An Essay on Criticism is one of the first major poems written by the English writer Alexander Pope (1688–1744). It is the source of the famous quotations "To err is human, to forgive divine," "A little learning is a dang'rous thing" (frequently misquoted as "A little knowledge is a dang'rous thing"), and "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." It first appeared in 1711  after having been written in 1709, and it is clear from Pope's correspondence  that many of the poem's ideas had existed in prose form since at least 1706. Composed in heroic couplets (pairs of adjacent rhyming lines of iambic pentameter ) and written in the Horatian mode of satire, it is a verse essay primarily concerned with how writers and critics behave in the new literary commerce of Pope's contemporary age. The poem covers a range of good criticism and advice, and represents many of the chief literary ideals of Pope's age.
New Criticism continues to be studied as part of twentieth-century formalist theories of literature. In his essay outlining the history and development of the New Criticism, John R. Willingham points out that although the proponents of New Criticism are considered creators of a modernist mode of literary interpretation, many of their theories derive from earlier poetic principles, such as those articulated by Coleridge. As a literary movement, New Criticism achieved its most popularity in the 1940s, and a large number of periodicals espousing these ideas began to be published at that time, including Southern Review, Kenyon Review, and others. Established journals also eagerly accepted many New Critics as contributors, making criticism itself a dominant field of study in the classroom. In a few decades, however, especially in the 1970s, the New Criticism began waning in popularity, and in fact, was rejected as being “intellectually naïve and methodologically fruitless” writes Willingham. The main charge against the New Critics was their insistence on disregarding historical and biographical information in the study of a literary text, and the stress they placed on the “correct” reading of a text. Their method of critical study was perceived as being too restrictive, and their demands on the reader seen as too authoritarian. More recent evaluations of the New Criticism have defended their original intent—to refocus attention on the literary work itself, rather than the writer or even the reader. In this, concludes Willingham, the sustaining principle advocated by the New Critics was their insistence that “literature requires and deserves responsible reading and readable response.”