Page images

are inconsistent with the lines,

“ What makes all physical and moral ill ?
There deviates nature, and here wanders will.”

Essay on Man, Ep. iv. ver. 111. The two passages put together, containing only an assertion, that notwithstanding the aberrations, physical or moral, in particular instances, the general order of things still continues unimpaired. These observations will probably be thought sufficient to show, that these detached passages in Pope are not in fact inconsistent either with each other, or with his general system ; but when we extend our views so as to comprehend the whole object of the Essay, we shall find that these are only particular parts which, like strong touches in the picture of a great artist, when viewed distinct from the rest, seem incorrect and discoloured, but when taken as a part of the whole appear indispensable to its harmony, beauty, and effect.

That this is the true construction of the poem will, however, more clearly appear from considering that portion of it, in which the poet positively asserts the free agency, and responsibility of man. This is in fact the principal object of his second Epistle ; in which after adverting to the limits placed by nature to the exertion of the human faculties, he enters upon an inquiry into the operation of those passions, on the proper regulation of which our happiness here and hereafter so essentially depends. These passions, however, can only be exercised within certain bounds, and cannot in their consequences derange the great system of things, and the established order and harmony of the universe—thus,

Each individual seeks a several goal ;
But Heaven's great view is one, and that the whole.
That counter-works each folly and caprice ;

That disappoints th’ effect of every vice.”—Ep. ii. ver. 237. And thus," th' elernal art educing good from ill," is constantly employed, not only in counterbalancing the effects of evil by an equal quantity of good ; but in producing ON THE WHOLE, a much greater quantity of good than could possibly have existed without it.

But although the powers and faculties of man are circumscribed by the great system of things, and have only a limited sphere of action ; yet these limits are amply sufficient to admit of a great variety of conduct, in which every individual acts according as his own interest, real or imaginary, leads him. He cannot, indeed, derange the course of the planets, nor arrest the fury of the winds, nor prevent the return of the tide, but he can effect considerable changes within the bounds prescribed, both in the natural and moral world ; and according as he employs the faculties with which he is endowed, he may be said to be wise or foolish, virtuous or vicious. What the effects of his virtues or his vices may be

the general system of things, it is out of his power either to prescribe or foresee ; and therefore it neither adds to the merit of the one, nor diminishes the turpitude of the other. This modification or approximation of virtue and vice, by which good is upon the whole produced, is exquisitely touched upon in his second Epistle :



“ As fruits ungrateful to the planter's care,

On savage stocks inserted learn to bear ;
The surest virtues thus from passions shoot,
Wild Nature's vigour working at the root.
What crops of wit and honesty appear
From spleen, from obstinacy, hate, or fear!
See anger, zeal and fortitude supply ;
Even avarice, prudence ; sloth, philosophy, &c."

Essay on Man, Ep. ii. ver. 181. After elucidating this point by examples drawn from human characters, he adds,

“Extremes in nature equal ends produce,

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 ;
And oft so mix, the difference is too nice
Where ends the virtue or begins the vice.”

Essay on Man, Ep. ii. ver. 205. Lest, however, it should be supposed, from this most correct and accurate statement, that the poet intended to confound virtue and vice together, and consequently to deny the responsibility of man as a free agent, he indignantly exclaims,

“ Fools! who from hence into the notion fall,

That vice or virtue there is none at all.
If white and black blend, soften, and unite
A thousand ways, is there no black or white ?
Ask your own heart, and nothing is so plain ;
'Tis to mistake them costs the time and pain.”

Essay on Man, Ep. ii. ver. 211. From which it is clearly to be understood that the universe, as well intellectual as material, is, as the work of a Supreme Creator, subservient to the laws which he has imposed upon it, and which are essential to its existence and perfection ; but that notwithstanding this, there are in rational beings a freedom of will and choice of action, which, although they cannot in their result overthrow the established order of nature, may be virtuous or vicious according as they are employed. That these powers can only be exercised within certain bounds, is essential to the very nature of a created or finite being ; but it will scarcely be denied that these bounds afford a space sufficiently large for the exercise of them, and for that improvement in knowledge, virtue, and true religion, which is alluded to at the close of the Essay, where we are told the virtuous


“ Learns, from this union of the rising whole,

The first, last purpose of the human soul ;
And knows where faith, law, morals, all began,
All end, in love of God, and love of man.

