A WORKMAN has reason to be grateful to any one who will give him an honest opinion of his work; and he is fortunate is he has many able advisers, for when a number of independent opinions are brought to bear upon any one subject, a new light is thrown upon it. One critic may be a kindly, good-natured man, who wishes well to the work and its author, but knows little of the subject. Such a man will praise the work, and agree with the conclusions and arguments contained in it, and there is not much to be learned directly from him: but every man has a subject of which he knows more than his neighbours, and is apt to bring his special knowledge to bear upon other things, so it is a marvel if something is not learned from the criticism of any clever man.
Another may be more skilful, though new to the subject. He will take the arguments and make them his own, and use the information which he acquires, and draw his own conclusions; such a man sheds a new light on the matter, and there is much to be learned from him.
A third may have a theory of his own, by the light of which he peeps about, and pokes into holes and corners to pick out that which suits his own purpose, and nothing else. From new materials so gathered, such a man will build up a structure of his own; and there is much to be learned from one who so treats another’s work.
Then comes one with more extended views, who has studied the question, and knows a great deal about it, and is conscious of power, and who views the new work all round and round, and turns it upside down and inside out, and throws a new light upon it – the electric light of superior knowledge. But the eyes of such men are apt to be dazzled by excess of light; they have looked at so many large objects that they overlook the small; their vision is telescopic, they can see microscopic details; and a short-sighted theorist, with his dim lamp, will poke out many things which he of the great light and the strong eyes will never see. But whoever reviews a book fairly, teaches something to its author, and he who knows most about the subject teaches most.
The come friends – one with pleasant praise, which, if he be a wise man, is a valued reward and a wholesome cordial; then one with unpleasant dispraise, which, if wisely administered and well taken, may be a useful tonic; then one with unpleasant dispraise, which, if wisely administered and well taken, may be a useful tonic; then one who picks out the worst bit, for which no one has a good word, and says it is the very thing which he should have expected, and he shakes hands and departs radiant with the consciousness of a compliment well turned. One says the work is learned, perhaps because he has not tried to understand it; another more truly says that it is not. One says that it is too long, another that it is too short; one, that it should all be written over again, another, that it never should have been written at all; and so by degrees the workman gets to know his errors.
But at last there may come a great giant of a critic, armed with a brilliant intellectual sword of light, which makes smaller en quake; an author in his clutches feels that he is a small mortal in the presence of a very big one, that he must resign himself to his fate, and prepare for the worst. He may be cut up into little bits or eaten alive, and if so, he is quite sure to disagree with the great man, but he must submit. He may hope to be as indigestible as Tom Thumb, who survived being eaten many times; but he may also hope to be raised up on the giant’s shoulder, thence to see the world, or to be placed in the rim of his great hat, like Grimm’s tailor, there to walk about in the sunshine, and admire the prospect. He may be crushed under the giant’s great splay feet, or helped on his journey by his long legs, but unless some other giant interferes, or a dwarf shews him a mouse-hole to creep into, he cannot escape.
But when all is done, giants and great men, pur-blind and keen-sighted, Grudgeon, Strongback, Bolagum Mor, and the rest of the gifted men and genii, friends and foes, are all working for good, and bringing stores of knowledge. If they are friendly, the mortal has need of friends; if unfriendly, he will, at all events, learn to keep out of their way; and if by any chance they should happen to go by the ears, and fight over his contemptible little body, he is not worthy to be the cause of such a fight who cannot pick up something worth having on the field of battle when the fight is done.
It would be ungracious not to thank those who have done me good service, so I thank my reviewers here for much valuable information. My work has been treated as an honest attempt to place what I found amongst Highland peasants within the reach of English readers; and if I have got an occasional buffet, such pain does but enhance the pleasure of being patted on the back. Some have added praise which I can hardly think my due, and of which I would willingly transfer a large share to those who have really earned it. The real workmen are the old Highland bodies, with their extraordinary power of memory, who told Gaelic stories, and the men who wrote them down – men who have shown an amount of industry, talent, and fidelity, in carrying out their work, of which I cannot speak too highly, and whose genuine, kindly, generous, clannish nature, has made it a real pleasure to work with them. “Sir,” said one of them, “I send you the story of ———, which I wrote from the dictation of ———. I am paid enough already.” And yet these are the people of whom one of a different stamp lately said that they were barbarians to be civilized, a people whose language should be rooted out as the worst of all the jargons inflicted upon the human race as a curse at the tower of Babel.