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ESSAY ON MAN.
AWAKE, my St. Jolin! leave all meaner things
1 Awake, my St. John! Henry St. John, son of Sir Henry St. John, baronet, of Lydiard Tregose in Wiltshire, by Mary, second daughter and heiress of Robert Rich, earl of Warwick, was born in 1678.--P.
The address in the first edition was to Lælius : Pope then studied concealment. The lines were an unconscious satire on Bolingbroke, whose earliest talents were wasted on low ambition, and whose closing years exhibited the most contemptible vacillations of public principle.
Eye nature's walks, shoot folly as it flies,
16 1. Say, first, of God above or man below, What can we reason but from what we know? Of man, what see we but his station here, From which to reason, or to which refer? 20
13 Shoot folly as it flies. Warton, an author who might bave been more easily pleased, reprobates this favorite phrase as • an unnatural mixture of the ludicrous and the serious.' Wakefield, whose judgment was sound where it was not perverted by his politics, on the other hand, describes the whole passage as 'one of the happiest specimens of poetical dexterity :' but his accuracy traces it to Dryden :-
While he, with watchful eye, Observes, and shoots their treasons as they fly. The subsequent popularity of the image proves that Pope might have also found it in human nature.
16 Vindicate the ways of God to man. Warburton's note on this vigorous line is characteristic of the faults and merits of his style ;--the seeing 'in Homer more than Homer knew,' and the dexterity with which he covers his failure :-- this,' says he, ‘is Milton's phrase judiciously altered, who says,
Justify the ways of God to man.' Milton was addressing himself to believers, and delivering reasons, or explaining the ways of God: this idea the word justify precisely conveys. Pope was addressing himself to unbelievers : he therefore more fitly employs the word vindicate, which conveys the idea of a confutation attended with punishment: thus, ‘Suscipere vindictam legis,' to undertake the defence of the law, implies punishing the violators of it.'
But this refinement is too refined: the quotation is even mistaken by Warburton's rude scholarship : ‘Suscipere vindictam legis,' is to undertake the avenging, not the defence, of the law. The more natural reason may be found in Pope's adopting the idea of Milton; yet not desiring to plagiarise by the direct adoption of the phrase, he chose a dissimilar word with a similar meaning. The chief general fault of the Essay is the absence of all decided indignation against unbelievers.
Through worlds unnumber'd though the God be
known, 'Tis ours to trace him only in our own. He, who through vast immensity can pierce, See worlds on worlds compose one universe, Observe how system into system runs,
25 What other planets circle other suns, What varied being peoples every star, May tell why Heaven has made us as we are. But of this frame, the bearings and the ties, The strong connexions, nice dependencies, 30 Gradations just, has thy pervading soul Look'd through? or can a part contain the whole?
Is the great chain, that draws all to agree, And drawn supports, upheld by God or thee? 11. Presumptuous man! the reason wouldst
thou find, Why form’d so weak, so little, and so blind ? First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess, Why form'd no weaker, blinder, and no less ? Ask of thy mother earth, why oaks are made Taller or stronger than the weeds they shade; 40 Or ask of yonder argent fields above, Why Jove's satellites are less than Jove.
12 'Tis ours to trace him only in our own. Warburton here quotes the Principia :—Hunc (Deum) cognoscimus solummodo per proprietates suas et attributa, et per sapientissimas et optimas rerum structuras, et causas finales.' But Newton speaks only as a natural philosopher. The divine might have observed how narrow an insight we obtain by the knowlege of the physical attributes, and how essential to all human progress is the knowlege of the moral, authentically supplied alone by Scripture.
42 Why Jove's satellites are less than Jove. Voltaire, with national Aippancy, says, 'that this only proves Pope to have been no mathematician ; for, if he had, he would have known why Jupiter's moons are less than Jupiter.' The Frenchman however forgives him, as he was only a poet : C'est une erreur pardonnable. The argument is, that in every system, to constitute order, there must be gradations.
Of systems possible, if 'tis confess’d That wisdom infinite must form the best, Where all must full or not coherent be, And all that rises, rise in due degree; Then, in the scale of reasoning life, 'tis plain, There must be somewhere such a rank as man; And all the question (wrangle e'er so long) Is only this, if God has placed him wrong. 50
Respecting man, whatever wrong we call, May, must be right, as relative to all. In human works, though labor'd on with pain, A thousand movements scarce one purpose gain ; In God's, one single can its end produce, 55 Yet serves to second too some other use. So man, who here seems principal alone, Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown; Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal; 'Tis but a part we see, and not a whole.
The original pronunciation of the word satellites perplexes the measure of the line : it is remarkable, that all words adopted in seamanship have been abbreviated; thus, horizon,
48 There must be somewhere such a rank as man. This assertion, confident as it is, would imply a knowlege of which none can be secure. Who shall tell us the rule by which the Creator might will to separate the ranks of his creation? We know that there was a period when man did not exist; that spiritual life existed before ; yet we have no reason to doubt its extreme dissimilitude to all that we see, and as little to doubt its suitableness to Div
When the proud steed shall know why man
restrains His fiery course, or drives him o'er the plains; When the dull ox, why now he breaks the clod; Is now a victim, and now Egypt's god : Then shall man's pride and dulness comprehend His actions', passions', being's, use and end; 66 Why doing, suffering; check’d, impelld; and why This hour a slave, the next a deity.
Then say not man's imperfect, Heaven in fault; Say rather, man's as perfect as he ought: His knowlege measured to his state and place; His time a moment, and a point his space: If to be perfect in a certain sphere, What matter, soon or late, or here or there? The bless’d to-day is as completely so, As who began a thousand years ago. 111. Heaven from all creatures hides the book
of fate; All but the page prescribed, their present state; From brutes what men, from men what spirits
Or who could suffer being here below?
64 Egypt's god. The worship of Apis was adopted from Asia, probably with some allegorical reference to the ark : but it escaped Pope's acuteness, that this Egyptian ox could not furnish an illustration drawn from the changes of animal condition. Apis knew no vicissitudes; he never left the shrine ; he neither • broke the clod, nor died a victim;' he was a stall-fed divinity, from the beginning to the end of his career.
If Pope spoke of the species, the illustration is equally inapposite.
80 Or who could suffer being here below? The argument here is, that foresight is denied to man for the sake of his present enjoyment: but this is rashly grounded on the supposition