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Quotations about Critics,
Criticizing, and Criticisms

Advice is criticism in a cashmere sweater. ~The Resident, "Peking Duck Day," 2019, written by Elizabeth Klaviter, Michael Notarile, and Daniela Lamas  [S3, E8, Dr Austin to Lamar]

Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work. Note just what it is about your work that critics don't like — then cultivate it. That's the only part of your work that's individual and worth keeping. ~Jean Cocteau

Before you Criticize with Words Unkind,
Look Thrice for all the Good that you can find.
~Arthur Guiterman, "Of Judgments," A Poet's Proverbs, 1924

...after having read for twelve months what these critics say I meant to say in the poem, it seems to me that I may be allowed to express my own opinion... ~Edwin Markham, 1900

The first assumption of an art critic is that the artist meant to paint something else. ~Robert Brault,

An art critic is someone who appreciates art, except for any particular piece of art. ~Robert Brault,

Vampyre booksellers drain him to the heart,
And scorpion Critics cureless venom dart.
~Robert Burns, "To Robert Graham of Fintry, Esq.," 1788–1791  [was supposed to be "viper critics" but the error persisted –tg]

A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1963

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

You may abuse a tragedy, though you cannot write one. You may scold a carpenter who has made you a bad table, though you cannot make a table. It is not your trade to make tables. ~Samuel Johnson, 1763, as quoted by James Boswell

Remember, a statue has never been set up in honour of a critic! ~Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), as quoted by Bengt von Törne (1891–1967), Sibelius: A Close-Up, 1938  [Preface: " whole ambition has been to play Boswell to the Dr. Johnson of Sibelius." ~B. de T. —tg]

Such guests as you, sir, were not in my mind
When I my homely dish with care designed;
'T was certain humble souls I would have fed,
Who do not turn from wholesome milk and bread;
You came, slow-trotting on the narrow way,
O'erturned the food, and trod it in the clay;
Then low with discoid nostrils sniffing curt,
Cried, "Sorry cook! why, what a mess of dirt!"
~George MacDonald, "To a Certain Critic," A Threefold Cord: Poems by Three Friends, 1883

One learns to ignore criticism by first learning to ignore applause. ~Robert Brault,, 2018

The Stones that Critics hurl with Harsh Intent
A Man may use to build his Monument.
~Arthur Guiterman, "Of Judgments," A Poet's Proverbs, 1924

A critic would sacrifice the entire rose to find fault with the thorn. ~Terri Guillemets

A Professed Critic has a right to declare, that his Author wrote whatever he thinks he should have written, with as much positiveness as if he had been at his elbow. ~Thomas Edwards, "The Canons or Rules for Criticism, Extracted out of Mr. Warburton's Notes on Shakespear," 1748

Soon after Edwards's Canons of Criticism came out, [Samuel] Johnson was dining at Tonson the Bookseller's, with Hayman the Painter and some more company. Hayman related to Sir Joshua Reynolds, that the conversation having turned upon Edwards's book, the gentlemen praised it much, and Johnson allowed its merit. But when they went farther, and appeared to put that author upon a level with Warburton, 'Nay, (said Johnson,) he has given him some smart hits to be sure; but there is no proportion between the two men... A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still.' ~James Boswell

Insects sting, not from malice, but because they too want to live. It is the same with our critics — they desire our blood, not our pain. ~Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Paul V. Cohn

THE COUNT.  ...What is your opinion of the play?
BANNAL.  Well, whos it by?
THE COUNT.  That is a secret for the present.
BANNAL.  You dont expect me to know what to say about a play when I dont know who the author is, do you?...
THE COUNT.  But is it a good play, Mr Bannal? Thats a simple question.
BANNAL.  Simple enough when you know. If its by a good author, its a good play, naturally. That stands to reason. Who is the author? Tell me that; and I'll place the play for you to a hair's breadth.
THE COUNT.  I'm sorry I'm not at liberty to divulge the author's name. The author desires that the play should be judged on its merits.
BANNAL.  But what merits can it have except the author's merits?...
~Bernard Shaw, Fanny's First Play, 1911

If, instead of skipping around these dancing men, endeavoring to measure the circumference of their calves and the diameter of their knee-caps, he would stand alongside them and tell us: "See, this is the difference, they dance and I am stiff and still" — then his performance would prove at least informatory. ~Emanuel Carnevali, "Scepticisms, by Conrad Aiken," in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1920

