Home  »  Forty Thousand Quotations: Prose and Poetical  »  Critic—Criticism

C.N. Douglas, comp. Forty Thousand Quotations: Prose and Poetical. 1917.


Criticism is our weak point.


Criticism is not construction, it is observation.

George William Curtis.

Criticism is easy, and art is difficult.

P. N. Destouches.

For I am nothing if not critical.


I criticise by creation, not by finding fault.

Michael Angelo.

Cavil you may, but never criticise.


Sir, there is no end of negative criticism.


He wreathed the rod of criticism with roses.


Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss.


It is much easier to be critical than to be correct.


Hold their farthing candle to the sun.


A wise scepticism is the first attribute of a good critic.


Good by reason of its exceeding badness.


You know who the critics are? The men who have failed in literature and art.


Spite of all the criticising elves, those who make us feel must feel themselves.


  • Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see,
  • Thinks what ne’er was, nor is, nor e’er shall be.
  • Pope.

    In truth it may be laid down as an almost universal rule that good poets are bad critics.


    The most noble criticism is that in which the critic is not the antagonist so much as the rival of the author.

    Isaac Disraeli.

    The eyes of critics, whether in commending or carping, are both on one side, like a turbot’s.


    It is a maxim with me that no man was ever written out of reputation but by himself.


  • But you with pleasure own your errors past,
  • And make each day a critic on the last.
  • Pope.

    Of all the cants in this canting world, deliver me from the cant of criticism.


    Let those teach others who themselves excel; and censure freely, who have written well.


    It is easy to criticise an author, but it is difficult to appreciate him.


    Criticism often takes from the tree caterpillars and blossoms together.


    Those readiest to criticise are often least able to appreciate.


    The strength of criticism lies only in the weakness of the thing criticised.


    Those who do not read criticism will rarely merit to be criticised.

    Isaac Disraeli.

    It is the heart that makes the critic, not the nose.

    Max Müller.

    The man who becomes a critic by trade ceases, in reality, to be one at all.


    I had rather be hissed for a good verse than applauded for a bad one.

    Victor Hugo.

  • The press, the pulpit, and the stage,
  • Conspire to censure and expose our age.
  • Wentworth Dillon.

  • Blame where you must, be candid where you can,
  • And be each critic the good-natured man.
  • Goldsmith.

    Sympathy is the first condition of criticism; reason and justice presuppose, at their origin, emotion.


    A critic must accept what is best in a poet, and thus become his best encourager.


    A critic should be a pair of snuffers. He is oftener an extinguisher, and not seldom a thief.

    J. C. and A. W. Hare.

    An over-readiness to criticise or to depreciate a minister of Christ is proof of a lack of devotion to Christ.

    H. Clay Trumbull.

    The pleasure of criticism takes from us that of being deeply moved by very beautiful things.

    La Bruyère.

  • The generous Critic fann’d the Poet’s fire,
  • And taught the world with reason to admire.
  • Pope.

  • To what base ends, and by what abject ways,
  • Are mortals urg’d through sacred lust of praise!
  • Ah, ne’er so dire a thirst of glory boast,
  • Nor in the critic let the man be lost.
  • Pope.

    Criticism is a study by which men grow important and formidable at very small expense.

    Dr. Johnson.

    Comparative criticism teaches us that moral and æsthetic defects are more nearly related than is commonly supposed.


    The purity of the critical ermine, like that of the judicial, is often soiled by contact with politics.


    The rule in carving holds good as to criticism: never cut with a knife what you can cut with a spoon.

    Charles Buxton.

    He whose first emotion, on the view of an excellent production, is to undervalue it, will never have one of his own to show.


  • Who shall dispute what the reviewers say?
  • Their word’s sufficient; and to ask a reason,
  • In such a state as theirs, is downright treason.
  • Churchill.

    A poet that fails in writing becomes often a morose critic. The weak and insipid white wine makes at length excellent vinegar.


