The History of Tom Jones HTML version
Containing About Three Days.
A crust for the critics.
In our last initial chapter we may be supposed to have treated that formidable set
of men who are called critics with more freedom than becomes us; since they
exact, and indeed generally receive, great condescension from authors. We shall
in this, therefore, give the reasons of our conduct to this august body; and here
we shall, perhaps, place them in a light in which they have not hitherto been
This word critic is of Greek derivation, and signifies judgment. Hence I presume
some persons who have not understood the original, and have seen the English
translation of the primitive, have concluded that it meant judgment in the legal
sense, in which it is frequently used as equivalent to condemnation.
I am the rather inclined to be of that opinion, as the greatest number of critics
hath of late years been found amongst the lawyers. Many of these gentlemen,
from despair, perhaps, of ever rising to the bench in Westminster-hall, have
placed themselves on the benches at the playhouse, where they have exerted
their judicial capacity, and have given judgment, i.e., condemned without mercy.
The gentlemen would, perhaps, be well enough pleased, if we were to leave
them thus compared to one of the most important and honourable offices in the
commonwealth, and, if we intended to apply to their favour, we would do so; but,
as we design to deal very sincerely and plainly too with them, we must remind
them of another officer of justice of a much lower rank; to whom, as they not only
pronounce, but execute, their own judgment, they bear likewise some remote
But in reality there is another light, in which these modern critics may, with great
justice and propriety, be seen; and this is that of a common slanderer. If a person
who prys into the characters of others, with no other design but to discover their
faults, and to publish them to the world, deserves the title of a slanderer of the
reputations of men, why should not a critic, who reads with the same malevolent
view, be as properly stiled the slanderer of the reputation of books?
Vice hath not, I believe, a more abject slave; society produces not a more odious
vermin; nor can the devil receive a guest more worthy of him, nor possibly more
welcome to him, than a slanderer. The world, I am afraid, regards not this
monster with half the abhorrence which he deserves; and I am more afraid to
assign the reason of this criminal lenity shown towards him; yet it is certain that
the thief looks innocent in the comparison; nay, the murderer himself can seldom
stand in competition with his guilt: for slander is a more cruel weapon than a
sword, as the wounds which the former gives are always incurable. One method,
indeed, there is of killing, and that the basest and most execrable of all, which
bears an exact analogy to the vice here disclaimed against, and that is poison: a
means of revenge so base, and yet so horrible, that it was once wisely