Some prefer Addison (or, “Mock on, Mock on, Voltaire, Voltaire!”)

Dan Green is on great form with his Dostoevsky’s bashing, and

this time uses Nabokov as a hammer, as in:

From this point of view Dostoevski is not a great writer, but a rather mediocre one–with

flashes of excellent humor, but, alas, with wastelands of literary platitudes in between … Dostoevski’s lack of taste … It is, as in all

Dostoevski’s novels, a rush and tumble of words with endless repetitions, mutterings aside, a verbal overflow which shocks the reader … it is

created too hastily without any sense of that harmony and economy which the most irrational masterpiece is bound to comply with (in order to be a

masterpiece). Indeed, in a sense Dostoevski is much too rational in his crude methods

But this is not a recent argument: – as we find

with everything, it’s been going on for centuries. I was reminded of some words of Voltaire’s, so I looked them up on Gutenberg and here they are

(together with my own tendentious ellipses):

Shakspeare [whom Voltaire calls “the English Corneille”] boasted a strong fruitful genius.

He was natural and sublime, but had not so much as a single spark of good taste, or knew one rule of the drama. I will now hazard a random, but, at

the same time, true reflection, which is, that the great merit of this dramatic poet has been the ruin of the English stage. There are such

beautiful, such noble, such dreadful scenes in this writer’s monstrous farces, to which the name of tragedy is given, that they have always been

exhibited with great success. Time, which alone gives reputation to writers, at last makes their very faults venerable … [Voltaire quotes some

passages which he says are sublime] … It is in these detached passages that the English have hitherto excelled. Their dramatic pieces, most of

which are barbarous and without decorum, order, or verisimilitude, dart such resplendent flashes through this gleam, as amaze and astonish. The style

is too much inflated, too unnatural, too closely copied from the Hebrew writers, who abound so much with the Asiatic fustian. But then it must be

also confessed that the stilts of the figurative style, on which the English tongue is lifted up, raises the genius at the same time very far aloft,

though with an irregular pace. The first English writer who composed a regular tragedy, and infused a spirit of elegance through every part of it,

was the illustrious Mr. Addison.

Though he does go on to savage a lot of c20th literature by saying:

The shining

monsters of Shakspeare give infinite more delight than the judicious images of the moderns.

Now I shall go and consult my Aristotle

for some earlier views on the question.


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