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Catius is ever moral, ever grave,
Thinks who endures a knave, is next a knave,
Who would not praise Patritio's high desert,
What made (say, Montaigne, or more sage Charron!)
Otho a warrior, Cromwell a buffoon?
A perjur'd prince a leaden saint revere,
A godless Regent tremble at a star?
Ver. 81. Patritio's high desert,] Meaning Lord Godolphin, of whom, says Prior, in an original letter that I have seen, "as the wise Earl of Godolphin told me when he turned me out for having served him ;— Things change, times change, and men change." Though he was a great gamester, yet he was an able and honest minister.-Warton.
Ver. 87. say, Montaigne, or more sage Charron !] Charron was an admirer of Montaigne; had contracted a strict friendship with him; and has transferred an infinite number of his thoughts into his famous book, De la Sagesse; but his moderating every where the extravagant Pyrrhonism of his friend, is the reason why the Poet calls him more sage Charron.-Warburton.
Ver. 87. What made] One of the reasons that makes Montaigne so agreeable a writer is, that he gives so strong a picture of the way of life of a country gentleman in the reign of Henry III. The descriptions of his castle, of his library, of his travels, of his entertainments, of his diet and dress, are particularly pleasing. Malebranche and Pascal have severely and justly censured his scepticism. Peter Charron contracted a very strict friendship with him, insomuch that Montaigne permitted him by his will to bear his arms. In his Book of Wisdom, which was published at Bourdeaux, in the year 1601, he has inserted a great number of Montaigne's sentiments. This treatise has been loudly blamed for its freedom by many writers of France, and particularly Garasse the Jesuit. Bayle has remarked, in opposition to these censurers, that, of a hundred thousand readers, there are hardly three to be found in any age who are well qualified to judge of a book, wherein the ideas of an exact and metaphysical reasoning are set in opposition to the most common opinions. Pope has borrowed many sensible remarks from Charron, of whom Bolingbroke was particularly fond.-Warton.
Ver. 89. A perjur'd prince] Louis XI. of France wore in his hat a
After ver. 86 in the former editions:
Triumphant leaders, at an army's head,
Hemm'd round with glories, pilfer cloth or bread;
Now save a people, and now save a groat.-Warburton.
The throne a bigot keep, a genius quit,
And just her wisest monarch made a fool?
Know, GOD and NATURE only are the same: In Man, the judgment shoots at flying game;
Ver. 95. Know, GOD and NATURE, &c.] Having thus proved what he had proposed, the premises naturally led him into a moral reflection, with which he concludes his first part, namely, that constancy is to be expected in no human character whatsoever; but is to be found only in God and his Laws that as to Man, he is not only perpetually shifting and varying, even while within the verge of his own nature; but is frequently flying out into each extreme, both above and below it: now associating in good earnest with brutes, and now again affecting the imaginary conversation of angels. [See Essay on Man, Ep. ii. ver. 8.]
"A bird of passage! gone as soon as found;
leaden image of the Virgin Mary, which, when he swore by, he feared to break his oath.-Pope.
Ver. 90. A godless Regent tremble at a star?] Philip Duke of Orleans, Regent in the minority of Louis XV. superstitious in judicial astrology, though an unbeliever in all religion.-Pope.
The same has been observed of many other Politicians. The Italians, in general, are not more noted for their refined politics, than for their attachment to the dotages of Astrology, under the influence of Atheism. It may be worth while to inquire into the cause of so singular a phenomenon, as it may probably do honour to Religion. These men observing (and none have equal opportunities of so doing) how perpetually public events fall out besides their expectation, and contrary to the best laid schemes of worldly policy, cannot but confess that human affairs are ordered by some power extrinsical. To acknowledge a God and his Providence, would be next to introducing a morality destructive of that civil system which they think necessary for the government of the world. They have recourse therefore to that absurd scheme of power which rules by no other law than Fate or Destiny.-Warburton.
The Duke of Orleans, here pointed at, was an infidel and a libertine, and at the same time, as well as Bouranvilliers and Cardan, who calculated the nativity of Jesus Christ, was a bigoted believer in judicial astrology; he was said to be the author, which, however, has been doubted, of many of those flimsy songs, nuga canore, to which the language and manners of France seem to be peculiarly adapted. He knew mankind. "Quiconque est sans honneur et sans humeur, est un courtisan parfaite," was one of his favourite sayings.-Warton.
Ver. 91. The throne a bigot keep, a genius quit,] Philip V. of Spain, who, after renouncing the throne for Religion, resumed it to gratify his Queen; and Victor Amadeus II. King of Sardinia, who resigned the crown, and trying to re-assume it, was imprisoned till his death.— Pope.
Ver. 93. Europe a woman, child, or dotard rule,
And just her wisest monarch made a fool?]
The Czarina, the King of France, the Pope, and the above-mentioned King of Sardinia.-Warburton.
Ver. 95. Know, God and Nature, &c.] By Nature is not here meant any
A bird of passage! gone as soon as found;
Now in the moon perhaps, now under ground.
In vain the sage, with retrospective eye,
Would from th' apparent What conclude the Why, 100 Infer the motive from the deed, and show
That what we chanc'd was what we meant to do.
Behold! if fortune or a mistress frowns,
Some plunge in business, others shave their crowns:
Ver. 99. In vain the sage, &c.] The author having shown the difficulties in coming to the knowledge and true characters of men, enters now upon the second division of his Poem, which is of the wrong means that both Philosophers and Men of the world have employed in surmounting those difficulties. He had, in the introduction, spoken of the absurd conduct of both, in despising the assistance of each other: he now justifies his censure by an examination of their peculiar doctrines; and, to take them in their own way, considers them, as they would be considered, separately. And first, of the Philosopher, whose principal mistake is in supposing that actions best decypher the motive of the actor. This he confutes (from ver. 98 to 109) by showing that different actions proceed often from the same motive; whether of accident, as disappointed views; or of temperature, as an adust complexion; which he thus illustrates :
"Behold! if fortune or a mistress frowns," &c.
