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too far, as from not carrying them far enough, that we may observe, when speculations, even in science, are carried beyond a certain point---that point, where use is reasonably supposed to end, and mere curiosity to begin---they conclude in the most extravagant and senseless inferences ; such as the unreality of matter, the reality of space, the servility of the will, &c. The reason of this sudden fall out of full light into utter darkness, appears not to result from the natural condition of things, but to be the arbitrary decree of infinite wisdom and goodness, which imposed a barrier to the extravagancies of its giddy lawless creature, always inclined to pursue truths of less importance too far, to the neglect of those more necessary for his improvement in his station here.
P. 32. Go measure earth, &c.] Alluding to the noble and useful project of our modern mathematicians, to measure a degree at the equator and polar circle, in order to determine the true figure of the earth; of great importance to astronomy and navigation.
P. 33. Correct old time.] This alludes to Sir Isaac Newton's Grecian Chronology, which he reformed on those two sublime conceptions, the difference between the reigns of kings and the generations of men ; and the position of the colures of the equinoxes and solstices at the time of the Argonautic expedition.
P. 33. Superior beings, &c.] In these lines the poet speaks to this effect : But to make you fully sensible of the difficulty of this study, I shall instance in the great Sir Isaac Newton himself; whom, when superior beings saw capable of unfolding the whole law of nature, they were in doubt whether the owner of such prodigious sagacity should not be reckoned of their own order; just as men, when they see the surprising marks of reason in an ape, are almost tempted to rank him with their own kind. And yet this wondrous man could go
no further in the knowledge of himself than the generality of his species.
P. 34. Vanity, or dress.] These are the first parts of what the poet, in the preceding line, calls the scholar's equipage of pride. By vanity is meant that luxuriancy of thought and expression in which a writer indulges himself, to shew the fruitfulness of his fancy or invention. By dress is to be un
derstood a lower degree of that practice, in amplification of · thought, and ornamental expression, to give force to what
the writer would convey: but even this, the poet, in a severe search after truth, very justly condemns.
P. 34. Or learning's luxury, or idleness.] The luxury of learning consists in dressing up and disguising old notions in a new way, so as to make them more fashionable and palatable ; instead of examining and scrutinizing their truth.
P. 34. Or tricks to shew the stretch of human brain.] Such as the mathematical demonstrations concerning the small quantity of matter, the endless divisibility of it, &c. P. 34. Expunge the whole---or lop th’ excrescent parts,
Of all our vices have created arts ;] į. e. Those parts of natural philosophy, logic, rhetoric, &c. that administer to luxury, deceit, ambition, effeminacy, &c.
P. 39. All spread their charms, &c.] Though all the passions have their turn in swaying the determinations of the mind, yet every man hath one MASTER PASSION that at length stifies or absorbs all the rest. The difference of force in this ruling passion shall, at first, perhaps be very small, or even imperceptible; but nature, habit, imagination, wit, nay, even reason itself, shall assist its growth, till it hạth at length drawn and converted every other into itself.
This naturally leads the poet to lament the weakness and insufficiency of human reason; and the purpose he had in so doing, was plainly to intimate the necessity of a more perfect dispensation to mankind.
P.41. We, wretched subjects, &c.] St. Paul himself did not chuse to employ other arguments, when disposed to give us the highest idea of the usefulness of Christianity. Rom. vii.
P. 42. 'Tis hers to rectify.] The meaning of this precept is, that as the ruling passion is implanted by nature, it is reason's office to regulate, direct, and restrain, but not to overthrow it.
P. 44. The god within the mind.] A Platonic phrase for conscience,
P. 44. Extremes in nature equal ends produce.] The poet reasons to this effect: that though indeed vice and virtue so invade each other's bounds, that sometimes we can scarcely tell where one ends, and the other begins, yet great purposes are served thereby, no less than the perfecting the constitution of the whole; as lights and shades, which run into one another in a well-wrought picture, make the harmony and spirit of the composition. But, on this account, to say there is neither vice nor virtue, the poet shews, would be just as wise as to say there is neither black nor white, because the shade of that, and the light of this, often run into one another :
Ask your own heart, and nothing is so plain;
P. 46. Virtuous and vicious every man must be:
Few in th’extreme, but all in the degree. Of this the poet, with admirable sagacity, assigns the cause, in the following line :
For, vice or virtue, self directs it still.
An adherence or regard to what is, in the sense of the world, a man's own interest, making an extreme in either vice or virtue almost impossible. Its effect in keeping a good man from the extreme of virtue, needs no explanation ; and in an ill man, self-interest shewing him the necessity of some kind of reputation, the procuring and preserving that, will keep him from the extreme of vice.
P.49. And beads and pray’r-books are the toys of age.] A satire on what is called in popery the opus operatum.
P. 54. See all things for my use !] On the contrary the wise man hath said, “the Lord hath made all things for himself.” Prov. xyi. 4.
P. 54. Nature that tyrant checks.] Man's interest, amusement, vanity, and luxury, tie him, as it were, to the system of benevolence, by obliging him to provide for the support of other animals ; and though it be, for the most part, only to devour them with the greater gust, yet this does not abate the proper happiness of the animals so preserved, to whom Providence hath not imparted the useless knowledge of their end.
P. 55. Than favour'd man by touch etherial 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.
P. 61. All vocal beings, &c.] This may be well explained by a sublime passage of the Psalmist, who, calling to mind the age of innocence, and full of the great ideas of those
... chains of love,
Beast, man, or angel, servant, lord, or king; breaks out into this rapturous and divine apostrophe, to call back the devious creation to its prestine rectitude (that very state our author describes above) : “ Praise the Lord, all his “ angels; praise him, all ye hosts. Praise ye him, sun and
moon ; praise him, all ye stars of light,” &c. Psa. cxlviii.
P. 61. Unbrib’d, unbloody, &c.] When superstition was become so extreme as to bribe the gods with human sacrifices (see p. 68, 69.) tyranny became necessitated to woo the priest for a favourable answer :
And play'd the god an engine on his foe.
P. 62. Learn from the birds, &c.] It is a caution commonly practised among navigators, when thrown upon a desart coast, and in want of refreshments, to observe what fruit have been touched by the birds, and to venture on these without further hesitation.
P. 62. Learn from the beasts, &c.] Pliny, in his Natural History, relates several instances 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.
P. 62. Learn of the little nautilus] Oppian Halieut. lib. 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 the hulk of a ship; they raise two feet “ like masts, and extend a membrane between, which serves