewing, bas to say play. No doubt there are venal on the subject. I had had rather reviewers, and no doubt there are more than twenty years' practice spiteful ones; there are, I prein reviewing at the time I gave it sume, rascals and shabby fellows up; and during the greater part of in all professions, vocations, and that period I think my practice employments. If a man has strong was about as extensive and vari- private or party animus, and no ous as that of any of my contem- very high sense of honour, he will poraries. I have written reviews no doubt make up his mind, as we in half-a-dozen lines and reviews know Macaulay did in Croker's in forty pages. I have reviewed case, to “dust the varlet's jacket books in classics, in mathematics, for him " when he gets hold of a in history, in philosophy, in geo- book by a person whom for any graphy, in politics, in the fine arts, reason he dislikes. Nay, as there in the arts of war by land and sea, are many people who have the in theology, in cookery, in pugil- fortunate or unfortunate gift of ism, and in law. I have reviewed being able to convert their likes “travels and novels and poems," at and dislikes into ethical and intelleast as many as ever did the afore- lectual approval or disapproval of said Mr Pendennis. I have, though a quasi-sincere kind, the dusting very rarely indeed, and always will, no doubt, often be done with under protest, reviewed books with a sense of action ad majorem Dei the printer's devil waiting to carry gloriam - with a conviction that away the sheets to press as they it is a noble action and a virtuous were written,

one. But, once more, these curious I once (by no offer or intrigue self-delusions, as well as the more of my own, but simply because as downright and unquestionable inmany editors, unasked, sent the dulgences in evil-speaking and evilvolume to me) wrote five different doing, are not peculiar to reviewreviews of the same book. And ing. There may be a little more if any one unkindly says: “In temptation to and opportunity for short, you were a reviewer of all them there than elsewhere : but work, and refused none,” I can this temptation and this opportunclear myself from that imputation. ity are reduced to a minimum if For I once refused to review a the editor has his wits about him


If a

and does his duty. Of course, if very strong disapproval on religieditor and reviewer are in a con- ous or political or other grounds, spiracy there is nothing to be said; I think there is a very simple but, again, conspiracies are not rule for the reviewer. If the unknown things in any relation of book of a friend which you canlife, and yet, again, I do not believe not praise, or that of an unfriend that they are more common in re- which you have to blame severely, viewing than anywhere else. They comes to you-send it back again. exist, doubtless, in some cases; The right of silence is the only but in most they are simply fig- one of the Rights of Man for ments of a very well-known and which I have the slightest reonly too common form of mania, spect, or which I should feel and sometimes figments half-ludi- disposed to fight for. crously and half-pathetically con- It has also to be remembered, trary to the fact.

when the subject of unfair and The most curious instance of biassed reviewing is under conthis that I ever knew was as sideration, that, at any rate nowfollows: There was once upon a adays, when reviews very time a not undistinguished man numerous, and when no single of letters whom we may call A. ; vehicle of them enjoys commandand there was, contemporary with ing reputation or influence, such him, a busy reviewer whom we reviewing does no very great harm. shall call B. B., with his name, It is unpleasant, of course, reviewed, not by any means sav- man say he likes it nobody beagely, but with rather qualified lieves him, even though a gratuiadmiration and some strictures, a tous advertisement that one is volume of A.'s poems. Some time not connected with certain jourafterwards he was told that A. nals may be a distinct compliment, was what is familiarly called a and a kind of present.

A once skinless person; and not finding well-known member of the House any particular amusement in tor- of Commons amused it not so very menting, thenceforward, when a

many years ago by avowing his book of A.'s came in his

way, terror of the 'Skibbereen Eagle.' praised it if he could, or let it It was no doubt not shared by alone. On one occasion B, re- his hearers; but it may be doubted ceived through an editor a letter whether any one of them would not of thanks from A. for an anony- have in fact preferred, though only mous review of his. But after by a faint preference, praise in A.'s death, which happened some the "Skibbereen Eagle' to abuse years later, B. learnt that A. had in it. Yet it is hardly conceivbeen under the constant idea, and able that the abuse can really had frequently declared to his damage any one; and it somefriends, that he, the said B., had times, when unskilfully and exbeen "hounding him anonymously travagantly indulged in, creates a throughout the press for years"! distinct revulsion in favour of the Of course nothing can be done victim. It is certain that the with or for such Heauton-timorou- dead-set made many years ago in menoi as these. No praise is ever certain quarters at the late Mr sufficient for them : all blame Froude's historical work deteris undeserved, interested, malig- mined more persons than one to nant. But in cases of real per- take a more favourable view of it sonal enmity or friendship, or of and of him than they might other.

