June 28, 2003
Swift On Criticism

Make that nine minutes.

A. C. Douglas trashes a couple of books he admits not having read. His reasons (scroll down to "Finally" about 3/4 of the way down) reminded me of a memorably nasty sentence by Jonathan Swift, in A Tale of a Tub, Section III, 'A Digression Concerning Critics':

By the word critic, at this day so frequent in all conversations, there have sometimes been distinguished three very different species of mortal men, according as I have read in ancient books and pamphlets. For first, by this term were understood such persons as invented or drew up rules for themselves and the world, by observing which a careful reader might be able to pronounce upon the productions of the learned, form his taste to a true relish of the sublime and the admirable, and divide every beauty of matter or of style from the corruption that apes it. In their common perusal of books, singling out the errors and defects, the nauseous, the fulsome, the dull, and the impertinent, with the caution of a man that walks through Edinburgh streets in a morning, who is indeed as careful as he can to watch diligently and spy out the filth in his way; not that he is curious to observe the colour and complexion of the ordure or take its dimensions, much less to be paddling in or tasting it, but only with a design to come out as cleanly as he may.

I warned you it was nasty. And it's also true: sometimes you don't have to read a book to know that it's utterly worthless. I don't know why Swift mentions Edinburgh rather than London or Dublin -- were its streets that much filthier? Of course, some electronic neighborhoods are very much like 18th-century Edinburgh: you never know what you're going to step in.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at June 28, 2003 06:41 PM