« PreviousContinue »
as a sail ; the other two feet they employ as oars at the “ sides. They are usually seen in the Mediterranean.”
P. 67. Who first taught souls enslav’d, &c.] The poet informs us, agreeably to his exact knowledge of antiquity, that it was the politician, and not the priest (as our illiterate tribe of free-thinkers would make us believe) who first corrupted religion. Secondly, that the superstition he brought in was not invented by him, as an engine to play upon others (as the dreaming atheist feigns, who would thus miserably account for the origin of religion) but was a trap he first fell into himself.
P. 68. Gods partial, changeful, &c.] The ancient Pagan gods are here very exactly described.
P. 68. ---and beav'n on pride.] This might be very well said of those times, when no one was content to go to heaven without being received there on the footing of a god.
P. 70. 'Twas then, &c.] The poet seems 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.
P. 71. For forms of government, &c.] These fine lines have been strangely misunderstood : the poet's meaning, however, is this---The happiness of a people does not depend so much upon the form of their government, as upon the integrity of its administration.
P.71. For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight;] These latter ages have seen so many scandalous contentions for modes of faith, to the violation of Christian charity, and dishonour of sacred Scripture, that it is not at all strange they
should become the object of so wise and benevolent an author's resentment.
P. 71. In faith and hope, &c.] “And now abideth faith,
hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these “ is charity,” i Cor. xiii. 13.
P.72. Man, like the gen'rous vine, &c.] Having thus largely considered man in his social capacity, the poet, in order to fix a momentous truth in the mind of his reader, concludes the Epistle in recapitulating the two principles which concur to the support of this part of his character, namely, self-LOVE and SOCIAL; and shewing, that they are only two different motions of the appetite to good; by which the Author of Nature hath enabled man to find his own happiness in the happiness of the whole. This he illustrates with a thought as sublime as that general harmony he describes :
On their own axis, &c. [See page 72.
P. 74. 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.
P. 76. Order is heav'n's first law;] i. e. The first law made by God relates to ORDER; which is a beautiful allusion to the Scripture history of the creation, when God first appeased the disorders of chaos, and separated light from darkness.
P. 78. And peace, &c.] Conscious innocence (says the poet) is the only source of internal peace; and known innocence, of external; therefore, peace is the sole issue of virtue; or, in his own emphatic words,
Peace, O VIRTUE! peace is all thy own.
P. 79. Oh, blind to truth, &c.] Our author having thus largely confuted the mistake of happiness's consisting in externals, proceeds to expose the terrible consequences of such an opinion on the sentiments and practice of all sorts of men, making the dissolute impious and atheistical, the religious uncharitable and intolerant, and the good restless and discontent.
P. 79. See god-like 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.
P. 80. Lent beav'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 of piety to a parent is paid in a return of thanks to, and made subservient of his vindication of, the Great Giver and Father of all things.--The mother of the author, a person of great piety and charity, died the year this poem was finished, viz. 1733.
P. 81. Shall burning Etna, &c.] Alluding to the fate of those two great naturalists, Empedocles and Pliny, who both perished by too near an approach to Etna and Vesuvius, while they were exploring the cause of their eruptions.
P. 90. Painful pre-eminence!] The most plausible rival of virtue is knowledge gained by superior parts: yet even this is so far from giving any degree of real happiness, that it deprives men of those common comforts of life, which are a kind of support to us under the want of happiness. Such as the more innocent of those delusions which he speaks of in the second Epistle;
Those painted clouds that beautify our days, &c.
Now knowledge destroyeth all those comforts by setting man above life's weaknesses : so that he who has discarded virtue, and thinks to attain happiness by knowledge alone, reverses the fable, and in a preposterous attempt to gain the substance, loseth even the shadow.
P. 91. ---think bow Bacon sbin'd, &c.] The Lord Chancellor Bacon, one of the greatest geniuses this country ever produced, was a corrupt judge, and the meanest of flåtterers.
P. 91. See Cromwell, &c.] This great and wicked man employed the most brilliant parts to effect the basest of purposes the overthrow of his country's liberties, and the murder of an amiable sovereign.
P. 98. Shew'd erring pride whatever is, is right;] The poet's address to his friend (Saint-John, Lord Bolingbroke) which concludes this Epistle so nobly, and ends with a recapitulation of the general argument, affords me the following observation :--- There is one great beauty that shines througli the whole Essay: the poet, whether he speaks of man as an individual, a member of society, or the subject of happiness, never misses an opportunity, while he is explaining his state under any of these capacities, to illustrate it in the most artful manner, by the enforcement of his great principle, That every thing tendeth to the good of the whole ; from whence his system receives the reciprocal advantage of having that grand theorem realized by facts, and his facts justified on a principle of right and nature.
THE UNIVERSAL PRAYER. Some
passages in the preceding Essay having been unjustly suspected of a tendency towards fate and naturalism, the author composed this Prayer as the sum of all, to shew 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 bope 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.
THE DYING CHRISTIAN TO HIS SOUL.
This Ode was written in imitation of the famous Sonnet of Hadrian to his departing soul; but as much superior to his original, in sense and sublimity, as the Christian religion is to the Pagan.