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On human Actions reason tho' you can,
25 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 you dissect, You lose it in the moment you detect.
30 Yet more; the diff"rence is as great between The optics seeing, as the objects seen. All Manners take a tincture from our own; Or come discolour'd through our Passions shown. Or Fancy's beam enlarges, multiplies,
35 Contracts, inverts, and gives ten thousand dies.
Nor will Life's stream for Observation stay, It hurries all too fast to mark their
way : In vain sedate reflections we would make, When half our knowledge we must snatch, not take.
Ver. 25. On human Actions, &c.] A fifth cause (from Ver. 24 to 31), is the sudden change of his principle of action; either on the point of its being laid open and detected, or when it is reasoned upon, and attempted to be explored. W.
Ver 31. Yet more ; the diff'rence, &c.] Hitherto the Poet hath spoken of the causes of difficulty arising from the obscurity of the object; he now comes to those which proceed from defects in the observer. The first of which, and a sixth cause of difficulty, he shews (from Ver. 30 to 37), is the perverse manners, affections, and imaginations, of the observer; whereby the characters of others are rarely seen either in their true light, complexion, or proportion. W.
Ver. 33. AU Manners take] A deep knowledge of Human Nature is displayed in these four lines. So also in Ver. 42.
Ver. 37. Nor will Life's stream for Observation, &c.] The seventh cause of difficulty, and the second arising from defects in the. Observer (from Ver. 36 to 41), is the shortness of human life ; which will not suffer him to select and weigh out his knowledge, but just to snatch it, as it rolls swiftly by him down the rapid current of Time. W.
Oft, in the Passions' wide rotation tost,
41 Our spring of action to ourselves is lost: Tir’d, not determin’d, to the last we yield, And what comes then is master of the field. As the last image of that troubled heap,
45 When sense subsides, and Fancy sports in sleep (Tho' past the recollection of the thought), Becomes the stuff of which our dream is wrought :
Ver. 41. Oft, in the Passions', &c.] We come now to the eighth and last cause, which very properly concludes the account; as, in a sort, it sums up all the difficulties in one (from Ver. 40 to 51), namely, that very often the man himself is ignorant of his own motive of action ; the cause of which ignorance our Author has admirably explained: When the mind (says he) is now tired out by the long conflict of opposite motives, it withdraws its attention, and suffers the will to be seized upon by the first that afterward obtrudes itself, without taking much notice what that motive is. This is finely illustrated by what he supposes to be the natural cause of dreams; where the fancy, just let loose, possesses itself of the last image which it meets with, on the confines between sleep and waking, and on that erects all its ideal scenery; yet this seizure is, with great difficulty, recollected; and never, but when by some accident we happen to have our first slumbers suddenly interrupted. Then (which proves the truth of the hypothesis) we are sometimes able to trace the workings of the Fancy backwards, from idea to idea, in a chain, till we come to that from whence they all arose. W.
Ver. 48. Becomes the stuff of which our dream is wrought :] Giraldus Cambrensis, speaking of a divine vision with which he was favoured, seems yet to think that it might be made out of the stuff of his waking thoughts. His words are these :“Cum igitur super universis quæ nobis acciderant, mecum non mediocriteranxius extiterim-suspiriosæ mihi multoties cogitationes in animum ascenderint, nocte quadam in somnis Ex RELIQUIIS FERTE COGITATIONEM Visionem vidi,” &c. De rebus a se gestis, L. 11. C. 12. By which we see, and it is worth remarking, that to philosophize on our Superstitions is so far from erasing them, that it engraves them but the more deeply in the mind. The reason is plain; it turns the objection to them to a solution in their credit. W.
Something as dim to our internal view,
True some are open, and to all men known;
Ver. 56. Still sits at squat,] No two characters have been painted with more life and truth, and more circumstances nicely discriminated, than those of the artful Blifield and the open Tom Jones, in Fielding's incomparable Comic Epopée, an original and unrivalled work.
