« PreviousContinue »
ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE 1.
Of the Nature and State of Man, with respect to the
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, ver. 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 bim unknown, ver. 35, &c.
Ill. That it is partly upon bis ignorance of future events, and partly upon the hope of a future state, that all his bappiness in the present depends, ver. 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, ver. 109, &c. V. The absurdity of conceiting himself the final cause of the creation, or expecting thut perfection in the moral world, which is not in the natural, ver. 131, &c. VI. The unreasonableness of his complaints against Providence, while on the one band be 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 bim miserable, ver. 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, ver. 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, ver. 233. IX. The extravagance, madness, and pride of such a desire, ver. 250. X. The consequence of all the absolute submission due to Providence, both as to our present and future state, ver. 281, &c. to the end.
POPE informs us, in his first preface to this Essay, « that he chose this epistolary way of writing, notwithstanding his subject was high, and of dignity, because of its being mixed with argument which of its nature approacheth to prose.” He has not wandered into any useless digressions; has employed no fictions, no tale or story, and has relied chiefly on the poetry of his style for the purpose of interesting his readers. His style is concise and figurative, forcible and elegant.
He has many metaphors and images, artfully interspersed in the driest passages, which stood most in need of such ornaments. If any beauty in this Essay be uncommonly transcendent and peculiar, it is brevity of diction; which, in a few instances, and those perhaps pardonable, has occasioned obscurity. On its first publication Pope did not own it, and it was given by the public to Lord Paget, Dr. Young, Dr. Desaguliers, and others. Even Swift seems to have been deceived. There is a remarkable
passage in one of his letters : “ I confess I did never imagine you were so deep in morals, or that so many and
excellent rules could be produced so advantageously and agreeably in that science, from any one head. I confess in some places I was forced to read twice. I believe I told you before what the Duke of Dsaid to me on that occasion ; how a judge here, who
told him, that, on the first reading those Essays, he was much pleased, but found some lines a little dark : On the second, most of them cleared up,
and his pleasure increased : On the third, he had no doubt remaining, and then he admired the whole.”
The subject of this Essay is a vindication of Provi. dence; in which the poet proposes to prove, That, of all possible systems, Infinite Wisdom has formed the best : That in such a system, coherence, union, subordination, are necessary; and if
appearances of evil, both moral and natural, are also necessary and unavoidable : That the seeming defects and blemishes in the universe conspire to its general beauty : That as all parts in an animal are not eyes; and as in a city, comedy, or picture, all ranks, characters, and colours are not equal or alike ; even so excesses and contrary qualities contribute to the proportion and harmony of the universal system : That it is not strange that we should not be able to discover perfection and order in every instance, because, in an infinity of things mutually relative, a mind which sees not infinitely, can see nothing fully. This doctrine was inculcáted by Plato and the Stoics, but more amply and particularly by the later Platonists, and by Antoninus and Simplicius.
In illustrating his subject, Pope has been much more deeply indebted to the Theodicée of Leibnitz, to Archbishop King's Origin of Evil, and to the Moralists of Lord Shaftesbury, (particularly to the last,) than to the philosophers above mentioned. The late Lord Bathurst repeatedly assured me, that he had read the whole scheme of the Essay of Man, in the hand-writing of Bolingbroke, and drawn up in a series of propositions, which Pope was to amplify, versify, and illustrate. In doing which, our poet, it must be confessed, left several passages so expressed, as to be favourable to fatalism and necessity, notwithstanding all the pains that can be taken, and the artful turns that can be given to those passages, to place them on the side of religion, and make them coincide with the fundamental doctrines of revelation.
(9) The doctrine obviously intended to be inculcated in this Essay is, “That the dispensations of Provi. dence in the distribution of good and evil, in this life, stand in no need of any hypothesis to justify them; all is adjusted in the most perfect order; whatever is, is right; and we have no occasion to call in the notion of a future life to vindicate the ways of God to man, because they are fully and sufficiently benevolent and just in the present.” If we cannot subscribe, on one hand, to Dr. Warburton's opinion, “ that these epistles have a precision, force, and closeness of connection rarely to be met with, even in the most formal treatises of philosophy:" yet neither can we assent to the severe sentence that Dr. Johnson has passed on the other hand ; namely, “ that penury of knowledge, and vulgarity of sentiment, were never so happily disguised as in this Essay; the reader feels his mind full, though he learns nothing ; and, when he meets it in its new array, no longer knows the talk of his mother and his
The difference between Lord Bolingbroke's system and Pope's is very well stated by Ruffhead:
“ Pope's Essay on Man is a real vindication of Providence against libertines and atheists, who quarrel with the present constitution of things, and deny a future state. To these he answers, that whatever is, is right; and he assigns this reason, that we see only a part of the moral system, and not the whole : therefore these irregularities serving to great purposes, such as the fuller manifestation of God's goodness and justice, they are right.
« On the other hand, Lord Bolingbroke's Essays are a pretended vindication of Providence against what he considers an ingenious confederacy between divines and atheists ; who use a common principle, namely, the irregularities of God's moral government here, for