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That REASON, PASSION, answer one great aim ;
suppose this extravagance will be believed just as soon of one as of the other. But M. Du Resnel, our Poet's translator, is not behind-hand with the critic, in his judgment on the work. “ The only reason,” says he, “ for which this Poem can be properly termed an Essay, is, that the author has not formed his plan with all the regularity of method which it might have admitted.”. And again—" I was, by the unanimous opinion of all those whom I have consulted on this occasion, and, amongst these, of several Englishmen completely skilled in both languages, obliged to follow a different method. The French are not satisfied with sentiments, however beautiful, unless they be methodically disposed. Method being the characteristic that distinguishes our performances from those of our neighbours," &c. After having given many examples of the critical skill of this wonderful man of method, in the foregoing notes, it is enough just to have quoted this flourish of self-applause, and so to leave him to the laughter of the world.
Ver. 398. OURSELVES TO know.] Marmontel in his Poëtique, has given the following judgment on the Essay on Man : “ Pope, dans les Epitres qui composent son Essai sur l'Homme, a fait voir combien la poësie pouvoit s'élever sur les ailes de la philosophie. C'est dommage que ce Poëte n'ait pas eu autant de méthode que de profondeur. Mais il avait pris un système ; il falloit le soutenir. Ce système lui offroit des difficultés épouvantables ; il falloit ou les vaincre, ou les éviter : le dernier parti étoit le plus sur et le plus commode ; aussi pour répondre aux plaintes de l'homme sur les malheurs de son état, lui donne-t-il le plus souvent des images pour des preuves, et des injures pour des raisons.”
Still more contemptuous and degrading than the opinion of this French critic, are the terms in which Dr. Johnson has spoken of this Essay, in which are so many splendid and highly finished passages.
“ The subject," he
says, “is perhaps not very proper for poetry ; and the poet was not sufficiently master of his subject : metaphysical morality was a new study, and he was proud of his acquisitions ; and, supposing himself master of great secrets, was in haste to teach what he had not learned. When these wonder-working sounds sink into sense, and the doctrine of the Essay, disrobed of its ornaments, is left to the powers of its naked excellence, what shall we discover ? That we are, in comparison with our Creator, very weak and ignorant ; that we do not uphold the chain of existence ; and that we could not make one another with more skill than we are made. We may learn yet more ; that the arts of human life were copied from the instinctive operations of other animals ; that if the world be made for man, it may be said that man was made for geese.”
This sort of burlesque abstract, which may be so easily but so unjustly made of any composition whatever, is exactly similar to the imperfect and unfair representation, which the same critic has given of the beautiful
Ver. 397. That virtue only, &c.] In the MS. thus :
That just to find a God is all we can,
imagery in Il Penseroso of Milton. Very different was the opinion of the ingenious and acute Dr. Balguy, on the Essay on Man ; who, in various passages of his excellent treatise, entitled, Divine Benevolence, has inanifestly copied many of its doctrines and reasonings ; who has written two sermons on the vanity of our pursuits after knowledge, which contain, as hath been already observed, little more than is comprehended in ten lines of this Essay ; and who has even done Pope the honour of prefixing to his admirable sermons, as a motto, the following sentence from the preface to this Essay : If I could flatter myself that these Essays have any merit, it is in steering between the extremes of doctrines seemingly opposite ; in passing over terms utterly unintelligible ; and in forming a temperate, yet not inconsistent system.”—Warton.
The most substantial objection that can perhaps be made against the Essay on Man, as well as against some other parts of the author's writings, is, that it tends to inculcate too low an opinion of the powers of the human intellect, and too implicit a submission to certain pre-assumed truths ; as if it were presumptuous to extend our inquiries, with respect to either natural or moral knowledge, beyond certain established limits. This peculiarity has perhaps justly subjected the author to the animadversion of Mr. Dugald Stewart; who, in reference to the lines :
“ Admir'd such wisdom in an earthly shape,
And show'd a Newton as we show an ape :" has observed, that “ they could not possibly have been written by any person impressed with a due veneration for the glory of his species.” Although it must at the same time be observed, in justice to the poet, that such superior beings are represented as admiring the wisdom, not ridiculing the presumption, of the object of their remark.
