Thursday, November 05, 2015


Mediocre Poets

James Boswell, Journal (January 18, 1763):
We disputed about poems. Sheridan said that a man should not be a poet except he was very excellent; for that to be a mediocris poeta was but a poor thing. I said I differed from him. For the greatest part of those who read poetry have a mediocre taste; consequently one may please a great many. Besides, to write poems is very agreeable, and one always has enough people to call them good; so a man of a tolerable genius rather gains than loses.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, § 51 (tr. E.F.J. Payne):
It goes without saying that everywhere I speak exclusively of the great and genuine poet, who is rare. I mean no one else; least of all that dull and shallow race of mediocre poets, rhymesters and devisers of fables which flourishes so luxuriantly, especially in Germany at the present time; but we ought to shout incessantly in their ears from all side:
                                    Mediocribus esse poetis
Non homines, non Di, non concessere columnae.
["Neither gods, nor men, nor even advertising pillars permit the poet to be a mediocrity." Horace, Ars Poetica, 372-3. Tr.] It is worth serious consideration how great an amount of time—their own and other people's—and of paper is wasted by this swarm of mediocre poets, and how injurious their influence is. For the public always seizes on what is new, and shows even more inclination to what is perverse and dull, as being akin to its own nature. These works of the mediocre, therefore, draw the public away and hold it back from genuine masterpieces, and from the education they afford. Thus they work directly against the benign influence of genius, ruin taste more and more, and so arrest the progress of the age. Therefore criticism and satire should scourge mediocre poets without pity or sympathy, until they are induced for their own good to apply their muse rather to read what is good than to write what is bad. For if the bungling of the meddlers put even the god of the Muses in such a rage that he could flay Marsyas, I do not see on what mediocre poetry would base its claims to tolerance.

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