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DEO OPT. MAX.
FATHER of All! in ev'ry Age,
By Saint, by Savage, and by Sage,
Jehovah, Jove, or Lord!
Ver. 1. FATHER of All!] For closeness and comprehension of thought, and for brevity and energy of expression, few pieces of poetry in our language can be compared with this Prayer. I am surprised Johnson should not make any mention of it. When it was first published, many orthodox persons were, I remember, offended at it, and called it, The Deist's Prayer. It were to be wished the Deists would make use of so good a one.
Ver. 4. Jehovah, Jove, or Lord!] "It is of very little consequence," says Seneca, De Beneficiis, "by what name you call the first Nature, and the divine Reason, that presides over the universe, and fills all the parts of it. He is still the same God. You may give Him as many names as you please, provided you allow but one Sole Principle every where present."
"Notwithstanding all the extravagances and miscarriages of the Poets," says Cudworth, chap. 4, "we shall now make it plainly appear, that they really asserted, not a multitude of selfexistent and independent Deities, but one, only, unmade Deity; and all the other, generated or created gods. This hath been already proved concerning Orpheus, from such fragments of the Orphic Poems as have been owned and attested by Pagan writers." Cudworth proceeds to confirm this opinion by many strong and uncontested passages from Homer, Hesiod, Pindar,
Thou Great First Cause, least understood:
To know but this, that Thou art Good,
Yet gave me, in this dark Estate,
Left free the Human Will.
Sophocles, and especially Euripides, book i. chap. iv. sect. 19.; and Aristophanes, in the first line of Plutus, distinguishes betwixt Jupiter and the gods : Ω Ζεῦ καὶ θεοί.
Ver. 6. my Sense confin'd] It ought to be confinedst, or didst confine; and afterward, gavest, or didst give, in the second perSee Lowth's Grammar.
Ver. 9. Yet gave me,] Originally Pope had written another stanza, immediately after this;
Can sins of moments claim the rod
Of everlasting fires?
And that offend great Nature's God
Which Nature's self inspires?
The licentious sentiment it contains, evidently borrowed from a well-known passage of Guarini in the Pastor Fido, induced him to strike it out. And perhaps also the absurd metaphor of a rod of fires, on examination, displeased him.
Ver. 12. Left free] An absurd and impossible exemption, exclaims the Fatalist; "comparing together the moral and the natural world, every thing is as much the result of established laws in the one as in the other. There is nothing in the whole universe that can properly be called contingent; nothing loose or fluctuating in any part of Nature; but every motion in the natural, and every determination and action in the moral world, are directed by immutable laws; so that, whilst these laws remain in their force, not the smallest link of the universal chain of causes and effects can be broken, nor any one thing be otherwise than it is." All the most subtile and refined arguments that can be urged in a dispute on Fate and Free-will, are introduced, in a conversation on this subject, betwixt the angels Gabriel and Raphael, and Adam, in
What Conscience dictates to be done,
Or warns me not to do,
This, teach me more than Hell to shun,
What Blessings thy free Bounty gives,
For God is paid when Man receives,
Yet not to Earth's contracted Span
Or think Thee Lord alone of Man,
When thousand Worlds are round :
the fourth act of Dryden's State of Innocence, and stated with a wonderful precision and perspicuity. Reasoning, in verse, was one of Dryden's most singular and predominant excellences: notwithstanding which, he must rank as a poet for his Music-ode, not for his Religio Laici.
Ver. 12. the Human Will.] The result of what Locke advances on this, the most difficult of all subjects, is, that we have a power of doing what we will. "Il seroit plaisant," says a noted wit, "qu'une partie de ce monde fut arrangée, et que l'autre ne le fut point; qu'une partie de ce qui arrive ne dût pas arriver. Quand on y regarde de pres, on voit que la doctrine contraire à celle du destin est absurde; mais il y a beaucoup de gens destinés à raisonner mal, d'autres à ne point raisonner du tout, d'autres à persecuter ceux qui raisonnent." Let us acquiesce in a better philosophy, which teaches us, "that if Free-will be the origin of evil, it is also the origin of good. If it be the occasion of disorder, it is the cause of order; of all the moral order that appears in the world. Had Liberty been excluded, Virtue had been excluded with it. And if this had been the case, the world could have had no charms, no beauties, sufficient to recommend it to Him who made it. In short, all other powers and perfections would have been very defective without this, which is truly the life and spirit of the whole creation."
Let not this weak, unknowing hand
If I am right, thy grace impart,
Save me alike from foolish Pride,
At aught thy Wisdom has deny'd,
Teach me to feel another's Woe,
That Mercy I to others shew,
That Mercy shew to me.
Ver. 25. this weak, unknowing hand] Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another: expressing neither surprise nor aversion at persons who hold opinions different from our own, either in religion or politics; knowing that this difference of opinion is as pardonable as it is unavoidable; and convinced that Laud and Milton, Hickes and Burnet, Atterbury and Hoadley, Waterland and Clarke, were all equally sincere in their several tenets.
The great Bishop Butler used to say, that if Lord Shaftesbury had lived to see the candour, moderation, and gentleness of the present times in discussing religious subjects, he would have been a good Christian.
Ver. 27. deal damnation] He censures the narrow and illiberal doctrine of popery and bigotry, "the impossibility of being saved out of the pale of the Church." It is very remarkable, that Mahomet, in the Koran, Surat 2. severely reprehends the Jews and the Christians for condemning each other; and says, "that, on the day of resurrection, God will judge the merits of their cause." So that there are Christians less tolerant than Mahomet.
Ver. 39. That Mercy] It has been said that our Poet, in this
Mean though I am, not wholly so,
Oh lead me wheresoe'er I go,
Through this day's Life or Death.
This day, be Bread and Peace my Lot:
Thou know'st if best bestow'd or not,
To thee whose Temple is all Space,
All Nature's Incense rise!
Prayer, chose the Lord's Prayer for his model; but there is no resemblance but in this passage, and in the last stanza but one.
M. Le Franc de Pompignan, a celebrated avocat at Montauban, author of Dido a tragedy, was severely censured in France for translating this Universal Prayer, as a piece of Deism; which, having been printed in London, in 4to. by Vaillant, was conveyed to the Chancellor Aguessau, who immediately sent a strong reprimand to M. Le Franc, and he vindicated his orthodoxy in a laboured letter to that learned Chancellor. Voltaire reproached Le Franc with making this translation. His brother, Bishop of Puy au Velei, has called Locke an atheist.