« ZurückWeiter »
to justify them ; all is adjusted in the most perfect order ; whatever is, is right; and we have no occasion to call in the notion of a future life to vindicate the ways of God to man, because they are fully and sufficiently benevolent and just in the present.” If we cannot subscribe, on one hand, to Dr. Warburton's opinions, “ that these epistles have a precision, force, and closeness of connexion rarely to be met with, even in the most formal treatises of philosophy;" yet neither can we assent to the severe sentence that Dr. Johnson has passed on the other hand; namely, “ that penury of knowledge, and vulgarity of sentiment, were never so happily disguised as in this Essay ; the reader feels his mind full, though he learns nothing ; and, when he meets it in its new array, no longer knows the talk of his mother and his nurse."
It has been alleged that Pope did not fully comprehend the drift of the system communicated to him by Bolingbroke ; but the following remarkable words of his intimate friend, Mr. Jonathan Richardson, a man of known integrity and honour, clearly evince that he did : “ As for this Essay on Man, as I was witness to the whole conduct of it in writing, and actually have his original manuscripts for it, from the first scratches of the four books, to the several finished copies (of his own neat and elegant writing these last); all which, with the manuscript of his Essay on Criticism, and several of his other works, he gave me himself, for the pains I took in collating the whole with the printed editions, at his request, on my having proposed to him the making an edition of his works in the manner of Boileau's. As to this noblest of his works, I know that he never dreamed of the scheme he afterwards adopted ; perhaps for good reasons ; for he had taken terror about the clergy, and Warburton himself, at the general alarm of its fatalism and deistical tendency ; of which, however, we talked with him (my father and I) frequently at Twickenham, without his appearing to understand it otherwise, or even thinking to alter those passages, which he suggested as what might seem the most exceptionable.”
To this testimony of Richardson, which is decisive, I will now add, that Lord Lyttelton, with his usual frankness and ingenuity, assured me, that he had frequently talked with Pope on the subject, whose opinions were at that time conformable to his own ; before he had written his Observations on the Conversion of St. Paul, when he and his friends (not excepting Mr. Gilbert West) were, as he most candidly confessed, too much inclined to deism, but had fortunately become a most serious and earnest believer of Christianity. Is it not more probable and reasonable to suppose, that Pope might also change bis opinion, though, at the time of writing the Essay on Man, he was tinctured with principles of another kind ? and that he was equally in earnest when he was a disciple of Bolingbroke, as he afterwards was when he became a disciple of Warburton ? It is incredible that he should not be acquainted with the objections that Bolingbroke held against revealed religion ; which objections are perpetually repeated, and pervade all his works. But Pope might not indeed know the real opinions of his guide concerning a particular important topic—the moral attributes of the Deity. These two cases are widely different ; and there lies a vast space
betwixt these two species of infidelity. A man may be unhappily and unjustly prejurliced against the Christian religion, and yet be fully and firmly persuaded of the belief of a God, and his moral attributes. Mr. Harte more than once assured me, that he had seen the pressing letter Dr. Young wrote to Pope, urging him to write something on the side of revelation; to which he alluded in the first Night-thought :
O had he press'd his theme, pursu'd the track
Soard when I sink, and sung immortal man!” And when Harte frequently made the same request, he used to answer, “ No, no! you have already done it ;” alluding to Harte's Essay on Reason, which Harte thought a lame apology, and hardly serious. pect to what has just been mentioned, that Pope was not acquainted with the opinions of his philosophic guide, on the subject of the moral attributes of the Deity, it seems rather strange and incredible that he should not understand the following, among many other passages, to this purpose :
“ Clarke, after repeating over and over all the moral attributes, that they are the same in God as they are in our ideas, and that he who denies them to be so, may as well deny the divine physical attributes, insists only on two of the former, on those of justice and goodness. He was much in the right to contract the generality of his assertion. The absurdity of ascribing temperance, for instance, or fortitude, to God, would have been too gross and too risible, even to eyes that prejudice had blinded the most.
