Criticism Awed Into Silence

Henry Alford, Chapters on the Poets of Ancient Greece:

Meanwhile we would beg our readers whom these our essays may have interested, not to imagine that we are about to treat every poem which we shall notice, at as much length as we have done these two. These are the greatest extant monuments of human genius. Even the course of the ordinary narrative in them is full of points of beauty, which no popular poetical critic could allow himself to pass over. So that necessarily our chapters on the Iliad and Odyssey are little more than arguments, or tables of contents, with occasional translations interspersed. “Where the design is unapparent, and the work fragmentary, much of the taste of a commentator is superseded; and where the hoar of extreme antiquity has hallowed the edifice, criticism is awed into silence. Let us come into the company of the herd of poets, and, great and glorious spirits though they be, we shall breathe more freely, and judge less sparingly; but — there again, as sure as we look up, that grand old bust, blind and fillet-bound, is looking on us as we are writing; it is the concentration of human majesty, the type of the age of heroes; surely it has descended, with the poems, to bless our libraries with its venerable presence; and, be the critic’s doubts what they may, that brow meditated, that mouth uttered, these ancient songs. Reader, examine as thou wilt — judge as thou canst — convince as thou mayest, — but in thy ‘heart of hearts’ never call in question the identity or truth of THE IDEAL HOMER!


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