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(Nature, whose dictates to no other kind
Self-love thus push'd to social, to divine,
God loves from whole to parts: but human soul
Come then, my friend ! my genius! come along !
Form'd by thy converse, happily to steer,
IN FOUR EPISTLES TO SEVERAL PERSONS.
Est brevitate opus, ut currat sententia, neu se
To SIR RICHARD TEMPLE, L. COBHAN.
OF THE KNOWLEDGE AND CHARACTERS OF MEX.
Argument. I. 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. General maxims, unless they be formed upon both, will be but notional. liarity in every man, characteristic to himself, yet varying from himself. Difficulties arising from our own passions, fancies, faculties. The shortness of life to observe in, and the uncertainty of the principles of action in men to observe by. Our own principle of action often hid from ourselves. Some few characters plain, but in general confounded, dissembled, or inconsistent. The same man utterly different in different places and seasons. Unimaginable weaknesses in the greatest. Nothing constant and certain but God and nature. No judging of the motives from the actions; the same actions proceeding from contrary
motives, and the same motives influencing contrary actions. 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. Characters given according to the rank of men of the world : and some reason for it. Education alters the nature, or at least character of many. Actions, passions, opinions, manners, humours, or principles, all subject to change. No judging by nature. 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. Instanced the extraordinary character of Clodio. A caution against mistaking second qu for first, which will destroy all possibility of the knowledge of mankind. Examples of the strength of the ruling passion, and its continuation to the last breath.
Yes, you despise the man to books confin'd,
And yet the fate of all extremes is such,
may be read, as well as books, too much. To observations which ourselves we make, We grow more partial for th' observer's sake; To written wisdom, as another's, less : Maxims are drawn from notions, these from guess,
There's some peculiar in each leaf and grain,
That each from other differs, first confess;
Yet more; the difference is as great between The optics seeing, as the objects seen. Al manners take a tincture from our own; Or come discolour'd through our passions shown Or Fancy's beam enlarges, multiplies, Contracts, inverts, and gives ten thousand dyes.
Nor will life's stream for observation stay, It hurries all too fast to mark their way : In vain sedate reflections we would make, When half our knowledge we must snatch, not take. Oft, in the passion's wild rotation tost, Our spring of action to ourselves is lost : Tir'd, not determin'd, to the last we yield, And what comes then is master of the field. As the last image of that troubled heap, When sense subsides and fancy sports in sleep,