In this connection “criticism” means literary criticism, or the criticism of literature. Unfortunately the word “criticism” is commonly used in a bad sense, meaning mere fault-finding or condemnation. This is misleading; for properly the word simply means “judging”, coming, as it does, from the Greek word meaning “to judge”.
Judging a book means examining it to find out its real worth as literature. “Criticism of works of art really means intelligence brought to bear upon them to interpret them to the people.” And a critic is one who judges the qualities of anything by some standard, criterion or canon. A good literary critic is just as anxious to discover and point out the excellence of a book or a poem as to detect its faults. He tries to judge it fairly, so as to find out its true literary worth.
The word “appreciation” is sometimes used for criticism. Here again is a word with two shades of meaning. In everyday English, “to appreciate” a thing means to like it or have a taste for it. In this sense a man is said to appreciate good music, or to appreciate a good dinner when he is hungry. But the literal meaning of the word is slightly different. It is connected with the word “price”, and it means literally to set a price on a thing; that is, to estimate its value.
It is in the latter sense that we speak of the appreciation of a poem or a book. We mean estimating the worth or value of the poem as poetry, or of the book as literature. At the same time, appreciation in the second sense may lead to appreciation in the first; for an honest attempt to “appreciate” (criticize or judge) prose or poetry will lead us to “appreciate” (have a taste for or like) the best poetry and prose.
To be a good literary critic, one must have certain qualifications. A critic must have read widely and have an extensive knowledge of literature, at any rate, of the literature written in his own language. Moreover, he must be endowed with a fine literary taste, by which he will feel instinctively what is good and what is bad. Finally, he must be fair-minded, not allowing himself to be biased by personal prejudices. A critic is a judge; and like a judge in the law-courts, he must be just and fair in his judgments.