« PreviousContinue »
thing is more certain, than that much of the force as well as grace of arguments or instruction depends on their conciseness. I was unable to treat this part of my subject more in detail, without becoming dry and tedious; or more poetically, without sacrificing perspicuity to ornament, without wandering from the precision, or breaking the chain of reasoning: if any man can unite all these without dimunition of any of them, I freely confess he will compass a thing above my capacity.
What is now published, is only to be considered as a general Map of Man, marking out no more than the greater parts, their extent, their limits, and their connexion, but leaving the particular to be more fully delineated in the charts which are now to follow. Consequently these Epistles in their progress (if I have health and leisure to make any progress) will be less dry, and more susceptible of poetical ornament. I am here only opening the fountains, and clearing the passage. To deduce the rivers, to follow them in their course, and to observe their effects, may be a task more agreeable.
ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE I.
Of the Nature and State of Man, with respect to the
Of Man in the abstract.-1. That we can judge only with regard to
our own system, being ignorant of the relations of systems and things, Ver. 17, &c. II. That Man is not to be deemed imperfect, but a Being suited to his place and rank in the creation, agreeable to the general Order of things, and conformable to Ends and Relations to him unknown, Ver. 35, &c. III. That it is partly upon his ignorance of future events, and partly upon the hope of a future state, that all his happiness in the present depends, Ver. 77, &c. IV. The pride of aiming at more knowledge, and pretending to more perfection, the cause of Man's error and misery. The impiety of putting himself in the place of God, and judging of the fitness or unfitness, perfection or imperfection, justice or injustice, of his dispensations, Ver. 109, &c. V. The absurdity of conceiting himself the final cause of the creation, or expecting that perfection in the moral world, which is not in the natural, Ver. 131, &c. VI. The unreasonableness of his complaints against Providence, while on the one hand he demands the Perfections of the Angels, and on the other the bodily qualifications of the Brutes ; though, to possess any of the sensitive faculties in a higher degree, would render him miserable, Ver. 173, &c. VII. That throughout the whole visible world, a universal order and gradation in the sensual and mental faculties is observed, which causes a subordination of creature to creature, and of all creatures to Man. The gradations of sense, instinct, thought, reflection, reason : that Reason alone countervails all the other faculties, Ver. 207. VIII. How much farther this order and subordination of living creatures may extend, above and below us ; were any part of which broken, not that part only, but the whole connected crea-, tion must be destroyed, Ver. 233. IX. The extravagance, madness, and pride, of such a desire, Ver. 250. X. The consequence of all, the absolute submission due to Providence, both as to our present and future state, Ver. 281, &c. to the end.
If it be a true observation, that for a poet to write happily and well, he must have seen and felt what he describes, and must draw from living models alone; and if modern times, from their luxury and refinement, afford not manners that will bear to be described; it will then follow, that those species of poetry bid fairest to succeed at present, which deliver doctrines, not display events. Of this sort is didactic and descriptive poetry. Accordingly the moderns have produced many excellent pieces of this kind. We may mention the Syphilis of Fracastorius, the Silkworms and Chess of Vida, the Ambra of Politian, the Agriculture of Alamanni, the Art of Poetry of Boileau, the Gardens of Rapin, the Cyder of Philips, the Chase of Somerville, the Pleasures of Imagination, the Art of preserving Health, the Fleece, the Religion of Racine the younger, the elegant Latin poem of Brown on the Immortality of the Soul, the Latin poems of Stay and Boscovick, and the philosophical poem before us; to which, if we may judge from some beautiful fragments, we might have added Gray's didactic poem on Education and Government, had he lived to finish it: and the English Garden of Mr. Mason must not be omitted.