In judging, therefore, of motives by actions, the Philosopher must needs be frequently mistaken; because the passion or appetite, which, when im
imaginary substitute of God, called a Plastic nature; but God's moral laws: and this observation was inserted with great propriety and discretion, in the conclusion of a long detail of the various characters of men; for, from the differing estimate of human actions, arising from the discordancy of men's characters, Montaigne and others have been bold enough to insinuate that morality is founded more in custom and fashion than in the nature of things. The speaking therefore of a moral law of God, as having all the constancy and durability of his Essence, had a high expediency, in this place.-Warburton.
Ver. 107. The same adust complexion has impell'd
Charles to the convent, Philip to the field.]
Philip II. was of an atrabilaire complexion. He derived it from his father Charles V., whose health, the historians of his life tell us, was frequently disordered by bilious fevers. But what was most extraordinary, the same complexion not only drove them variously, but made each act contrary to his character; Charles, who was an active man, when he retired into a convent; Philip, who was a man of the closet, when he gave the battle of St. Quintin.-Warburton.
Not always actions show the man: we find Who does a kindness, is not therefore kind; Perhaps prosperity becalm'd his breast; Perhaps the wind just shifted from the east. Not therefore humble he who seeks retreat, Pride guides his steps, and bids him shun the great: Who combats bravely, is not therefore brave, He dreads a death-bed like the meanest slave; Who reasons wisely is not therefore wise, His pride in reasoning, not in acting lies.
But grant that actions best discover man;
Take the most strong, and sort them as you can. 120
pelling to action, we call the motive of it, may be equally gratified in the pursuit of very different measures.
Ver. 109. Not always actions show the man: &c.] The philosopher's second mistake is, that actions decypher the character of the actor. too the author confutes (from ver. 108 to 135); and as, in correcting the foregoing mistake, he proved, that different actions often proceed from the same motive; so here he proves, that the same action often proceeds from different motives: thus a kind action, he observes, as commonly ariseth from the accidents of prosperity or fine weather, as from a natural disposition to humanity; a modest action, as well from pride, as humility; a brave action, as easily from habit or fashion, as magnanimity; and a prudent action, as often from vanity as wisdom. Now the character being really determined by the motives; and various, nay, contrary motives, producing the same action; the action can never decypher the character of the actor. But further (continues the Poet), if we attend to what hath been said, we shall discover another circumstance in the case, which will not only make it extremely difficult, but absolutely impracticable to decypher the character by the action: and that is, the discordancy of action in the same character; a necessary consequence of the two principles proved above, that different actions proceed from the same motive, and that the same action proceeds from different motives.
Ver. 119. But grant that actions, &c.] But (continues our author), if you will judge of man by his actions, you are not to select such only as you like, or can manage; you must fairly take all you find. Now, when you have got these together, they will prove so very discordant, that no consistent character can possibly be made out of them. What then is to be done? Will you suppress all those you cannot reconcile to the few capital actions which you choose for the foundation of your character? But this the laws of truth will not permit. Will you then miscall them ? and say they were not the natural workings of the man, but the disguises of the politician? But what will you get by this, besides reversing the best known character, and making the owner of it the direct opposite of himself? However (says our author), this is the way which the reasoning and philosophic historian hath been always ready to take with the actions of great men; of which he gives two famous instances in the life of Cæsar. The conclusion from the whole is, that actions do not show the man.
The few that glare each character must mark;
Ver. 127. Alas! in truth] The Grand Seignior offered to assist Henry IV. against his rebellious subjects, not for any deep political reason, but only because he hated the word League. It is a fault in Davila, as well as Tacitus, never to ascribe great events to whim, caprice, private passions, and petty causes. The Treaty of Utrecht was occasioned, it is said, by a quarrel betwixt the Duchess of Marlborough and Queen Anne about a pair of gloves. The expedition to the island of Ré was undertaken to gratify a foolish and romantic passion of the Duke of Buckingham, The coquetry of the daughter of Count Julien introduced the Saracens into Spain.-Warton.
Ver. 129. Ask why from Britain] In former editions, the third and fourth lines were,
The mighty Czar what mov'd to wed a punk?
The mighty Czar would tell you, he was drunk. But it was altered as above; and altered for the worse. It is strange that Pope should not have known that drunkenness was not one of Cæsar's vices. Suetonius says, "Vini parcissimum ne inimici quidem negaverunt, Verbum M. Catonis est, Unum ex omnibus Cæsarem ad evertendam rempublicam sobrium accessisse." Vit. D. Julius Cæsar, section 53. Aaron Hill, in his Letters, said, he had in his possession some authentic documents that would redound to the honour of the Czar, for making this match with Catharine, and would place this part of his conduct, which the malice of some great courts in Europe had taken pains to misrepresent, in another and very honourable point of view.Warton.
Ver. 130. Cæsar himself might whisper, he was beat.] Cæsar wrote his Commentaries, in imitation of the Greek Generals, for the entertainment of the world. But had his friend asked him, in his ear, the reason of his
Ver. 129.] In the former editions :
Ask why from Britain Cæsar made retreat?
Altered as above, because Cæsar wrote his Commentaries of this war, and does not tell you he was beat. And as Cæsar afforded an instance of both cases, it was thought better to make him the single example. -Warburton.