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EPISTLE I.

OF

THE KNOWLEDGE AND CHARACTERS

OF MEN:

TO

SIR RICHARD TEMPLE,

LORD VISCOUNT COBHAM.

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The object of this Epistle is to pursue still further a subject which the author had already started in the Essay on Man, and on which this may be considered as a further comment. This subject is, “ THE RULING PASSION;" an idea, which although not originally his own, he seems to have delighted to expand and contemplate under every appearance of which it is capable. It is not therefore surprising that some of these views should appear inconsistent with, or contradictory to others; or that they should have led to misapprehensions which it requires some degree of attention to explain. For want of this, his true meaning has been greatly misunderstood, and he has been accused of inculcating opinions, not only doubtful and uncertain, but which, if assented to, would lead to consequences highly injurious. On this head his later Editors seem to have been agreed. sion," says Johnson, “ thus innate and irresistible, the existence may reasonably be doubted. Human characters are by no means constant. Men change, by change of place, of fortune, of acquaintance. He who is at one time a lover of pleasure, is, at another, a lover of money. Those, indeed, who attain any excellence, commonly spend life in one pursuit; for excellence is not often gained upon easier terms. But to the particular species of excellence, men are directed, not by an ascendant planet or predominating humour, but by the first book which they read, some early conversation which they heard, or some accident which excited ardour and enthusiasm."

“ This doctrine is in itself pernicious as well as false. Its tendency is to produce the belief of a kind of moral predestination, or over-ruling principle, which cannot be resisted. He that admits it, is prepared to comply with every desire that caprice or opportunity shall excite, and to flatter himself that he submits only to the lawful dominion of nature, in obeying the resistless authority of his ruling passion.

Johnson's Life of Pope. With these opinions of Johnson, Dr. Warton, who has quoted them at length, appears to have fully coincided: Two eminent writers, says he, have attacked our author's notion of a ruling passion; Mr. Harris and Dr. Johnson. The former says, talks of an universal passion, as if all passions were not universal. Another talks of a ruling passion, and means, without knowing it, certain ruling opinions. Thus when specious falsehood assumes the lyre, we are charmed with the music, and worship her as truth.”—(Warton's Edit. vol. iii. p. 198.) Mr. Bowles thinks this “the worst of Pope's Epistles;" that it is founded upon an absurd and unphilosophical principle," and that “the whole theory is full of inconsistency."-(Bowles's Edit. vol. iii. p. 244.) He also observes in his Life of Pope, (p. 98.) that “what Johnson has said on the principle of this poem, the ruling passion, is most just and incontrovertible.”

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I trust it will not be imputed to me as the result of a determination to vindicate the author on all occasions, or of a pertinacious desire of opposing the opinions' of my predecessors, when I state it to be my strong conviction, that in thus representing the doctrines of Pope in the following Epistle, they have wholly mistaken his meaning; and have accused him of giving rise to consequences which he never intended, and against which he has guarded by every precaution in his power. What is stated in this Epistle, may be considered as a supplement, or practical illustration of what he had before said in the Essay on Man; where we are told that the ruling passion is implanted in us at our birth, and that if we wish to understand the human character, it is indispensably necessary for us to be acquainted with the ruling passion of each individual. But that this ruling passion is so absolute and uncontrollable as to produce the belief of a kind of moral predestination, or over-ruling principle that cannot be resisted,” is no where contended. On the contrary it is represented as capable of being modified and restrained ; and as frequently forming a part of, and being mixed up with other causes, on which our conduct is founded :

“ Add nature's, custom's, reason's, passion's, strife,
And all opinion's colours cast on life.”

Moral Essays, Ep. i. Ver. 21. And again,

Judge we by nature ? habit can efface,
Interest o'ercome, or policy take place."

Ib. Ver. 166. Restrictions which alone are sufficient to shew, that the doctrine was never intended, by the author, to be taken in the unlimited sense to which Johnson has carried it.

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Again, it is to be observed that Pope has not only cautiously guarded against the undue application of this principle, “ to justify a compliance with every desire that caprice or opportunity shall excite,” on the pretext of " submitting only to the lawful dominion of nature," but that he has considered it as the foundation of our highest virtues, and as the stock upon which it is the business of life to ingraft those fruits which are of the greatest value. This subject forms so important a part of the second Epistle of the Essay on Man, that it is astonishing it should not have occurred to his critics. After dwelling at length on the powerful effect of the ruling passion, and the difficulty there would be in the attempt to eradicate it, he not only admits that it is capable of being regulated, but directs how it is to be accomplished :

“ Nature's road must ever be preferr’d;
Reason is here no guide, but still a guard;
'Tis hers to rectify, not overthrow,
And treat this passion more as friend than foe."

Essay on Man, Ep. ii. ver. 161. Not satisfied however with shewing that the ruling passion may be so moderated and controlled as to obviate its injurious effects on the character, he proceeds further, and demonstrates, that such a principle is positively advantageous to us (as indeed it would not otherwise have been implanted in us) and that we derive from it a consistency of character which we should otherwise have wanted:

“ Th' eternal art, educing good from ill,

Grafts on this passion our best principle ;
'Tis thus the mercury of man is fix'd ;
Strong grows the virtue with his nature mix’d.”

Essay on Man, Ep. ii. ver. 175. And this is extended and illustrated by a passage equally poetical and correct:

“ As fruits, ungrateful to the planter's care,
On

savage stocks inserted, learn to bear,
The surest virtues thus from passions shoot,
Wild nature's vigour working at the root.
What
crops

of wit and honesty appear
From spleen, from obstinacy, hate, or fear!" &c.

Essay on Man, Ep. ii. ver. 181. Whence it is evident that the poet considered the ruling passion VOL. V.

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