Abbildungen der Seite


1. Know then thyself; presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise and rudely great ;
With too much knowlege for the sceptic side, 5
With too much weakness for the stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err; 10
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused or disabused;
Created half to rise and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all ;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurld :
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world !
Go, wondrous creature ! mount where science

19 Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides;

15 30

1 Know then thyself. The division of the Epistles is clear and philosophical : the first treats of the ways of Provi. dence ; the second of man, considered as the subject of passions and powers; the third of man as a social being; and the fourth of man as the object of happiness.

20 Go, measure earth. In the early part of the reign of

Instruct the planets in what orbs to run;
Correct old time, and regulate the sun :
Go, soar with Plato to the empyreal sphere,

To the first good, first perfect, and first fair;
Or tread the mazy round his followers trod, 25
And quitting sense call imitating God;
As eastern priests in giddy circles run,
And turn their heads to imitate the sun.
Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule ;
Then drop into thyself, and be a fool!

Superior beings, when of late they saw A mortal man unfold all nature's law, Admired such wisdom in an earthly shape, And show'd a Newton as we show an ape. George I. the public attention had been drawn to the problems of the longitude, and the true figure of the earth, in which Newton was much engaged. Newton also drew up a tract on ancient chronology, by desire of the princess of Wales, which was surreptitiously translated and published in France. To this an allusion is probably made in the line, · Correct old time, and regulate the sun. Newton died in 1726.

34 And show'd a Newton as we show an ape. Controversy, at once angry and amusing, has done its worst with this wellknown line. Warburton and his followers contend that the angelic wonder is at the sagacity of man : the opposite side contend, that it is at his burlesque imitation of the wisdom of superior beings. The truth may lie between. When Pope writes,

Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule;

Then drop into thyself, and be a fool! he evidently ridicules the presumption of man in attempting knowlege above his sphere: and certainly our predominant feeling at the mimicries of an ape is not grave admiration of its intelligence, but amusement at the oddity of its imitation of acts whose meaning it is intirely inadequate to comprehend. Still, Newton was not in the condition of the ape; for he was adequate to comprehend what he undertook, the physical illustration of nature. The obvious conclusion is,

Could he, whose rules the rapid comet bind, 35
Describe or fix one movement of his mind?
Who saw its fires here rise, and there descend,
Explain his own beginning, or his end ?
Alas, what wonder! man's superior part
Uncheck'd may rise, and climb from art to art;
But when his own great work is but begun, 41
What reason weaves by passion is undone.

Trace science then, with modesty thy guide:
First strip off all her equipage of pride;
Deduct what is but vanity, or dress,
Or learning's luxury, or idleness ;
Or tricks to show the stretch of human brain,
Mere curious pleasure, or ingenious pain;
Expunge the whole, or lop the excrescent parts
Of all our vices have created arts;

50 Then see how little the remaining sum, Which served the past, and must the times to come!

11. Two principles in human nature reign; Self-love to urge, and reason to restrain; Nor this a good, nor that a bad we call; 55 Each works its end, to move or govern all ; And to their proper operation still Ascribe all good, to their improper ill.

Self-love, the spring of motion, acts the soul ; Reason's comparing balance rules the whole. 60

that Pope's idea was not clear to himself: his ear was caught by the epigram, while he was poetically careless of the philosophy. Warton traces the image to an obscure poem of modern latinity ; ' The Zodiac of Palingenius.' The quotation is certainly on the side of the burlesque :

Simia cælicolum risusque jocusque Deorum est
Tum homo, cum temere ingenio confidit, et audet
Abdita Naturæ scrutari, arcanaque Divum.

Man, but for that, no action could attend;
And, but for this, were active to no end :
Fix'd like a plant on his peculiar spot,
To draw nutrition, propagate, and rot;
Or, meteor-like, flame lawless through the void,
Destroying others, by himself destroy'd. 66

Most strength the moving principle requires :
Active its task, it prompts, impels, inspires :
Sedate and quiet the comparing lies,
Form’d but to check, deliberate, and advise. 70
Self-love still stronger, as its objects nigh ;
Reason's at distance, and in prospect lie:
That sees immediate good by present sense;
Reason, the future and the consequence.
Thicker than arguments, temptations throng; 75
At best more watchful this, but that more strong.
The action of the stronger to suspend,
Reason still use, to reason still attend :
Attention habit and experience gains; 79
Each strengthens reason, and self-love restrains.

Let subtle schoolmen teach these friends to fight, More studious to divide than to unite; And grace and virtue, sense and reason split, With all the rash dexterity of wit. Wits, just like fools, at war about a name, Have full as oft no meaning, or the same. Self-love and reason to one end aspire, Pain their aversion, pleasure their desire;

11 Self-love still stronger, as its objects nigh. The contrast between the objects of self-love and reason is common; but the direct reference here was probably to Bacon :- The difference (of affection and reason) is that the affection beholdeth merely the present, reason beholdeth the future and sum of time.'

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »