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ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE IV.
Of the Nature and State of Man, with respect to Happiness.
I. False Notions of Happiness, Philosophical and Popular, answered from
Ver. 19 to 27. II. It is the End of all Men, and attainable by all, Ver. 30. God intends Happiness to be equal ; and to be so, it must be social, since all particular Happiness depends on general, and since he governs by general, not particular Laws, Ver. 37. As it is necessary for Order, and the peace and welfare of Society, that external goods should be unequal, Happiness is not made to consist in these, Ver. 51. But, notwithstanding that inequality, the balance of Happiness among Mankind is kept even by Providence, by the two passions of Hope and Fear, Ver. 70. III. What the Happiness of Individuals is, as far as is consistent with the constitution of this world ; and that the good Man has here the advantage, Ver. 77. The error of imputing to Virtue what are only the calamities of Nature or of Fortune, Ver. 94. IV. The folly of expecting that God should alter his general Laws in favour of particulars, Ver. 121. V. That we are not judges who are good ; but that whoever they are, they must be happiest, Ver. 133, &c. VI. That external goods are not the proper rewards, but often inconsistent with, or destructive of, Virtue, Ver. 165. That even these can make no man happy without Virtue : Instanced in Riches, Ver. 183. Honours, Ver. 191. Nobility, Ver. 203. Greatness, Ver. 215. Fame, Ver. 235. Superior Talents, Ver. 257, &c. With pictures of human Infelicity in Men possessed of them all, Ver. 267, &c. VII. That Virtue only constitutes a Happiness, whose object is universal, and whose prospect eternal, Ver. 307, &c. That the perfection of Virtue and Happiness consists in a conformity to the Order of PROVIDENCE here, and a Resignation to it here and hereafter, Ver. 326, &c.
Oh HAPPINESS! our being's end and aim !
The two foregoing Epistles having considered Man with regard to the Means, (that is, in all his relations, whether as an individual, or a member of Society,) this last comes to consider him with regard to the End, that is, Happiness.
It opens with an invocation to HAPPINESS, in the manner of the ancient Poets; who, when destitute of a patron God, applied to the Muse ; and if she was not at leisure, took up with any simple Virtue next at hand, to inspire and prosper their undertakings. This was the ancient invocation, which few modern poets have had the art to imitate with any degree either of spirit or decorum : but our author hath contrived to make his subservient to the method and reasoning of his philosophic composition. I will endeavour to explain so uncommon a beauty.
It is to be observed, that the Pagan Deities had each their several names and places of abode ; with some of which they were supposed to be more delighted than others ; and consequently to be then most propitious when invoked by the favourite name and place. Hence we find the hymns of Homer, Orpheus, and Callimachus to be chiefly employed in reckoning up the several titles and habitations by which the patron God was known and distinguished. Our Poet hath made these two circumstances serve to
Ver. 1. Oh Happiness !] He begins his address to Happiness after the manner of the ancient hymns, by enumerating the titles and various places of abode of this goddess. He has undoubtedly personified her at the beginning, but he seems to have dropped that idea in the seventh line, where the deity is suddenly transformed into a plant ; from thence this metaphor of a vegetable is carried on distinctly through the eleven succeeding lines, till he suddenly returns to consider Happiness again as a person, in the eighteenth line :
“ And fled from Monarchs, St. John! dwells with thee !" For to fly and to dwell, cannot justly be predicated of the same subject, that immediately before was described as twining with laurels, and being reaped in harvests.
Of the numberless treatises that have been written on Happiness, one of the most sensible is that of Fontenelle, in the third volume of his works. -Warton.
Ver. 1. Oh Happiness ! &c.} In the MS. thus :
Oh Happiness! to which we all aspire,
That something still which prompts th' eternal sigh,
15 'Tis no where to be found, or every where; 'Tis never to be bought, but always free, And fled from Monarchs, ST. JOHN! dwells with thee.
introduce his subject. His purpose is to write of Happiness : method, therefore, requires that he first define what men mean by Happiness ; and this he does in the ornament of a poetic invocation ; in which the several names that Happiness goes by are enumerated :
"Oh Happiness! our being's end and aim !
Good, Pleasure, Ease, Content! whate'er thy Name.” After the DEFINITION, that which follows next is the PROPOSITION, which is, that human Happiness consists not in external Advantages, but in Virtue. For the subject of this Epistle is to detect the false notions of Happiness, and to settle and explain the true ; and this the Poet lays down in the next sixteen lines. Now the enumeration of the several situations where Happiness is supposed to reside, is a summary of false Happiness placed in externals :
“Plant of celestial seed ! if dropp'd below,
Or reap'd in iron harvests of the field ?" The six remaining lines deliver the true notion of Happiness, and show that it is rightly placed in Virtue. Which is summed up in these two :
Fix'd to no spot is Happiness sincere ;
'Tis no where to be found, or every where.” The Poet, having thus defined his terms, and laid down his proposition, proceeds to the support of his Thesis ; the various arguments of which make up the body of the Epistle.
