An Essay on Criticism "Be Silent Always When You Doubt Your Sense"
by Alexander Pope

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"Be Silent Always When You Doubt Your Sense"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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Context: After discussing in Parts I and II of his essay what is wrong with critics and literary criticism, Pope turns in Part III to a statement of the character of a good critic and, then, to a discussion of some of the great names in literary history–Aristotle, Horace, Longinus, Boileau, certain others. First, says Pope, the critic must be knowledgeable about literature; second, the critic must have taste and judgment, to be joined with his learning. Even these attributes are not enough, says the poet, for the critic must be honest, must "let Truth and Candour shine." This last trait is necessary if the critic is to have friendship and respect. But what should one do when unsure what his judgment is? Pope advises:

Be silent always when you doubt your Sense,And speak, tho' sure, with seeming diffidence.Some positive persisting fops we know,Who if once wrong will needs be always so;But you with pleasure own your errors past,And make each day a critique on the last.