But that of ascribing justice and goodness to him, according to our notions of them, might be better covered, and was enough for his purpose, though not less really absurd.” Vol. iv. p. 298. It is somewhat remarkable, that this very opinion, that we have no clear and adequate ideas of God's moral attributes, is strongly maintained by that excellent man and writer, Archbishop King, in his Sermon on Divine Predestination, 1709, which was answered by Anthony Collins, author of the Essay on Free-thinking. The person who wrote the spirited and elegant anonymous letter to Dr. Warburton on the supposed severity with which he was thought to have treated Lord Bolingbroke in the View of his Philosophy, was the late Lord Mansfield ; and this letter was answered by Dr. Warburton, with much force and apparent mortification, in the Apology prefixed to the last edition of this View.-Warton.
It is impossible to observe without regret, the attempts that have been made to demonstrate that this noble poem is founded on what are called infidel principles, and is unfavourable to the doctrines of Christianity. This idea, though often before expressed or insinuated, seems to have received its full sanction in the preceding observations of Dr. Warton, where, as well as in his notes the Essay, he has been at great pains to show, that this poem is favourable to fatalism and necessity ; that the doctrine obviously intended
to be inculcated is, that “all is adjusted in the most perfect order ;” that “ whatever is, is right; and we have no occasion to call in the notion of a future life to vindicate the ways of God to man, because they are fully and sufficiently benevolent and just in the present.” Not satisfied, however, with this decisive expression of his own opinion, he has attacked that of Dr. Warburton, and has asserted, that “ his attempt to reconcile the doctrines of the Essay on Man to the doctrines of revelation, is the rashest adventure in which ever critic yet engaged ;" that “this is, in truth, to divine, rather than to explain an author's meaning? ;” and again, that “he bas disfigured and disgraced his edition of the works of Pope with many forced and far-sought interpretations, totally unsupported by the passages which they were brought to elucidate ? ;” and that in particular, “he laboured in vain, and with an ill-grounded zeal, to take Pope out of the hands of the Infidels 3.” Acting under such impressions, Dr. Warton has thought proper to exclude the Commentary of Warburton from his edition, and to accompany the Essay on Man with notes tending to confirm his own views of the subject ; a measure, the propriety and justice of which may well be doubted, when it is considered, that such Commentary was written in the lifetime of Pope, and was received by him with the warmest expressions of approbation, as solution of all such doubts and unfavourable constructions as could possibly arise in the perusal of his work.” " You have made my system,” says he, “ as clear as I ought to have done, and could not. It is indeed the same system as mine, but illustrated with a ray of your own; as they say our natural body is the same still, when it is glorified 4.” And again, shortly before his death : “ I own the late encroachments upon my constitution make me willing to see the end of all further care about me or my works. I would rest for the one in a full resignation of my being, to be disposed of by the Father of all mercy; and for the other (though indeed a trifle, yet a trifle may be some example) I would commit them to the candour of a sensible and reflecting judge, rather than to the malice of every. shortsighted and malevolent critic, or inadvertent or censorious reader : and no hand can set them in so good a light, or so well turn their best side to the day, as your own 5." After su decided a proof of approbation, it is surely carrying the authority of an editor to its highest pitch, to declare, that “the author's fond expectation of his Commentator's setting his works in the best light, ‘was extremely ill founded !"" Are we to suppose that a person whose accuracy in expressing his own ideas was never exceeded by any writer, either ancient or modern, did not know his own meaning ? and is it fair or candid, when the author is no more, not only to discard the interpretation which he has himself expressly approved, but to impose upon his work a meaning against which he invariably protested in the strongest terms, and which, if he had thought it would have been
1 Note on Essay on Criticism, Warton's Ed. vol. i. p.
174. ? General Advertisement prefixed to Warton's Ed. vol. ). 3 Note on Essay on Man, Ep. 1. ver. 16. Warton's Ed. * Pope to Warburton, Letter i. 5 Pope to Warburton, Letter xxiv.
adopted by posterity, would have embittered the latest moments of his life?
