« ZurückWeiter »
Yet not to earth's contracted span
Or think Thee Lord alone of man,
Let not this weak, unknowing hand 25
And deal damnation round the land'
If I am right, thy grace impart
If I am wrong, oh teach my heart
Save me alike from foolish pride,
At aught thy wisdom has denied, 35
Teach me to feel another's woe,
That mercy I to others show,
There is something elevated in the idea and expression,
Or think Thee Lord alone of man, When thousand worlds are round;
but the conclusion is a contrast of littleness,
And deal damnation round the land.— Bowles. * Unquestionably no man of right judgment will pronounce the holder of any opinion to be beyond the limits of divine mercy; but he may justly pronounce the opinion itself to be ruinous in the highest degree. Nothing can be more false than the spurious liberality which presumes all
opinions to be equally innocent, or affects to conceive that man is answerable only for the sincerity of his convictions. He is accountable for his opportunities, his understanding, and his knowledge, and if he espouses error through negligence, prejudice, or presumption, he involves himself in the full criminality of his error.— CRoly. * I have often wondered that the same poet who wrote the Dunciad should have written these lines. Alas for Pope, if the mercy he showed to others was the measure of the mercy he received.—CowPER,
Oh lead me wheresoe’er I go,
This day be bread and peace my lot: 45
Thou know'st if best bestowed or not,
To Thee, whose temple is all space,
One chorus let all being raise;
THE opening of this Poem, in fifteen lines, is taken up in giving an account of the subject; which, agreeably to the title, is an Essay on Man, or a philosophical inquiry into his nature and end, his passions and pursuits. The exordium relates to the whole work, of which the Essay on Man was only the first book. The sixth, seventh, and eighth lines allude to the subjects of this Essay, viz. the general order and design of Providence; the constitution of the human mind; the origin, use, and end of the passions and affections, both selfish and social; and the wrong pursuits of happiness in power, pleasure, &c. The tenth, eleventh, twelfth, &c. have relation to the subjects of the books intended to follow, viz. the characters and capacities of men, and the limits of science, which once transgressed, ignorance begins, and errors without end succeed. The thirteenth and fourteenth, to the knowledge of mankind, and the various manners of the age.
The poet tells us next, line 16, with what design he wrote, viz.
To vindicate the ways of God to man.
The men he writes against, he frequently informs us, are such as weigh their opinions against Providence, ver, 114, such as cry, if man's unhappy, God's unjust, ver. 118, or such as fall into the notion, that vice and virtue there is none at all, Epistle ii. ver. 212. This occasions the poet to divide his vindication of the ways of God into two parts; in the first of which he gives direct answers to those objections which libertine men, on a view of the disorders arising from the perversity of the human will, have intended against Providence; and in the second, he obviates all those oljections, by a true delineation of human nature, or a general, but exact, map of man. The first Epistle is employed in the management of the first part of this dispute; and the three following, in the discussion of the second. So that this whole book constitutes a complete Essay on Man, written for the best purpose, to vindicate the ways of God. Wer. 17. Say first, of God above, or man below, &c.] The poet having declared his subject; his end of writing; and the quality of his adversaries, proceeds, from ver, 16 to 23, to instruct us, from whence he intends to draw his arguments; namely, from the visible things of God in this system, to demonstrate the invisible things of God, his eternal power and godhead. And why Because we can reason only from what we know; and as we know no more of man than what we see of his station here, so we know no more of God than what we see of his dispensations in this station; being able to trace him no further than to the limits of our own system. This naturally leads the poet to exprobrate the miserable folly and impiety of pretending to pry into, and call in question, the profound dispensations of Providence: which reproof contains, from ver, 22 to 43, a sublime description of the omniscience of God, and the miserable blindness and presumption of man. Wer. 43. Of systems possible, &c.] So far the poet's modest and sober introduction: in which he truly observes, that no wisdom less than omniscient
1 Erudition and acuteness are not the only requisites of a good commentator. That conformity of sentiment which enables him fully to enter into the intention of his author, and that fairness of disposition which places him above every wish of disguising or misrepresenting it, are qualifications not less essential. In these points it is no breach of candour to affirm, since the public voice has awarded the sentence, that Dr. Warburton has, in various of his critical labours, shown himself extremely defective, and perhaps in none more than in those he has expended upon this performance, his manifest purposes in which, have been to give it a systematic perfection that it does not possess, to conceal as much as possible the suspicious source whence the author derived his leading ideas, and to reduce the whole to the standard of moral orthodoxy. So much is the sense of the poet strained and warped by these processes of his commentator, that it is scarcely possible in many places to enter into his real meaning, without laying aside the commentary, and letting the text speak for itself.-AIKIN.
