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thought how much was unnecessary, and what expense might have been spared.”
“ You will never make an architect," rejoined the master, with a determined air, “though you may carry a hod. Go to your trowel, or back to your plough, 't will suit you better.”
What the pupil immediately did, I don't know; but, when I first was acquainted with him, he was in the shape of a Shop Critic.
Now it strikes me that there are many such in the predicament which I, and King David before me, have described: “Eyes have they, and see not” though they really can read. But not only to read, but understand (as the schoolboy scribble has it), is above them. They can count chapters as well as the architect did windows; but if called upon to report the real character of a work, to enter into the genius of the writer, ascertain principles, or take a large view of consequences, they will content themselves with saying, with our would-be architect, "there is a great expense of matter which might be spared;" and then, like the illustrious Marchmont, in Mrs. Trollope's admirable delineation of this character*, may perhaps review the book without having read it.
Here I cannot help thinking of an anecdote recorded by Mr. Lockhart, in his interesting life of Burns. The poet, in a dispute with a clergyman on the merits of Gray, having defied the clergyman to
* Vide Charles Chesterfield. The character of Marchmont is a jewel in modern satire.
point out a defect in the “Elegy," the challenge was accepted; but the critic so blundered and quibbled, that Burns, out of patience, observed : “Sir, I now perceive that a man may be an excellent judge of poetry by square and rule, and yet, after all, be a damn'd blockhead."*
How many Shop Critics would do well had they the modesty, in their vocation, to remember this discovery of Robert Burns! This, however, would far from suit them; for who does not know that
"A man must serve his time in every trade,
Save censure; critics all are ready made." + Seriously, if one were to cast about for a severe satire upon the institutions and customs of civilised life, I cannot conceive a stronger one than the influence of these self-elected judges. Many of them are half-educated, vulgar in mind, worse in manners; some struggling to live, with little compunction how they may do so. These adopt ribaldry and abuse, as most likely to make their lucubrations accord with the depraved taste of their part of the public; and for this they throw their dung about, but not, as was said of Virgil, with dignity.
With a smattering of the literature of the day, some knowledge of technical terms, and perhaps with
“ Just enough of learning to misquote," they believe and call themselves men of letters; are pert, flippant, and impertinent; talk familiarly of Scott or Byron, Moore or Sydney Smith, as Master
* Life of Burns, 177.
Shallow did of John of Gaunt; and, by their selfsufficiency, provoke enemies, if not a thrashing.
When we think what the calibre of some of them is, as proved in their own works when they are known, we are absolutely at a loss to account for the position which, from the indolence of better men, or the prejudices of particular parties, they have been allowed to usurp.
This has, however, been an old complaint, for I find it thus written by one who knew them well:
“How could these self-elected monarchs raise
his reasons too.
This god will dwindle to a calf again."
“I am a critic, my masters; I sneer, splash, and vapour,
Harsh and hard as this account may seem, it is not always confined to ignorant or shallow upstarts. Wherever there is pride, vanity, or innate ill-nature in the constitution, there is not a more convenient or potent outlet for these peccant humours, than the command of the critical press. This advantage is so
. valuable to a man who knows how to handle it, either in indulging a naturally ascetic humour which he cannot help, or from envy of a reputation which he cannot equal, that though it may damage, and has often damaged, the fair fame of him who stoops to it, men have not been deterred from using it by the certainty of being hated for their pains. “Pereat, modo imperet” is many a critic's motto. He has made his election; he cares not for being hated, provided he is feared. But if at the same time he fills his pocket, the temptation is irresistible, and all anxiety as to being loved or esteemed is abandoned as mere weakness.
Thus far Hortensius, of whom we now take our leave. Should the dissertation be not displeasing to the reader, we may possibly return to the subject in another dream.
“ Choked with ambition of the meaner sort."
SHAKSPEARE: 1 Hen. VI.
Not that ambition, any more than any other passion, should be wholly suppressed, but merely regulated. Under proper restrictions, it is even praiseworthy, and, without causing unhappiness, often leads to splendid actions. It is not, however, easy to say into how much unhappiness it may betray those who know not how to govern it, or into what numerous species it is divided. There is the high and the low; the generous and the selfish; the true and the false, or rather the foolish, ambition. The latter, though most contemptible, is the most harmless, and often causes amusement to those who witness, although those who suffer from its effects are, while it lasts, writhing under it in absolute torment. Of this last, ladies, and gentlemen too, who are left out of certain circles and parties above their station, which they are moving heaven and earth to enter, are pregnant examples. Of this too, though of a lower sort, was the air of superiority assumed by a lady of a home county over another whose house was nearer to the capital, when she said, I believe you reside at the town end of the county. Her creed was, that the farther she lived from town, the more she approached to the rank of a country family.