Quotations about   criticism

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America is therefore a free country, in which, lest anyone be hurt by your remarks, you are not allowed to speak freely of private individuals or of the State; of the citizen or of the authorities; of public or of private undertakings; or, in short, of anything at all, except it be of the climate and the soil; and even then Americans will be found ready to defend either the one or the other, as if they had been contrived by the inhabitants of the country.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French writer, diplomat, politician
Democracy in America, Vol. 1, “Public Spirit in the United States” (1835) [tr. Reeve (1839)]
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Added on 26-Jan-19 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Whether Parliament is either a representative body or an efficient one is questionable, but I value it because it criticizes and talks, and because its chatter gets widely reported. So two cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism. Two cheers are quite enough: there is no occasion to give three.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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Added on 26-Jan-19 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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The writer’s role is to menace the public’s conscience. He must have a position, a point of view. He must see the arts as a vehicle of social criticism and he must focus on the issues of his time.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
Speech, Library of Congress (1968)
Added on 1-May-17 | Last updated 1-May-17
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The slander of some people is as great a recommendation as the praise of others. For one is as much hated by the dissolute world, on the score of virtue, as by the good, on that of vice.

fielding-slander-recommendation-praise-wist_info-quote

Henry Fielding (1707-1754) English novelist, dramatist, satirist
The Temple Beau, Act 1, sc. 1 (1729)
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Added on 24-Jan-17 | Last updated 24-Jan-17
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A torn jacket is soon mended; but hard words bruise the heart of a child.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
Drift-wood, “Table-Talk” (1857)
Added on 21-Nov-16 | Last updated 21-Nov-16
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If you are threatened or offended by people disagreeing, challenging or even ridiculing your faith, your faith can’t be that strong.

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Twitter (23 Sep 2012)
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Added on 25-Aug-16 | Last updated 25-Aug-16
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Kragar made a sound I won’t attempt to describe. I could sense Loiosh holding back several remarks. It seems I surround myself with people who think I’m an idiot, which probably says something deep and profound about me.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
Dragon (1998)
Added on 12-Aug-16 | Last updated 12-Aug-16
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And remember, your critics want you to be as unhappy, unfulfilled and unimportant as they are. Let your happiness eat them up from inside.

Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) English comedian, actor, director, writer
Twitter (15 Nov 2011)
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Added on 11-Aug-16 | Last updated 11-Aug-16
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If you attack the establishment long enough and hard enough, they will make you a member of it.

Art Buchwald (1925-2007) American humorist, columnist
Speech, Horatio Alger Award Dinner, Washington, DC (May 1989)

Buchwald used a number of variations of this phrase; this particular one was reported a week later in the International Herald Tribune (24 May 1989), but other versions go back to the 1960s (e.g., "Woe to the person in this country who attacks the establishment. It isn’t jail, nor even physical harm, that he must fear. His main problem is that by attacking the Establishment, he automatically becomes a member of it, and there is no greater punishment in the world," from his column of 7 May 1968). See here for more info.
Added on 18-Jul-16 | Last updated 18-Jul-16
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I don’t ever lose sight of the fact that this country is the best one. I don’t care nearly as much about other societies. My country is the one I want to make better. But I do think the patriotic thing to do is to critique my country. How else do you make a country better but by pointing out its flaws?

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
“Bill Maher, Incorrect American Patriot,” Interview with Sharon Waxman, Washington Post (8 Nov 2002)
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Added on 13-Jul-16 | Last updated 13-Jul-16
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The covers of this book are too far apart.

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) American writer and journalist
(Attributed)

One-sentence book review. First attributed to Bierce in 1923, but showing up in anonymous humor as early as 1899. See here for more information.
Added on 31-Mar-16 | Last updated 31-Mar-16
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But of all plagues, good Heaven, thy wrath can send,
Save, save, oh! save me from the Candid Friend!

