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survey of the history of literary opinion on the special topic under treatment. The literary student must, at this point, be the literary historian, thoroughly conversant with all that has been written pertinent to the question. He must, as we say, cover the ground; look at literature as but one of the endlessly diversified departments of human thought; carefully noting how it affects them and how it is affected by them, and be able to trace the course of the subject in hand from its entrance into literature, on through the successive stages of its expression to its present status. General knowledge, of whatever kind, will not do here. It must be literary and special, so that the critic will not be guilty of the error so often committed, of broaching an opinion as original when it has existed, perhaps, for a series of years, in the literary records of the nation. As the ambitious inventor, with his scientific instrument or theory in hand, must be well aware, before he offers it as new, that the Patent Office officials have not long since received and filed its prototype, so must the student of questions in authorship be on his guard lest he be grossly ignorant of those who have anticipated his so-called independent inferences. Such judgments are independent to a fault, ignorantly or recklessly regardless of antecedent opinion, and earning a temporary credit for insight, at the expense of history and their own subsequent repute. English and American literary criticism is full of this unseemly error; and all the more confirms the urgent need of thorough scholarship as a warrant for free opinion and a guarantee that opinion, in so far as it departs from historical judgment, is deserving of thoughtful attention. It is he, and he only, who, after due examination of what others have said, still insists on being heard, that fully deserves to be heard, and, in all probability, has arrived at results substantially his own.
II. We mark a further condition of private judgment in letters in-The ability to give Satisfactory Reasons for such judgment. The conservative attitude of the great majority of men demands such reasons, and, in the nature of the case, they are rightly demanded. He who advances a new view has the presumption against him and the burden of proof upon him. He must satisfy every doubtful mind that what he advances is not a mere hypothesis, unsupported by history or logic, but a rational result in the domain of letters, reached by rational methods and justifying its presence as a new view, among all accepted theories and beliefs.
It is possible that, here and there in the course of history, a literary student or critic may be found whose decisions are intuitive rather than inductive, and who knows what he knows despite all inability to explain it. It might, moreover, be true that, where no such genius exists, the average literary scholar might reach results in advance of all “existing” opinion, and, yet, be unable satisfactorily to explain the grounds and methods of his work.
This, however, is exceptional. Inventors must explain their inventions, if, indeed, they wish to have them accepted and currently used. Advocates of new theories in any department, must present their credentials and invite acceptance by confirmatory evidence. In one sense, any man may think for himself as freely and as loosely as he pleases, and may follow his speculations whithersoever they may conduct him. When, however, he comes to us with his ascertained judgments, for our endorsement, looseness must give place to logic, and we must insist upon proof, positive and sufficient. It is well that it is so, or the world of letters would be over-run with the most unfounded fancies, and literature itself become the butt of satirists and comedians.
If it is insisted, as it is, that the alleged Baconian authorship of the Shakespearean plays is a tenable one; that the majority of the best English authors are of Celtic rather than Teutonic ancestry; that such a poet as Whitman is a bard of the first literary order; that Mr. Wilde's æsthetic view of literature is correct; that Wordsworth's present popularity is undeserved, and that prevailing journalistic criticism is, in the main, reliable—then must we understand clearly the reasons for such radical opinions, and be able to weigh them over against all accepted views on these respective topics. Such reasons being adduced, we are not
. only warranted in accepting them, but are bound to accept them. Independent judgment is, in this sense, dependent, that it must proceed, judicially and dispassionately, to its conclusions, but so proceeding, it is made imperative upon every intelligent reader to give it credence.
III. Scarcely less important as a condition of such freedom, is An Unbiased Mind, marked by that candor and conscientiousness so germane to the truly critical spirit and so essential to all beneficent result. We touch, at this point, what is, perhaps, the most difficult of all conditions to meet. Keeping in due abeyance the personal element on its objectionable side, while, at the same time, exalting personal opinion to the position which it rightly claims, is no easy matter to compass. In reaching conclusions which are characteristically our own, and, as such, personal, special care must be taken lest this personal element overreach itself and defeat the very purpose in view. How difficult, here, to annul the everintruding influence of pride of opinion as to questions of authorship! In what various and insidious forms will our own prejudices seek to enter and modify our reasoning! What a potent influence passion and selfish interest may exert to thwart the natural operation of the truth! How, as suggested, our peculiar training or environment may unduly bias our judgment, and we be really the least ourselves when we think we are the most so! The history of criticism, at this point, would make another volume of what Mr. Disraeli has named,
“ The Curiosities of Literature,"-a large proportion of such a review of books and authors being utterly misleading by reason of the presence of these personal elements on the baser side.
In this respect, such critical historians as Gibbon and Buckle grievously erred, in passing the limit of independence properly assigned them. It was when Bacon was insisting on sincerity in matters of literary opinion, that he wrote his dedication of “ The Advancement of Learning,” to James I., in which he fairly gets down on all fours, in the most slavish adulation, as he says—"There has not been since Christ's time, any king so learned in all literature, divine and human,” to which he adds, with even greater emphasis. “This is no amplification, at all, but a positive and measured truth." So low can a man's better nature bow, without shame, to his baser.
IV. We note, as a final condition,-The spirit of Modest Reserve. Independent as our decisions may be and ought to be, they are to be stated with a due regard to the conflicting opinions of others equally thoughtful, and with a deep conviction of our liability to err. The very principle of private judgment for which we contend, demands some concession to those who claim a similar liberty; no man in literature, or anywhere else, can afford to regard himself as final authority. The Autocrats of Literature are far too numerous, nor is high-headed dogmatism confined to theology and