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FOUR EPISTLES TO SEVERAL PERSONS.
"Est brevitate opus, ut currat sententia, neu se
Et sermone opus est modò tristi, sæpe jocoso,
["Close be your language; let your sense be clear,
In raillery assume a graver air,
Discreetly hide your strength, your vigour spare;
For ridicule shall frequently prevail,
And cut the knot when graver reasons fail."-FRANCIS.]
[To the Moral Essays Warburton, in his complete edition of the poet's works, prefixed an advertisement, containing the following explanation :— "The Essay on Man was intended to have been comprised in four books: "The first of which, the author has given us under that title, in four epistles.
"The second was to have consisted of the same number: 1. Of the extent and limits of human reason. 2. Of those arts and sciences, and of the parts of them, which are useful, and therefore attainable, together with those which are unuseful, and therefore unattainable. 3. Of the nature, ends, use, and application of the different capacities of men. 4. Of the use of learning, of the science of the world, and of wit; concluding with a satire against a misapplication of them, illustrated by pictures, characters, and examples.
"The third book regarded civil regimen, or the science of politics, in which the several forms of a republic were to be examined and explained; together with the several modes of religious worship, as far forth as they affect society; between which the author always supposed there was the most
interesting relation and closest connexion; so that this part would have treated of civil and religious society in their full extent.
"The fourth and last book concerned private ethics, or practical morality, considered in all the circumstances, orders, professions, and stations of human life.
"The scheme of all this had been maturely digested, and communicated to Lord Bolingbroke, Dr. Swift, and one or two more, and was intended for the only work of his riper years; but was, partly through ill-health, partly through discouragements from the depravity of the times, and partly on prudential and other considerations, interrupted, postponed, and, lastly, in a manner, laid aside."
Warburton also states that this first epistle, as published in the previous editions, was "without order, connexion, or dependence;" but that, if put into a different form, on an idea he had conceived, it would have "all the clearness of method and force of connected reasoning." The introduction to the Epistle on Riches he says, was in the same condition, and underwent the same reform by Pope. Mr. Bowles appears to attribute some importance to these alterations; but, if he had compared the early editions with that of Warburton, he would have seen that the whole of this boasted emendation is not of the slightest value. The transpositions made by the commentator do not affect the poem in any material point; and it is to be regretted that Pope yielded such implicit submission to the pedantic suggestions of his friend. In their original state, as epistles, the essays had more of the Horatian ease and spirit than when invested with a philosophical robe, and covered with metaphysical annotations. The philosophy of the poems might be comprised in very small space; their real value consists in their poetical beauties, their finely-drawn characters, rich imagery, taste, and moral reflection.]
SIR RICHARD TEMPLE, LORD COBHAM.
OF THE KNOWLEDGE AND CHARACTERS OF MEN.
I. That it is not sufficient for this knowledge to consider man in the abstract: books will not serve the purpose, nor yet our own experience singly, ver. 1. General maxims, unless they be formed upon both, will be but notional, ver. 10. Some peculiarity in every man, characteristic to himself, yet varying from himself, ver. 15. Difficulties arising from our own passions, fancies, faculties, &c., ver. 31. The shortness of life to observe in, and the uncertainty of the principles of action in men to observe by, ver. 37, &c. Our own principle of action often hid from ourselves, ver. 41. Some few characters plain, but in general confounded, dissembled, or inconsistent, ver. 51. The same man utterly different in different places and seasons, ver. 71. Unimaginable weaknesses in the greatest, ver. 70, &c. Nothing constant and certain but God and Nature, ver. 95. No judging of the motives from the actions; the same actions proceeding from contrary motives, and the same motives influencing contrary actions, ver. 100. II. Yet to form characters, we can only take the strongest actions of a man's life, and try to make them agree: the utter uncertainty of this, from nature itself, and from policy, ver. 120. Characters given according to the rank of men of the world, ver. 135. And some reason for it, ver. 140. Education alters the nature, or at least character, of many, ver. 149. Actions, passions, opinions, manners, humours, or principles, all subject to change. No judging by nature, from ver. 158 to ver. 178. III. It only remains to find (if we can) his ruling passion: that will certainly influence all the rest, and can reconcile the seeming or real inconsistency of all his actions, ver. 175. Instanced in the extraordinary character of Clodio, ver. 179. A caution against mistaking second qualities for first, which will destroy all possibility of the knowledge of mankind, ver. 210. Examples of the strength of the ruling passion, and its continuation to the last breath, ver. 222, &c.
YES, you despise the man to books confined,
Who from his study rails at human kind;
Though what he learns he speaks, and may advance
That from his cage cries cuckold, whore, and knave,
And yet the fate of all extremes is such,
Maxims are drawn from notions, those from guess.
That each from other differs, first confess ;
Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds,
Like following life through creatures you dissect,
Yet more; the difference is as great between
The optics seeing, as the objects seen.
It hurries all too fast to mark their way:
In vain sedate reflections we would make,
When half our knowledge we must snatch, not take.
Oft in the passions' wild rotation toss'd,
Our spring of action to ourselves is lost:
1 There are above three hundred sorts of moss observed by naturalists.
Tired, not determined, to the last we yield,
True, some are open, and to all men known;
While one there is who charms us with his spleen.5
Though strong the bent, yet quick the turns of mind:
Or affectations quite reverse the soul.
See the same man, in vigour, in the gout;
Alone, in company; in place, or out;
2 [James Brydges, first Duke of Chandos. See Additional Notes at the end of the Epistle.]
3 [Manly is one of the characters-the principal one-in Wycherley's comedy the Plain Dealer.]
4 [Umbra probably means James Moore Smythe, who is elsewhere satirized by Pope under this name. An account of him is given in the Notes to the Dunciad.]
5 [A compliment to Swift, whose "spleen" was the fire of his genius.]