Literary Criticism

What’s This Mean?

Nothing can please many, and please long, but just representations of general nature. Particular manners can be known to few, and therefore few only can judge how nearly they are copied. The irregular combinations of fanciful invention may delight awhile, by that novelty of which the common satiety of life sends us all in quest: but the pleasures of sudden wonder are soon exhausted, and the mind can only repose on the stability of truth.

Samuel Johnson. ‘Preface to Shakespeare’.

This is quoted by Christopher De Groot in a recent Takimag post as “..the high point of literary criticism; “

I can’t even understand it. Makes me look pretty dumb then, doesn’t it? If that’s a high point in literary criticism I suppose it’d go without saying that itself it would be pretty literary – and I’d assume ‘literary’ to presuppose intelligible….

Best I can make of it is that general truthful things are the most lasting pleasures.

Well that would seem to go without saying.

But I will admit it perhaps does need some saying. In a culture devoted to excited stimulation perhaps many forget that a pleasant ordinary life is in fact ‘as good as it gets’.

So okay, because many of us have lost our way perhaps it needs saying. But that makes it the high point of literary criticism?

I don’t get it.

Leave a Reply