That the representation given by Warton of the doctrine intended to be inculcated by Pope in his Essay on Man, is erroneous, a few words will sufficiently demonstrate. Warton supposes, that Pope intended to assert that “whatever is, is right ;” and that “we have therefore no occasion to call in the notion of a future state, to justify the ways of God to man, because they are fully and sufficiently benevolent and just in the present ;” but Pope neither intended to make, nor has made any such assertion. His idea is, that whatever is, is right—not because every thing is perfect here ; but because every thing is perfect when considered with regard to the great designs and purposes of the Creator, as well here as elsewhere, as well in a future as in the present state of being. It is indeed extraordinary that any misapprehension could have arisen, on a subject which he has taken the utmost care to explain, in the very commencement of his work :
* Respecting man whatever wrong we call,
May, must be right-as relative to all.
Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 51. From which it clearly appears, that in the apprehension of the poet all would not be right, if this world had not a relation to another state of being, and that all is right, only when considered as relative to all.
The foregoing observations may, perhaps, receive further illustration from an account of the different doctrines of Pope and Bolingbroke, as given by Ruffhead, in his life of Pope ; but which bears too evident marks of the acuteness and style of Warburton, to allow us to attribute it to any other writer :
" Mr. Pope's Essay on Man is a real vindication of Providence against libertines and atheists; who quarrel with the present constitution of things, and deny a future state. To these he answers, that whatever is, is right; and he assigns this reason, that we see only a part of the moral system, and not the whole. Therefore these irregularities, serving to great purposes, such as the fuller manifestation of God's goodness and justice, they are right.
"On the other hand Lord Bolingbroke's Essays are a pretended vindication of Providence against an imaginary confederacy between divines and atheists ; who use a common principle, namely, the irregularities of God's moral government here ; the one, to establish a future state ; the other, to discredit the being of a God.
“ His Lordship, who opposes their different conclusions, endeavours to overthrow their common principle by his friend's maxim, that whatever is, is right ; not because the present state of our moral world (which is part only of a general system), is necessary for the greater perfection of the whole, but because our moral world is an entire system of itself.
“ His Lordship applies the maxim no better (as might be expected) than he understands it. Mr. Pope, as has been observed, urges it against atheists and libertines, who say that the constitution of things is faulty ; so that the reply, whatever is, is right, is pertinent in him. His Lordship on the other hand directs it against divines, who say, indeed, that this constitution is imperfect, if considered separately, because it is a part only of a whole, but are as far as his Lordship from calling it faulty; therefore the reply, that whatever is, is right, is, in him, impertinent.
“ In a word, the poet directs it against atheists and libertines, in support of religion, properly so called ; the philosopher against divines, in support of religion, improperly so called, namely, NATURALISM ; and the success is answerable. Mr. Pope's argument is manly, systematical, and convincing ; Lord Bolingbroke's confused, prevaricating, and inconsistent.”
With respect to the passage cited by Dr. Warton from the younger Richardson, in which it is said that Pope “never dreamt of the scheme he afterwards adopted,” but “that he had taken terror about the Clergy and Warburton himself, at the general alarm of its fatalism and deistical tendency ;" whence it is inferred, that considerable alterations were made in the purport and tendency of the poem ; it may with safety be asserted that this inference cannot be true. The Essay on Man, as it now appears, could at no time have existed in any form very different with respect to its doctrinal tenets from what it is at present ; so that any passages tending to the inculcation of infidel principles, or to discredit Christianity, would not only have been inconsistent with the general purpose of it, but totally contradictory to the conclusion, which points to the Christian revelation as the completion of the system. To suppose that Pope had written a poem in order to promote the cause of infidelity, but which he afterwards altered in such a manner as entirely to change its object and tendency, is absurd, as in such case he must have altered the texture and construction of his whole work. The younger Richardson appears to have been an honest, but a weak man, who, although he was employed by Pope to collate his works with the printed editions, was unequal to judge of the operations of a mind like that of Pope. If, as he states, there existed so entire a discrepancy between the Essay on Man as published, and the original manuscripts, all of which, “from the first scratches of the four books to the several finished copies,” Richardson had in his possession, how happens it that he did not gratify the curiosity of the public with some instances of those important alterations, which we are told Pope was induced to make, even against his own judgment, in order to prevent those consequences which it seems had excited so much alarm in his mind ?
Yet more extraordinary is the testimony brought forwards by Dr. Warton himself; who informs us, that Lord Lyttelton assured him, that he had frequently talked with Pope, whose opinions were at that time