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forbid such an one more than another to form or to utter the opinion which men unpractised in any form of art have an undisputed privilege to hold and to express. It is certain that a man's judgment may be shaped and coloured by the lines of his own life and the laws of his own labour; that a poet for example may be as bad a judge of painting as a painter may be of poetry, each man looking vainly in his neighbour's work for the qualities proper to his own; but it does not follow that either must of necessity be fool enough to mispraise or to dispraise a poem or a picture for the presence or the absence of qualities foreign to its aim. I would ask for either artist no more than is conceded as an unquestionable right to critics who are clear from any charge of good or bad work done in any but the critical line of labour : I would submit that there is really no evident or apparent reason why he should be less competent than his fellows to appreciate the merit or demerit of work which lies out of the way of his own ambition or achievement. A lifelong delight in the glories of an art which is not my own, quickened by the intercourse of many years with eminent artists of different and even of opposite schools, may have failed to make me a good critic of their art, but can hardly have left with me less right to judge or less faculty of judging than every writer on the subject is permitted to claim for himself. One thing at least the cultivation of this natural instinct or impulse of enjoyment can hardly have failed to ensure. A student from without who enjoys all forms and phases of an alien art as he respects all forms and
phases of his own will be unlikely to make himself the conscious or unconscious mouthpiece of a single school or a select coterie. So much I think may justly be claimed for this book; that it is not a channel for the transmission of other men's views on art, a conduit for the diffusion of praise or blame derived from foreign sources or discoloured by personal feelings. Twice only have I had occasion to review some part of the work of two eminent poets whose friendship I had enjoyed from my early youth : a fact which in the opinion of certain writers is more than sufficient to disqualify me from passing any sentence on their work that may be worthy of a moment's attention. The accident of personal intimacy, it should seem, deprives you of all right to express admiration of what you might allowably have found admirable in a stranger. I know not whether we are to infer that the one right which remains to a man in this sad case is the right of backbiting and belying; but it is certain that any indiscreet attempt to vindicate his right of praising what he f- ds to be praiseworthy will at once expose him to the risk of being classed among the members of a shadowy society which meets or does not meet for purposes of reciprocal adulation. In the present instance the fact of reciprocity might at first sight seem somewhat difficult to establish; considering that neither the one nor the other of the poets whom, though my friends, I have allowed myself to admire, and though their fellow-craftsman have permitted myself to praise, has ever published one sentence or one syllable of friendly or of adverse criticism
on any work of mine. How then their opinion of it can be matter of public knowledge, or on what ground the damning charge of “mutual admiration" can be sustained, it passes the modest range of my weak imagination to conceive. Nor can it figure to itself anything more pitiful and despicable than a society of authors, artists, or critics held together by a contract for the exchange of reciprocal flattery, except a society of the same kind whose bond of union should be a compact of detraction, a confederacy of malignities, an alliance for the defamation of men more honoured than its members. On the other hand, it may be reasonably assumed, or at least it may plausibly be alleged, that a writer whose interest or whose admiration is confined to the works of a single school or the effects of a particular style in art can claim no higher place or worthier office than that of herald or interpreter to a special community of workmen. If, however, my critical writing should be found liable to this charge, it will at least be admitted that the circle which confines my interest and limits my admiration is a tolerably wide one. I have not unfrequently found myself accused of lax and undiscriminating indulgence in too catholic and uncritical a taste, too wide and erratic a range of inconsistent sympathies, by men whose ways of work lay so far apart that they seemed to me as unable to estimate each other aright as I to withhold from the work of either the tribute of my thanks. it is impossible, I have been told, that any man of fair culture and intelligence can sincerely and equally admire at the same time the leaders or the followers of such opposite schools in art or letters. That must in effect be a somewhat elastic definition which should comprise in one term all the subjects of my study or my praise, a somewhat irregular process which should reduce them all to one denomination, a somewhat vague watchword which should marshal them all under one standard. I think upon the whole that having now gathered together these divers waifs of tentative criticism I may leave the babblers and backbiters who prate of “mutual admiration ” and the cant of a coterie absorbed in its own self-esteem and fettered by its own passwords, to the ultimate proof or disproof of simple fact and plain evidence. If I am indeed one of those unfortunates who can see nothing good outside their own sect of partisans, it will not be denied that the sect to which I belong must be singularly comprehensive; nor will it be questioned that I am singularly fortunate in the variety and the eminence of my supposed allies. I would not be betrayed into any show of egotism or recrimination ; but I thought it best not to let these reprints go forth together for the first time on their own account without a word of remark on their object and their scope. They are here arranged according to scale and subject, with the date appended when necessary; and have now but to show for themselves whether or not they can pretend to any more noticeable or more vital quality than that of sincere desire and studious effort to see the truth and speak it.