For the reason I was in haste to earn the trust of my
patron and thus do what he had asked me and as dili-
gently as I could, I knocked heavily on the door of Sir
Henry Haviland's study, and without his answer let
myself in and blurted out this question --
"Sir Henry, Is it not the case that most of what the com-
moners call 'crits of poems' are only illustrations of the
'petitio principii' fallacy?"
Sir Henry had opened the side slide of his lantern and
was shadow fencing himself against a back wall oaken
panel from which he had removed all paintings to make
his thrust and parries more accurately from himself fend-
ed- as once, he told me that by a hair's width missed a
lunge by his shadow's epee, it's blade half hidden aside
the ebon frame of his grandfather's portrait who was him-
self the survivor of many duels.
Sir Henry said he would have been fatally wounded had
not the dastard's point been deflected by another painting
in a wide frame of yellow-bow yew.
The ex-Captain of the Fifth Queen's Regiment spun about
with his blade at his side and wiped away perspiration from
his face with the back of his free hand.
"Turly, my boy," he said and began a series of limb flexes
and torso bends. "What brought this on?"
"A circumstance- nay, several, which have lately disturb-
ed my patron that he sends me out today to your house for
your advice on the matter, your excellent judgement known.
My patron is curious that there can be criticism of a poem
"Ah, Taylor again- the scoundrel! We call him 'the midge'
as he never takes hunks of flesh, only annoying little nips that
leave pin pricks requiring no unguent but a bit of alcohol."
At this Sir Henry bellowed his chest and flayed his epee about
over his head as if by the multiple swaths he might bring down
one of the tiny Taylor vexers.
"Taylor says that if you ask a person who gives a favorable
criticism to a poem why such favor was found and compli-
ments given- that he can, at the last instance, reply only in
At this point, I tried a recreation of how Taylor had explain-
ed the issue to me- to whit.
- Why do you like the poem?
- It is simple, yet passionate and sensuous.
- So you are saying you find favor with work that is simple,
sensuous and passionate?
- Because those qualities make good poetry.
Sir Henry nodded his head. "Perhaps this is petitio
principii -- the bane of all literary criticism from Plato
to Julius Caesar Scaliger, Vida to De Vega from du
Bellay to Ben Jonson. Perthaps it is not -- go on, what
else had the midge to say?"
I was pleased I had gotten this far with Sir Henry. I contin-
ued with part two of Taylor's script.
- Why do you like the poem?
- It is one of those rare works that make the familiar seem
not familiar at all.
- Why do you like those kinds of poems?
- They reconnect me to things- the significance of them I
- Why do you want to be reconnected with those things you
- It is emotionally pleasing.
- Why do you want to be emotionally pleased?
- Well, I ....
Now Sir Henry had resumed fencing with his shadow. With
his back to me and the double-sized monster shadow seeming-
ly at an advantage, the man said in a loud voice,. "Tautology-
when the critic was asked why he wanted to be emotionally
pleased, there was nothing he could say but, 'Because I want
All questions of value and judgement come down to the tau-
tology, 'Because I am I.'
"Exactly, what Taylor said. May I tell him you agree?"
"Tell him that, boy."
With that, Sir Henry thrust forward and pinned his shadow
through it's heart and deep into a wall panel of the most care-
fully chiseled and curving swirl of oak.
(© Don Taylor)