    The severest critics are always those who have either never attempted, or who have failed in original composition.


    How many people would like to get up in a social prayer-meeting to say a few words for Christ, but there is such a cold spirit of criticism in the church that they dare not do it.

    Dwight Lyman Moody.

    Get your enemies to read your works in order to mend them, for your friend is so much your second self that he will judge too like you.


    There is scarcely a good critic of books born in our age, and yet every fool thinks himself justified in criticising persons.


    If a faultless poem could be produced, I am satisfied it would tire the critics themselves, and annoy the whole reading world with the spleen.

    Walter Scott.

    It behooves the minor critic who hunts for blemishes to be a little distrustful of his own sagacity.


    Criticism, as it was first introduced by Aristotle, was meant as a standard of judging well.


    Criticism even should not be without its charms. When quite devoid of all amenities, it is no longer literary.


    Critics are sentinels in the grand army of letters, stationed at the corners of newspapers and reviews, to challenge every new author.


    Not all on books their criticism waste; the genius of a dish some justly taste, and eat their way to fame.


  • Though by whim, envy, or resentment led,
  • They damn those authors whom they never read.
  • Churchill.

    The floods of nonsense printed in the form of critical opinions seem to me a chief curse of the times, a chief obstacle to true culture.

    George Eliot.

    Reviewers are forever telling authors they can’t understand them. The author might often reply: Is that my fault?

    J. C. and A. W. Hare.

    It may be observed of good writing, as of good blood, that it is much easier to say what it is composed of than to compose it.


    Criticism is as often a trade as a science; it requiring more health than wit, more labor than capacity, more practice than genius.

    La Bruyère.

    It is ridiculous for any man to criticise on the works of another who has not distinguished himself by his own performances.


    What a blessed thing it is that nature, when she invented, manufactured and patented her authors, contrived to make critics out of the chips that were left!


    Why will you be always sallying out to break lances with other people’s wind-mills, when your own is not capable of grinding corn for the horse you ride?

    J. G. Holland.

    Criticism is above all a gift, an intuition, a matter of tact and flair; it cannot be taught or demonstrated—it is an art.


    When I read rules of criticism I inquire immediately after the works of the author who has written them, and by that means discover what it is he likes in a composition.


    All truth is valuable, and satirical criticism may be considered as useful when it rectifies error and improves judgment. He that refines the public taste is a public benefactor.


    Grant me patience, just Heaven! Of all the cants which are canted in this canting world—though the cant of hypocrites may be the worst—the cant of criticism is the most tormenting.

    Laurence Sterne.

    Properly speaking, we learn from those books only that we cannot judge. The author of a book that I am competent to criticise would have to learn from me.


    Of his shallow species there is not a more unfortunate, empty and conceited animal than that which is generally known by the name of a critic.


  • A servile race
  • Who, in mere want of fault, all merit place;
  • Who blind obedience pay to ancient schools,
  • Bigots to Greece, and slaves to musty rules.
  • Churchill.

    In the world’s affairs there is no design so great or good but it will take twenty wise men to help it forward a few inches; and a single fool can stop it.


    We rarely meet with persons that have true judgment; which, to many, renders literature a very tiresome knowledge. Good judges are as rare as good authors.

    St. Evremond.

    Is it in destroying and pulling down that skill is displayed? The shallowest understanding, the rudest hand, is more than equal to that task.


    Critics must excuse me if I compare them to certain animals called asses, who, by gnawing vines, originally taught the great advantage of pruning them.


    Neither praise nor blame is the object of true criticism. Justly to discriminate, firmly to establish, wisely to prescribe and honestly to award—these are the true aims and duties of criticism.


  • Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
  • And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer:
  • Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
  • Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.
  • Pope.

    To be a mere verbal critic is what no man of genius would be if he could; but to be a critic of true taste and feeling is what no man without genius could be if he would.


    He who would reproach an author for obscurity should look into his own mind to see whether it is quite clear there. In the dusk the plainest writing is illegible.


