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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 42

8.—harsh Criticism

8.—harsh Criticism.

"Stand forth, and turn this frame of things the right side out."

There is a difference between "harsh criticism" and just, though severe, and faithful criticism. In searching for "the true," men are forced to submit every argument to a thorough process of ratiocination; they are compelled to be faithful, but they never need be "harsh"—that is if by harshness we mean abuse or rudeness, calling names, and imputing unworthy motives. Our duty is to take the arguments as they are presented, construe them according to their connection, and deliberately examine their bearing. It is only a matter to be looked for, however, that new parties, and new notions should be viewed with suspicion. This is one of Nature's safeguards against imposition, by which it prompts the diligent to survey the past as he goes along. In many cases this leads to the discovery of imposture, wilful and deliberate, which richly deserves to be vigorously exposed. "Right" and "justice" demand forcible style and language to present the deformity in its true shape. This often passes for harshness, or rather is denounced as such, and only too often the authors of the sayings thus dealt with look upon the critic as acting from a desire to injure him or cast approbrium on him, and therefore he treats the review with contempt, and he continues in his old course, quite indifferent, verifying the saying of the poet—

"Constrain a man against his will,
He holds his own opinions still."

The fact is, when a man has written anything he makes up his mind in most cases that his honour depends upon maintaining its correctness. "Facts may be false, but he must needs be true." So he either scorns or condemns adverse criticism; whereas his place is to submit it to a cross-examination, and so either break it down, or accept the result. Bold and free criticism of new ideas and arguments, is absolutely essential to right and justice, morality and truth; but epithets and approbium are a disgrace to the author of them.