This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading. W. M. Thackeray created the decorated initial A that opens the essay.

The Magistrate by Arthur Wing Pinero, opened at the Court Theatre in London on 21 March 1885.

The remarks by Charles Reade and Dumas the elder (Dumas père)have not been traced. —— David Skilton

Decorated initial A

critic is one of those unfortunate people who is compelled, by virtue of his office, to express opinions on other people's labours. I say unfortunate, because if he does his duty conscientiously he is certain to make enemies, for no man likes telling that his work is faulty or that his efforts have resulted in failure when he was flattering himself that they were crowned with success.

It is a common idea, and one that I regret to say is not unfrequently borne out by facts, that the critic's opinion carries no more weight with it than that of Tom, Dick, or Harry, and that it is in the vulgar parlance 'only so-and-so's opinion.' That this is so is due to the fact that incompetent or careless men are engaged as critics and lessen the value of critical opinions in consequence of their want of talent or lack of purpose. The honest and genuine critic's verdict is more than 'so- and-so's opinion;' it is the opinion of a man who knows what he is talking about, and whose word should be, to a certain extent, law on his special subject.

It stands to reason that when a man devotes his life to the study of a special subject that he knows more about it than the man who has merely dabbled at it, and therefore when he sets up as a critic he has every right to express to the full his opinion.

The young critic.

To rid the world of that terrible nuisance, the amateur critic and his prototype the incompetent professional one, I would compel all critics to pass an examination in their particular subject, and no one should be allowed to criticise until he had satisfied his examiners that he was competent to do so.

Music and the drama are, I think, the two I things which suffer most at the hands of incompetent critics. The first-named subject has of late been subjected to terrible injustice owing to the advent of the swell amateur who, with little knowledge and much assurance, has blossomed into a semi-professional critic. He has an extensive library of musical works, he knows several artistes of limited eminence, and he plays very badly upon the pianoforte. He knows all the musical people in the town where he resides, but he knows nothing whatever about the technique of the art he is allowed to write about in the columns of the local daily paper. I have often wondered why these amateur-cum-professional critics were allowed to waste so much space per week in the papers they are connected with, and can only come to the conclusion that it results from the false economy of paying a miserable pittance to an incompetent critic instead of paying a reasonable salary to a thoroughly capable one.

I once came across a case in which a musical critic, who was attached to a provincial daily, went to a concert where a 'study,' by one of the great composers, figured in the programme. The pianist, an artist of repute, without notifying it changed the 'study' to a valse by Chopin. And what was the result? In the next morning's paper the critic, who had heard the performance, wrote a detailed criticism on the manner in which the pianist had performed the 'study.' Now, as any one with any musical knowledge or feeling could tell at once that a valse was nor, a 'study,' it is not too much to infer that the critic in question was grossly ignorant, and totally unfit to represent any paper as a writer on matters musical.

The pit critic.

Even worse is the state of affairs in relation to acting and the drama. Many people, especially young ones, seem to imagine that when they have been to a theatre a certain number of times, and been introduced by a friend to a real actor or actress, they are thoroughly competent to write a lengthy criticism on any play from Hamlet to The Magistrate, and I regret to say that many of them do it.

There is no more difficult thing to criticise than a new play, and no more complex art than the art of acting. Yet, these 'light-haired young men,' as the late Charles Reade called them, find no difficulties attached to their work as critics. They slash away and write no end of nonsense about admirable work, which they could not do themselves even if their lives depended upon its being done.

A good play is not constructed and written in a week, and even a bad one may have more in it than is ever likely to be seen by these hangers on to the fringe of the world theatrical.

The pit critic.

In criticising a play with justice there are many things to be considered. Firstly, the construction of the piece, secondly the dialogue, and thirdly, and this is all important, the general interest.

The elder Dumas was once asked by a youthful aspirant to dramatic fame how he should construct a play, and he wrote as follows:-- 'First act plain. Second act short. Interest everywhere.' And any dramatist, young or old, who can carry out the great Frenchman's concrete instructions may look with every promise to a successful production.

The gallery critic

For the competent dramatic critic every portion of a play has a vital special interest. He sees more in a play than the ordinary spectator, and if he praises or condemns a play or an artiste he has good grounds for doing so. If all criticism were conducted on these lines there would be less tendency on the part of the public to undervalue it, and more faith in it as a guide for those who, either from want of time or knowledge, are compelled to rely upon other people for their opinions. What applies to music and the drama, applies to all works of art, and should be most carefully considered by those who desire to enter the arena of criticism.

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Last modified 20 April 2022