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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,
His principle of action once explore,
That instant 'tis his principle no more.
Like following life through creatures you dissect,
Yet more; the difference is as great between
The optics seeing, as the objects seen.
All manners take a tincture from our own;
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.
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;
All know 'tis virtue, for he thinks them knaves :
All see 'tis vice, and itch of vulgar praise.
When flattery glares, all hate it in a queen,
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;
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.]
Catius 6 is ever moral, ever grave,
Thinks who endures a knave, is next a knave.
Who would not praise Patricio's high desert,7
What made (say Montaigne, or more sage Charron!) Otho a warrior, Cromwell a buffoon?
6 [Catius is Charles Dartineuf, whom Gay calls a grave joker," and who was a noted epicure. He occurs again in the Imitations of Horace.]
7 [Sidney Earl of Godolphin.]
8 [In the early editions the following lines were inserted:
Hemm'd round with glories, pilfer cloth, or bread;
As meanly plunder as they bravely fought,
Now save a people, and now save a groat."
The satire here is general as respects the army--and nothing could be more lax or extravagant than the system of military accounts and supplies-but the poet evidently points to Marlborough, whose avarice he frequently condemns. The great general did not pilfer, but he had taken presents from army contractors. Never, before or since, was the low vice of avarice united to such transcendant talents as in the case of Marlborough; and it is to be regretted, that Pope did not anatomise his character in the style of Atticus or Atossa. The brilliant lights and strong contrasts-the public glory and private meanness-would have afforded him a noble subject; and the materials were at his hand. The beginning of Marlborough's enormous fortune, it is well known, was a present of £5000, given him by the infamous Duchess of Cleveland, and with this sum the young ensign, old in prudence, purchased an annuity, which was secured on the Earl of Halifax's estate. But one of the most striking illustrations of his penurious habits, and the best comment on Pope's verses, is an anecdote related by Warton, on the authority of Colonel Selwyn. The night before the battle of Blenheim, after a council of war had been held in Marlborough's tent, at which Prince Louis of Baden and Prince Eugene assisted, the latter, after the council had broken up, stepped back to the tent to communicate something he had forgotten, when he found the Duke giving orders to his aide-de-camp at the table, on which there was now only a single light burning, all the others having been extinguished the moment the council was over. "What a man is this," said Prince Eugene, "who at such a time can think of saving the ends of candles!"]
A perjured prince a leaden saint revere,9
Know, God and Nature only are the same
II. In vain the sage, with retrospective eye, Would from the apparent what conclude the why, Infer the motive from the deed, and show
That what we chanced was what we meant to do.
Some plunge in business, others shave their crowns:
To ease the soul of one oppressive weight,
Not always actions show the man; we find
9 Louis XI. of France wore in his hat a leaden image of the Virgin Mary which when he swore by, he feared to break his oath.
10 Philip Duke of Orleans, Regent of France in the minority of Louis XV., superstitious in judicial astrology, though an unbeliever in all religion.
11 Philip V. of Spain, who after renouncing the throne for religion, resumed it to gratify his queen; and Victor Amadeus II., King of Sardinia, who resigned the crown, and, trying to reassume it, was imprisoned till his death.
12 The Czarina, the King of France, the Pope, and the above-mentioned King of Sardinia.
18 [Warburton remarks on this line:-"The atrabilaire complexion of Philip II. is well known, but not so well, that he derived it from his father Charles V., whose health, the historians of his life tell us, was frequently disordered by bilious fevers. But what the author meant principally to observe here was, that this humour made both these princes act contrary to their character; Charles, who was an active man, when he retired into a convent; Philip, who was a man of the closet, when he gave the battle of St. Quentin."]
Not therefore humble he who seeks retreat,
Pride guides his steps, and bids him shun the great:
Who combats bravely is not therefore brave,
He dreads a death-bed like the meanest slave:
Who reasons wisely is not therefore wise,
His pride in reasoning, not in acting, lies.
But grant that actions best discover man;
Take the most strong, and sort them as you can:
The few that glare, each character must mark,
You balance not the many in the dark.
A saint in crape is twice a saint in lawn:
'Tis from high life high characters are drawn
A gownman, learn'd; a bishop, what you will;
More wise, more learn'd, more just, more everything.
Court-virtues bear, like gems, the highest rate,
Born where Heaven's influence scarce can penetrate:
In life's low vale, the soil the virtues like,
They please as beauties, here as wonders strike.
14 [Cleopatra. This couplet stood originally:
"The mighty Czar what mov'd to wed a punk?
The mighty Czar might answer, he was drunk.”
The alteration, as Warton says, is for the worse, because drunkenness was not a vice of Cæsar's, and, indeed, could not co-exist with his ambition and energy of character.]