EARLY after the re-establishment of letters, (Huet writes) Criticism formed the chief occupation of those who applied themselves to their cultivation. This was very necessary, after so many ages of ignorance. They were obliged, if we may so express ourselves, to disperse the dust, to efface the mouldy spots, and to kill the worms that gnawed and disfigured those manuscripts which had escaped the fury of the Barbarians, and the depredations of Time.
It was thus the art of criticism flourished in all its vigour, and was distinguished by its useful labours, during two centuries. The supreme degree of erudition, consisted in bringing to light the ancient authors in the correction of the errors of the scribes through whose hands they had passed, either by collating them with the best copies, or exerting their own judgment and learning to the restoring of those passages which were evidently corrupt. At length, this avocation degenerated into a low and obscure study, the chief merit of which consisted in the recovery and collation of the best manuscripts. This was the employment of Gruter during his whole life. Those to whom these assistances failed, employed their critical acumen and literature to give the ancient writers in all their purity; but, not infrequently, they dismembered that which before was entire, and occasioned an infinity of labours to the critics, their successors, who were somewhat more judicious than themselves in restoring the passages to their original state, and in healing those wounds and unmerciful lacerations which they had undergone.
Amongst these latter critics, Casaubon, Salmasius, and Gronovius, are distinguished.
Now that the best authors are no more scarce, but multiplied without end by the invention of printing, verbal criticism, the chief merit of which is to catch syllables, deserves no longer our esteem: Critics of this kind may, not unaptly, be compared to weeders; they eradicate the worthless plants, and leave to more skilful cultivators the art of gathering and distinguishing the more valuable ones.