Etymologically the word criticism is derived from the Greek word meaning judgment and
hence criticism is exercise of judgment and literary criticism is the exercise of judgment on
works of literature. Criticism is the play of the mind on a work of literature, and its
function is to examine its excellencies and defects and finally to evaluate its artistic worth.
PRINCIPLES OF CRITICISM.
1- First is the principle of Truth. Truth is the final test of merit in literature, for a work
which does not correspond with the facts of life or with the universal and
fundamental beliefs of mankind, cannot be regarded as great whatever its technical
excellence may be.
2- The second essential principle by which permanent worth of an author is to be
assessed is the principle of symmetry. This principle implies right selection and
arrangement of material. “ It implies that the writer should select certain aspect of
3- The third principle is the principle of idealization. This principle implies not only
that certain aspect of reality should be selected for artistic treatment but also that
the selection so made should exclude such matters as affects unpleasantly the
aesthetic consciousness of the reader.
QUALLIFICATIONS OF A GOOD CRITIC.
1- A critic must be a man of rare organic sensibility.
2- Secondly he must be a man widely read not only in literature of his own language,
but in that of as many languages as possible.
3- He must have proper training and technical skill in the different branches of
4- He must rise above all prejudices.
5- The critic must have imaginative sympathy. He must be able to put himself in the
place of the writer.
6- The critic must have a sound knowledge of human psychology.
BRANCHES OF CRITICISM.
So, the theories of art can be defined with regard to their focus and concentration on
any of the afore-said variables. Thus a mimetic theory of art sees the work of art as
reflecting the universe like a mirror. Aristotle who defined art as imitation in his
Poetics is the prime example of this theory. This mimetic criticism regards literature as
imitating or reflecting life and therefore emphasizes the truth and accuracy of its
A pragmatic theory of art sees the work as a means to an end, to teach or instruct or
aesthetic pleasure. There should be a pragmatic purpose to teach by delighting. The
focus is changed to the work’s effect on an audience. It judges literature according to
the successful achievement of this assumed aim. The assumption of most of the Neo-
classical criticism from Sir. Philip Sydney’s Apology for poetry (1545) to Dr.
Johnson’s many critical studies at the end of the 18th Century is that literature serves a
Expressive theories centre on the artist. Wordsworth’s definition of the poetry as the
spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings is typical and nearly all Romantic and 19th
Century criticism generally regards art as primarily concerned with expressing the
poet’s feelings or psyche. It examines text as an expression of the writer’s feelings,
imagination and personality. It tends to judge the work by its sincerity or the extent to
which it has successfully revealed the author’s state of mind. Romantic Critics such as
Coleridge and Wordsworth were expressive critics in this sense.
There are various types of criticism that have flourished from time to time they are
LEGISLATIVE CRITICISM, JUDICIAL CRITICISM, THEORETICAL
CRITICISM, EVALUATIVE CRITICISM, HISTORICAL CRITICISM
HISTORICAL CRITICISM, BIOGRAPHICAL CRITICISM, COMPARATIVE
CRITICISM DESCRIPTIVE CRITICISM, IMPRESSIONISTIC CRITICISM,
TEXUAL OR ONTOLOGICAL CRITICISM, PSYCHOLOGICAL CRITICISM,
SOCIOLOGICAL MARXIST CRITICISM, AND ARCHETYPAL CRITICISM.
Descriptive criticism is the analysis of existing literary works of their aims, methods
and effects. It is by far the most popular of the critical modes, and a large bulk of
English criticism is of this type. Its most powerful exponents have been the poets
themselves, who have analysed their own creations with a view to explaining their own
aims and methods. As George Watson points out, “descriptive criticism begins in self-
justification with poets discussing their own works and defending t em against hostile
attacks as Dryden has done in his innumerable prefaces”. His Essay on Dramatic Poesy
provides the earliest extent example of descriptive criticism. While the legislative critic
says,, “this is how a play should be written,” and a theoretical critic like Aristotle says,
“this is the nature of Tragedy in general” a descriptive critic, like Dryden, simply says,
“this is how I have tried to write my play and why” “Descriptive criticism is always
about some particular text whether of the critic’s own or of another, and the critic,
instead of laying down general rules or theorizing in general terms, analyses the work
in hand, traces the influence4s that have given rise to it, and then discusses it critically
item by item.
NEO-CLASSICAL CRITICISM: ITS TWO PHASES.
At the beginning of this era stands John Dryden and at the end of it there is Dr. Samuel
Johnson. In its first phase, i.e., during the Restoration age (1660-1700) which is
presided over by John Dryden, Neo-classicism is the liberal and moderate; in its second
phase, i.e. during first six or seven decades of the 18th century it becomes more and
more narrow, slavish, and stringent. Pope, Addison and then Dr. Johnson are the
leading critics of this second phase. George Shereburne in his Literary History of
England defines Neo-classicism as,
“a veneration for the Roman classics, thought, and way of life”
JOHN DRYDEN. (1631—1700)
John Dryden was a versatile and voluminous writer who left no branch of literature
untouched and produced works of outstanding merit in each field. He was a great poet
and a great dramatist. He was a great poet and a great dramatist. He was also a great
prose-writer, and is regarded as the founder of modern prose style. He was also an
original and discriminating critic, so much so that Dr. Johnson called him, “The father
of English criticism,” and critic after critic has agreed with this estimate. However, the
only formal work of criticism that he has left behind him is his Essay on Dramatic
Poesy, a work which is the unofficial manifesto of his critical creed, and an important
landmark in the history of literary criticism in England.
