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To write books about books has been spoken of as though it were a parasitic industry. Undoubtedly, books about books are among the least necessary of books. The world delighted in songs and epics and histories for centuries before it paused to attend to a literary critic. Even to-day, when men engage in the eternal discussion of the books with which they would like to be left on a desert island, I do not think a vote is ever given to a volume of criticism. The poet, the essayist, the novelist, the biographer, the philosopher, are all safe among the world's best authors: the critic must be content if he is given a place among the second-best. He is not a contributor to the hundred best books; the most that he can claim is that no collection of the thousand best books would be complete without him. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine a wellchosen library of a thousand books without a volume or two of literary criticism.

Preface to the American Edition

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This may be because a thousand supremely good books have not yet been written-a melancholy reflection when we think of all the ink and paper that have been used since authorship began. I think, however, it is also partly due to the fact that as human society becomes civilised, books become more and more a necessary part of the environment of men and women, so that we may say that on the whole it is more natural for a civilised man to write a book about books than a book about birds or butterflies. In a highlydeveloped civilisation, literature inevitably takes literature as part of its subject-matter as it takes every other great human interest. Even the historian ends by admitting authors among his characters along with statesmen and soldiers, and in general literature we have poems on poets, essays on essayists, biographies of biographers, criticisms of critics, and novels about novelists. Writing about writers, indeed, has become in our day an all but universal practice, and it seems to me to stand in no more need of defence than writing about tramps or travellers, about business-men or burglars.

There is, I admit, always a danger that a writer about writers may become excessively pro- " fessional. He may discuss writing as a cottonmanufacturer would discuss the manufacture

of cotton, telling us a great deal about the mechanism of production and nothing about the energies, sacrifices, and personal qualities that are the secret of genius in business as in the arts. Criticism of this kind is important, but its place is in a technical or professional treatise. Criticism, in order to justify itself as a branch of literature, must subordinate all such technical matter to philosophy or biography, or both, must associate ideas about literature with ideas about life, as Schopenhauer did, or like SainteBeuve and Matthew Arnold, must portray in an author, not only an author, but a man.

Those critics who write about literature as though it were a cult for the few instead of a normal human interest, confine themselves largely to analysis—some of them to pretended analysis. They do not see that the critic's analysis is of value only if it leads to a synthesis. There is no use in his taking to pieces what he sees as the genius of Shakespeare if he cannot put it together again in such a way that it is mirrored in the minds and imaginations of his readers as well as in his own. It seems to me to be the positive task of criticism to create in one's own mind an image of a writer's genius and then to try to clear the minds of one's readers so that the same image will be reflected Preface to the American Edition

in theirs. We may fail; but that, at least, is what we are attempting to do, or what we ought to be attempting to do.

ROBERT LYND.

LONDON, November, 1922.

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