« PreviousContinue »
he supposes they may tend likewise to some greater good in the moral, as appears from the sublime images in the following lines :
If plagues or earthquakes break not heaven's design,
Or turns young Ammon loose to scourge mankind? P. 14. Egypt's god:] Called so, because the god Apis was worshipped, in the forin of an ox, universally over the whole dand.
P. 15. Who sees with equal eye, &c. Matth. x. 29.
P. 16. Hope humbly then :) The hope of a happy futurity was implanted in the human breast by God himself for this very purpose, as an earnest of that bliss which always flying from us here, is reserved for the good man hereafter-..
Hope travels thro', nor quits us when we die. P. 16.---from home.] The construction is, “ the soul being “ from home (confined and uneasy) expatiates,” &c. by which words it was the poet's purpose to teach, that the present life is only a state of probation for another, more suitable to the essence of the soul, and to the free exercise of its qualities.
P. 16. Lo, the poor Indian! &c.] The poet having bid man comfort himself with expectation of future happiness, having shewn him that this hope is an earnest of it, and put in one very necessary caution,
Hope humbly then, with trembling pinions soar;
provoked at those whom he afterwards (p. 68.) describes as building bell on spite, and beaven on pride, he upbraids them with the example of the poor Indian, to whom also God hath given this common HOPE of mankind: but though his untutored mind had betrayed him into many childish fancies concerning the nature of that future state, yet he is so far from excluding any part of his own species (a vice which could proceed only from the pride of science) that he humanely admits even his faithful dog to bear bim company.
P. 21. Better for us, &c.] It might, says he, perhaps appear better to us, that there were nothing in this world but peace and virtue;
That never air or ocean felt the wind;
But then consider, that as our natural system is supported by the strife of its elementary particles; so is our intellectual system by the conflict of our passions, which are the elements of human action,
In a word, as without the benefit of tempestuous winds, both air and ocean would stagnate, corrupt, and spread universal contagion throughout all the ranks of animals that inhabit, or are supported by them; so, without the benefit of the passions, such virtue as was merely the effect of the absence of those passions, would be a lifeless calm, a stoical apathy,
Contracted all, retiring to the breast :
But strength of mind is exercise, not rest. Ep. ii. p. 38. Therefore, instead of regarding the conflict of the elements, and the passions of the mind, as disorders, you ought to consider them as part of the general order of Providence : and that
they are so, appears from their always preserving the same unvaried course, throughout all ages, from the creation to the
The gen'ral order, since the whole began,
We see, therefore, it would be doing great injustice to our author to suspect that he intended, by this, to give any encouragement to vice. His system is this: That the passions, for the reasons above given, are necessary to the support of virtue: that, indeed, the passions in excess produce vice, which is, in its own nature, the greatest of all evils, and comes into the world from the abuse of man's free-will; but that God, in his infinite wisdom and goodness, deviously turns the natural bias of its malignity to the advancement of human happiness, and makes it productive of general good:
Th’ ETERNAL ART educes good from ill. Ep. ii. p.42.
P. 21. And little less than angel, &c.] “ Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.” Psalm viii. 9.
P. 22. Here with degrees of swiftness, &c.] 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.
P. 24. 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 the story of the jackal's hunting for the lion, was occasioned by observation of this defect of scent in that terrible animal.
P. 26. Let earth unbalanc'd.] i. e. Being no longer kept within its orbit by the different directions of its progressive and attractive motions; which, like equal weights in a balance, keep it in an equilibre.
P. 27. IV bose body nature is, &c.] This sublime description of the Godhead contains not only the divinity of St. Paul, but likewise the philosophy of Sir Isaac Newton.
P. 28. As the rapt seraph, &c.] Alluding to the name seraphim, signifying burners.
P. 28. Cease then, nor Order] That the reader may see in one view the exactness of the method, as well as force of the argument, I shall here draw up a short synopsis of this epistle. The poet begins by telling us his subject is an Essay on Man: that his end of writing is to vindicate Providence: that he intends to derive his arguments from the visible things of God seen in this system : lays down this proposition, that of all possible systems, Infinite Wisdom has formed the best : draws from thence two consequences, 1. that there must needs be somewhere such a creature as man; 2. that the moral evil which he is author of, is productive of the good of the whole. This is his general thesis ; from whence he forms this conclusion, that man should rest submissive and content, and make the hopes of futurity his comfort ; but not to suffer this to be the occasion of pride, which is the cause of all his impious complaints. He proceeds to confirm his thesis---Previously endeavours to abate our wonder at the phænomenon of moral evil; shews first, its use to the perfection of the universe, by analogy, from the use of physical evil in this particular system--- Secondly, its use in this system, where it is turned providentially from its natural bias to promote virtue, Then goes on to vindicate Providence from the imputation of certain supposed natural evils ; as he had before justified it for the permission of real moral evil, in shewing that, though the atheist's complaint
against Providence be on pretence of real moral evil, yet the true cause is his impatience under imaginary natural evil; the issue of a depraved appetite for fantastical advantages, which, if obtained, would be useless or hurtful to man, and deforming and destructive to the universe, as breaking into that ORDER by which it is supported.---He describes that order, harmony, and close connexion of the parts ; and by shewing the intimate presence of God to his whole creation, gives a reason for an universe so amazingly beautiful and perfect. From all this he deduces this general conclusion, that nature being neither a blind chain of causes and effects, nor yet the fortuitous result of wandering atoms, but the wonderful art and direction of an all-wise, all-good, and free Being, whatever is, is RIGHT, with regard to the disposition of God, and its ultimate tendency; which once granted, all complaints against Providence are at an end.
P. 31. The proper study, &c.] The poet having shewn, in the first epistle, that the ways of God are too high for our comprehension, rightly draws this conclusion, and methodically makes it the subject of his introduction to the second, which treats of the nature of man.
P. 32. Alike in ignorance, &c.] i. e. The proper sphere of man’s reason is so narrow, and the exercise of it so nice, that the too immoderate use of it is attended with the same ignorance that proceeds from the not using it at all.
Yet, though in both these cases he is abused by himself, he has it still in his power to disabuse himself, in making his passions subservient to the means, and regulating his reason by the end of life.
P. 32. Whether he thinks too little or too much.] This is so true, that ignorance arises as well from pushing our enquiries