Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Critical Machine

"Let a communication be formed between any number of learned men in the various branches of science and literature; and whether the president or central committee be in London, or Edinburgh, if only they previously lay aside their individuality and pledge themselves inwardly, as well as ostensibly, to administer judgment according to a constitution and code of law; and if by grounding this code on the two-fold basis of universal morals and philosophic reason, independent of all foreseen application to particular works and authors, they obtain the right to speak each as the representative of their body corporate; they shall have their honor and good wishes from me, and I shall accord to them their fair dignities, though self-assumed, not less chearfully than if I could inquire concerning them in the herald's office, or turn to them in the book of peerage. However loud may be the outcries for prevented or subverted reputation, however numerous and impatient the complaints of merciless severity and insupportable despotism, I shall neither feel nor utter aught but to the defence and justication of the critical machine. Should any literary Quixote find himself provoked by its sounds and regular movements, I should admonish him, with Sancho Panza, that it is no giant but a windmill; there it stands on its own place and its own hillock, never goes out of the way to attack any one, and to none and from none either gives or asks assistance. When the public press has poured in any part of its produce between its millstones, it grinds it off, one man's sack the same as another, and with whatever wind may then happen to be blowing. All the two and thirty winds are its friends. Of the whole wide atmosphere it does not desire a single finger-breadth more than what is necessary for its sails to turn round in. But this space must be left free and unimpeded. Gnats, beetles, wasps, butterflies and the whole tribe of ephemerals and insignificants may flit in and out and between; may hum, and buzz, and jar; may shrill their tiny pipes, and wind their puny horns, unchastised and unnoticed. But idlers and bravadoes of larger size and prouder show must beware how they place themselves within its sweep. Much less may they presume to lay hands on the sails, the strength of which is neither greater nor less than as the wind is which drives them round. Whomsoever the remorseless arm slings aloft, or whirls along with it in the air, he has himself alone to blame; though when the same arm throws him from it, it will more often double than break the force of his fall."

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 239-240