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TO SIR RICHARD TEMPLE, L. COBHAM.
Of the Knowledge and Characters of Men,
I. That it is not sufficient for this knowledge to consider man in the abstract: books will not serve the purpose, nor yet our own experience singly, ver. 1. General maxims, unless they be formed upon both, will be but notional, ver. 10. Some peculiarity in every man, characteristic to himself, yet varying from himself, ver. 15. Difficulties arising from our own passions, fancies, faculties, &c. ver. 31. The shortness of life to observe in, and the uncertainty of the principles of action in men to observe by, ver. 37, &c. Our own principle of action often hid from ourselves, ver. 41. Some few characters plain, but in general confounded, dissembled, or inconsistent, ver. 51. The same man utterly different in different places and seasons, ver. 62. Unimaginable weaknesses in the greatest, ver. 70, &c. Nothing constant and certain but God and nature, ver. 95. No jndging of the motives from the actions; the same actions proceeding from contrary motives, and the same motives influencing contrary actions, ver. 100. II. Yet, to form characters, we can only take the strongest actions of a man's life, and try to make them agree: the utter uncertainty of this, from nature itself, and from policy, ver. 120. Characters given according to the rank of men of the world, ver. 135. And some reason for it, ver. 140. Education alters the nature, or at least character of many, ver. 149. Actions, passions, opinions, manners, humours, or principles, all subject to change. JJo judging by nature, from ver. 158 to ver. 178. III. It only remains tb find (if we can) his ruling passion: that will certainly influence all the rest, and can reconcile the seeming or real inconsistency of all his actions, ver. 175. Instanced in the extraordinary character of Clodio, ver. l?y. A caution against mistaking second qualities for first, which will destroy all possibility of the knowledge of mankind, ver. 210. Examples of the strength of the ruling passion, and its continuation to the last breath, ver. 222, &c.
YES, you despise the man to books confin'd,
Some general maxims, or be right by chance.
-And yet the fate of all extremes in such.
There's tome peculiar in each leaf and grain,
Some unmark'd fibre, or some varying vein;
Shall only man be taken in the gross?
Grant but as many sorts of mind as moss.
Vest, that he varies from himself no less;
Add nature's, custom's, reason's, passion's strife,
And alt opinion's colours cast on life.
Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds,
Quick whirls, and shifting eddies, of our minds?
On human actions reason though you can,
It may be reason, but it is not man:
His principle of action once explore,
That instant 'tis his principle no more.
Like following life through creatures yi
You lose it in the moment you detect.
The optics seeing, as the objects seen.
Or come discolour'd through our passions shown.
Nor will life's stream for observation stay,
True, some are open, and to all men known; Others, so very close, they're hid from none (So darkness strikes the sense no leas than light); Thus gracious Chandos is belov'd at sight;
And every child hates Shy lock, though his soul
But these plain characters we rarely find;
See the same man, in vigour, m the gout;
Catins is ever moral, ever grave.
"Who would not praise Patricio's high desert,
Wliat made (say, Montague, or more sage CharOtho a warrior, Cromwell a buffoon? [ron \)
perjur'd prince a leaden saint revere,
Know, Ood and nature only are the same .' In man, the jndgement shoots at flying game; A bird of passage! gone as soon as found, Now in the moon, perhaps now under ground.
II. In vain the sage, with retrospective eye, Would from th' apparent what conclnde the why. Infer the motive from the deed, and show, That what we chane'd, was what we meant to do. Behold, if fortune or a mistress frowns, Some plunge in business, others shave their crowns': To easethe soul of one oppressive weight, This quits an empire, that embroils a state: The same adust complexion has impell'd Charles to the convent, Philip to the field.
Not always actions show the man: we find Who does a kindness, is not therefore kind: Perhaps prosperity becalm'd his breast, Perhaps the wind just shifted from the east: Not therefore humble he wno seeks retreat; Pride guides his steps, and bids him shun the great: Who combats bravely is not therefore brave, He dreads a death-bed like the meanest slave: Who reasons wisely is not therefore wise, His pride in reasoning, not in acting, lies.
But grunt that actions best discover man; Take the most strong, and sort them as you can: The few that glare, each character must mark, You balance not the many in the dark. What will you do with such as disagree? Suppress them, or miscall them policy? Must then at once (the character to save) The plain rough hero turn a crafty knave? Alas! in truth the man but chang'd his mind, Perhaps was sick, in love, or had not din'd. Ask why from Britain Csesar would retreat? Caesar himself might whisper, he was beat. Why risk the world's great empire for a punk? Caesar perhaps might answer, he was drunk. But, sage historians! 'tis your task to prove One action, conduct; one, heroic love.