Pope informs us, in his first preface to this Essay, “ that he chose this epistolary way of writing, notwithstanding his subject was high, and of dignity, because of its being mixed with argument which of its nature approacheth to prose.” He has not wandered into any useless digressions; has employed no fictions, no tale or story, and has relied chiefly on the poetry of his style for the purpose of interesting his readers. His style is concise and figurative, forcible and elegant. He has many metaphors and images, artfully interspersed in the driest passages, which stood most in need of such ornaments. Nevertheless there are too many lines in this performance, plain and prosaic. The meaner the subject is of a preceptive poem, the more striking appears the art of the poet: it is even of use, perhaps, to choose a low subject. In this respect Virgil has the advantage over Lucretius ; the latter, with all his vigour aud sublimity of genius, could hardly satisfy and come up to the grandeur of his theme. Hope labours under the same difficulty. If any beauty in this Essay be uncommonly transcendent and peculiar, it is brevity of diction; which in a few instances, and those perhaps pardonable, has occasioned obscurity. It is hardly to be imagined how much sense, how much thinking, how much observation on human life, is condensed together in a small compass. He was so accustomed to confine his thoughts in rhyme, that he tells us he could express them more shortly this way than in prose itself. On its first publication Pope did not own it, and it was given by the public to Lord Paget, Dr. Young, Dr. Desaguliers, and others. Even Swift seems to have been deceived. There is a remarkable passage in one of his letters ; “ I confess I did never imagine you were so deep in morals, or that so many and excellent rules could be produced so advantageously and agreeably in that science, from any one head. I confess in some places I was forced to read twice. I believe I told you before what the Duke of Dsaid to me on that occasion; how a judge here, who knows you, told him, that, on the first reading those Essays, he was much pleased, but found some lines a little dark: On the second, most of them cleared up, and his pleasure increased : On the third, he had no doubt remaining, and then he admired the whole."
The subject of this Essay is a vindication of Providence; in which the poet proposes to prove, That, of all possible systems, Infinite Wisdom has formed the best : That in such a system, coherence, union, subordination, are necessary; and if so, that appearances of evil, both moral and natural, are also necessary and unavoidable: That the seeming defects and blemishes in the universe conspire to its general beauty : That as all parts in an animal are not eyes; and as in a city, comedy, or picture, all ranks, characters, and colours, are not equal or alike; even so excesses and contrary qualities contribute to the proportion and harmony of the universal system : That it is not strange that we should not be able to discover perfection and order in every instance; because, in an infinity of things mutually relative, a mind which sees not infinitely, can see nothing fully. This doctrine was inculcated by Plato and the Stoics, but more amply and particularly by the later Platonists, and by Antoninus and Simplicius.
In illustrating his subject, Pope has been much more deeply indebted to the Theodicée of Leibnitz, to Archbishop King's Origin of Evil, and to the Moralists of Lord Shaftesbury (particularly to the last), than to the philosophers above mentioned. The late Lord Bathurst repeatedly assured me, that he had read the whole scheme of the Essay on Man, in the hand-writing of Bolingbroke, and drawn up in a series of propositions, which Pope was to amplify, versify, and illustrate. In doing which, our poet, it must be confessed, left several passages so expressed, as to be favourable to fatalism and necessity, notwithstanding all the pains that can be taken, and the artful turns that can be given to those passages, to place them out on the side of religion, and make them coincide with the fundamental doctrines of revelation. How And when Harte frequently made the same request, he used to answer, “No, no! you have already done it ;" alluding to Harte's Essay on Reason, which Harte thought a lame apology, and hardly serious. With respect to what has just been mentioned, that Pope was not acquainted with the opinions of his philosophic guide, on the subject of the moral attributes of the Deity, it seems rather strange and incredible that he should not understand the following, among many other passages, to this purpose :
“ Clarke, after repeating over and over all the moral attributes, that they are the same in God as they are in our ideas, and that he who denies them to be so, may as well deny the divine physical attributes, insists only on two of the former, on those of justice and goodness. He was much in the right to contract the generality of his assertion. The absurdity of ascribing temperance, for instance, or fortitude, to God, would bave been too gross and too risible, even to eyes that prejudice had blinded the most. But that of ascribing justice and goodness to him, according to our notions of them, might be better covered, and was enough for his purpose, though not less really absurd.” Vol. is.p. 298. It is somewhat remarkable, that this very opinion, that we have no clear and adequate ideas of God's moral attributes, is strongly maintained by that excellent man and writer, Archbishop King, in his sermon on Divine Predestination, 1709, which was answered by Anthony Collins, author of the Essay on Freethinking. The person who wrote the spirited and elegant anonymous letter to Dr. Warburton on the supposed severity with which he was thought to have treated Lord Bolingbroke in the View of his Philosophy, was the late Lord Mansfield; and this letter was answered by Dr. Warburton, with much force and apparent mortification, in the apology prefixed to the last edition of this view.