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In vain, in vain,—the all-composing hour Resistless falls: the muse obeys the pow'r. She comes! she comes! the sable throne behold Of Night primeval and of Chaos old! Before her, fancy's gilded clouds decay, And all its varying rainbows die away. Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires, The meteor drops, and in a flash expires. As one by one, at dread Medea's strain, The sick’ning stars fade off th' ethereal plain; As Argus' eyes by Hermes' wand opprest, Closed one by one to everlasting rest; Thus at her felt approach, and secret might, Art after art goes out, and all is night. See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled. Mountains of casuistry heaped o'er her head! Philosophy, that leaned on heaven before, Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more, Physic of metaphysic begs defence, . And metaphysic calls for aid on sense! See mystery to mathematics fly! In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die. Religion blushing veils her sacred fires, And unawares morality expires. For public flame, nor private, dares to shine, Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine! Lo! thy dread empire, Chaos! is restored; Light dies before thy uncreating word; Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall, And universal darkness buries all.
AN ESSAY ON MAN.
TO H. ST. JOHN, LORD BOLINGBROKE.
WRITTEN IN 1732. INCORPORATED IN POPE'S WORKS, 1735.
HAVING proposed to write some pieces on human life and manners, such as (to use my Lord Bacon's expression) “come home to men's business and bosoms," I thought it more satisfactory to begin with considering man in the abstract, his nature and his state; since, to prove any moral duty, to enforce any moral precept, or to examine the perfection or imperfection of any creature whatsoever, it is necessary first to know what condition and relation it is placed in, and what is the proper end and purpose of its being.
The science of human nature is like all other sciences, reduced to a few clear points. There are not many certain truths in this world. It is therefore in the anatomy of the mind as in that of the body ; more good will accrue to mankind by attending to the large, open, and perceptible parts, than by studying too much such finer nerves and vessels, the conformations and uses of which will forever escape our observation. The disputes are all upon these last, and, I will venture to say, they have less sharpened the wits than the hearts of men against each other, and have diminished the practice, more than advanced the theory, of morality. If I could flatter myself that this Essay has any merit, it is in steering betwixt the extremes of doctrines seemingly opposite, in passing over terms utterly unintelligible, and in forming' a temperate yet not inconsistent, and a short yet not imperfect, system of ethics.
This I might have done in prose; but I chose verse, and even rhyme, for two reasons. The one will appear obvious; that principles, maxims, or precepts so written, both strike the reader more strongly at first, and are more easily retained by him afterwards; the other may seem odd, but it is true. I found I could express them more shortly this way than in prose itself; and nothing is more certain, than that much of the force as well as grace of arguments or instructions 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,
} In first edition, “out of all,”
without wandering from the precision, or breaking the chain of reasoning; if any man can unite all these without diminution 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 connection, and leaving the particular to be more fully delineated in the charts which are 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
Of man in the abstract.-I. 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, anil 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. 105, &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, whilo on the one hand he de. mands the perfections of the angels, and on the other tho bodily qualifications of the brutes; though, to possess any of the sen. sitive faculties in a higher degree, would render him miserable, ver. 173, &c.-VII. That throughout the whole visible world, an universal order and gradation in the sensual and mental facul. ties 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 further 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 creation 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,
EPISTLE I. AWAKE, my St. John!" leave all meaner things To low ambition, and the pride of kings. Let us, since life can little more supply Than just to look about us and to die, Expatiate free o'er all this scene of Man; A mighty maze! but not without a plan; A wild, where weeds and flow‘rs promiscuous shoot; Or garden, tempting with forbidden fruit. Together let us beat this ample field, Try what the open, what the covert yield; The latent tracts, the giddy heights, explore Of all who blindly creep, or sightless soar; Eye nature's walks, shoot folly as it flies, And catch the manners living as they rise; Laugh where we must, be candid where we can; But vindicate the ways of God to man.
I. Say first, of God above or Man below, What can we reason but from what we know? Of Man, what see we but his station here, From which to reason, or to which refer? Through worlds unnumbered though the God be
known, 'Tis ours to trace Him only in our own. He, who through vast immensity can pierce, See worlds on worlds compose one universe, Observe how system into system runs, What other planets circle other suns, What varied being peoples ev'ry star, May tell us why Heaven has made us as we are. But of this frame the bearings, and the ties, The strong connections, nice dependencies, Gradations just, has thy pervading soul Looked through, or can a part contain the whole ?
Is the great chain,” that draws all to agree, And drawn supports, upheld by God, or thee? II. Presumptuous man! the reason wouldst thou
1 Henry St. John, the famous Lord Bolingbroke. He was the son of Sir Henry St. John of Lydiard Tregose, in Wiltshire. He fled to France to escape impeachment for treason as a Jacobite soon after the accession of George I., but was pardoned and returned. He has been called the English Alcibiades; his best work is the ": Patriot King.”
2 Án allusion to the golden chain by which Homer tells us the world was sustained by Jove,
Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind ?
Of systems possible, if 'tis confest
Respecting Man, whatever wrong we call,
strains His fiery course, or drives him o'er the plains: When the dull ox, why now he breaks the clod, Is now a victim, and now Egypt's god: 1 Then shall man's pride and dulness comprehend His actions', passions', being's, use and end; Why doing, suff'ring, checked, impelled; and why This hour a slave, the next a deity.
Then say not Man's imperfect, Heaven in fault; Say rather, Man's as perfect as he ought: His knowledge measured to his state and place; His time a moment, and a point his space. If to be perfect in a certain sphere, What matter, soon or late, or here or there? The blest to-day is as completely so, As who began a thousand years ago.
1 The ox was worshipped in ancient Egypt under the name of Apis,