JOSEPH ADDISON (1672—1719)
Criticism in the early 18th century does not differ substantially from Restoration
criticism, except that Neo-classicism grows more severe and stringent, and there is an
expansion and diffusion of the critical temper. “It accepts and consolidates the
revolution that Dryden made, and advances it cautiously on many fronts.” It makes
ample use of the critical tradition that it had inherited from Dryden.
The critical out put of Addison belongs to three different periods;
1- His early Criticism.
2- The Prose works of his Middle Period.
3- And the Essays which he contributed to the Tattler and the Spectator; the best of
Addison’s criticism is contained in the Spectator papers.
ALEXANDER POPE (1688—1744)
Alexander Pope was a much greater poet than critic, though he has written at length on
criticism. His chief critical works are:
1- Essay on Criticism.
2- Imitations of the Epistles of Horace to Augustus.
3- His letters.
4- His preface to his edition of Shakespeare’s Plays.
DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
Bosker in his admirable book Literary Criticism in the Age of Johnson emphasizes the
dual trends in the criticism of the later half of the 18th century; one is the persistence of
the neo-classic trends, and the other is the rise of romanticism. The Neo-classical
school is still dominant, but it is being undermined by the rising romanticism of the
Dr. Johnson was a voluminous writer and critical remarks are scattered all over his
works. But his claim as a literary critic chiefly rests upon.
1- Preface to the Dictionary of the English Language.
2- Preface to Shakespeare.
3- Lives of the Poets.
4- Essays and Articles contributed from time to time to the Rambler, a periodical
founded and edited by the Doctor himself.
S.T COLERIDGE. (1772—1834)
The awakening of sensibility is the most radical change that comes over the English
Literary scene about the middle of the 18th century. Sensibility primarily means the
power of generation or perception, but this meaning has become over laid with another,
that of quickness and acuteness f apprehension or feeling, which in turn was extended,
during the 18th century, to mean the capacity for refined emotion, sensitiveness
generally in the face of external nature, and the readiness to feel for the poor and the
suffering. The neo-classical dogma is felt to be too cramping and narrow, and writers
turn to a freer mode of self expression.
Coleridge was a great poet, but he is also a great critic. He is one of the greatest of poet
critics that England has ever produced. Stray’ remarks on literature and literary theory
are scattered all over his prose works as , The Friend, Table Talks; Letters; Aids to
Reflection; Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit: Anima Poetae; and Sibylline Leaves.
But the bulk of his literary criticism, all that I most worthwhile in it is contained in his;
Biographia Literaria and Lectures on Shakespeare and Other poets.
Wordsworth is one of the greatest poets of Englan one to whom Matthew Arnold
assigns a place next only to Shakespeare and Milton. He was primarily a poet, and not a
critic. He has left behind him no comprehensive and systematic treatise on literary
criticism. His criticism consists of Advertisement to the Lyrical Ballads, Preface to the
Lyrical Ballads1800, Preface to the Lyrical ballads 1802. the preface was constantly
revised for the subsequent editions of the lyrical Ballads. For the 1815 edition, the poet
wrote a new preface and the older one was added as an Appendix. Wordsworth’s
critical works also include his notes to “The Thorn”, and other poems as well as critical
remarks of great significance scattered all up and down his correspondence.
MATHEW ARNOLD (1822—1888)
Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 and she ruled England till her death in 1901.
the beginning of her reign coincided with far reaching economic, social, scientific and
literary changes which not only transformed English social life, but also had far
reaching impact on literature and literary criticism. With the memory of the horrors of
the French Revolution still fresh in their minds, the Victorians had a passion for law
and order. They wanted progress but a steady, ordered progress, healthy evolution, and
not a bloody revolution.
Mathew Arnold the greatest name among the Victorian critics is a poet turned critic. He
started his literary career by writing poetry. It was only at the age of thirty-one in 1853
that he published his first piece of criticism as preface to the poems, and then for the
rest of his life for full thirty-five years, he hardly wrote anything but criticism.
His works on criticism consists of The Preface to the Poems 1853, On Translating
Homer 1856, Essay in Criticism, On the study of Celtic Literature.
T.S ELIOT (1888—1965)
Twentieth century literary criticism in England offers a bewildering variety of critical
theory and practice. New discoveries in psychology, anthropology, sociology,
economics, etc. having brought about a revolution in critical methods with the
result that modern criticism is quite different from criticism in the 19th century.
Critics like I.A.Richards, T.S.Eliot, F.R. Leavis, William Empson, have provided
entirely new interpretations of old writers, and presented them in an entirely new
light. The full significance of their achievement is yet to be realized.