Ver. 56. peeps not from its hole.] Which shews (says Scriblerus, idly) that this grave person was content with his present situation, as finding but small satisfaction in what a famous Poet reckons one of the advantages of old age;
“ The soul's dark cottage, batter'd and decay'd,
Scribl. Ver. 57. At half mankind] The character alluded to is the principal one in the Plain Dealer of Wycherly, a comedy taken from the Misanthrope of Moliere, but much inferior to the original. Alcestes has not that bitterness of spirit, and has much more humanity and honour than Manly. Writers transfuse their own characters into their works: Wycherly was a vain aud profligate libertine; Moliere was beloved for his candour, sweetness of temper, and integrity. It is remarkable that the French did not relish this incomparable comedy on the three first representations. The strokes of satire were too subtle and delicate to be felt by the generality of the audience, who expected only the gross diversion of laughing; so that, at the fourth time of its being acted, the author was forced to add to it one of his coarsest farces; but Boileau in the mean time affirmed that it was the capital work of
When universal homage Umbra pays,
But these plain characters we rarely find;
their stage, and that the people would one time be induced to
Ver. 61. hate it in a Queen,] Meaning Queen Caroline, whom he was fond of censuring; as was Bolingbroke. See vol. i. p. 123 of his Works, for a bitter ridicule on her affectation of science.
Ver. 62. who charms us with his Spleen.] Closely copied from Boileau ;
“Un esprit né chagrin plait par son chagrin même." It is a compliment to Swift.
Ver. 69. Unthought-of Frailties] For who could have thought that Xenophon, during his famous retreat, performed many acts of the most vulgar superstition; that Augustus was alarmed and dispirited if he put on a slipper on his right leg which should have been on his left; that Newton once studied astrology; and that Thuanus, Dryden, and the Chancellor Shaftesbury, calculated nativities; that Roger Ascham and Dr. Whitby were devoted lovers of cock-fighting, as was Bayle of mountebanks; that Bishop Hoadley was often rallied by Dr. Clarke for his dread of thunder; that Henry IV. of France was terrified at the jolting of his coach; that Ben Johnson and Addison were hard drinkers, and our Author himself an epicure. The night before the battle of Blenheim, after a council of war had been held in the Duke of Marlborough's tent, at which Prince Louis of Baden and Prince Eugene had assisted, the latter, after the council had broke up,
See the same man, in vigour, in the gout; Alone, in company ; in place, or out;
votes. stepped back to the tent to communicate something he had forgot to the Duke, whom he found giving orders to his aid-de-camp Colonel Selwyn (who related this fact) at the table, on which there was now only a single taper burning, all the others being extinguished the moment the council was over. “What a man is this," said Prince Eugene, “who at such a time can think of saving the ends of candles.” Elizabeth was a coquette, and Bacon received a bribe. Dr. Busby had a violent passion for the stage; it was excited in him by the applauses he received in acting the Royal Slave before the king at Christ-church; and he declared, that, if the rebellion had not broke out, he had certainly engaged himself as an actor. Luther was so immoderately passionate, that he sometimes boxed Melancthon's ears; and Melancthon himself was a believer in judicial astrology, and an interpreter of dreams. Richelieu and Mazarin were so superstitious as to employ and pension Morin, a pretender to astrology, who cast the nativities of those two able politicians. Nor was Tacitus himself, who generally appears superior to superstition, untainted with this folly, as may appear from the twenty-second chapter of the sixth book of his Annals. Men of great genius have been somewhere compared to the pillar of fire that conducted the Israelites, which frequently turned a cloudy side towards the spectator.
Ver. 71. See the same mun, &c.] Of four causes he here gives EXAMPLES: 1. Of the vivacity of the imagination (from Ver. 70 to 77.)-2. Of the contrariety of Appetites (from Ver. 76 to 81).--3. Of Affectations (from Ver. 80 to 87). - and 4. Of the Inequali. ties of the human mind (from Ver. 86 to 95), W.
Ver. 72. Alone, in company ,] The unexpected inequalities of our minds and tempers is a subject that has been exhausted by Montagne in the 1st chap. of the 2d book of his Essays, which, it is evident, Pope had been reading. Nothing can be finer than the picture which Tully has given, in his oration for Cælius, of the inconsistencies and varieties of Catiline's conduct; ending with, “Quis clarioribus viris quodam tempore jucundior? Quis turpioribus conjunctior ? Quis civis meliorum partium aliquando? Quis tetrior hostis huic civitati? Quis in voluptatibus inquinatior? Quis in laboribus patientior? Quis in rapacitate avarior? Quis in largi