All the judgments, aesthetic or moral, that we pass, however objective we try to make them, are in part a rationalization and in part a corrective discipline of our subjective wishes. So long as a man writes poetry or fiction, his dream of Eden is his own business, but the moment he starts writing literary criticism, honesty demands that he describe it to his readers, so that they may be in the position to judge his judgments.
He then goes on to provide a questionnaire, to be administered to all literary critics, which seeks to define their definition of paradise. Text in bold is the question itself, followed by Auden’s own answer to his question, which he provides in the interest of disclosure.
Limestone uplands like the Pennines plus a small regvion of igneous rocks with at least one extinct volcano. A precipitous and indented sea-coast.
- Ethnic origin of inhabitants
Highly varied as in the United States, but with a slight nordic predominance.
Of mixed origins like English, but highly inflected.
- Weights & Measures
Irregular and Complicated. No decimal system.
Roman Catholic in an easygoing Mediterranean sort of way. Lots of local saints.
- Size of Capital
Plato’s ideal figure, 5004, about right.
- Form of Government
Absolute monarchy, elected for life by lot.
- Sources of Natural Power
Wind, water, peat, coal. No oil.
- Economic Activities
Lead mining, coal mining, chemical factories, paper mills, sheep farming, truck farming, greenhouse horticulture.
- Means of transport
Horses and horse-drawn vehicles, canal barges, balloons. No automobiles or airplanes.
State: Baroque. Ecclesiastical: Romanesque or Byzantine. Domestic: Eighteenth Cneutyr British or American Colonial.
- Domestic Furniture and Equipment
Victorian except for kitchens and bathrooms which are as full of modern gadgets as possible.
- Formal Dress
The fashion of Paris in the 1830’s and ’40’s.
- Sources of Public Information
Gossip. Technical and learned periodicals but no newspapers.
- Public Statues
Confined to famous defunct chefs.
- Public Entertainments
Religious Processions, Brass Bands, Opera, Classical Ballet. No movies, radio or television.
It does end up being pretty revealing. I wonder if any other critics ever filled out the questionnaire.