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Bids each on other for assistance call,
Ver. 261. Whate'er the Passion, &c.] III. The Poet having thus shewn the use of the Passions in Society, and in Domestic life, comes, in the last place, (from ver. 260 to the end), to shew their use to the Individual, even in their illusions; the imaginary happiness they present, helping to make the real miseries of life less insupportable: and this is his third general division:
Opinion gilds with varying rays
Ver. 253. Wants, frailties, pussions, 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 generally disposes men to think more seriously of the true value of things, and consequently of their provision for a future state, the consideration, that the grounds of those joys, loves, and friendships, are wants, frailties, and passions, proves the best expedient to wean us from the world; a disengagement so friendly to that provision we are now making for another state. The observation is new, and would in any place be extremely beautiful, but has here an infinite grace and propriety, as it so well confirms, by an instance of great moment, the general Thesis, That God makes IU, at every step, productive of Good.
Whate'er the Passion, knowledge, fame, or pelf,
And not a VANITY is giv’n in vain." Which must needs vastly raise our idea of God's goodness; who hath not only provided more than a counterbalance of real huppiness to human miseries, but hath even, in his infinite compassion, bestowed on those who were so foolish as not to have made this provision, an imaginary happiness; that they may not be quite overborne with the load of human miseries. This is the Poet's great and noble thought; as strong and solid as it is new and ingenious. It teaches, that these illusions are the faults and follies of men, which they wilfully fall into; and thereby deprive themselves of much happiness, and expose themselves to equal misery; but that still, God (according to his universal way of working) graciously turns these faults and follies so far to the advantage of his miserable creatures, as to become, for a time, the solace and support of their distresses :
Tho' Man's a fool, yet God is wise."
Ver. 261. Whate'er the Passion, gc.] It was an objection constantly urged by the ancient Epicureans, that Man could not be the creature of a benevolent Being, as he was formed in a state so helpless and infirm. Montaigne took it, and urged it also. They never considered or perceived that this very infirmity and helplessness were the cause and cement of society; that if men had been perfect and self-sufficient, and had stood in no need of each other's assistance, there would have been no occasion for the invention of the arts, and no opportunity for the exertion of the affections. The lines, therefore, in which Lucretius proposes
this objection, are as unphilosophical and inconclusive, as they are highly pathetic and poetical:
“ Tum porrò puer, ut sævis projectus ab undis
Navita, nudus humi jacet, infans, indigus omni
The rich is happy in the plenty givin, 265
Nixibus ex alvo matris natura profudit ;
Lib. v. ver. 223. There is a passage in the Moralists, which I cannot forbear thinking Pope had in his eye, and which I must not therefore omit, as it serves to illustrate and confirm so many parts of the Essay on Man. I shall therefore give it at length, without apology:
“ The young of most other kinds are instantly helpful to themselves, sensible, vigorous, know how to shun danger, and seek their good: a human infant is of all the most weak, helpless, and infirm. And wherefore should it not have been so ordered? Where is the loss in such a species ? Or what is Man the worse for that defect, amidst such large supplies ? Does not this defect engage him the more strongly to society, and force him to own that he is purposely, and not by accident, made rational and sociable; and can no otherwise increase or subsist than in that social intercourse and community which is his natural state? Is not both conjugal affection, and natural affection to parents, duty to magistrates, love of a common city, community, or country, with the other duties and social parts of life, deduced from hence, and founded in these very wants ? What can be happier than such a deficiency, as it is the occasion of so much good? What better, than a want so abundantly made up, and answered by so many enjoyments ? Now, if there are still to be found among mankind, such as even, in the midst of these wants, seem not ashamed to affect a right of independency, and deny themselves to be by nature sociable; where would their shame have been had Nature otherwise supplied their wants ? What duty or obligation had been ever thought of? What respect or reverence of parents, magistrates, their country, or their kind? Would not their full and self-sufficient state more strongly have determined them to throw off nature, and deny the ends and Author of their creation ?"
The starving chemist in his golden views Supremely blest, the poet in his Muse. 270
See some strange comfort every state attend, And pride bestow'd on all, a common friend: See some fit passion every age supply ; Hope travels through, nor quits us when we die.
Behold the child, by nature's kindly law, 275 Pleas'd with a rattle, tickled with a straw:
Ver. 270. the poet in his Muse.] The author having said, that no one could change his own profession or views for those of another, intended to carry his observation still further, and shew that men were unwilling to exchange their own acquirements even for those of the same kind, confessedly larger, and infinitely more eminent, in another. To this end he wrote,
“What partly pleases, totally will shock:
I question much, if Toland would be Locke.” But wanting another proper instance of this truth, he reserved the lines above for some following edition of this Essay; which he did not live to give.
Warburton. Ver. 271. See some strange comfort] How exquisite is this stanza of an unfinished Ode of Gray!
“ Still where rosy Pleasure leads,
Warton. Ver. 272. And pride] From La Rochefoucault, whose words
Nature, who so wisely has fitted the organs of our body to make us happy, seems likewise to have bestowed pride on us, on purpose, as it were, to save us the pain of knowing our own imperfections." Maxim 36.
Warton. Ver. 274. Hope travels through, &c.] Is this hope then no more VOL. V. I
Some livelier plaything gives his youth delight,
Meanwhile opinion gilds with varying rays
285 And each vacuity of sense by pride:
than one of those strange comforts, those delusive pleasures, those sorts of groundless happiness, that constitute the chief enjoyment of the sot, the chemist, the poet, and the lunatic? Warton.
Surely a hope that quits us not when we die, must be intended by the poet, to be something more than those which the critic has above referred to.
Ver. 280. And beads and pray'r-books are the toys of age :] A Satire on what is called, in Popery, the Opus operatum. As this is a description of the circle of human life returning into itself by a second childhood, the Poet has with great elegance concluded his description with the same image with which he set out-And life's poor play is o'er.
Warburton. Ver. 280. the toys of age :] Exactly what Fontenelle says,
“ Il est des hochets pour tout age.” And Prior,
“Give us playthings for old age." Yet it is certain that Fontenelle could not have taken this verse from Prior, for he did not understand English, though Prior wrote it more than twenty years before Fontenelle.
De Lisle, whose translation of Virgil's Georgics is so frequently and so unjustly praised by Voltaire, has also translated, but not published, the Essay on Man. Millot has given another, published 1762
Warton. Ver. 286. And each vacuity of sense by pride :) An eminent Casuist, Father Francis Garasse, in his Somme Théologique, has drawn a very charitable conclusion from this principle; which he