Ver. 18. St. John! dwells with thee.] Among the many passages in Bolingbroke's Posthumous Works that bear a close resemblance to the Ask of the learn’d the way? The learn’d are blind; This bids to serve, and that to shun mankind; 20 Some place the bliss in action, some in ease, Those call it pleasure, and contentment these ; Some sunk to beasts, find pleasure end in pain; Some swell’d to Gods, confess ev'n virtue vain;
COMMENTARY. Ver. 19. Ask of the learn’d, &c.] He begins (from ver. 18 to 29) with detecting the false notions of Happiness. These are of two kinds, the Philosophical and Popular. The Popular he had recapitulated in the invocation, when Happiness was called upon, at her several supposed places of abode : the Philosophical only remained to be delivered :
“ Ask of the learn’d the way ? The learn'd are blind;
This bids to serve, and that to shun mankind :
Those call it pleasure, and contentment these.” They differed as well in the means, as in the nature of the end. Some placed Happiness in Action, some in Contemplation; the first called it Pleasure, the second Ease. Of those who placed it in Action and called iť Pleasure, the route they pursued either sunk them into sensual Pleasures, which ended in Pain ; or led them in search of imaginary Perfections, unsuitable to their nature and station (see Ep. i.), which ended in Vanity. Of those who placed it in Ease, the contemplative station they were fixed in made some, for their quiet, find truth in every thing ; others, in nothing :
“ Who thus detine it, say they more or less
Than this, that Happiness is Happiness ?” The confutation of these Philosophic errors he shows to be very easy, one common fallacy running through them all ; namely this, that instead of telling us in what the happiness of human nature consists, which was what was asked of them, each busies himself in explaining in what he placed his own.
tenets of this Essay, are the following : Vol. iv. octavo edition, pp. 223. 324. 388, 389, also pp. 49. 316. 328. 336, 337. 339. And in Vol. v. pp. 5, 6. 17. 92. 51. 113. 310.-Warton. Ver. 21. 23. Some place the bliss in action,
Some sunk to beasts, fc.] 1. Those who place Happiness, or the summum bonum, in Pleasure, 'Hdový ; such as the Cyrenaic sect, called, on that account, the Hedonic. 2. Those who place it in a certain tranquillity or calmness of Mind, which they call Evdvuia ; such as the Democritic sect. 3. The Epicurean. 4. The Stoic. 5. The Protagorean, which held that Man was návtwV xoquátwv uérpov, the measure of all things ; for that all things which appear to him, are, and those things which appear not to any Man, are not; so that every imagination or opinion of every Man was true. 6. The Sceptic; whose absolute doubt is, with great judgment, said to be the effect of indolence, as well as the absolute trust of the Protagorean. For the same dread of labour attending the search of truth, which makes the Protagorean presume it is always at hand, makes the Sceptic conclude it is never to be found. The only difference is, that the laziness of the one 25
Or indolent, to each extreme they fall,
Who thus define it, say they more or less
Take Nature's path, and mad Opinion's leave; All states can reach it, and all heads conceive; Obvious her goods, in no extreme they dwell; There needs but thinking right, and meaning well; And mourn our various portions as we please, Equal is common sense, and common ease.
Remember, Man," the Universal Cause “ Acts not by partial, but by general laws :"
Ver. 29. Take Nature's path, 8-c.] The poet then proceeds (from ver. 28 to 35) to reform their mistakes ; and shows them that, if they will but take the road of Nature, and leave that of mad Opinion, they will soon find Happiness to be a good of the species, and, like common sense, equally distributed to all mankind.
Ver. 35. Remember, Man, fc.] Having exposed the two false species of Happiness, the Philosophical and Popular, and denounced the true ; in order to establish the last, he goes on to a confutation of the two former.
I. He first (from ver. 34 to 49) confutes the Philosophical ; which, as we said, makes Happiness a particular, not a general good. And this two ways ; 1. From his grand principle, that God acts by general laws; the consequence of which is, that Happiness, which supports the well-being of every system, must needs be universal, and not partial, as the philosophers conceived. 2. From fact, that Man instinctively concurs with this designation of Providence, to make Happiness universal, by his having no delight in any thing uncommunicated or uncommunicable.
is desponding, and the laziness of the other sanguine ; yet both can give it a good name, and call it HAPPINESS.-Warburton.
Ver. 23. Some sunk to beasts, &c.] These four lines added in the last edition, as necessary to complete the summary of the false pursuits after Happiness among the Greek Philosophers.-Warburton. Ver. 35. Remember, Man," the Universal Cause
“ Acts not by partial, but by general laws : "] I reckon it for nothing that M. du Resnel saw none of the fine reasoning (from these two lines, to ver. 73) in which the Poet confutes both the philosophic and popular errors concerning happiness. What I can least bear is his perverting these two lines to a horrid and senseless fatalism, foreign to the argument in hand, and directly contrary to the Poet's general principles
-“ Une loi générale
Détermine toujours la cause principale ;” i. c. a general Law always determines the first Cause : which is the very