It is a melancholy experience for a professional mathematician to find himself writing about mathematics. The function of a mathematician is to do something, to prove new theorems, to add to mathematics, and not to talk about what he or other mathematicians have done. Statesmen despise publicists, painters despise art-critics, and physiologists, physicists, or mathematicians have usually similar feelings; there is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of the men who make for the men who explain. Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds.
I can remember arguing this point once in one of the few serious conversations that I ever had with Housman. Housman, in his Leslie Stephen lecture The Name and Nature of Poetry, had denied very emphatically that he was a ‘critic’; but he had denied it in what seemed to me a singularly perverse way, and had expressed an admiration for literary criticism which startled and scandalized me.
He had begun with a quotation from his inaugural lecture, delivered twenty-two years before—
Whether the faculty of literary criticism is the best gift that Heaven has in its treasuries, I cannot say; but Heaven seems to think so, for assuredly it is the gift most charily bestowed.
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