    The opinion of the great body of the reading public is very materially influenced even by the unsupported assertions of those who assume a right to criticise.


    If men of wit and genius would resolve never to complain in their works of critics and detractors, the next age would not know that they ever had any.


  • Thou shalt not write, in short, but what I choose.
  • This is true criticism, and you may kiss,
  • Exactly as you please, or not, the rod.
  • Byron.

    Criticism is not religion, and by no process can it be substituted for it. It is not the critic’s eye, but the child’s heart that most truly discerns the countenance that looks out from the pages of the gospel.

    J. C. Shairp.

    It is quite cruel that a poet cannot wander through his regions of enchantment without having a critic forever, like the Old Man of the Sea, upon his back.


    Those fierce inquisitors of wit, the critics, spare no flesh that ever writ; but just as tooth-drawers find among the rout their own teeth work in pulling others out.

    Samuel Butler.

  • Critics on verse, as squibs on triumphs wait,
  • Proclaim their glory, and augment the state;
  • Hot, envious, noisy, proud, the scribbling fry
  • Burn, hiss, and bounce, waste paper, ink, and die.
  • Young.

  • He was in Logic a great critic,
  • Profoundly skilled in Analytic;
  • He could distinguish, and divide
  • A hair ’twixt south and southwest side.
  • Butler.

    The critic’s first labor is the task of distinguishing between men, as history and their works display them, and the ideals which one and another have conspired to urge upon his acceptance.


  • Critics to plays for the same end resort
  • That surgeons wait on trials in a court;
  • For innocence condemned they’ve no respect,
  • Provided they’ve a body to dissect.
  • Congreve.

    It is advantageous to an author that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck only at one end of the room it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up it must be struck at both ends.


    The great contention of criticism is to find the faults of the moderns and the beauties of the ancients. While an author is yet living we estimate his powers by his worst performance, and when he is dead we rate them by his best.


    Men of great talents, whether poets or historians, seldom escape the attacks of those who, without ever favoring the world with any production of their own, take delight in criticising the works of others.


    A critic is never too severe when he only detects the faults of an author. But he is worse than too severe when, in consequence of this detection, he presumes to place himself on a level with genius.


    A true critic ought rather to dwell upon excellences than imperfections, to discern the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation.


    I never knew a critic who made it his business to lash the faults of other writers that was not guilty of greater himself—as the hangman is generally a worse malefactor than the criminal that suffers by his hand.


    Men have commonly more pleasure in the criticism which hurts than in that which is innocuous, and are more tolerant of the severity which breaks hearts and ruins fortunes than of that which falls impotently on the grave.


    Censure and criticism never hurt anybody. If false, they can’t hurt you unless you are wanting in manly character; and if true, they show a man his weak points, and forewarn him against failure and trouble.


    Modern criticism discloses that which it would fain conceal, but conceals that which it professes to disclose; it is therefore read by the discerning, not to discover the merits of an author, but the motives of his critic.


    There is a certain race of men that either imagine it their duty, or make it their amusement, to hinder the reception of every work of learning or genius, who stand as sentinels in the avenues of fame, and value themselves upon giving ignorance and envy the first notice of a prey.


    Of all mortals a critic is the silliest; for, inuring himself to examine all things whether they are of consequence or not, never looks upon anything but with a design of passing sentence upon it; by which means he is never a companion, but always a censor.


    The exercise of criticism always destroys for a time our sensibility to beauty by leading us to regard the work in relation to certain laws of construction. The eye turns from the charms of nature to fix itself upon the servile dexterity of art.


    Doubtless criticism was originally benignant, pointing out the beauties of a work rather than its defects. The passions of men have made it malignant, as the bad heart of Procrustes turned the bed, the symbol of repose, into an instrument of torture.