      Again, by the word critic, have been meant the restorers of ancient learning from the worms, and graves, and dust of manuscripts... Every true critic, is a hero born, descending in a direct line from a celestial stem, by Momus and Hybris, who begat Zoilus, who begat Tigellius, who begat Etcetera the Elder, who begat Bentley, and Rymer, and Wotton, and Perrault, and Dennis, who begat Etcetera the Younger...
      Now, from this heavenly descent of criticism, and the close analogy it bears to heroic virtue, it is easy to assign the proper employment of a true ancient genuine critic; which is, to travel through this vast world of writings; to pursue and hunt those monstrous faults bred within them; to drag out the lurking errors, like Cacus from his den; to multiply them like Hydra's heads, and rake them like Augeas's dung; or else drive away a sort of dangerous fowl, who have a perverse inclination to plunder the best branches of the tree of knowledge; like those Stimphalian birds that eat up the fruit.
      These reasonings will furnish us with an adequate definition of a true critic; that he is a discoverer and collector of writers' faults. ~Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub, 1704

Reviewers are forever telling authors, they can't understand them. The author might often reply: Is that my fault? ~Augustus William Hare

Let standard-authors, thus, like trophies borne,
Appear more glorious as more hack'd and torn.
And you, my critics! in the chequer'd shade,
Admire new light thro' holes yourselves have made.
~Alexander Pope

...but yet they grumbled. Such is human-nature. The man who drinks beer at home always criticizes the champagne, and finds fault with the Burgundy when he is invited out to dinner. ~Mark Twain, 1868

Had critics been able to kill, no masterpiece could have survived. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1903, George Horace Lorimer, editor

      "Let's have a department in The Step Ladder for the criticism of poetry," said I to Flora.
      "You won't find anyone who wants his poetry criticized," she answered.
      Flora was right. "Of course I didn't mean to criticize their poems without their consent. Let it be announced that poems may be contributed for dissection, just as people submit themselves to clinics. Maybe some of them do care what other people think of their poetry..."
      "Remember that meeting of the Poetry Lovers last year, when they had an open criticism of poems, both of famous writers and our own, entered anonymously? That was an interesting experiment. When the poem of Emily Dickinson's was read, I started to say something about its faulty rhyme scheme, and Anne jumped right up and said she liked that poem better than anything else that had been read. She didn't place the poem, but had an instinctive feeling for the poetry in it, that stood out far above any of the other jingles that were read. That was true criticism — just feeling for the poetry in the poem." ~George Steele Seymour, "The Poetry Clinic," 1926  [a little altered —tg]

Happiness is lost by criticising it; sorrow by accepting it. ~Ambrose Bierce

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. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), "Drift Wood, A Collection of Essays: Table-Talk," Prose Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1857

We all have our limitations, but when we listen to our critics, we also have theirs. ~Robert Brault,

Author-baiting.  Calling a playwright before the curtain to subject him to annoyance — yelling, hooting, bellowing, etc.  ~Slang and its Analogues: A Dictionary of Heterodox Speech, John S. Farmer and W. E. Henley, 1890s

The keenest critic of the sculptor is the stone-cutter. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1903, George Horace Lorimer, editor

Great Works demand Great Critics: Is it well
To Measure Ocean with an Oyster Shell?
~Arthur Guiterman, "Of Criticism," A Poet's Proverbs, 1924

Every discovery in science is a tacit criticism of things as they are. That is why the wise man is invariably called the fool. ~Martin H. Fischer (1879–1962)

Now, Reader, when this book you scan,
Resolve to prove a candid man;
Not, critic-like, seek faults to find,
And every beauty leave behind;
But, should a weed appear in sight,
A flower pray cull to make it right;
And thus you'll prove a candid soul.
Judge not a portion but the whole.
~Typographia, by J. Johnson, printer, 1824

Critics are like brushers of noblemen's clothes. ~Jacula Prudentum, or, Outlandish Proverbs, by George Herbert

For I am nothing, if not critical. ~William Shakespeare, Othello, c.1604  [II, 1, Iago]

They, who write ill, and they, who ne'er durst write,
Turn critics, out of mere revenge and spite:
A playhouse gives them fame; and up there starts,
From a mean fifth-rate wit, a man of parts...
Our author fears those critics as his fate;
And those he fears, by consequence must hate...
Howe'er, the poet's safe enough to day,
They cannot censure an unfinished play...
~John Dryden

