« AnteriorContinuar »
individual at its true value, to estimate it, not according as it is felt by the indi. vidual, but as it finds its place in the general system. All men are equally happy who recognize the Order which assigns to them their place; and God has given to all that happiness which springs from taking the right means towards attaining to it. Thus the poem at its close recurs to its fundamental idea of the benevolent system of the Universe, in which every virtue, as well as every passion, has its object and end.
If the above fairly represent the outline of the argument of this celebrated essay, it will be sufficient to add only a very few words, in order to shew where it halts. The optimistic conclusion of the first Epistle cannot be said to be logically drawn from its premises. The presumptuousness of attempting to judge the system of the Universe from the peculiar point of view of Man, is incontestably demonstrated; but the perfection of the entire system is merely generalised out of a few phenomena, which man may misjudge as utterly as, according to the poet, he misjudges extraordinary occurrences which seem evils to him. And from an ethical point of view, the result, if logically followed out, is pure fatalism; and man, as completely as every other organic part of creation, reduced to a puppet. To avert this conclusion, Pope in the Universal Prayer addresses Providence as binding nature, i. e the rest of nature, fast in fate, but leaving the human will free! With regard to the application of the general proposition to the special case of human nature in the second Epistle, it is obvious that the distinction drawn between self-love and reason, is wholly illogical; inasmuch as reason, being a power of the mind, may be employed by self-love for its own purposes, so that, as has been well pointed out, it depends upon the use of reason, not upon the direction given to self-love, what tendency the moral being of man will assume. The third Epistle, resuming the argument of the first, lands us in the same result. The theory that self-love and social are the same, amounts to nothing short of this : that civilisation is only the product of man's instinct of self-defence and selfadvancement, that the institutions of society are merely means adopted for satisfying in the most convenient manner the necessities of the individual; and that men are therefore, like Mandeville's bees, only being guided by another power to co-operate in a system of which they unconsciously form part. This view, which since Pope's day has reappeared in many forms, may be true or false; it is certain that it is not the view which Pope designed to enforce.
The truth is, that Pope endeavoured to develope a moral system which (whether perfect or imperfect in itself) was at all events imperfectly understood by him. The Essay on Man, even if the anecdote be untrustworthy according to which its scheme was originally drawn up in writing by Bolingbroke, was undoubtedly due, if not to the suggestion, at all events to the influence and conversation, of that nobleman upon Pope's receptive mind. The philosophic stamina of the Essay, to use Johnson's expression, belonged to Bolingbroke; and it was only with regard to the execution that the latter could have expressed to Swift (letter of November 19, 1729) that the work, 'in Pope's hands, would be an original.' Bolingbroke's most recent biographer, Mr Macknight, has therefore not said too much when he avers : “There is no doubt whatever, but that Pope received from Bolingbroke the leading principles of his Essay on Man. Pope, indeed, acknowledges his obligations in the fullest sense at the beginning of the first, and the end of the fourth Book; and, notwithstanding Warburton's defence, the Essay on Man and the principles of Bolingbroke must be considered one and the same, though they are less openly expressed in the poem, and disguised with poetical ornament. It is impossible to find in any couplet any acknowledgment of revealed religion; but, on the contrary, all that admiration of nature, of looking upward through nature to nature's God, which was Bolingbroke's main tenet. ... The tendency [of the leading sentiments of the Essay), ‘so far as they have a tendency, is undoubtedly to that blind fatalism and naturalism, which Bolingbroke called pure theism. His condemnation of metaphysics really meant everything that is called theology.'
Even, therefore, if Pope (as had been concluded from certain passages which prove him to have been acquainted with parts at least of these works,) had read the Theodicée of Leibnitz, whose optimism is that of the first Epistle, Archbishop King's Origin of Evil, and other metaphysical treatises, it is in the Essays of Bolingbroke that the germ of Pope's argument is to be found. These Essays (which their author had not the courage to publish before his death) attempt to apply the inductive method to that part of philosophy which concerns the relations between God and man; and, assuming that all human knowledge is derived through the medium of the senses, to shew that it is only from a study of the works of God that a knowledge of his character is attainable by us. This is, in one word, the natural theology of Bolingbroke, which regards all other theology not only as superfluous, but as futile and vain.
Pope, as Bolingbroke on one occasion roundly said of him, though in a different connexion, was 'a very great wit, and a very indifferent philosopher.' The consequence is, that although as the development of a doubtful system by one who imperfectly understood it, the Essay on Man is without permanent value as a philosophical treatise, it has many unquestionable merits of its own. Beattie (see Forbes' Life of B. vol. 1. p. 120) appears to characterise it very justly in describing 'its sentiments' as 'noble and affecting'; 'its images and allusions' as ‘apposite, beautiful and new'; its wit as 'transcendently excellent’; but the 'scientific part' as 'very exceptionable.' If the Essay on Man were shivered into frag. ments, it would not lose its value; for it is precisely its details which constitute its moral so well as literary beauties. Nowhere has Pope so abundantly displayed his incomparable talent of elevating truisms into proverbs, in his mastery over language and poetic form. It is particularly in the fourth Epistle, where the poet undertakes to prove the incontestable truth that all men may be happy, if they will take the right road to happiness, that he is thoroughly in his element; and demonstrates so palpable a truism by a brilliant series of arguments and illustrations which beguile the reader into a belief that he needed to be convinced.