    There is a certain meddlesome spirit which, in the garb of learned research, goes prying about the traces of history, casting down its monuments, and marring and mutilating its fairest trophies. Care should be taken to vindicate great names from such pernicious erudition.

    Washington Irving.

  • As soon
  • Seek roses in December—ice in June,
  • Hope, constancy in wind, or corn in chaff;
  • Believe a woman or an epitaph,
  • Or any other thing that’s false, before
  • You trust in critics.
  • Byron.

    The critic is a literary educator, a professor of literature with a class which embraces the entire reading community. He is to instruct, if he can; he is to judge fairly and to “give his own to each;” but his main business is to stimulate the minds of people, to conduct a live conversation with the public concerning the books they are reading.

    E. S. Nadal.

    Reviewers are usually people who would have been poets, historians, biographers, etc., if they could; they have tried their talents at one or the other, and have failed; therefore they turn critics.


    The most exquisite words and finest strokes of an author are those which very often appear the most doubtful and exceptionable to a man who wants a relish for polite learning; and they are those which a sour undistinguishing critic generally attacks with the greatest violence.


    Critics are a kind of freebooters in the republic of letters who, like deer, goats and divers other graminivorous animals, gain subsistence by gorging upon buds and leaves of the young shrubs of the forest, thereby robbing them of their verdure, and retarding their progress to maturity.

    Washington Irving.

    A true critic, in the perusal of a book, is like a dog at a feast, whose thoughts and stomach are wholly set upon what the guests fling away, and consequently is apt to snarl most when there are the fewest bones.


    Professional critics are incapable of distinguishing and appreciating either diamonds in the rough state or gold in bars. They are traders, and in literature know only the coins that are current. Their criticism has scales and weights, but neither crucible nor touchstone.


    There are some books and characters so pleasant, or rather which contain so much that is pleasant, that criticism is perplexed or silent. The hounds are perpetually at fault among the sweet-scented herbs and flowers that grow at the base of Etna.

    J. F. Boyes.

  • Nature fits all her children with something to do,
  • He who would write and can’t write, can surely review;
  • Can set up a small booth as critic and sell us his
  • Petty conceit and his pettier jealousies.
  • Lowell.

    It is not enough for a reader to be unprejudiced. He should remember that a book is to be studied, as a picture is hung. Not only must a bad light be avoided, but a good one obtained. This taste supplies. It puts a history, a tale, or a poem in a just point of view, and there examines the execution.


    The critic, as he is currently termed, who is discerning in nothing but faults, may care little to be told that this is the mark of unamiable dispositions or of bad passions; but he might not feel equally easy were he convinced that he thus gives the most absolute proofs of ignorance and want of taste.


  • Critics are a kind of wild flies, that breed
  • In wild fig trees, and when they’re grown up feed
  • Upon the raw fruit of the nobler kind,
  • And by their nibbling on the outer rind,
  • Open the pores, and make way for the sun
  • To ripen it sooner than he would have done.
  • Butler.

    Criticism is like champagne, nothing more execrable if bad, nothing more excellent if good; if meagre, muddy, vapid and sour, both are fit only to engender colic and wind; but if rich, generous and sparkling, they communicate a genial glow to the spirits, improve the taste, and expand the heart.


    Some critics are like chimney-sweepers; they put out the fire below, and frighten the swallows from their nests above; they scrape a long time in the chimney, cover themselves with soot, and bring nothing away but a bag of cinders, and then sing from the top of the house as if they had built it.


    It is necessary a writing critic should understand how to write. And though every writer is not bound to show himself in the capacity of critic, every writing critic is bound to show himself capable of being a writer; for if he be apparently impotent in this latter kind, he is to be denied all title or character in the other.


    The fangs of a bear, and the tusks of a wild boar, do not bite worse and make deeper gashes than a goose-quill sometimes; no, not even the badger himself, who is said to be so tenacious of his bite that he will not give over his hold till he feels his teeth meet and the bones crack.


