An Essay on Criticism "A Little Learning Is A Dangerous Thing"
by Alexander Pope

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"A Little Learning Is A Dangerous Thing"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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Context: Through the years this popular quotation has been used countless times about many kinds of learning, liberal and practical; for the applications are well-nigh universal. In its original context, however it applies only to learning about literature, especially poetry, as an art form. Pope notes that persons are often misled by pride to write or criticize beyond their wit. He admonishes us to listen to our friends and to our foes in order to discover our defects and weakness and then to abide by what we learn. He then says:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,And drinking largely sobers us again.Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,While from the bounded level of our mindShort views we take, nor see the lengths behind:But more advanc'd, behold with strange surpriseNew distant scenes of endless science rise!