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'Tis thus the mercury of man is fix'd ;
Essay on Man, Ep. ii. ver. 175. And this is extended and illustrated by a passage equally poetical and correct :
“ As fruits, ungrateful to the planter's care,
On savage stocks inserted, learn to bear,
of wit and honesty appear
Essay on Man, Ep. ii. ver. 181. Whence it is evident that the poet considered the ruling passion merely as the rudder of the mind ; upon the due management and direction of which the success and happiness of life essentially depends. This subject is further explained by Warburton in a luminous note on the Essay on Man, Ep. ii. ver. 163, which has been omitted in the editions of both Warton and Bowles.
OF THE KNOWLEDGE AND CHARACTERS OF MEN.
That it is not sufficient for this knowledge to consider Man in the
Abstract : Books will not serve the purpose, nor yet our own Experience singly, Ver. 1. General maxims, unless they be formed upon both, will be but notional, Ver. 10. Some peculiarity in every man, characteristic to himself, yet varying from himself, Ver. 15. Difficulties arising from our own Passions, Fancies, Faculties, &c., Ver. 31. . The shortness of Life, to observe in, and the uncertainty of the Principles of Action in men, to observe by, Ver. 37, &c. Our own Principle of action often hid from ourselves, Ver. 41. Some few characters plain, but in general confounded, dissembled, or inconsistent, Ver. 51. The same man utterly different in different places and seasons, Ver. 71. Unimaginable weaknesses in the greatest, Ver. 77, &c. Nothing constant and certain but God and Nature, Ver. 95. No judging of the Motives from the actions; the same actions proceeding from contrary Motives, and the same Motives influencing contrary actions, Ver. 100. II. Yet to form Characters, we can only take the strongest actions of a man's life, and try to make them agree. The utter uncertainty of this, from Nature itself, and from Policy, Ver. 120. Characters given according to the rank of men of the world, Ver. 135. And some reason for it, Ver. 141. Education alters the Nature, or at least the Character, of many, Ver. 149. Actions, Passions, Opinions, Manners, Humours, or Principles, all subject to change. No judging by Nature, from Ver. 158 to 174. III. It only remains to find (if we can) his RULING Passion. That will certainly influence all the rest, and can reconcile the seeming or real inconsistency of all his actions, Ver. 175. Instanced in the extraordinary character of Clodio, Ver. 179. A caution against mistaking second qualities for first, which will destroy all possibility of the knowledge of mankind, Ver. 210. Examples of the strength of the Ruling Passion, and its continuation to the last breath, Ver. 222, &c.
OF THE KNOWLEDGE AND CHARACTERS OF MEN.
WITH THE COMMENTARY OF WILLIAM WARBURTON, D.D.
Yes, you despise the man to books confin'd,
Epistle I. Of the Knowledge and Characters of Men.] Whoever compares this with the former editions of the Epistle, will observe that the order and disposition of the several parts are entirely changed and reversed ; though with hardly the alteration of a single word. When the editor, at the author's desire, first examined this Epistle, he was surprised to find it contain a certain number of exquisite observations, without order, connexion, or dependence : but much more so, when, on an attentive review, he saw, that if the Epistle were put into a different form, on an idea he then conceived, it would have all the clearness of method and force of connected reasoning. The author appeared as much struck with the thing as the editor, and agreed to put the poem into the present order ; which has given it all the justness of a true composition. The Introduction to the Epistle on Riches was in the same condition, and underwent the same reform.
This Epistle is divided into three principal parts or members. The first (from ver. 1 to 99) treats of the difficulties in coming at the Knowledge and true Characters of Men. The second (from ver. 98 to 174) of the wrong means which both Philosophers and Men of the World have employed in surmounting those difficulties. And the third (from ver. 173 to the end) treats of the right means ; with directions for the application of them.
Ver. 1. Yes, you despise the man, fc.] The Epistle is introduced (from ver. 1 to 15) by observing, that the Knowledge of men is neither to be gained by books nor experience alone, but by the joint use of both ; for that the maxims of the Philosopher and the conclusions of the Man of the World can, separately, but supply a vague and superficial knowledge : often not so much ; as those maxims are founded in the abstract notions of the writer ; and these conclusions are drawn from the uncertain conjectures of the observer. But when the Philosopher joins his speculation to the experience of the Man of the World, his notions are rectified into principles ; and when the Man of the World regulates his experience on the notions of the Philosopher, his conjectures advance into science. Such is the reasoning of this introduction ; which, besides its propriety to the general subject of the Epistle, has a peculiar relation to each of its parts or members. For the causes of the difficulty in coming at the knowledge and characters of men, explained in the first part, will show the importance of what is here delivered, of the joint assistance of speculation and practice to surmount it : and the wrong means, which both Philosophers and Men of the World have employed in overcoming those difficulties discoursed of in the second VOL. IV.
