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quotations about critics and criticism

I am more afraid of deserving criticism than of receiving it.


They have a right to censure, that have a heart to help.

WILLIAM PENN, Some Fruits of Solitude

I find the pain of a little censure, even when it is unfounded, is more acute than the pleasure of much praise.

THOMAS JEFFERSON, letter to Francis Hopkinson, Mar. 13, 1789

The perfect critic is one ... that sees with the eyes of posterity.

AUSTIN O'MALLEY, Keystones of Thought

Thoughtful criticism and close scrutiny of all government officials by the press and the public are an important part of our democratic society.

JIMMY CARTER, Farewell Address, Jan. 14, 1981

A young critic is like a boy with a gun; he fires at every living thing he sees. He thinks only of his own skill, not of the pain he is giving.


When a critic sets himself up as an arbiter of morality, a judge of the matter and not the manner of a work, he is no longer a critic; he is a censor.

EDWARD ALBEE, preface, The American Dream

Optimists don't internalize pain or criticism. They take it for what it is worth and carry on.

ROBERT M. SHERFIELD, The Everything Self-Esteem Book

Reproof is a medicine, like mercury or opium; if it be improperly administered, it will do harm instead of good.


Some critics, and for that matter most of them, I fear, rejoice in faults as buzzards do in carrion, to feed upon it; but a true critic is a surgeon, who cuts away the wen, or imposthume, that he may rejoice in the cleanness of a body restored to health.

HENRY WARD BEECHER, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit

The finer house you build the sharper will be the criticism.

LEWIS F. KORNS, Thoughts

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.


A critic is an old maid that writes instructions to you concerning the rearing of your own children.

AUSTIN O'MALLEY, Keystones of Thought

If you cannot patiently bear correction, endeavor to avoid fault.

NORMAN MACDONALD, Maxims and Moral Reflections

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, expand the heart, and are worthy of being introduced at the symposium of the gods.


They that censure, should practice. Or else let them have the first stone, and the last too.

WILLIAM PENN, Some Fruits of Solitude

It is true, I suppose, that nobody finds it exactly pleasant to be criticized our shouted at, but I see in the faces of the human being raging at me a wild animal in its true colors, one more horrible than any lion, crocodile or dragon.

OSAMU DAZAI, No Longer Human

Many critics are like woodpeckers, who, instead of enjoying the fruit and shadow of a tree, hop incessantly around the trunk, pecking holes in the bark to discover some little worm or other.


Against criticism a man can neither protest nor defend himself; he must act in spite of it, and then criticism will gradually yield to him.

JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE, The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe

Time is the best critic.


One becomes a critic when one cannot be an artist, just as a man becomes a stool pigeon when he cannot be a soldier.

GUSTAVE FLAUBERT, letter to Madame Louise Colet, Oct. 22, 1846

God knows, people who are paid to have attitudes toward things, professional critics, make me sick; camp-following eunuchs of literature.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY, letter to Sherwood Anderson, May 23, 1925

Never demean yourself by talking back to a critic, never. Write those letters to the editor in your head, but don't put them on paper.

TRUMAN CAPOTE, The Paris Review, spring-summer 1957

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.


You have one of two choices. Either you can panic and start making frantic attempts to reform under the glare of these awful critical eyes, or you can just say, "The hell with you! I know what I'm doing. If you don't yet, it's because you haven't given me an attentive reading.

SAUL BELLOW, Q & A at Howard Community College, Feb. 1986

Give a critic an inch, he’ll write a play.

JOHN STEINBECK, "On Critics," Writers at Work

The necessity of reform mustn't be allowed to become a form of blackmail serving to limit, reduce, or halt the exercise of criticism. Under no circumstances should one pay attention to those who tell one: "Don't criticize, since you're not capable of carrying out a reform." That's ministerial cabinet talk. Critique doesn’t have to be the premise of a deduction that concludes, "this, then, is what needs to be done." It should be an instrument for those for who fight, those who resist and refuse what is.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, The Essential Foucault

All the critics who could not make their reputations by discovering you are hoping to make them by predicting hopefully your approaching impotence, failure and general drying up of natural juices.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY, "A Letter from Cuba," Esquire, Dec. 1934

I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.


As a matter of fact, we are none of us above criticism; so let us bear with each other's faults.

L. FRANK BAUM, The Marvelous Land of Oz

I hate orthodox criticism. I don't mean great criticism, like that of Matthew Arnold and others, but the usual small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straitjackets of hesitancy and self-consciousness, and weazening all vision and bravery.

BRENDA UELAND, If You Want to Write

The legitimate aim of criticism is to direct attention to the excellent. The bad will dig its own grave.

CHRISTIAN NESTELL BOVEE, Intuitions and Summaries of Thought

The pleasure of criticism takes away from us the pleasure of being deeply moved by very fine things.

JEAN DE LA BRUYÈRE, "Of Works of the Mind", Les Caractères

A cruel critic has never made anything; his glibness is a way of inflicting his emptiness on others.

JOHN LAHR, "Questions for John Lahr", The New Yorker, Jan. 23, 2009

Time is the only critic.

JAMES M. CAIN, The Paris Review, spring-summer 1978


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