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Our Poet having, in the three former Epistles, treated of man in all the three respects in which he can be considered ; namely, first, Of his Nature and State with respect to the Universe ; secondly, With respect to Himself; thirdly, With respect to Society: seems to have finished his subject in the three foregoing Epistles. This fourth Epistle, therefore, on Happiness, may be thought to be adscititious, and out of its proper place, and ought to have made part of the second Epistle, where Man is considered with respect to Himself. I formerly mentioned this to Dr. Akenside and Mr. Harris, who were of my opinion. Warton.
ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE IV.
Of the Nature and State of Man, with respect to Happiness.
I. FALSE Notions of Happiness, Philosophical and Popular, an
swered from Ver. 19 to 27. II. It is the End of all Men, and attainable by all, Ver. 30. God intends Happiness to be equal ; and to be so, it must be social, since all particular Happiness depends on general, and since he governs by general, not particular Laws, Ver. 37. As it is necessary for Order, and the peace and welfare of Society, that external goods should be unequal, Happiness is not made to consist in these, Ver. 51. But, notwithstanding that inequality, the balance of Happiness among Mankind is kept coen by Providence, by the two Passions of Hope and Fear, Ver. 70. III. What the Happiness of Individuals is, as far as is consistent with the constitution of this world; and that the good Man has here the advantage, Ver. 77. The error of imputing to Virtue what are only the calamities of Nature, or of Fortune, Ver. 94. IV. The folly of expecting that God should alter his general Laws in favour of particulars, Ver. 121. V. That we are not judges who are good; but that whoever they are, they must le happiest, Ver. 133, &c. VI. That external goods are not the proper rewards, but often inconsistent with, or destructive of, Virtue, Ver. 165. That even these can make no Man happy without Virtue : Instanced in Riches, Ver. 183. Honours, Ver. 191. Nobility, Ver. 203. Greatness, Ver. 215. Fame, Ver. 235. Superior Talents, Ver. 257. &c. With pictures of human Infelicity in Men possessed of them all, Ver. 267, &c. VII. That Virtue only constitutes a Happiness, whose object is universal, and whose prospect eternal, Ver. 307, &c. That the perfection of Virtue and Happiness consists in a conformity to the ORDER of PROVIDENCE here, and a Resignation to it here and hereafter, Ver. 326, &c.
OH HAPPINESS! our being's end and aim !
The two foregoing Epistles having considered Man with regard to the Means (that is, in all his relations, whether as an individual, or a member of Society), this last comes to consider him with regard to the End, that is, Happiness. It
opens with an invocation to HAPPINESS, in the manner of the ancient Poets; who, when destitute of a patron God, applied to the Muse; and if she was not at leisure, took up
any simple Virtue next at hand, to inspire and prosper their undertakings. This was the ancient invocation, which few modern Poets have had the art to imitate with any degree either of spirit or decorum: but our author hath contrived to make his subservient to the method and reasoning of his philosophic composition. I will endeavour to explain so uncommon a beauty.
It is to be observed, that the Pagan Deities had each their several names and places of abode; with some of which they were supposed
Ver. 1. Oh Happiness ] He begins his address to Happiness after the manner of the ancient hymns, by enumerating the titles and various places of abode of this goddess. He has undoubtedly
Ver. 1. Oh Happiness ! &c.] In the MS. thus :
Oh Happiness! to which we all aspire,
Which still so near us, yet beyond us lies,
to be more delighted than others; and consequently to be then most propitious when invoked by the favourite name and place. Hence we find the hymns of Homer, Orpheus, and Callimachus to be chiefly employed in reckoning up the several titles and habitations by which the patron God was known and distinguished. Our Poet hath made these two circumstances serve to introduce his subject. His purpose is to write of Happiness: method, therefore, requires that he first define what men mean by Happiness; and this he does in the ornament of a poetic invocation; in which the several names that Happiness goes by are enumerated :
“ Oh Happiness ! our being's end and aim !
Good, Pleasure, Ease, Content! whate'er thy Name.” After the DEFINITION, that which follows next, is the PROPOSITION, which is, that human Happiness consists not in external Advantages, but in Virtue. For the subject of this Epistle is to detect the false notions of Happiness, and to settle and explain the true; and this the Poet lays down in the next sixteen lines. Now the enumeration of the several situations where Happiness is supposed to reside, is a summary of false Happiness placed in externals:
“ Plant of celestial seed! if dropp'd below,
personified her at the beginning, but he seems to have dropped that idea in the seventh line, where the deity is suddenly transformed into a plant; from thence this metaphor of a vegetable is carried on distinctly through the eleven succeeding lines, till he suddenly returns to consider Happiness again as a person, in the eighteenth line :
“ And fled from Monarchs, St. John! dwells with thee!" For to fly and to dwell, cannot justly be predicated of the same subject, that immediately before was described as twining with laurels, and being reaped in harvests.
Of the numberless treatises that have been written on Happiness, one of the most sensible is that of Fontenelle, in the third volume of his works.
Plant of celestial seed! if dropp'd below,
15 'Tis no where to be found, or every where; 'Tis never to be bought, but always free, And fled from Monarchs, St. John! dwells with
thee. Ask of the learn'd the way? The learn'd are
blind; This bids to serve, and that to shun mankind; 20
Fair op'ning to some Court's propitious shine,
Or reap'd in iron harvests of the field ?" The six remaining lines deliver the true notion of Happiness, and shew that it is rightly placed in Virtue. Which is summed up in these two :
“ Fix'd to no spot is Happiness sincere;
where." The Poet, having thus defined his terms, and laid down his proposition, proceeds to the support of his Thesis ; the various arguments of which make up the body of the Epistle.
Ver. 19. Ask of the learn'd, &c.] He begins (from ver. 18 to
Ver. 18. St John! dwells with thee.] Among the many pas