Saturday, July 11, 2020



C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (1961; rpt. Cambridge: At the University Press, 1965), pp. 121-122:
This drives me to a question which I never asked myself until a few years ago. Can I say with certainty that any evaluative criticism has ever actually helped me to understand and appreciate any great work of literature or any part of one? When I inquire what helps I have had in this matter I seem to discover a somewhat unexpected result. The evaluative critics come at the bottom of the list.

At the top comes Dryasdust. Obviously I have owed, and must continue to owe, far more to editors, textual critics, commentators, and lexicographers than to anyone else. Find out what the author actually wrote and what the hard words meant and what the allusions were to, and you have done far more for me than a hundred new interpretations or assessments could ever do.

I must put second that despised class, the literary historians; I mean the really good ones like W.P. Ker or Oliver Elton. These have helped me, first of all, by telling me what works exist. But still more by putting them in their setting; thus showing me what demands they were meant to satisfy, what furniture they presupposed in the minds of their readers. They have headed me off from false approaches, taught me what to look for, enabled me in some degree to put myself into the frame of mind of those to whom they were addressed. This has happened because such historians on the whole have taken Arnold's advice by getting themselves out of the way. They are concerned far more with describing books than with judging them.

Thirdly, I must in honesty place various emotive critics who, up to a certain age, did me very good service by infecting me with their own enthusiasms and thus not only sending me but sending me with a good appetite to the authors they admired. I should not enjoy rereading most of these critics now, but they were useful for a while. They did little for my intellect, but much for my 'corage'. Yes, even Mackail.
Id., p. 124:
If we have to choose, it is always better to read Chaucer again than to read a new criticism of him.

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