« PreviousContinue »
THE DYING CHRISTIAN TO HIS SOUL.
Trembling, hoping, ling'ring, flying
O the pain, the bliss of dying !
What is this absorbs me quite!
Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
With sounds seraphic ring :
O Death! where is thy sting?
* This ode was written in imitation of the famous Sonnet of Hadrian to his departing soul. See Hadrian's Sonnet, let. 4, of Letters to and from Mr. Steele, &c. Vol. iv.
Universal Prayer.] IT may be proper to observe, that some passages in the preceding Essay, having been unjustly suspected of a tendency towards fate or naturalism, the author composed this Prayer as the sum of all, to show that his system was founded in free-will, and terminated in piety; that the first cause was as well the Lord and Governor of the universe as the Creator of it; and that by submission to his will, (the great principle enforced throughout the Essay,) was not meant the suffering ourselves to be carried along by a blind determination, but the resting in a religious acquiescence, and confidence full of hope and immortality. To give all this the greater weight, the poet chose for his model the Lord's Prayer, which, of all others, best deserves the title prefixed to his paraphrase.
EPISTLE I. Ver. 150. Then nature deviates, &c.] “ While comets move in very eccentric orbs, in all manner of positions ; blind Fate could never make all the planets move one and the same way in orbs concentric; some inconsiderable ir. regularities excepted, which may have risen from the mutual actions of comets and planets upon one another, and which will be apt to increase, till the system wants a reformation.” Sir Isaac Newton's Optics, quest. ult.
Ver. 182. Here with degrees of swiftness, there of force.] It is a certain axiom in the anatomy of creatures, that, in proportion as they are formed for strength, their swiftness
is lessened; or as they are formed for swiftness, their strength is abated.
Ver. 213. The headlong lioness. The manner of the lions' hunting their prey in the deserts of Africa is this : At their first going out in the night-time, they set up a loud roar, and then listen to the noise made by the beasts in their flight, pursuing them by the ear, and not by the nostril. It is probable that the story of the jackal's hunting for the lion, was occasioned by observation of this defect of scent in that terrible animal.
EPISTLE II. Ver. 204. The God within the mind.] A Platonic phrase for conscience; and here employed with great judgment and propriety. For conscience either signifies, speculatively the judgment we pass of things upon whatever principle we chance to have; and then it is only opinion, a very unable judge and divider. Or else it signifies, practically, the application of the eternal rule of right, (received by us as the law of God.) to the regulation of our actions; and then it is properly conscience, the God, (or the law of God,) within the mind, of power to divide the light from the darkness in this chaos of the passions.
Ver. 270.-the poet in his muse.] The author having said, that no one would change his profession or views for those of another, intended to carry his observation still further, and show 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,
But wanting another proper instance of this truth, when he published his last edition of the Essay, he reserved the lines above for some following one.
EPISTLE III. Ver. 68. Than favour'd man by touch ethereal slain.] Several of the ancients, and many of the orientals since, esteemed those who were struck by lightning as sacred persons, and the particular favourites of heaven.
Ver. 173. Learn from the birds, what food, &c.] It is a caution commonly practised among navigators, when thrown upon a desert coast, and in want of refreshment, to observe what fruits have been touched by the birds ; and to venture on these without further hesitation.
Ver. 174. Learn from the beasts, &c.] See Pliny's Nat. Hist. 1. viii. c. 27, where several instances are given of animals discovering the medicinal efficacy of herbs, by their own use of them; and pointing out to some operations in the art of healing, by their own practice.
Ver. 177. Learn of the little nautilus.] Oppian Halieut. 1. i. describes this fish in the following manner : They swim on the surface of the sea, on the back of their shells, which exactly resemble tbe hulk of a ship; they raise two feet like masts, and extend a membrane between, which serves as a sail; the other two feet they employ as oars at the side. They are usually seen in the Mediterranean.”
Ver. 283. 'Twas then the studious head, &c.] The poet seemeth here to mean the polite and flourishing age of Greece: and those benefactors to mankind, which he had principally in view, were Socrates and Aristotle; who, of
all the pagan world, spoke best of God, and wrote best of government.
Ver. 303. For forms of government let fools contest.] The author of these lines was far from meaning that no one form of government is, in itself, better than another (as, that mixed or limited monarchy, for example, is not preferable to absolute,) but that no form of government, however excellent or preferable in itself, can be sufficient to make a people happy, unless it be administered with integrity. On the contrary, the best sort of government, when the form of it is preserved, and the administration corrupt, is most dangerous.
EPISTLE IV. Ver. 6. O’erlook'd, seen double.] O’erlook'd by those who place happiness in any thing exclusive of virtue; seen double by those who admit any thing else to have a share with virtue in procuring happiness; these being the two general mistakes that this epistle is employed in confuting.
Ver. 100. See godlike Turenne.] This epithet has a peculiar justness ; the great man to whom it is applied not being distinguished from other generals, for any of his superior qualities so much as for his providential care of those whom he led to war : which was so uncommon, that his chief purpose in taking on himself the command of armies seems to have been the preservation of mankind. In this godlike care he was more distinguishably employed throughout the whole course of that famous campaign in which he lost his life.
Ver. 110. Lent heav'n a parent, &c.] This last instance of the poet's illustration of the ways of Providence, the reader sees, has a peculiar elegance; where a tribute