There is a sentence in Dr. Johnson's Gray which might well be written upin all those rooms, too humble to be called libraries, yet full of books,where the pursuit of reading is carried on by private people. . . . Irejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense ofreaders, uncorrupted by literary prejudices, after all the refinements ofsubtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all claimto poetical honours. It defines their qualities; it dignifies theiraims; it bestows upon a pursuit which devours a great deal of time, andis yet apt to leave behind it nothing very substantial, the sanction ofthe great man's approval.The common reader, as Dr. Johnson implies, differs from the critic andthe scholar. He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him sogenerously. He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledgeor correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinctto create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, somekind of whole--a portrait of a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of theart of writing. He never ceases, as he reads, to run up some rickety andramshackle fabric which shall give him the temporary satisfaction oflooking sufficiently like the real object to allow of affection,laughter, and argument. Hasty, inaccurate, and superficial, snatching nowthis poem, now that scrap of old furniture, without caring where he findsit or of what nature it may be so long as it serves his purpose androunds his structure, his deficiencies as a critic are too obvious to bepointed out; but if he has, as Dr. Johnson maintained, some say in thefinal distribution of poetical honours, then, perhaps, it may be worthwhile to write down a few of the ideas and opinions which, insignificantin themselves, yet contribute to so mighty a result.
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