WOL. II.-POETRY. pi hi
Can tell why heav'n has made us as we are.
Yet though we be unable to discover the particular reasons for this mode of our existence, we may be assured in general that it is right. For now, entering upon his argument, he lays down this evident proposition as the foundation of his thesis, which he reasonably supposes will be allowed him, That, of all possible systems, infinite wisdom hath formed the best, ver, 43, 44. From whence he draws two consequences: 1. The first, from ver. 44 to 51, is, that as the best system cannot but be such a one as hath no unconnected void; such a one in which there is a perfect coherence and gradual subordination in all its parts; there must needs be, in some part or other of the scale of reasoning life, such a creature as man, which reduces the dispute to this absurd question, Whether God has placed him wrong Wer. 51. Respecting man, doc.] It being shown that man, the subject of this inquiry, has a necessary place in such a system as this is confessed to be; and it being evident, that the abuse of free-will, from whence proceeds all moral evil, is the certain effect of such a creature's existence; the next question will be, how these evils can be accounted for, consistently with the idea we have of God's moral attributes ? Therefore, 2. The second consequence he draws from his principle, That of all possible systems, infinite wisdom has formed the best, is, that whatever is wrong in our private system, is right as relative to the whole:
Respecting man, whatever wrong we call,
That it may, he proves, from ver. 52 to 61, by showing in what consists the difference between the systematic works of God, and those of man; viz. that, in the latter, a thousand movements scarce gain one purpose; in the former, one movement gains many purposes. So that
Man, who here seems principal alone,
And acting thus, the appearance of wrong in the partial system may be right in the universal; for "Tis but a part we sec, and not a whole.
That it must, the whole body of this epistle is employed to illustrate and enforce. Thus partial evil is universal good, and thus Providence is fairly acquitted. Ver. 61. When the proud steed, doc.] From all this the poet draws a general conclusion, from ver, 60 to 91, that, as what has been said is sufficient to vindicate the ways of Providence, man should rest submissive and content, and own everything to be disposed for the best; that to think of discovering the manner how God conducts this wonderful scheme to its completion, is as absurd as to imagine that the horse and ox shall ever be able to comprehend why they undergo such different treatment in the hand of man: nay, that such knowledge, if communicated, would be even pernicious, and make us neglect or desert our duty here. This he illustrates by the case of the lamb, which is happy in not knowing the fate that attends it from the butcher; and from thence takes occasion to observe, that God is the equal master of all his creatures, and provides for the proper happiness of each and every of them. Wer. 91. Hope humbly then; &c.] But now an objector is supposed to put in, and say, “You tell us, indeed, that all things shall terminate in good; but we see ourselves surrounded with present evil; yet you forbid us all inquiry into the manner how we are to be extricated from it, and, in a word, leave us in a very disconsolate condition.” Not so, replies the poet; you may reasonably, if you please, receive much comfort from the hope of a happy futurity; a hope implanted in the human breast by God himself for this very purpose, as an earnest of that bliss, which, always flying from us here, is reserved for the good man hereafter. The reason why the poet chooses to insist on this proof of a future state, in preference to others, is in order to give his system (which is founded in a sublime and improved Platonism) the greater grace of uniformity. For hope was Plato's peculiar argument for a future state; and the words here employed, The soul uneasy, &c. his peculiar expression. The poet in this place, therefore, says in express terms, that God gave us hope to supply that future bliss, which he at present keeps hid from us. In his second Epistle, ver, 274, he goes still further, and says, this hope quits us not even at death, when every thing mortal drops from us:
Hope travels through, nor quits us when we die.
And in the fourth Epistle he shows how the same hope is a proof of a future state, from the consideration of God's giving his creatures no appetite in vain, or what he did not intend should be satisfied:
He sees, why nature plants in man alone