For him alone, Hope leads from goal to goal,
And opens still, and opens on his soul ;


Till lengthened on to faith, and unconfinid,
It pours the bliss that fills up all the mind.”

Essay on Man, Book iv. ver. 3:35. Having thus demonstrated that the highest inductions of human reason terminate in religious faith, he proceeds to point out the particular system of religion which is thus inculcated; in which it would be impossible not to perceive the mild and beneficent features of Christianity.

Self-love, thus push'd from social to divine,
Gives thee to make thy neighbour's blessing thinc.
Is this too little for thy boundless heart?
Extend it let thine enemies have part ;
Grasp the whole worlds of reason, life, and sense,
In one close System of Benevolence ;
Happier as kinder, in whate'er degree,
And height of bliss but height of charity."

Essay on Man, Ep. iv. ver. 351. And thus, as Warburton has justly remarked, “ the poet has vindicated the dignity of human nature, and the philosophical truth of the Christian religion.”

We are informed by Spence, that Pope had written an address to Jesus Christ, but omitted it by the advice of bishop Berkeley'. When we consider the propriety and delicacy which he has manifested on every subject which he has undertaken, we cannot but regret the loss of a passage which would have afforded him the finest possible opportunity of displaying all the dignity, pathos, and devotion, of which he was so eminently capable.

The publication of the Essay on Man was attended with some peculiar circumstances, of which an account has been given in the Life of the Author prefixed to the present edition (chap. viii.); where an attempt is also made to ascertain, what degree of credit is due to the generally received opinion, that Pope derived the materials for this poem from Lord Bolingbroke, and that his chief merit consists in having transferred the prose of that nobleman into correct and beautiful verse. What has there been stated will, it is presumed, sufficiently demonstrate, that the Essay on Man was not only commenced, but that a great portion of it was actually written before Lord Bolingbroke had put pen to paper on the subject, and that his Lordship continued his work long after the four Epistles of the Essay on Man had been completed and published ;-that Lord Bolingbroke has himself repeatedly acknowledged that the work of Pope was an original for which he was not indebted to any other author ; and that the respective works of Lord Bolingbroke and Pope were considered both by themselves and their correspondents, as wholly distinct from each other. On the present occasion it has been thought necessary

1" In the moral poem I had written an address to our Saviour, imitated from Lucretius's Compliment to Epicurus; but omitted it by the advice of Dean Berkeley.”—Spence's Anec. Singer's Ed. p. 142.


briefly to recur to these statements, because Dr. Warton has pointed out several passages in the ensuing poem, wherein he conceives that Pope has adopted the sentiments, and even the language, of Lord Bolingbroke ; but this coincidence, it must be observed, is by no means conclusive as to the question, which of the two writers has imitated the other—a question which can only be satisfactorily decided by showing which of the two works was first written.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]


Having proposed to write some pieces on Human Life and Manners, such as, to use my Lord Bacon's expression, come home to men's business and bosoms, I thought it more satisfactory to begin with considering Man in the abstract, his Nature and his State ; since, to prove any moral duty, to enforce any moral precept, or to examine the perfection or imperfection of any creature whatsoever, it is necessary first to know what condition and relation it is placed in, and what is the proper end and purpose of its being.

The science of Human Nature is, like all other sciences, reduced to a few clear points. There are not many certain truths in this world. It is therefore in the Anatomy of the Mind as in that of the Body; more good will accrue to mankind by attending to the large, open, and perceptible parts, than by studying too much such finer nerves and vessels, the conformations and uses of which will for ever escape our observation. The disputes are all upon these last, and, I will venture to say, they have less sharpened the wits than the hearts of men against each other, and have diminished the practice, more than advanced the theory, of Morality. If I could flatter myself that this Essay has any merit, it is in steering betwixt the extremes of doctrines seemingly opposite, in passing over terms utterly unintelligible, and in forming a temperate, yet not inconsistent, and a short, yet not imperfect, system of Ethics.

This I might have done in prose; but I chose verse, and even rhyme, for two reasons.

The one will appear obvious; that principles, maxims, or precepts so written,

« EelmineJätka »