In fact, the tendency of the whole passage, from the beginning of the second Epistle to the 52nd verse, is to induce us to confine our researches within, and not presumptuously to expend our powers on such subjects as are supposed by the poet to be beyond the comprehension of the human intellect :
“ Trace science then, with modesty thy guide,” &c. These sentiments were not only expressed by Pope in his works, but were the principles upon which he acted through life, and which essentially contributed to the formation of his character, and particularly in his political and religious concerns. To whatever cause this strongly marked peculiarity is to be attributed, the effect, as far as his example and precepts extend, would not, it must be owned, be favourable to the progress of knowledge, or to the true interests and happiness of the human race. To no individuals are we more indebted than to those who have pushed their inquiries, as well respecting intellectual as material existence, to their fullest extent, and have thereby contributed to ascertain the true objects of human inquiry, and the true limits of the human understanding ; a task of such importance that, until it can be accomplished, we shall always be in danger, not merely of wasting our powers on subjects beyond our comprehension, but of adopting false ideas and erroneous conclusions, highly unfavourable to our improvement and happiness.
The Essay on Man was translated into Latin Heroic verse by Jo. Joach. Gottlob Am Ende, of Dresden ; into Italian versi sciolti ; by the Cavaliere Anton-Filippo Adami ; into French, by the Abbé Du Resnel ; and into German, by Henrich Christian Kretsch. These translations were collected, and printed with the original English, by Bodoni, in an elegant quarto volume : Parma, dalla Reale Stamperia, 1801.
In the Italian language there are no less than six translations ; two in
prose, and the others in versi sciolti ; of these, that of. Adami is too diffuse and prolix; that of Castiglione is almost literally verse for verse, but totally deficient in poetical elegance ; the translation of Cerretesi is more free, without being on the whole preferable ; and that of Leoni, a modern Italian poet, who has lately undertaken to introduce our immortal Shakspeare to his countrymen, holds a middle place between the superfluous verbosity of the one, and the dry brevity of the others.
It cannot but be highly interesting to the admirers of Pope, to see a short specimen of the different manner in which one of the finest passages of this celebrated poem has been transferred into the beautiful language of Italy.
POPE, SAGGIO SULL' UOMO. EP. IV.
Traduzione del Cavaliere Anton-Filippo Adami. Ed. Parma, 1811.
Bella Felicità, tu sei di ogni ente
O giammai non si gusta e non si vede,
Traduzione del Professore Gio. Castiglione. Strasburg, 1761, 8vo.
Felicitade! oh nostro scopo e tine!
Traduzione di Giuseppe Cerretesi de' Pazzı. Milano, 1756, 8vo.
O Gran Felicità, lo scopo e il termine
Dov'è che cresci, o dove non puoi crescere ?
Traduzione di Michele Leoni. Parma, 1819, 8vo.
O tu, Felicità, dell' esser nostro Oggetto e metà! Ben, contento, gioja, Riposo, od altro, qual che sia tuo nome ; Dell' uom sospiro eterno, onde la vita Sopporta, e morte sfida ; a noi vicina Ognora, eppur sempre da noi rimossa ; Fuor di tua sede invan cercata, e al folle Non men che al saggio tal, che doppia assembri ; Dimmi, deh, pianta di celeste seme, Se quaggiu mai cadesti, in qual più eletta Parte del mortal suol crescer ti degni ? Ridi tu forse di propizia corte Allo splendido raggio, o colle gemme In fiammante miniera occulta giaci ? Sei tu fra i lauri nel Parnaso avvinta, O sulle glebe dall' acciar mietata ? Dove, dove ti stai? Se vano è il nostro Faticar, del cultor, non del terreno La menda è sol. Felicità sincera Certo loco non libera sempre, Non cambia, nè merca ; e in niuna parto Nasce, o dovunque ; dai monarchi fugge, O Bolingbroke, ella con te dimora.