Literature generally had come to be associated with wit and had been under attack from the Puritans also, who saw it as morally defective and corrupting.
On the other side, writers such as John Dryden and William Wycherley, as well as moralists such as the third earl of Shaftesbury, defended the use and freedom of wit.
Various parties contested the right to define it and to invest it with moral significance.
A number of writers such as Nicolas Malebranche and Joseph Addison, and philosophers such as John Locke, argued that wit was a negative quality, associated with a corrupting imagination, distortion of truth, profanity, and skepticism, a quality opposed to “judgment,” which was a faculty of clear and truthful insight.
However, there are a number of precepts he advances as specific to criticism. The first is to recognize the overall unity of a work, and thereby to avoid falling into partial assessments based on the author’s use of poetic conceits, ornamented language, and meters, as well as those which are biased toward either archaic or modern styles or based on the reputations of given writers.
Apart from knowing his own capacities, the critic must be conversant with every aspect of the author whom he is examining, including the author’s . Finally, a critic needs to possess a moral sensibility, as well as a sense of balance and proportion, as indicated in these lines: “Nor in the must ever join” (ll. In the interests of good nature and good sense, Pope urges the critic to adopt not only habits of self-criticism and integrity (“with pleasure own your Errors past, / And make each Day a on the last,” ll. To be truthful is not enough, he warns; truth must be accompanied by “Good Breeding” or else it will lose its effect (ll. And mere bookish knowledge will often express itself in showiness, disdain, and an overactive tongue: “on his Side? 631–642) As we read through this synthesis of the qualities of a good critic, it becomes clear that they are primarily attributes of humanity or moral sensibility rather than aesthetic qualities.
Notwithstanding such social and personal obstacles, Pope produced some of the finest verse ever written.
His most renowned publications include several mock-heroic poems such as (1733–1734) was a scathing attack on human arrogance or pride in failing to observe the due limits of human reason, in questioning divine authority and seeking to be self-reliant on the basis of rationality and science.
It is the disposition of humility – an aesthetic humility, if you will – which enables the critic to avoid the arrogant parading of his learning, to avoid falling into bias, and to open himself up to a knowledge of humanity.
The “reason” to which Pope appeals is not the individualistic and secular “reason” of the Enlightenment philosophers; it is “reason” as understood by Aquinas and many medieval thinkers, reason as a universal archetype in human nature, constrained by a theological framework.