A classic, according to the usual definition, is an old author canonised by admiration, and an authority in his particular style. The word classic was first used in this sense by the Romans. With them not all the citizens of the different classes were properly called classici, but only those of the chief class, those who possessed an income of a certain fixed sum.
Those who possessed a smaller income were described by the term infra classem, below the pre-eminent class. The word classicus was used in a figurative sense by Aulus Gellius, and applied to writers: a writer of worth and distinction, classicus assiduusque scriptor, a writer who is of account, has real property, and is not lost in the proletariate crowd.
The idea of a classic implies something that has continuance and consistence, and which produces unity and tradition, fashions and transmits itself, and endures. The first Dictionary of the Academy (1964) merely defined a classical author as “a much-approved ancient writer, who is an authority as regards the subject he treats. ” The Dictionary of the Academy of 1835 describes classical authors as those “who have become models in any language whatever,”
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; who has discovered some moral and not equivocal truth, or revealed some eternal passion in that heart where all seemed known and discovered; who has expressed his thought, observation, or invention, in no matter what form, only provided it be broad and great, refined and sensible, sane and beautiful in itself; who has spoken to all in his own peculiar style, a style which is found to be also that of the whole world, a style new without neologism, new and old, easily contemporary with all time.
It should, above all, include conditions of uniformity, wisdom, moderation, and reason, which dominate and contain all the others. Buffon, in his Discourse on Style, insisting on the unity of design, arrangement, and execution, which are the stamps of true classical works, said:—“Every subject is one, and however vast it is, it can be comprised in a single treatise. “The persistence of literary creativeness in any people, accordingly, consists in the maintenance of an unconscious balance between tradition in the larger sense– the collective personality, so to speak, realised in the literature of the past– and the originality of the living generation. ” (p. 15).
He’s right about this— a classic is something that draws on the past but does not live there. He says “complexity for its own sake is not a proper goal: its purpose must be, first the precise expression of finer shades of feeling and thought; second the introduction of greater refinement and variety of music” (in a literary form) (p. 16). Qualities of a classic: A classic stands the test of time. universal appeal. Rereadable Multiple interpretations. Relevant for the pastness as well as presentness of the past. Contemporary elevance Cross cultural maturity themes that are understood by readers from a wide range of backgrounds and levels of experience. A classic makes connections.