Alexander Pope and Ed Champion

This article by Laura Miller is the first, and hopefully the last, thing I’ve read about this Ed Champion guy who verbally abuses female authors through various media. I hope the notoriety subdues, rather than enhances him. And this is coupled with the awful attacks on female gamers and game-makers. The internet is becoming an ugly place: in the seventeenth century women authors were snickered at, and it was pretty bad, but now they’re getting rape threats, and guys like Champion are making careers out of being misogynists.

I’m teaching Alexander Pope’s ESSAY ON CRITICISM tonight, which I argue is not so much about poetry or criticism as it is power. For Pope, the problem of criticism is a problem of power rooted in judgment and the way it is wielded against others. He sought to give that power back to the poet, and his “Ed Champion,” a guy named John Dennis, would spend his career bashing him. But living in a masculine milieu of authors, Pope still sensed that the antagonism was going to destroy a literary culture that had the chance of emulating or even equaling the ancients. (To make things more complicated, Pope also liked to make fun of women – they were “at best a contradiction still”). I’ll be passing this article out tonight and highlighting some of the sections, because its (sadly) timely.

Here’s the section from ESSAY ON CRITICISM that most jumps out to me as I read this:

Now, they who reached Parnassus’ lofty Crown,
Employ their Pains to spurn some others down;
And while Self-Love each jealous Writer rules,
Contending Wits becomes 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 urg’d thro’ Sacred Lust of praise!
Ah ne’er so dire a Thirst of Glory boast,
Nor in the Critick let the Man be lost!
Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;
To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine.

“Nor in the Critick let the Man be lost!”