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Nor Virtue, male or female, can we name,
Thus Nature gives us (let it check our pride)
That, Reason! is thy task; and worthy Thee.
COMMENTARY. VER. 197. Reason the byass &c.] But left it should be objected that this account favours the doctrine of Necessity, and would infinuate that Men are only acted upon, in the production of Good out of Evil; the poet teacheth (from x 196 to 203) that Man is a free agent, and hath it in his own power to turn the natural passions into Virtues or into Vices, properly so called:
The fiery soul abhor’d in Catiline,
This light and darkness in our chaos join’d, What shall divide? The God within the mind.
And Nero reigns a Titus, if he will. Secondly, If it should be objected, that though he doth indeed tell us some actions are beneficial and some hurtful, yet he could not call those virtucus nor these vicious, because, as he hath described things, the motive appears to be only the gratification of some passion; give me leave to answer for him, that this would be mistaking the argument, which (to Ý 249 of this epistle) considers the passions only with regard to Society, that is, with regard to their effects rather than their motives. That however, 'tis his design to teach that actions are properly virtuous and vicious; and though it be difficult to distinguish genuine Virtue from fpurious, they having both the same appearance, and both the same public effects, yet they may be disembarrafled. If it be asked, by what means? He replies (from y 202 to 205) By Conscience; which is to the purpose ; for it is solely a Man's own concern to know whether his Virtue be
and solid ; for
NOT E S. Ver. 203. This light &c.] Or else it fignifies, practically, A Platonic phrase for Consci the application of the eternal ence; and here employed with rule of right (received by us as great judgment and propriety. the law of God) to the regulaFor Conscience either signifies, tion of our actions; and then it speculatively, the judgment we is properly Conscience, the God pass of things upon whatever (or the law of God) within the principles we chance to have ; mind, of power to divide the and then it is only Opinion, a light from the darkness in this very unable judge and divider, chaos of the passions.
Extremes in Nature equal ends produce, 205
Fools! who from hence into the notion fall,
is there no black or white ? Ask your own heart, and nothing is so plain; 215 'Tis to mistake them, costs the time and pain.
COMMENTAR Y. what is it to others, whether this Virtue, while, as to them, the effects of it is the fame, be real or unsubftantial?
VER. 205. Extremes in Nature equal ends produce,] But still it will be said, why all this difficulty to distinguish true Virtue from false? The poet shews why (from x 204 to 211) That though indeed Vice and Virtue fo invade each other's bounds, that fometimes we can scarce 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 compofition. But on this account to say there is neither Vice or Virtue, the poet fhews (from * 210 to 217) 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 ;
'Tis to mistake them, costs the time and pain. This is an error of speculation, which leads Men fo foolifhly to conclude, that there is neither Vice nor Virtue.
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As, to be hated, needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace. 220 But where th’Extreme of Vice, was ne'er agreed : Alk where's the North? atYork, 'tis on the Tweed; In Scotland, at the Orcades ; and there, At Greenland, Zembla, or the Lord knows where. No creature owns it in the first degree, 225 But thinks his neighbour farther gone
gone than he; VARIATIONS. After y 220. in the ist Edition, followed these,
A Cheat! a Whore! who starts not at the name,
In all the Inns of Court or Drury-lane?
The Col’nel swears the Agent is a dog,
COMMENTARY. Ver. 217. Vice is a monster &c.] There is another Error of practice, which hath more common and fatal effects ; and is next considered (from x 216 to 221.) It is this, that though, at the first aspect, Vice be so horrible as to affright all beholders, yet, when by habit we are once grown familiar with her, we first suffer, and in time begin to lose the memory of her nature; which necessarily implies an equal ignorance in the nature of Virtue. Hence Men conclude, that there is neither one nor the other. VER. 221. But where th’Extreme of Vice, &c.] But it is not
Ev’n those who dwell beneath its very zone,
Virtuous and vicious ev'ry Man must be,
rogue and fool by fits is fair and wise ; And ev'n the best, by fits, what they despise. 'Tis but by parts we follow good or ill; 235 For, Vice or Virtue, Self directs it still ;
COMMENTARY. only that extreme of Vice next to Virtue, which betrays us into these mistakes. We are deceived too, as he shews us (from * 220 to' 231) by our observations about the other extreme: For from the extreme of Vice being unsettled, Men conclude that Vice itself is only nominal.
Ver. 231. Virtuous and vicious ev'ry Man must be,] There is yet a third cause of this error, of no Vice no Virtue, composed of the other two, i. e. partly speculative, and partly practical. And this also the poet here considers (from y 230 to 239) fhewing.it ariseth from the imperfection of the best characters, and the inequality of all; whence it happens that no Man is extremely virtuous or vicious, nor extremely constant in the purfuit of either. Why it so happens, the poet assigns an admirable reafon in this line:
For, Vice or Virtue, SELF directs it fill. An adherence or regard to what is, in the sense of the world, a Man's own Interest, making an extreme in either impoffible. Its effect in keeping a good Man from the extreme of Virtue, needs no explanation, and in an ill Man, Self-intereft shewing him the necessity of some kind of reputation, the procuring, and preserving that, will necessarily keep him from the extreme of Vice.