You spoke of criticism in your last letter, saying it will soon disappear. I think, on the contrary, that it's only beginning. The trend is the opposite of what it used to be, that's all. (In the days of La Harpe, critics were grammarians; in the days of Sainte-Beuve and Taine they're historians.) When will they be artists, only artists, but real artists? Where have you ever seen a piece of criticism that is concerned, intensely concerned, with the work in itself? The setting in which was produced and the circumstances that occasioned it are very closely analyzed. But the inner poetics that brought it into being? Its composition? Its style? The author's point of view? Never.He might have been writing only yesterday.
Such criticism as that would require great imagination and great goodwill. I mean an ever-ready faculty of enthusiasm. And then taste -- a quality rare even among the best, so very rare that it is no longer even mentioned.
What infuriates me daily is to see a masterpiece and a disgrace put on the same level. They put down the mighty, and exalt those of low degree. Nothing could be more stupid or immoral.
Friday, February 15, 2013
An ever-ready faculty of enthusiasm
To George Sand who, in her letter to Flaubert, had predicted that Sainte-Beuve would be 'the last of the critics' -- the 'others' being 'either artists or idiots' -- Flaubert wrote on 2 February 1869: