Ridiculous Critics

Ridiculous Critics
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Augustan Mockery of Critical Judgment
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Philip Smallwood
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Ridiculous Critics offers an outline of eighteenth-century literary criticism that undermines its stuffy reputation. This history highlights the contempt, jocularity, irony, and buffoonery that also make up its critical spirit, with passages from critics, poets, novelists, and literary commentators celebrated and obscure.

Ridiculous Critics is an anthology of eighteenth-century writings on the figure of the literary critic, and on the critic’s mixed and complex role. The collection assembles critical texts and satirical images chronologically to suggest a vision of the history of eighteenth-century literary criticism. Including comic, vicious, heartfelt and absurd passages from critics, poets, novelists and literary commentators celebrated and obscure, the writings range through poetry, fiction, drama, and periodical writing.

The anthology also includes two original essays discussing and illustrating the irrepressible spirit of critical ridicule in the period, and commending its value and effect. The first offers an evaluation of the merciless and sometimes shockingly venomous satirical attacks on critical habits and personalities of the eighteenth century. The editors argue that such attacks are reflexive, in the sense that criticism becomes increasingly supple and able to observe and examine its own irresponsible ingenuities from within. The volume’s concluding essay supplies an analysis of modern modes of criticism and critical history, and suggests applications across time. We propose that humor’s vital force was once an important part of living criticism.

The eighteenth-century mockery of critics casts light on a neglected common thread in the history of criticism and its recent manifestations; it prompts questions about the relative absence of comedy from the stories we presently tell about critics dead or alive. The passages invite laughter, both with the critics and at their expense, and suggest the place that ridicule might have had since the eighteenth century in the making of judgments, and in the pricking of critical pretension. For this reason, they indicate the role that laughter may still have in criticism today and provide an encouraging precedent for its future.
Part I: Laughing with Reason: Seriousness and Un-seriousness in English Critical HistoryClassical Origins and Sources
Writing the Laughing History of Criticism
Overdoing It
A Note on Texts and Images
Part II: The Language and Appearance of Ridicule: A Selection
“Critiques, Do Your Worst”: Buckingham’s
Lord Rochester’s Disdain: “An Allusion to Horace”
Jonathan Swift and my Good Lords the Critics:
A Tale of a Tub
Swift’s Goddess Criticism: the
Battle of the Books
William Wycherley’s Anti-Critical Rampagings
Addison and the Art of Critical Tittling and Tattling
How Not to Write Literary Criticism: the Cautions of Pope’s
Tyrants in Wit and Pretenders to Criticism:
The Guardian
The Critical Insect of Thomas Parnell: “The Bookworm”
A Life in Criticism: Parnell’s
Remarks on Zoilus
Steele and the Big Beast of Criticism:
The Theatre
Damning with Faint Praise: Pope’s
Epistle to Arbuthnot
Pope’s Big Sleep of Criticism:
The Dunciad
Henry Fielding’s Guesswork:
The Champion
Sarah Fielding on Critical Cackling and Gobbling:
David Simple
Henry Fielding’s Critical Reptiles and Slanderers:
Tom Jones
Thomas Edwards’ “Airy Petulance”:
The Canons of Criticism
Critical Puffery and Scrapping: Smollett’s
Peregrine Pickle
Smart’s Practical Critic:
The Student
Smart’s Semicolonic Ramblings:
The Midwife (I)
Mrs. Midnight’s Art of Close Reading:
The Midwife(II)
Smart’s Critical Dogs and Spiders:
The Midwife (III)
Microscopic and Telescopic Critics: Johnson’s
George Stevens’ Pedasculus:
Distress upon Distress
Critical Fishiness: Smart, Rolt, and
The Universal Visitor
Garrick’s Witches’ Brew: “A Recipe for a Modern Critic”
Critical Rodents and
The Universal Visitor
Oliver Goldsmith’s Specious Idlers:
Polite Learning in Europe
Goldsmith’s Critical Spiders and Blockheads:
The Critical Review
Johnson’s Critical Minim:
The Idler
Alexander Mackenzie’s
The Hungry Mob of Scriblers and Etchers
Sterne’s Bobs and Trinkets of Criticism:
Tristram Shandy
The Reviewers’ Cave
Evan Lloyd and the Critic’s Catacomb of Words:
The Powers of the Pen
A Connoisseur Admiring a Dark Night Piece
An Old Macaroni Critic at a New Play
Gibbon’s Critical Overcast:
The Decline and Fall
Gillray’s Critical Owl
Dr. Pomposo
The Critics: A Poem
The Critic at Home
A Connoisseur in Brokers Alley
Part III: Legacies of Ridicule: the Close of Critical History
Uncertainties Yet More Uncertain
Being Serious with Theory
Comedy and Contextualization
Stasis and Change
Dignity, Indignity and the Function of Criticism
Laughing When Reason Fails
Of Dogs and Monkeys: an Afterword

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