The Cultural Milieu of Addison's Literary Criticism

The Cultural Milieu of Addison's Literary Criticism

The Cultural Milieu of Addison's Literary Criticism

The Cultural Milieu of Addison's Literary Criticism

Excerpt

A true Critick ought to dwell rather upon Excellencies than Imperfections, to discover concealed Beauties of a Writer, and communicate to the World such Things as are worth their Observation. The most exquisite Words and finest Strokes of an Author are those which very often appear the most doubtful and exceptionable, to a Man who wants a Relish for polite Learning; and they are these, which a soure undistinguishing Critick generally attacks with the greatest Violence.

Addison, Spectator 291

THE PROFESSED CRITIC was a new figure on the English literary scene in the early eighteenth century. He reached his public by writing prefaces to plays and poems, by contributing to the growing numbers of newspapers and periodicals, or, less frequently, by publishing treatises upon criticism and the art of poetry. He was influenced in his writings by ideals not of his own making, and he was censured, sometimes quite severely, if he did not live up to them. No English writer with any pretensions to the title of gentleman would have written either Wilson Art of Rhetorique or Puttenham Arte of English Poesie . Both works have the mark of the classroom upon them. The English gentleman, as satisfied as he was with his Oxford education, preferred to keep the harsher evidences of learning and scholarship carefully concealed from public view.

Thus, when Addison writes that a true critic has a relish for polite learning, he is emphasizing his own role as a gentleman of learning and polite taste, and setting aside the carping and . . .

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