Essay – In its Strictest Sense the Word Criticism Means Judgment


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.


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