The Moral Essays, which at Warburton's suggestion were pressed into the service of the general scheme, appear to explain themselves. The idea of the Master-Passion, which swallows all the rest (Essay on Man, II. 131), if carried to its logical consequences, results, as Johnson points out, in a kind of moral predestination; if taken cum grano, is sufficiently trite and commonplace. As illustrated by the first and second of these Epistles, it resembles that which suggested the title and subject of Young's Universal Passion. Young, however, treats the Love of Fame as the Universal Passion in either sex. The third and fourth are on a subject familiar to all satirists, ancient and modern ; the fifth is only perforce included in the series, although it may, in the place which it occupies, be regarded as a kind of corollary to the fourth, as Warburton desired.]
AN ESSAY ON MAN,
H. ST JOHN LORD BOLINGBROKE'.
as (to use my Lord Bacon's expression) come home to Men's Business and
1 [Henry St John, afterwards Viscount Boling: his absence he was attainted of treason, and broke, was born about the year 1678. Educated his name erased from the roll of peers. Before at Eton and Christ Church, he commenced a the attainder, he had accepted at the hands life of dissipation in the metropolis towards the of the Pretender the seals of the Secretary of close of the century, manifesting however lite- State. The death of Louis XIV. in September rary tastes by poetical productions, which neither put an end to the Pretender's chances, and the Swift nor Pope could ever bring themselves to rising in Scotland with which the the year closed, praise. In 1701 he took his seat in Parliament, was undertaken against the express opinion of as member for the family borough of Wootton Bolingbroke. Scotch, Irish, Jesuit and female Bassett, which he afterwards exchanged for the intrigues caused him to be rejected by the Prefamily county of Wilts. In politics, he at once tender; and he remained a total exile from politics became a Tory of the Tories, and a High Church- till 1725. In his retirement at La Source near man of the High Churchmen; soon raising him- Orleans, he composed his affected Reflexions on self by the fire of his oratory, the bitterness of Exile, and his celebrated Letter to Sir William his sarcasm, and the cruel unscrupulousness of Windham (not published till 1753), the latter his invective, to a distinguished position. Such an elaborate vindication of his political conduct. different judges as Pitt and Brougham agree in He also occupied himself with the philosophical concluding him to have been one of the most studies which resulted in the Essays published consummate orators of any age. In 1704, he after his death by Mallet. In 1723, he obtained became Secretary-at-war in the so-called Com- a pardon, but not a reversal of his attainder; in promise ministry, and followed Harley out of 1725, on his return to England, he recovered his office in 1708. Though he had, according to his property and was thus, to use his own expression, avowal, done for ever with politics and ambition, two-thirds restored.'. During the years from he returned into office as Secretary of State, 1725 to 1735, he resided at Dawley near Uxwhen the famous intrigue of 1710 brought the bridge, in the immediate neighbourhood of Tories into power.
It was this ministry which Twickenham, the abode of his friend and adresolved upon the termination of the war with mirer Pope. In the year 1727 he again comFrance; and the famous Examiner contained menced political writing, with the hope of overno bitterer and more effective onslaughts upon throwing the influence of Walpole. But the Marlborough, than those written by his former death of George I. failing to overthrow that protégé St John. He was at this time on in- minister, Bolingbroke continued his hopeless timate terms with Prior and Swift, with whom attacks, in the vain hope of influencing the mind he founded the Brothers' Club; but at the same of the heir to the throne of George II., Frederick time this literary minister was one of the most prince of Wales. His letters on the Spirit of determined enemies of the freedom of the press, Patriotism and the Idea of a Patriot King were and the author of the Stamp Act, from which, political bids concealed under the pretence of in the end, as might have been expected, the a philosophy above parties. In 1744, after his Tory publications suffered more than the Whig. father's death, he setiled down for the remainder In 17i2, he was created Viscount Bolingbroke of his life in his ancestral home at Battersea, and Baron St John; and his rivalry with Harley where he died in 1751, confident that posterity (now Earl of Oxford) was fast rising into open would do justice to his memory when acquainted enmity. They held out together long enough with the fulness of his genius from his posthumous to ensure the conclusion of the peace of Utrecht writings. Patriotism and philosophy were ideas in 1713, to further which Bolingbroke had in with which he had been wont to make free 1712 visited Paris, when he was reported to throughout his life ; selfishness, which is consohave had an interview with the Pretender. At nant with neither, was the motive of all his all events, it is certain that with the latter actions and the spirit which dictated all his Bolingbroke was, from 1713, engaged in secret works. The national instinct was sure enough intrigues; and had involved himself so deeply, to recognise his philosophy as dangerous, and that after the death of Queen Anne, a prose- his patriotism as rotten.) cution threatened him, from which he saved [See Bacon's Dedication of his Essays to the himself by flight to Paris, in March 1715. In Duke of Buckingham.]