George Canning (1770-1827) British stateman, politician, Prime Minister
“New Morality,” Anti-Jacobin (9 Jul 1798)
Added on 28-Mar-16 | Last updated 28-Mar-16
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Blame where you must, be candid where you can,
And be each critic the Good-Natured Man.

Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774) Irish poet, playwright, novelist
The Good-Natur’d Man, Epilogue (1768)
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Added on 21-Mar-16 | Last updated 18-Mar-16
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Those see nothing but faults that seek for nothing else.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia (1732)
Added on 9-Feb-16 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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There’s not the least thing can be said or done, but people will talk and find fault.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) Spanish novelist
Don Quixote, Part 1, Book 2, ch. 4 (1605)
Added on 12-Jan-16 | Last updated 12-Jan-16
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The concept of loyalty is distorted when it is understood to mean blind acceptance. It is correctly interpreted when it is assumed to cover honest criticism.

Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961) Swedish diplomat, author, UN Secretary-General (1953-61)
Speech, Johns Hopkins University (14 Jun 1955)
Added on 15-Dec-15 | Last updated 15-Dec-15
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When my friend does something stupid, he is just my friend doing something stupid. When I do something stupid, I have deeply betrayed myself.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001)
Added on 13-Nov-15 | Last updated 13-Nov-15
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Would you have a friend who talks to you the way you talk to yourself?

Carolyn Ann "Callie" Khouri (b. 1957) American screenwriter, producer, director, feminist
Commencement Address, Sweet Briar College (22 May 1994)
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Added on 17-Jun-15 | Last updated 17-Jun-15
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More important than any belief a man holds is the way he holds it. Any fool or fanatic can embrace a doctrine. Even if true, it remains a dogma unless it is evaluated in the light of its alternatives, and the relevant evidence for them.

Sidney Hook (1902-1989) American philosopher
Political Power and Personal Freedom, ch. 28 “Socialism Without Utopia: A Rejoinder to Max Eastman”(1959)
Added on 17-Apr-15 | Last updated 17-Apr-15
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I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) German astronomer
(Attributed)
Added on 28-Jan-15 | Last updated 28-Jan-15
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No man ought to be hindered saying or writing what he pleases on the conduct of those who undertake the management of national affairs, in which all are concerned, and therefore have the right to inquire, and to publish their suspicions concerning them. For if you punish the slanderer, you deter the fair inquirer.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
Political Disquisitions, Book 1 “Of Government, briefly” (1774)
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Added on 11-Dec-14 | Last updated 11-Dec-14
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I began my talk by saying that I had not written my plays for purposes of discussion. At once, I felt a ripple of panic run through the hall. I suddenly realised why. To everyone present, discussion was the whole point of drama. That was why the faculty had been endowed — that was why all those buildings had been put up! I had undermined the entire reason for their existence.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
In Kenneth Tynan, “Tom Stoppard,” The New Yorker (19 Dec 1977)
Added on 21-Nov-14 | Last updated 21-Nov-14
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All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet — it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.

Joss Whedon (b. 1964) American screenwriter, author, producer [Joseph Hill Whedon]
“I Am Joss Wedon — AMA,” Reddit (10 Apr 2012)
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On fan fiction and academic analysis.
Added on 15-Oct-14 | Last updated 15-Oct-14
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Every dictatorship has ultimately strangled in the web of repression it wove for its people, making mistakes that could not be corrected because criticism was prohibited.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
“Value of Dissent,” speech, Nashville, Tennessee (21 Mar 1968)
Added on 13-Oct-14 | Last updated 13-Oct-14
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If you have a friend that will reprove your faults and foibles, consider you enjoy a blessing which the king upon the throne cannot have.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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Added on 25-Sep-14 | Last updated 25-Sep-14
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Neither human applause nor human censure is to be taken as the test of truth. He who should satisfy himself either with being popular, or with being unpopular, would equally be taking man’s judgment for his standard. But either the one or the other should set us upon careful self-examination.