The genius, even when he endeavours only to entertain with pleasing images of nature, or instruct by uncontested principles of science, yet suffers persecution from innumerable criticks, whose acrimony is excited merely by the pain of seeing others pleased, and of hearing applauses which another enjoys. ~Samuel Johnson, 1751

Opinions that one now pastes in a book labelled cock-a-doodle-dum and keeps for reading to select audiences on summer nights once drew tears, I can assure you. Among your grandmothers and great-grandmothers there were many that wept their eyes out. Florence Nightingale shrieked aloud in her agony. Moreover, it is all very well for you, who have got yourself to college... to say that genius should disregard such opinions; that genius should be above caring what is said of it. Unfortunately, it is precisely the men or women of genius who mind most what is said of them. Remember Keats. Remember the words he had cut on his tombstone. Think of Tennyson; think — but I need hardly multiply instances of the undeniable, if very unfortunate, fact that it is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others. ~Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, 1929

Criticism thus becomes a form of personal expression, and is just as thoroughly individualized as if it were poetry, or picture, or sculpture. The critic takes a book in one hand, and uses the other to paint himself with. When his work is done, we may fail to find the book in it, but we are sure to find him. ~J. G. Holland, "Criticism as Fine Art," c.1873

Criticism often strips the tree of both caterpillars and blossoms. ~Jean Paul, translated from German

After our Epilogue this crowd dismisses,
I'm thinking how this play'll be pulled to pieces.
But pray consider, ere you doom its fall,
How hard a thing 'twould be to please you all.
There are some critics so with spleen diseased,
They scarcely come inclining to be pleased...
~William Congreve, The Way of the World

Animals are such agreeable friends — they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms. ~George Eliot

I was admittedly a third-rater, although there were some kind critics who insisted that I was really second rate. ~Gerald Raftery, 1974

I don’t mind adverse criticism. It doesn’t matter if I’m misinterpreted because not everyone will understand what I’m trying to say. ~Muriel Strode, 1962

The tedium of many a book is its salvation: the critic, after raising his javelin, falls asleep before he hurls it. ~Marie Dubsky, Freifrau von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830–1916), translated by Mrs Annis Lee Wister, 1882

Cats, as a class, have never completely got over the snootiness caused by the fact that in Ancient Egypt they were worshiped as gods. This makes them too prone to set themselves up as critics and censors of the frail and erring human beings whose lot they share. They stare rebukingly. They view with concern. And on a sensitive man this often has the worst effects, including an inferiority complex of the gravest kind. ~P.G. Wodehouse

Every cat is at heart a critic and a pessimist. From the time they open kitten-eyes of mild and pained surprise at finding themselves in a world in which there is so much of which they disapprove, our cats are constantly sitting in judgment upon us. ~Coulson Kernahan, "My Cat," Begging the Moon's Pardon, 1930

      Sometimes it is not the world in general but a man's own parish which causes him to wince and quail. A newspaper gets on his track and misreports him. His sermons are garbled and his actions are misjudged, and the mangled son of thunder goes about bleeding at every pore. A man too thin-skinned to stand newspaper criticism is not a fit man to lead the Lord's army. A newspaper is frequently the most unprincipled and merciless of antagonists... but a minister who is wise will never enter into a controversy with a newspaper. To be beaten with a few stinging sentences is not so painful as to be beaten with a Roman scourge.... If a minister cannot sing after being trounced by the most merciless reporter who ever poured bad blood into ink, he should get out of the pulpit and seek a position where thin skin is not a hindrance to duty.
      Or the anonymous coward instead of attacking him in a newspaper may stab him through the mail. Two or three anonymous letters will cause some men to swell up as though they had been bitten by tarantulas.... The criticism may not be written but spoken. It may float through the atmosphere in the shape of poisonous rumors. ~Charles Edward Jefferson, "Clerical Hamlets," Quiet Hints to Growing Preachers in My Study, 1901

A man must serve his time to every trade,
Save censure—critics all are ready made.
Take hackney'd jokes from Miller, got by rote
With just enough learning to misquote...
~Lord Byron, "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers; A Satire," 1809

I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone. ~Mark Twain

While I might find pleasure in your approval, your disapproval will not deter me. ~Muriel Strode (1875–1964), My Little Book of Life, 1912