Bosoms, I thought it more satisfactory to begin with considering Man in the abstract, his Nature and his State; since, to prove any moral duty, to enforce any moral precept, or to examine the perfection or imperfection of any creature whatsoever, it is necessary first to know what condition and relation it is placed in, and what is the proper end and purpose of its being.
The science of Human Nature is, like all other sciences, reduced to a few clear points: There are not many certain truths in this world. It is therefore in the Anatomy of the mind as in that of the Body; more good will accrue to mankind by attending to the large, open, and perceptible parts, than by studying too much such finer nerves and vessels, the conformations and uses of which will for ever escape our observation. The disputes are all upon these last, and, I will venture to say, they have less sharpened the wits than the hearts of men against each other, and have diminished the practice, more than advanced the theory of Morality. If I could flatter myself that this Essay has any merit, it is in steering betwixt the extremes of doctrines seemingly opposite, in passing over terms utterly unintelligible, and in forming a temperate yet not inconsistent, and a short yet not imperfect system of Ethics. This I might have done in prose; but I chose verse, and even rhyme, for two
The one will appear obvious ; that principles, maxims, or precepts so written, both strike the reader more strongly at first, and are more easily retained by him afterwards : The other may seem odd, but is true, I found I could express them more shortly this way than in prose itself; and nothing is more certain, than that much of the force as well as grace of arguments or instructions, depends on their conciseness. I was unable to treat this part of my subject more in detail, without becoming dry and tedious; or more poetically, without sacrificing perspicuity to ornament, without wandring from the precision, or breaking the chain of reasoning: If any man can unite all these without diminution of any of them, I freely confess he will compass a thing above my capacity.
What is now published, is only to be considered as a general Map of MAN, marking out no more than the greater parts, their extent, their limits, and their connection, and leaving the particular to be more fully delineated in the charts which are to follow. Consequently, these Epistles in their progress (if I have health and leisure to make any progress) will be less dry, and more susceptible of poetical ornament. I am here only opening the fountains, and clearing the passage. To deduce the rivers, to follow them in their course, and to observe their effects, may be a task more agreeable. P.
ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE I.
Of the Nature and State of Man, with respect to the UNIVERSE.
OF Man in the abstract. I. That we can judge only with regard to our own system, being ignorant of the relations of systems and things, v. 17, &c. II. That Man is not to be deemed imperfect, but a Being suited to his place and rank in the creation, agreeable to the general Order of things, and conformable to Ends and Relations to him unknown, v. 35, &c. III. That it is partly upon his ignorance of future events, and partly upon the hope of a future state, that all his happiness in the present depends, v. 77, &c. IV. The pride of aiming at more knowledge, and pretending to more Perfection, the cause of Man's error and misery. The
impiety of putting himself in the place of God, and judging of the fitness or unfitness, perfection or imperfection, justice or injustice of his dispensations, v. 109, &c. V. The absurdity of conceiting himself the final cause of the creation, or expecting that perfection in the moral world, which is not in the natural, v. 131, &c. VI. The unreasonableness of his complaints against Providence, while on the one hand he demands the Perfections of the Angels, and on the other the bodily qualifications of the Brutes, though, to possess any of the sensitive faculties in a higher degree, would render him miserable, v. 173, &c. VII. That throughout the whole visible world, an universal order and gradation in the sensual and mental faculties is observed, which causes a subordination of creature to creature, and of all creatures to Man. The gradations of sense, instinct, thought, reflection, reason; that Reason alone countervails all the other faculties, v. 207. VIII. How much further this order and subordination of living creatures may extend, above and below us; were any part of which broken, not that part only, but the whole connected creation must be destroyed, v._233. IX. The extravagance, madness, and pride of such a desire, v. 250. X. The consequence of all, the absolute submission due to Providence, both as to our present and future state, v. 281, &c. to the end.
WAKE, my St. John! leave all meaner things
Let us (since Life can little more supply
15 But vindicate the ways of God to Man.
I. Say first, of God above, or Man below,
See worlds on worlds compose one universe, *[This line originally read thus: 'A mighty 3 Milton's phrase, judiciously altered, who says maze of walks without a plan.' The emen- Justify the ways of God to Man. Milton was dation was not superfluous, since, as Dr Johnson addressing himself to believers, ... Pope...to unberemarks, 'if there were no plan, it was in vain lievers... ;-he, therefore, more fitly employs the to describe or to trace the maze'.)
word vindicate, which conveys the idea of a conDryden, Absalom and Achitophel, part II.: futation attended with punishment. Warburton. and shoots their treasons as they fly." Wake- [There is no question of punishment, only Eeld.
of a decisive and final confutation.]