Page images
PDF
EPUB

morals as Pope has in his five Epistles. They indeed contain all that is solid and valuable in the above-mentioned French writers, of whom our author was remarkably fond. But whatever observations he has borrowed from them, he has made his own by the dexterity of his application.

Warton.

These Epistles, in which Poetry has condescended to become the handmaid of Philosophy, to decorate, and set her off to advantage, are written with a spirit and vivacity not exceeded by any production of the kind in any country or language. Their nearest prototypes are the Epistles of Horace and Boileau, and the Satires of Ariosto and Bentivoglio, to none of which they are inferior. In our own language they may be considered as the first attempt to unite sound sense and deep research with the lighter graces of elegant composition, and to promote the cause of virtue and morality by conveying the purest precepts in the most impressive language, and illustrating them by examples which strike the imagination with all the force of reality. As they had in this country no example, so they have as yet had no rival; nor until a genius shall arise that shall unite in himself, in an equal degree, the various endowments by which their author was distinguished, is it likely they ever will.

E PISTLE I.

OF

THE KNOWLEDGE AND CHARACTERS

OF MEN:

TO

SIR RICHARD TEMPLE,

LORD VISCOUNT COBHAM.

“ Of any pas

The object of this Epistle is to pursue still further a subject which the author had already started in the Essay on Man, and on which this may be considered as a further comment. This subject is, “ THE RULING PASSION;" an idea, which although not originally his own, he seems to have delighted to expand and contemplate under every appearance of which it is capable. It is not therefore surprising that some of these views should appear inconsistent with, or contradictory to others; or that they should have led to misapprehensions which it requires some degree of attention to explain. For want of this, his true meaning has been greatly misunderstood, and he has been accused of inculcating opinions, not only doubtful and uncertain, but which, if assented to, would lead to consequences highly injurious. On this head his later Editors seem to have been agreed. sion,” says Johnson, “ thus innate and irresistible, the existence may reasonably be doubted. Human characters are by no means constant. Men change, by change of place, of fortune, of acquaintance. He who is at one time a lover of pleasure, is, at another, a lover of money. Those, indeed, who attain any excellence, commonly spend life in one pursuit; for excellence is not often gained upon easier terms. But to the particular species of excellence, men are directed, not by an ascendant planet or predominating humour, but by the first book which they read, some early conversation which they heard, or some accident which excited ardour and enthusiasm."

“ This doctrine is in itself pernicious as well as false. Its tendency is to produce the belief of a kind of moral predestination, or over-ruling principle, which cannot be resisted. He that admits it, is prepared to comply with every desire that caprice or opportunity shall excite, and to flatter himself that he submits only to the lawful dominion of nature, in obeying the resistless authority of his ruling passion."

Johnson's Life of Pope. With these opinions of Johnson, Dr. Warton, who has quoted them at length, appears to have fully coincided. Two eminent writers, says he, have attacked our author's notion of a ruling passion; Mr. Harris and Dr. Johnson. The former says, one talks of an universal passion, as if all passions were not universal. Another talks of a ruling passion, and means, without knowing it, certain ruling opinions. Thus when specious falsehood assumes

« PreviousContinue »