Nonfiction > G. Gregory Smith, ed. > Elizabethan Critical Essays
G. Gregory Smith, ed.  Elizabethan Critical Essays.  1904.
THE PURPOSE of these volumes is to collect the writings of the Elizabethan age which are concerned with Literary Criticism. The term is used in its most comprehensive sense, and permits the inclusion not merely of academic treatises on the nature of poetry or on more special problems of form, but of tracts and prefaces which express contemporary taste. Some of the texts, such as Harvey’s and Nash’s, are reproduced less for their matter than for their manner of approach. The work is therefore an attempt to recover, primarily in the words of the Elizabethans themselves, what then passed for critical opinion in literary circles. I hope the collection will commend itself as being fairly complete: the ingenious repetition of argument and illustration which runs throughout would show at least that we are in possession of the abiding topics.  1
  Several of the texts have been reprinted, either individually or as parts of works, during the late century, and notably by Haslewood, Grosart, and Mr. Arber. In these, it may be said, the interest has been exclusively bibliographical and historical—a restriction perhaps inevitable in the plan of separate reprints. The advance in the study of Criticism has proved, however, that there are other, and perhaps more important, interests in this material, and that these are best served by treating it as a whole. In no other way can we find the historical perspective of what appears to be a ‘mingle-mangle’ of ill-considered, off-hand sayings, or better appreciate the fact that in these we have the true beginnings of English Criticism as a separate literary ‘kind,’ or adequately understand how much of the classical mood expressed in Dryden and his successors is the natural and native outcome of these early speculations. I have endeavoured, in the Introduction, to discuss these general problems, and to show that the texts here reprinted supply evidence for certain conclusions.  2
  It has been found convenient to use the epithet ‘Elizabethan’ in the strictest chronological sense, and to exclude the earlier treatises of Coxe, Wilson, and Sherry, and, with them, Fulwood’s book of 1568, which are either entirely rhetorical or merely anthological. By ending with Elizabeth’s death-year, we are denied the critical work of Ben Jonson,—other than the earlier pieces which appear in the Appendix to Vol. ii,—and all the work of Bacon: for though the first edition of the Essays appeared in 1597, the important reissues fall well within James’s reign. Moreover—considerations of space apart—Jonson’s and Bacon’s milieu is Jacobean, and their work introduces us to a later stage in the history of criticism. In that work, with Bolton’s Hypercritica, Stirling’s Anacrisis, Drayton’s Epistle to Reynolds, and others, there is ample material for another volume. Yet we need not concern ourselves overmuch with the chronological division. The defence of the limits here chosen must be the mutual dependence of the essays between Ascham’s chapter on Imitation and Daniel’s Defence. It so happens that the date of the latter falls in or about 1603.  3
  All the writings in the body of the book are in prose. The contributions in verse, such as Daniel’s Musophilus, Hall’s Satires, or Peele’s judgements on contemporaries, are either plainly supplementary or too occasional for the present purpose. These have been incorporated by way of illustration in the Notes. The extracts from Jonson’s earlier criticism in verse and a passage from the Returne from Parnassus have been printed as an Appendix to Vol. ii, partly to elucidate certain matters, partly to make a link with the next period of English criticism.  4
  In every case the texts have been taken from the originals, and have been carefully collated. I am responsible for the punctuation, and in several places for editorial emendation. The errors and confusion, which it is easier to note than to put right, are partly due to the carelessness or poor scholarship of some of the authors, but more frequently to the fact that the essays were printed without their consent, and were issued without correction, or were ‘edited’ by the compositors. Printer Jaggard once rounded on an author who had dared to complain, that he regretted his workmen had not been ‘so madly disposed’ as to ‘have given him leave to print his own English.’ For then, thought Jaggard (with what truth, it matters not), the complainer would have proved his incompetence. There is good reason to believe that in most cases the author never saw a proof of his work, and that in some no proof was pulled. Only in this way can we explain the appearance, if not always the meaning, of the gibberish in Lodge’s Defence, or the eccentricities of Webbe and Meres, which are not unworthy of the genius whose Butyrum et Caseum disguised the names of Caesar’s murderers. In one or two places the correction or suggested emendation of errors in the originals, which had escaped my scrutiny, will be found in the Notes. There must be others. For the transcription and collation of the texts in the Bodleian I am indebted to Miss L. Toulmin Smith, and of those in the British Museum to Mrs. Salmon.  5
  As for the Notes, I hope I may claim for them, as Sir John Harington does for his, that they are not a ‘work of supererogation’; though it is perhaps no defence or extenuation to state that the majority of the texts are here annotated for the first time. I shall be sorry if they are not explicit in showing my indebtedness to those who have helped me personally or by their writings. No venturer in this subject dare reckon without the learned author of the History of Criticism, or the American scholar who broke fresh ground in the remarkable volume on Literary Criticism in the Renaissance. To the thanks which I owe to them for my share of these public gifts, I add my hearty acknowledgement of not a few happy suggestions which our friendship has made possible. Mr. Nichol Smith, who very kindly read all the proofs, has supplied me with many interesting references, especially to the French critics. I would also thank the Secretary and Staff of the Clarendon Press for their ready co-operation at every stage of the work, and Mr. Doble, in particular, for helping me to the solution of some textual difficulties.

  December 29, 1903.

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