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FREE WILL IN COLERIDGE'S SHAKESPEARE J. R. DE J. JACKSON l Critics, like poets, are said to be born and not made. Dr. Johnson once gave Fanny Burney the following advice: There are three distinct kind[sl of judges upon all new authors or productions ; the first are those who know no rules, but pronounce entirely from their natural taste and feelings; the second are those who know and judge by rules; and the third are those who know, but are above the rules. These last are those you should wish to satisfy. Next to them rate the natural judges; but ever despise those opinions that are formed by the rules,> Johnson's scepticism about the part played by rules, or theory, in the thinking of a good critic anticipates one of the dominant themes in the English critical tradition. In 1924, I. A. Richards carried such doubts a good deal farther. According to him: A few conjectures, a supply of admonitions, many acute isolated observations, some brilliant guesses, much oratory and applied poetry, inexhaustible confusion , a sufficiency of dogma, no small stock of prejudices, whimsies and crotchets, a profusion of mysticism, a little genuine speculation, sundry stray inspirations, pregnant hints and random aperC;USj of such as these, it may be said without exaggeration, is extant critical theory composed,s Critical theory has disappointed most observers. Practical critics have fared better. George Saintsbury's History of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europe, published at the beginning of this century, was the first full-scale account of their achievements. As a result of this and similar more recent chronicles, a canon of j(great critics" has grown up, composed of Dryden, Johnson, Coleridge, Arnold, T. S. Eliot, and a handful of others thrown in according to individual preference. The idea of studying these critics for their own sake is a relatively new one. Saintsbury was interested in them as historical phenomena and as repositories of opinions about literature; and Professor Rene Wellek's current History of Modern Criticism: 1750-1950, while much more elaborate and comprehensive, spends more space on showing who said what first than on inquiring into how it was that whoever thought of it first came to think of it. For a student of criticism, however, it would surely be more interestVolume XXXVDl, Number 1, October, 1968 FREE WILL IN COLERIDGE'S SHAKESPEARE 35 ing to try to find out how the mind of a great critic worked than to know what conclusions he came to. The theory that the essence of good criticism is as elusive and indefinable as the essence of good poetry should not deter us. Even though we do not expect to explain exactly how Shakespeare managed to write his astonishing plays, we persist in examining them from every conceivable point of view in the hope of finding out more about how they are put together and how they differ from other people's plays. We never think that we have solved the problem of Shakespeare's genius, but we do begin to notice aspects of it which we had previously missed, and we never stop hoping that we may notice still mOre. The composition of great criticism can hardly be more complicated or more obscure than the composition of great literature ; it stands to reason that the methods used in the analysis of literature should be equally successful in the analysis of criticism. Some efforts of this sort have already been made. When a great critic of the past expresses an opinion with which we disagree, it is customary to look for reasons for his having lapsed from his usual high standard. For instance, most of us disagree with Johnson's disapproval of Milton's Lycidas. Johnsonians have pOinted out that his disapproval reRects a point of view common to his age which is foreign both to Milton and to ourselves. Other unorthodox opinions are sometimes explained away on the ground that some personal oddity of the critic must have clouded his judgment. But it seems doubtful that a critic's way of thinking can really be divided up in this manner. What we are pleased to call his mistakes are...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 34-50
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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