  • ’Tis not the wholesome sharp morality,
  • Or modest anger of a satiric spirit,
  • That hurts or wounds the body of a state,
  • But the sinister application
  • Of the malicious, ignorant, and base
  • Interpreter: who will distort and strain
  • The general scope and purpose of an author
  • To his particular and private spleen.
  • Ben Jonson.

    Malherbe, on hearing a prose work of great merit much extolled, dryly asked if it would reduce the price of bread. Neither was his appreciation of poetry much higher, when he observed that a good poet was of no more use to the church or the state than a good player at ninepins.


    Criticism must never be sharpened into anatomy. The delicate veins of fancy may be traced, and the rich blood that gives bloom and health to the complexion of thought be resolved into its elements. Stop there. The life of the imagination, as of the body, disappears when we pursue it.


    We should be wary what persecution we raise against the living labors of public men, how we spill that seasoned life of man, preserved and stored up in books, since we see a kind of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdom; and if it extend to the whole impression, a kind of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at the ethereal and fifth essence, the breath of reason itself; slays an immortality rather than a life.


    How good it would be if we could learn to be rigorous in judgment of ourselves, and gentle in our judgment of our neighbors! In remedying defects, kindness works best with others, sternness with ourselves. It is easy to make allowances for our faults, but dangerous; hard to make allowances for others’ faults, but wise. “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off,” is a word for our sins; for the sins of others, “Father, forgive them.”

    Maltbie Babcock.

  • A man must serve his time to ev’ry trade,
  • Save censure; critics all are ready made:
  • Take hackney’d jokes from Miller, got by rote,
  • With just enough of learning to misquote;
  • A mind well skill’d to find or forge a fault,
  • A turn for punning—call it Attic salt—
  • Fear not to lie—’twill seem a lucky hit;
  • Shrink not from blasphemy—’twill pass for wit;
  • Care not for feeling, pass your proper jest—
  • And stand a critic, hated, yet caress’d.
  • Byron.

    One interesting feature of criticism is seen in the ease with which it discovers what Addison called the specific quality of an author. In Livy, it will be the manner of telling the story; in Sallust, personal identification with the character; in Tacitus, the analysis of the deed into its motive. If the same test be applied to painters, it will find the prominent faculty of Correggio to be manifested in harmony of effect; of Poussin, in the sentiment of his landscapes; and of Raffaelle, in the general comprehension of his subject.


    The malignant deity Criticism dwelt on the top of a snowy mountain in Nova Zembla; Momus found her extended in her den upon the spoils of numberless volumes half devoured. At her right sat Ignorance, her father and husband, blind with age; at her left Pride, her mother, dressing her up in the scraps of paper herself had torn. There was Opinion, her sister, light of foot, hoodwinked and headstrong, yet giddy and perpetually turning. About her played her children, Noise and Impudence, Dullness and Vanity, Positiveness, Pedantry and Ill Manners.


  • A critic was of old a glorious name,
  • Whose sanction handed merit up to fame;
  • Beauties as well as faults he brought to view,
  • His judgment great, and great his candor too.
  • No servile rules drew sickly taste aside;
  • Secure he walked, for nature was his guide.
  • But now, O strange reverse! our critics bawl
  • In praise of candor with a heart of gall,
  • Conscious of guilt, and fearful of the light;
  • They lurk enshrouded in the veil of night;
  • Safe from destruction, seize th’ unwary prey,
  • And stab like bravoes, all who come that way.
  • Churchill.

    In the whole range of literature nothing is more entertaining, and, I might add, more instructive, than sound, legitimate criticism, the disinterested convictions of a man of sensibility, who enters rather into the spirit, than the letter of his author, who can follow him to the height of his compass, and while he sympathized with every brilliant power and genuine passion of the poet, is not so far carried out of himself as to indulge his admiration at the expense of his judgment, but who can afford us the double pleasure of being first pleased with his author, and secondly with himself, for having given us such just and incontrovertible reason for our approbation.