Literary Criticism Quotations

The Critic May Discover…

…What The Author Never Knew

Samuel Johnson, Life of Pope

[Speaking of how Warburton “discovered” in the Essay on Criticism “such order and connection as was not … intended by the author.”]

Almost every poem, consisting of precepts, is so far arbitrary and immethodical, that many of the paragraphs may change places with no apparent inconvenience; for of two or more positions, depending upon some remote and general principle, there is seldom any cogent reason why one should precede the other. But for the order in which they stand, whatever it be, a little ingenuity may easily give a reason. It is possible, says Hooker, that by long circumlocution, from any one truth all truths may be inferred. Of all homogeneous truths at least, of all truths respecting the same general end, in whatever series they may be produced, a concatenation by intermediate ideas may be formed, such as, when it is once shewn, shall appear natural; but if this order be reversed, another mode of connection equally specious may be found or made. Aristotle is praise for naming Fortitude first of the cardinal virtues, as that without which no other virtue can steadily be practised; but he might, with equal propriety, have placed Prudence and Justice before it, since without Prudence Fortitude is mad; without Justice, it is mischievous.

As the end of method is perspicuity, that series is sufficiently regular that avoids obscurity; and where there is no obscurity it will not be difficult to discover method.

[I suspect that these solid words may have application as well to those who fret over the internal logic of the arrangement of topical sermons.]

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