Monday, January 4, 2010

Essay: "What Is a Classic?" Charles Augustin Sante-Beuve.

One-minute review: There is no recipe for a classic. Reading a classic reconciles us with mankind and with ourselves.


“…I intend to try, if not to solve it [the question, What is a classic?] , at least to examine and discuss it face to face with my readers, were it only to persuade them to answer it for themselves….”

“A classic, according to the usual definition, is an old author canonized by admiration, and an authority in his particular style.”

“A true classic, as I should like to hear it defined, is an author who has enriched the human mind, increased its treasure and caused it to advance a step…has discovered some moral…truth, or revealed some eternal passion in that heart where all seemed known and discovered…who has spoken to all in his peculiar style…easily contemporary with all time.”

Buffon: “…insisting on the unity of design, arrangement and execution, which are the stamps of true classical works….”

“…best fitted to add charm to life….”

“…to despise death in enjoying life….”

“In fact, be it Horace or another who is the author preferred, who reflects our thoughts…to someone…shall we appeal for that sensation of serenity… (we have often need of it) which reconciles us with mankind and with ourselves.”

Great Essays. Ed. Houston Peterson. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. 1960.

What is an essay? “They are all prefaces. A preface is nothing but a talk with the reader; and they [essays] do nothing else.” Charles Lamb.

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