Why hurl reproof and not applause,
      Why on the poet's lyre make wars,
      And seek to hush his tuneful string
      By criticism's poisoned sting?
Sing on, ye poets, spite of faults,
      The world will stop when music halts,
      For harmony makes all things strong,
      Stars in their courses poet's song.
~Pattie French Witherspoon (1868–1934), "To the Silent Lyre"

Malevolent criticisms will not disturb my peace of mind, I shall take no notice of them, however carefully they may be dressed up in the garb of science. ~Sebastian Kneipp, 1889, translated from German, introduction to Thus Shalt Thou Live

I may grow flowers in my garden which you do not like, but the pity is if I allow you to trample them out. ~Muriel Strode (1875–1964), My Little Book of Life, 1912

A nasty day! A nasty day!
'Twas thus I heard a critic say
Because the skies were bleak and gray—
And yet it somehow seemed to me
The day was all that it should be.
I looked it very closely o'er;
Its hours still were twenty-four,
With sixty minutes each—no less—
For deeds of good and helpfulness;
And every second full of chance
To give the day significance;
And every hour full of growth
For everybody but the sloth—
I couldn't see it quite that way,
For though the skies were bleak and gray
The day itself, it seemed to me,
Was all a day could rightly be.
~John Kendrick Bangs (1862-1922), "A Protest," The Cheery Way: A Bit of Verse For Every Day, 1920

Before you criticize a boastful person, remember — it's hard to be humble when no one is proud of you. ~Robert Brault,, 2019

This book,
not being a cynical novel,
for the blasés of society,
nor a good-natured story,
abounding in slang and vulgarity,
for the youthful reader,
nor the production of one who has sought
the acquaintance of critics, with the view of
purchasing or conciliating their good opinion,
is dedicated
to the Master Spirit of the Age,
The Great Pooh! Pooh!
with the humble certainty
of his favourable judgment.
~Charles Mackay, The Gouty Philosopher; or, The Opinions, Whims, and Eccentricities of John Wagstaffe, Esq., of Wilbye Grange, 1862

I lose my patience, and I own it too,
When works are censur'd, not as bad but new;
While if our Elders break all reason's laws,
These fools demand not pardon, but applause.
~Alexander Pope

Obviously, what we need are critical lovers of America — patriots who express their faith in their country by working to improve it. ~Hubert H. Humphrey

Do not, therefore, regard the critics as questionable patriots. What were Washington and Jefferson and Adams but profound critics of the colonial status quo? ~Adlai E. Stevenson

Why do critics make such an outcry against tragicomedies? is not life one?  ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827

Of all the blunders that blundering critics ever blundered upon, surely this is the greatest. ~"Aristarchus" of Oxford, letter to editor of The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, 1804

There is a feebler but still more irritating form of outrage upon books in public libraries, which consists in scrawling on the margins the vapid and frivolous criticisms or opinions of the reader, who often unconsciously gives evidence that he is incapable of appreciating what he reads. ~"The Sufferings and Death of Books," Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, 1890

On the other hand we have councillors criticising librarians: “airy-fairy idealists with heads in the clouds and noses in books...” ~M. J. Clark, “Presidential Address,” New Zealand Libraries, March 1964

A harsh critique of one's writing is a pen stab through the heart — and the resultant inkbleed. ~Terri Guillemets

In fact, the author would seem affected with a chronic nausea of mankind... ~"Spiritual Jugglery: The Story of 'Perversion'" (critique of William John Conybeare's Perversion: or, The Causes and Consequences of Infidelity: A Tale for the Times, 1856), in Titan: A Monthly Magazine (conjoined series, continuation of Hogg's Instructor) (James Hogg), Vol. XXIII, September 1856

A man's grammar, like Cæsar's wife, must not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity. ~Edgar Allan Poe, critique of Edward Bulwer-Lytton's "Night and Morning," in Marginalia

I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top. ~English professor, Ohio University, as quoted in InfoWorld, 1996

I could eat alphabet soup and [$h¡t]  better lyrics. ~Johnny Mercer, c.1975, unverified per Nigel Rees, in Cassell Companion to Quotations, 1997

It was a book to kill time for those who like it better dead. ~Rose Macaulay, as quoted in Herbert V. Prochnow, The New Speaker's Treasury of Wit and Wisdom, 1958

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