Business Of Criticism by H Gardner

THE two sets of lectures which are printed together here were each given in response to special invitations. The first series, 'The Profession of a Critic', was delivered in the University of London in the spring of 1953, in response to an invitation to give three lectures, on a subject of my own choice, to students engaged in research in English Literature. I had just published my edition of John Donne's Divine Poems, and had no 'work in progress' sufficiently advanced to be worthy of the occasion. I decided that I would take an opportunity to ask myself what, after twenty-five years of teaching and writing, I thought my aim was. The lectures have been expanded from lecture form and documented; but they are substantially unaltered.

The second series, 'The Limits of Literary Criticism', was given at King's College, Newcastle, in the spring of 1956, in response to an invitation from the University of Durham to deliver the Riddell Memorial Lectures for that year. They were published in the autumn of that year and are reprinted here without alteration. The terms of the Deed of Foundation for these lectures demand that the lectures should be concerned with the relation between religion and contemporary developments of thought,

'with particular emphasis on and reference to the bearing of such developments on the Ethics and Tenets of Christianity'.

The audience for these lectures was not, therefore, an audience whose primary interest was in English Literature. This accounts for their emphasis. It made me discuss rather fully the work of an influential New Testament critic, but not single out any particular critics of literature for discussion.

Although the two sets of lectures had different terms of reference, I hope I am right in thinking that they to some extent complement each other. Both argue the necessity of an historical approach to works of literature and the twin neces-sity of recognizing the historical nature of our own approach. Both are concerned with the nature of revelation, which if it is to take place at all, must do so in a certain place and at a certain time, but, if it is a true revelation, cannot be bounded by its circumstances. Both are pleas for a certain measure of scepticism, which, while we pursue with our utmost energy and intelligence different paths towards the 'meaning' of what we read, will preserve us from thinking that the meaning can be exhausted by our effort: 'Uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum.' For my title I have adapted some words from Dryden, who, although he deplorably referred to Queen Gorboduc and, worse still, declared it was in rhyme (which proves he had not read it), sums up for me the purpose which any research I may undertake subserves:

They wholly mistake the nature of criticism who think its business is principally to find fault. Criticism, as it was first instituted by Aristotle, was meant a standard of judging well; the chiefest part of which is, to observe those excellencies which should delight a reasonable reader.
It is to 'the common sense of readers uncorrupted with literary prejudices' that the critic must ultimately appeal. By this, 'after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning', his work, like the poet's, will finally be judged. — St. Hilda's College, Oxford
«NEXT» «Business Of Criticism» «Literary Criticism» «Library» «Home»