Tho' what he learns he speaks, and may advance
part, have their source here deduced ; which is seen to be a separate adherence of each to his own method of studying Men, and a mutual contempt of the other's. Lastly, the right means delivered in the third part would be of little use in the application, without the direction here delivered : for though the observation of men and manners discovered a RULING Passion, yet without a philosophic knowledge of human nature, we may easily mistake a secondary and subsidiary passion for the principal, and so be never the nearer in the knowledge of Men. But the elegant and easy form of the introduction equals the propriety of its matter; for the Epistle being addressed to a noble person, distinguished for his knowledge of the world, it opens, as it were, in the midst of a familiar conversation, which lets us at once into his character ; where the Poet, by politely affecting only to ridicule the useless knowledge of men confined to books, and only to extol that acquired by the world, artfully insinuates how alike defective the latter may be, when conducted on the same narrow principle : which is too often the case ; as men of the world are more than ordinarily prejudiced in favour of their own observations for the sake of the observer ; and, for the same reason, less indulgent to the discoveries of others.
Ver. 8. You hold him no philosopher at all.] This is his own fault. Had he told us he was a Philosopher, we should have taken his word; as we do that of certain of our loquacious neighbours, who have always this title at their tongue's end. But men are generally as far from truth when they give themselves a name, as when their enemies bestow one upon them. Philosophy has been employed at different times, and on different occasions, to set matters right. At the Reformation it was used by Erasmus and his followers, to refine and purify Religion : and the monks could think of no better way to discredit them, than by calling them the Poets *..
At present Philosophy has turned tail and is gone over to the Naturalists, VOLTAIRE and his followers, who employ it to debase and adulterate Religion : but, too wise to trust their good name to their enemies, they have conferred one upon themselves, Les Philosophes.
Indeed, their leader, if his modesty had not stood in his way, might have boasted, with the first of the name, who when Leon, Prince of the Phliasians, asked him what art he professed, replied, Of the arts I know nothing, but I am a Philosopher.—Warburton.
* It is pleasant to observe, that whenever dulness finds itself oppressed by wit and eloquence, Nature points out to the like relief. The Laws (says grave Bishop Nicholson, speaking of Atterbury's famous book of the Rights and Powers of a Convocation) will not long endure such a load of jest and
And yet the fate of all extremes is such,
may be read, as well as books, too much.
That each from other differs, first confess;
I. Ver. 15. There's some peculiar, &c.] The Poet enters on the first division of his subject, the difficulties of coming at the knowledge and true characters of Men. The first cause of this difficulty, which he prosecutes (from ver. 14 to 19), is the great diversity of characters ; of which, to abate our wonder, and not discourage our inquiry, he only desires we would grant him
but as many sorts of mind as moss.” Hereby artfully insinuating, that if Nature hath varied the most worthless vegetable into above three hundred species, we need not wonder at a greater diversity in her highest work, the human mind : and if the variety in that vegetable has been thought of importance enough to employ the leisure of a serious inquirer, much more will the same circumstance in this master-piece of the sublunary world deserve our study and attention.
“ Shall only Man be taken in the gross ?” Ver. 19. That each from other differs, &c.] A second cause of this difficulty (from ver. 18 to 21) is man's inconstancy; for not only one man differs from another, but the same man from himself.
Ver. 9. And yet— Men may be read, as well as books, too much, &c.] The Poet has here covertly described a famous system of a man of the world, the celebrated Maxims of M. de la Rochefoucault, which are one continued satire on human nature ; and hold much of the ill language of the parrot. Our author's system of human nature will explain the reason of the censure. -Warburton.
Ver. 10. Men may be read,] “Say what they will of the great book of the world, we must read others to know how to read that.” M. De Sevigné to R. Rabutin.-Warton.
Ver. 20. Next, that he varies] A sensible French writer says that the faults and follies of men chiefly arise from the circumstance, qu'ils n'ont pas l'esprit en équilibre, pour ainsi dire, avec leur caractère : Ciceron, par example, étoit un grand esprit et une ame foible ; c'est pour cela, qu'il fut grand orateur et homme d'état médiocre.- Warton.