This blog post is part of my ongoing “60 Books in 60 Days” encounter with the Penguin Great Ideas series. From mid-December to mid-February, I will read one book in the series each night and post a blog entry about it the next morning. For more on this beautifully designed series, visit Penguin’s page about the books.
A Tale of a Tub
by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Memorable Line (among so many that their full recital would require a full reproduction of the book, mirroring a prior situation, e.g. “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”)
“Now, from this heavenly descent of criticism, and the close analogy it bears to heroic virtue, it is easy to assign the proper employment of a true ancient genuine critic, which is, to travel through this vast world of writings; to pursue and hunt those monstrous faults bred within them; to drag out the lurking errors, like Cacus from his den; to multiply them like Hydra’s heads; and rake them together like Augeas’ dung; or else drive away a sort of dangerous fowl, who have a perverse inclination to plunder the best branches of the tree of knowledge, like those stymphalian birds that eat up the fruit…These reasonings will furnish us with an adequate definition of a true critic; that he is discoverer and collector of writers’ faults; which may be farther put beyond dispute by the following demonstration; that whoever will examine the writings of all kinds, wherewith this ancient sect has honored the world, shall immediately find, from the whole thread and tenor of them, that the ideas of the authors have been altogether conversant and taken up with the faults and blemishes and oversights, and mistakes of other writers; and, let the subject treated on be whatever it will, their imaginations are so entirely possessed and replete with the defects of other pens, that the very quintessence of what is bad does of necessity distil into their own; by which means the whole appears to be nothing else but an abstract of the criticisms themselves have made.”