wise have taken; and I think there mere generalisation of actual prachave been similar cases since. At tice and fact during the two cenany rate, to my mind, deliberately turies or a little more which make unfair and partisan reviewing does the life of the review), is a thing much less harm than the process addressed to the general body of known as “slating” for slating's educated people, telling whether it sake, or than the old and con is or is not worth their while to stantly revived notion that an make further acquaintance with author is mainly, if not merely, such and such a document pursomething for the critic to be porting to bear their address. As clever upon.

But of that we the circle of knowledge which is shall speak presently : some other supposed to be open to the general matters must come before it. reader and to come within the range

For it will probably not be un of literature widens, the circle of desirable to inquire before going reviewing will widen too. But it any further what a review ought will always remain true that the to be, as a not useless preliminary way in which the author has done to the discovery what ought to his work is the main if not the be the nature of a reviewer, and sole province of the reviewer. whether reviewing is a benefit or Has he formed an allowable, an a nuisance per se.

And in this agreeable, a fairly orderly concepinquiry we may start by clearing tion of his subject ? Has he up a slight confusion whicb, like shown decent diligence and accuother slight confusions, has caused racy in carrying this conception no slight error. I take it that a out? Does his book, if it belongs review in the general sense is ad- to the literature of knowledge, dressed to, and intended for the supply some real want? Does it, benefit of, the general congregation if it belongs to the literature of of decently educated and intelli- power or art, show a result not gent people. There may be a spe- merely imitated from something cial kind of review which is ad- else? Has it, if a poem, distinct dressed to specialists, and which characteristics of metre, wordmust be written for them by sound, style? Does it, if a work themselves. A scientific mono of argument or exposition, urge graph, which purports to tell what old views freshly, or put new ones further progress has been made with effect? If it is a novel, does in some particular department of it show grasp of character, ingenchemistry or physiology, cannot uity in varying plot, brilliancy of in the proper sense be "reviewed.” dialogue, felicity of description ? Its results can be abstracted; its Can you, in short, “recommend it conclusions, if they are disputable, to a friend” for any of these or can be argued for or against; cor any

similar qualities? Or can you ollaries or riders can be indicated even recommend it — the most or suggested by the expert. But disputable and dangerous of the as such a thing is never, except by grounds of recommendation, but accident and once in a thousand still perhaps a valid ground in its times, literature—as even when it way—because you like it, because is literature its literary character it affects you pleasurably or beneis accidental—it does not lend it. ficially, because you gain from it self to review. For, once more, a

a distinct nervous impression, a review, as I take it (and the tak new charm, or even, as Victor ing is not a private crotchet but a Hugo put it, a "new shudder"}



A review which observes these it intends to reach? He will only conditions will, whether it answers get an answer to any one or any the questions in the negative or combination of a large number of the affirmative, probably be a good other questions which he has not review, always keeping in mind asked and to which he does not the inestimable caution of Hip- care in the least to know the pothadée to Panurge, si Dieu answer. He has asked, Do you plaist. On the contrary, there as a judge think that I ought to are certain other questions and read, or may at least with chance conditions which will almost cer- of profit and pleasure read, this tainly make any review conducted book? He is in effect answered : under their influence a bad re- I, not a judge but as view. Such questions — for it most unjudicial advocate or even would be more than ever impos- party to the other side of the sible to put them all-are as fol- cause, wish you not to read this lows. Do I—to begin nearest to book or to think badly of it if the debatable ground with which you read it. But I have put on we finished the last list—Do I the judge's robes, and deliver my dislike this book, without being opinion from the bench or a subable to give myself or others any stitute for it, in hopes to make you distinct and satisfactory reason accept my pleading as a sentence why I dislike it? Do I like or and my evidence or assertion as a dislike the author, his opinions, verdict. his party, his country, his Uni- It is this danger which, not versity, or his grandmother ? Does always in appropriate words or the book run counter to, or ignore, with very clear conceptions, is or slight some published or private urged by the opponents of reviewopinion of mine? Is it, without ing: and no doubt it is in a cerbeing exactly contrary to, different tain measure and degree a real one. from something which I might We shall see better what this have written or should have liked measure and degree is by shaking to write on the subject? Is there out the subject into some different something else that I like better? shapes and lights. Does it display more knowledge Reviewing, like everything else, than I have, and so make me feel has a tendency to fall into ceruncomfortably at a disadvantage tain vogues, into certain chanIs it about something in which I nels or ruts, where it continues take no particular interest? In for a time, and then shifts into such cases the proviso of Hippo- others. The most common, the thadée will have to be turned most obvious, and apparently to round, and we shall have to say some views of the subject, friendly that unless Heaven pleases very as well as unfriendly, the most specially, it is likely to be a very natural, is that of "slating,” as bad review indeed.

