I was appalled by the invitation to write this essay. Although I have always urged students to become aware of the way they read, of why they read in that silly fashion, and of how they might read more rewardingly, I have never bothered much with the history of my profession. I have written principally on Romantic poetry and nineteenth-century fiction. So the MLA seemed to have adopted the position of Senator Roman Hruska, who, defending one of President Nixon's feebler choices for the Supreme Court, argued that even if what was charged against the nominee was true, nonetheless mediocre minds had as much right as any other group to be represented on the Court. My hesitation at serving as token incompetent was increased by the unanimous advice of qualified modernists, distinguished critical theorists, and kindly strangers on upper Broadway that the task was impossible within the space allotted.