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As fruits, ungrateful to the planter's care,
Thus Nature gives us (let it check our pride)
Ver. 197. Reason the bias, &c.] But lest it should be objected that this account favours the doctrine of Necessity, and would insinuate that men are only acted upon, in the production of good out of evil ; the Poet teacheth (from ver. 196 to 203) that Man is a free agent, and hath it in his power to turn the natural passions into virtues or into vices, properly so called :
“ Reason the bias turns to good from ill,
And Nero reigns a Titus, if he will." Secondly, if it should be objected, that though he doth, indeed, tell us some actions are beneficial and some hurtful, yet he could not call those virtuous, nor these vicious, because, as he hath described things, the motive appears to be only the gratification of some passion ; give me leave to answer for him, that this would be mistaking the argument, which (to ver.
After ver. 194 in the MS.
How oft, with Passion, Virtue points her charms !
- Make it a point, dear Marquess! or a pique.
The fiery soul abhorr’d in Catiline,
200 The same ambition can destroy or save, And makes a patriot as it makes a knave.
This light and darkness in our chaos join'd, What shall divide? The God within the mind.
Extremes in Nature equal ends produce; 205 In Man they join to some mysterious use; Tho' each by turns the other's bound invade, As, in some well-wrought picture, light and shade,
249 of this Epistle) considers the passions only with regard to Society, that is, with regard to their effects rather than their motives : That, however, it is his design to teach that actions are properly virtuous and vicious ; and though it be difficult to distinguish genuine virtue from spurious, they having both the same appearance, and both the same public effects, yet that they may be disentangled. If it be asked, by what means ? he replies (from ver. 202 to 205) by Conscience ;—the God within the mind ;—and this is to the purpose ; for it is a Man's own concern, and no one's else, to know whether his virtue be pure and solid ; for what is it to others, whether this virtue (while, as to them, the effect of it is the same) be real or imaginary?
Ver. 205. Extremes in Nature equal ends produce, 8c.] But still it will be said, Why all this difficulty to distinguish true virtue from false ? The Poet shows why (from ver. 204 to 211); that though indeed vice and virtue so invade each other's bounds, that sometimes we can scarce tell where one ends and the other begins, yet great purposes are served thereby, no less than the perfecting the constitution of the Whole, as lights and shades, which run into one another insensibly in a well-wrought picture, make the harmony and spirit of the composition. But on this account to say there is neither vice nor virtue, the Poet shows (from ver. 210 to 217)
Ver. 204. The God within the mind.] A Platonic phrase for CONSCIENCE ; and here employed with great judgment and propriety. For conscience either signifies, speculatively, the judgment we pass of things upon whatever principles we chance to have, and then it is only Opinion, a very unable judge and divider; or else it signifies, practically, the application of the eternal rule of right (received by us as the law of God) to the regulation of our actions ; and then it is properly Conscience, the God (or the law of God) within the mind, of power to divide the light from the darkness in this Chaos of the passions.—Warburton.
And oft so mix, the dift"rence is too nice
Fools! who from hence into the notion fall,
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As, to be hated, needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
220 But where th' extreme of Vice, was ne'er agreed : Ask where's the North? at York, 'tis on the Tweed;
would be just as wise as to say, there is neither black nor white, because the shade of that, and the light of this, often run into one another, and are mutually lost :
“ Ask your own heart, and nothing is so plain ;
'Tis to mistake them, costs the time and pain.” This is an error of speculation, which leads men so foolishly to conclude, that there is neither vice nor virtue.
Ver. 217. Vice is a monster, &c.] There is another error, an error of practice, which hath more general and hurtful effects; and is next considered (from ver. 216 to 221). It is this, that though, at the first aspect, Vice be so horrible as to fright the beholder, yet, when by habit we are once grown familiar with her, we first suffer, and in time begin to lose the memory of her nature ; which necessarily implies an equal ignorance in the nature of Virtue. Hence men conclude, that there is neither one nor the other.
Ver. 221. But where th' extreme of Vice, &c.] But it is not only that extreme of Vice which stands next to Virtue, which betrays us into these mistakes. We are deceived too, as he shows us (from ver. 220 to 231) by our observations concerning the other extreme. For, from the extreme of Vice being unsettled, Men conclude that Vice itself is only nominal, at least rather comparative than real.