modern slang has it, though the For the reader will not get and thing is very far from modern. cannot get from it a trustworthy The principle or mock principle on answer to his legitimate question, which it depends was never put Is this on the whole and on the with a more innocent frankness author's own conception of his than in the Judex damnatur cum task—the said conception being nocens absolvitur of the 'Edinburgh not utterly idiotic—a fair addition Review'; and though when it is to the literature of the class which thus stated it becomes almost ludicrous to a really critical critic imitating it—the pert yet ponhimself, there is no doubt that it derous efforts at epigram ; the reflects the idea of the critical pro- twentieth-hand Macaulayese of fession as conceived by outsiders, " will it be believed” and “

every and even as practised by a large schoolboy knows"; the uplifting part of the profession itself. We of hands and averting of eyes at have only, it is true, to carry out a misprinted date, and an imperthe analogy suggested by the phrase fectly revised false concord — in to see its absurdity. Her Majesty's short, all the stale tricks and stock judges do not deem it their duty devices of the "slater." to regard the entire body of her Of course there are books which Majesty's subjects as guilty till well deserve the utmost extremity they are proved innocent; nor of criticism ; and nobody can have even those who on prima facie sus- practised reviewing long without picion are brought before them. having — not in the least on his The 'Edinburgh' motto would at conscience but on his memory-inleast seem to infer that every book stances in which he has had to do is to be regarded as bad until it is his duty, and has been well enproved to be good. And further, titled to ejaculate Laissez passer as the functions of a judge of court la justice de Dieu ! But the conare limited to condemnation or ception of the ideal reviewer as a acquittal — as he is admittedly Judge Jeffreys doubled with a travelling rather beyond them Jack Ketch is, as has been said, even when he observes that the quite ludicrously narrow; and it defendant leaves the court without turns, like so many other things, a stain on his character so it upon a mere fallacy of equivocawould seem that positive praise, tion, the double meaning of the that the assignment of decorations word judge. The critic is a judge; or titles of honour, is not part of but he is a judge of the games as the function of the critic at all. well as of the courts, a caliph or

Yet, absurd as this notion is, cadi rather than a Lord Chief ill as it will stand the slightest Justice or a Lord Chief Baron. examination, there can be He can administer sequins as well doubt that it is frequently enter- as lashes, and send a man to ride tained, and by no means uncom- round the town in royal apparel monly put in practice. We have as well as despatch him to the all read – it would appear that gallows. Or rather, to drop metaeven some of us have enjoyed, phor, his business is in the main though I confess it always seemed the business of judging, not the to me from my youth up that man or the merits of the man so there was no drearier reading, much as the work and the nature, monotonous series of "slashing” rather than the merits or demerits, reviews, in each of which some of the work. If he discern and wretched novel, deserving at worst expound that nature rightly, the of a dozen lines of merciful and exposition will sometimes be of good-humoured raillery, was sol- itself high praise and sometimes emnly scourged round the town utter blame, with all blends and in two columns of laboured cavil- degrees between the two. But the ling and forced horse - laughter. blame and the praise are rather And we have all read likewise- accidents than essentials of his some of us let it be hoped with function. a devout prayer to be kept from Partly from a dim conscious


« PreviousContinue »