Richard Whately (1787-1863) English logician, theologian, archbishop
Sermon, Christ Church, Dublin (22 Oct 1837)
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Added on 8-Sep-14 | Last updated 8-Sep-14
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We protest against unjust criticism, but we accept unearned applause.

José Narosky (b. 1930) Argentine aphorist and writer
Si Todos Los Sueños (1993)
Added on 1-Sep-14 | Last updated 1-Sep-14
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Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment — the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution — not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants” — but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, American Newspaper Publishers Association (27 Apr 1961)
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Added on 1-Sep-14 | Last updated 1-Sep-14
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He that applauds him who does not deserve praise, is endeavoring to deceive the public; he that hisses in malice or sport, is an oppressor and a robber.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Idler (7 Oct 1758)
Added on 25-Aug-14 | Last updated 25-Aug-14
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Once you begin to take yourself seriously as a leader or as a follower, as a modern or as a conservative, then you become a self-conscious, biting, and scratching little animal whose work is not of the slightest value or importance to anybody.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) English modernist writer [b. Adeline Virginia Stephen]
“A Letter to a Young Poet,” The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942)
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It is harder to avoid censure than to gain applause; for this may be done by one great or wise action in an age. But to escape censure a man must pass his whole life without saying or doing one ill or foolish thing.

David Hume (1711-1776) Scottish philosopher, economist, historian, empiricist
(Attributed)
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Quoted in The Home Circle (Jan 1855)
Added on 11-Aug-14 | Last updated 11-Aug-14
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Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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Added on 7-Aug-14 | Last updated 7-Aug-14
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Reproof is a medicine like mercury or opium; if it be improperly administered it will do harm instead of good.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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Added on 3-Jul-14 | Last updated 3-Jul-14
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Other nations have been called thin-skinned, but the citizens of the Union have, apparently, no skins at all; they wince if a breeze blows over them, unless it be tempered with adulation.

Frances Trollope (1779-1863) English novelist and writer
Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832)
Added on 25-Jun-14 | Last updated 25-Jun-14
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The Americans, in their intercourse with strangers, appear impatient of the smallest censure and insatiable of praise.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French writer, diplomat, politician
Democracy in America, Vol. 2, sec. 3, ch. 16 (1840)
Added on 18-Jun-14 | Last updated 18-Jun-14
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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.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Plays of William Shakespeare, Preface (1765)
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I am strongly of opinion that an author had far better not read any reviews of his books: the unfavourable ones are almost certain to make him cross, and the favourable ones conceited; and neither of these results is desirable.

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) English writer and mathematician [pseud. of Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson]
Sylvie and Bruno (1889)
Added on 10-Jun-14 | Last updated 10-Jun-14
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Think before you speak is criticism’s motto; speak before you think, creation’s.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“The Raison d’E’tre of Criticism in the Arts,” Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
Added on 12-May-14 | Last updated 12-May-14
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They have a Right to censure that have a Heart to help: The rest is Cruelty, not Justice.

William Penn (1644-1718) English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, statesman
Some Fruits of Solitude, # 46 (1693)
Added on 29-Jan-09 | Last updated 6-Nov-15
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I can imagine no greater disservice to the country than to establish a system of censorship that would deny to the people of a free republic like our own their indisputable right to criticize their own public officials. While exercising the great powers of the office I hold, I would regret in a crisis like the one through which we are now passing to lose the benefit of patriotic and intelligent criticism.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) US President (1913-20), educator, political scientist
Letter to Arthur Brisbane (25 Apr 1917)

Three weeks after the US entered WW I.

Added on 28-Jan-09 | Last updated 5-Jul-16
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Laugh at yourself first, before anyone else can.

Elsa Maxwell (1883-1963) American gossip columnist, author, songwriter, professional hostess
Column (28 Sep 1958)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 30-Mar-16
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Rare is the person who can weigh the faults of others without putting his thumb on the scales.

Other Authors and Sources
Byron J. Langenfeld
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 4-Apr-14
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