An Essay on Criticism "To Err Is Human, To Forgive Divine"
by Alexander Pope

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"To Err Is Human, To Forgive Divine"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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Context: This is one of the most famous quotations from Alexander Pope's poetry, but the idea was not new with him. The first part of the thought is found in Sophocles' Antigone, "To err/ From the right path is common to mankind." And Plutarch wrote, "For to err in opinion, though it be not the part of wise men, is at least human." More than seventy years after Pope, Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, was to write similarly, in his poem entitled "Address to the Unco Guid." Pope, in his lines, is of course speaking not of human judgment generally, but of critical judgment in literary matters:

And while self-love each jealous writer rules,Contending wits become the sport of fools;But still the worst with most regret commend,For each ill author is as bad a friend.To what base ends, and by what abject ways,Are mortals urged thro' sacred lust of praise!Ah, ne'er so dire a thirst of glory boast,Nor in the critic let the man be lost!Good nature and good sense must ever join;To err is human, to forgive divine.