Ver. 217. Vice is a monster, 8c.] “ Hence we find,” says that amiable moralist, Hutcheson, “ that the basest actions are dressed in some tolerable mask :”—“ What others call avarice, appears to the agent a prudent care of a family or friends ; fraud, artful conduct ; malice and revenge, a just sense of honour ; fire and sword, and desolation among enemies, a just thorough defence of our country ; persecution, a zeal for truth, and for the eternal happiness of men, which heretics oppose."--Warton.
A cheat! a whore! who starts not at the name,
In Scotland, at the Orcades; and there,
230 Virtuous and vicious ev'ry Man must be, Few in th' extreme, but all in the degree; The rogue and fool by fits is fair and wise; And ev’n the best, by fits, what they despise.
Ver. 231. Virtuous and vicious ev'ry Man must be, There is yet a third cause of this error of no Vice, no Virtue, composed of the other two, i. e. partly speculative, and partly practical. And this also the poet considers (from ver. 230 to 239) showing it ariseth from the imperfection of the best characters, and the inequality of all ; whence it happens that no man is extremely virtuous or vicious, nor extremely constant in the pursuit of either. Why it so happens, the poet informs us, who with admirable sagacity assigns the cause in this line :
For, Vice or Virtue, Self directs it still." An adherence or regard to what is, in the sense of the world, a man's own interest, making an extreme, in either, almost impossible. Its effect in keeping a good man from the extreme of Virtue needs no explanation ; and, in an ill man, self-interest showing him the necessity of some kind of reputation, the procuring and preserving that, will necessarily keep him from the extreme of Vice.
Ver. 231. Virtuous and vicious] A fine and just reflection, and well calculated to subdue and extinguish that petulant contempt and unmerited aversion which men too generally entertain of each other, and which gradually diminish and destroy the social and kind affections. Our emulation,” says the amiable and sagacious Hutcheson, “our jealousy or envy, should be restrained in a great measure by a constant resolution of bearing always in our minds the lovely side of every character.” And Plato observes, in the Phædon, that there is something amiable in almost every man living.–Warton.
Ver. 234. by fits, what they despise.] Xaletov oblòv šppeval was
After ver. 226 in the MS.
The Col’nel swears the Agent is a dog,
'Tis but by parts we follow good or ill;
235 For, Vice or Virtue, Self directs it still; Each individual seeks a several goal; But HEAV'N's great view is One, and that the Whole. That counter-works each folly and caprice; That disappoints th' effect of ev'ry vice;
240 That, happy frailties to all ranks applied ; Shame to the virgin, to the matron pride, Fear to the statesman, rashness to the chief, To kings presumption, and to crowds belief; That, Virtue's ends from Vanity can raise,
245 Which seeks no interest, no reward but praise, And build on wants, and on defects of mind, The joy, the peace, the glory of Mankind.
Heav'n forming each on other to depend, A master, or a servant, or a friend,
250 Bids each on other for assistance call, Till one Man's weakness grows the strength of all. Wants, frailties, passions, closer still ally The common interest, or endear the tie.
Ver. 239. That counter-works each folly and caprice ;] The mention of this principle, that Self directs vice and virtue, and its consequence, which is, that
“ Each individual seeks a several goal," leads the author to observe,
“ That Heav’n’s great view is One, and that the Whole." And this brings him naturally round again to his main subject, namely, God's producing good out of ill, which he prosecutes from ver. 238 to 249.
Ver. 249. Heav'n forming each on other to depend] I. Hitherto the Poet hath been employed in discoursing of the use of the Passions, with regard to Society at large ; and in freeing his doctrine from objections. This is the first general division of the subject of this Epistle.
II. He comes now to show (from ver. 248 to 261) the use of these Passions, with regard to the more confined circle of our friends, relations, and acquaintance ; and this is the second general division.
saying of Pittacus, quoted and commented upon by Plato, in the Protagoras.—Warton. Ver. 253. Wants, frailties, passions, closer still ally
The common interest, &c.] As these lines have been misunderstood, I shall give the reader their plain and obvious meaning. To these frailties (says he) we owe all the endearments of private life ; yet when we come to that age, which