An essay which has by these means achieved clearness may be pleasant to read but still lacking in power. To give force to his ideas about an author or a literature, the masterful critic exhibits the peculiarity of his subject by the use of contrast. The brilliancy of Mazzini’s essay proceeds largely from its striking antithesis between Byron and Goethe. Renan enforces his doctrine of the individuality of Celtic literature by emphasizing the differences between the French “Roland” and the Celtic “Peredur,” between the gentle Isolde and the “Scandinavian furies, Gudrun and Cirimhilde.” Hugo intensifies our conviction of the complex character of modern life by describing the simplicity of the ancients.

If a critic does not observe this principle, we may say of his essay: “These ideas are, to be sure, clear and enjoyable; but what do they matter?” The great critics do not leave us calmly indifferent; they are on occasion critics militant. Even the gentle Sainte-Beuve admonishes the “Montaignologues,” who, he feels, do not understand the spirit of Montaigne. Taine manifests the novelty and importance of his method of criticism by mentioning the imperfections of the eighteenth-century method. Mazzini reproves the enemies and misinterpreters of Byron. Hugo above all shows the stimulating value of pitting one’s ideas against those of others. He calls his essay his “sling and stone against the classical Goliaths”; and by making his opponents utter their arguments against him gives to his work the force of dramatic combat. Critical essays that thus add vigor to lucidity arouse and delight our minds. When we recognize how skillfully they fuse logic, imagination, and emotion, we perceive the superficiality of the distinction between so-called criticism and so-called creative literature. Good criticism is indeed creative, and its composition is a high art.

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