Page images

Though what he learns he speaks, and may advance
Some general maxims, or be right by chance.
The coxcomb bird, so talkative and grave,

That from his cage cries cuckold, whore, and knave,
Though many a passenger he rightly call,
You hold him no philosopher at all.

And yet the fate of all extremes is such,
Men may be read, as well as books, too much.
To observations which ourselves we make,
We grow more partial for the observer's sake;
To written wisdom, as another's, less:


Maxims are drawn from notions, those from guess.
There's some peculiar in each leaf and grain,
Some unmark'd fibre, or some varying vein :
Shall only man be taken in the gross?
Grant but as many sorts of mind as moss.1





That each from other differs, first confess;
Next, that he varies from himself no less;
Add nature's, custom's, reason's, passion's strife,
And all opinion's colours cast on life.

Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds,
Quick whirls, and shifting eddies, of our minds?
On human actions reason though you can,
It may be reason, but it is not man:

His principle of action once explore,

That instant 'tis his principle no more.

Like following life through creatures you dissect,
You lose it in the moment you detect.

Yet more; the difference is as great between

The optics seeing, as the objects seen.

All manners take a tincture from our own;
Or come discolour'd through our passions shown.
Or fancy's beam enlarges, multiplies,
Contracts, inverts, and gives ten thousand dyes.
Nor will life's stream, for observation stay,

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,
And what comes then is master of the field.
As the last image of that troubled heap,
When sense subsides, and fancy sports in sleep
(Though past the recollection of the thought),
Becomes the stuff of which our dream is wrought;
Something as dim to our internal view,
Is thus, perhaps, the cause of most we do.

True, some are open, and to all men known;
Others so very close, they're hid from none
(So darkness strikes the sense no less than light):
Thus gracious Chandos is beloved at sight;
And every child hates Shylock, though his soul
Still sits at squat, and peeps not from its hole,
At half mankind when generous Manly3 raves,

[blocks in formation]

All know 'tis virtue, for he thinks them knaves :
When universal homage Umbra1 pays,

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
But these plain characters we rarely find;

Though strong the bent, yet quick the turns of mind:
Or puzzling contraries confound the whole;


Or affectations quite reverse the soul.
The dull, flat falsehood serves for policy;
And, in the cunning, truth itself's a lie:
Unthought-of frailties cheat us in the wise;
The fool lies hid in inconsistencies.

See the same man, in vigour, in the gout;
Alone, in company; in place, or out;
Early at business, and at hazard late;
Mad at a fox-chase, wise at a debate;
Drunk at a borough, civil at a ball;
Friendly at Hackney, faithless at Whitehall.

[blocks in formation]

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.
Save just at dinner-then prefers, no doubt,
A rogue with venison to a saint without.

Who would not praise Patricio's high desert,7
His hand unstain'd, his uncorrupted heart,
His comprehensive head all interests weigh'd,
All Europe saved, yet Britain not betray'd?
He thanks you not, his pride is in piquet,
Newmarket fame, and judgment at a bet.8

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:

[ocr errors][merged small]

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
A godless regent tremble at a star ?10
The throne a bigot keep, a genius quit,11
Faithless through piety, and duped through wit?
Europe a woman, child, or dotard rule,12
And just her wisest monarch made a fool?

Know, God and Nature only are the same
In man, the judgment shoots at flying game;
A bird of passage! gone as soon as found,
Now in the moon, perhaps, now under ground.

[blocks in formation]

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.
Behold! if fortune or a mistress frowns,

Some plunge in business, others shave their crowns:


To ease the soul of one oppressive weight,
This quits an empire, that embroils a state:
The same adust complexion has impell'd
Charles to the convent, Philip to the field.13

Not always actions show the man; we find
Who does a kindness, is not therefore kind:
Perhaps prosperity becalm'd his breast,
Perhaps the wind just shifted from the east:


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.
What will you do with such as disagree?
Suppress them, or miscall them policy?
Must then at once (the character to save)
The plain rough hero turn a crafty knave?
Alas! in truth the man but changed his mind,
Perhaps was sick, in love, or had not dined.
Ask why from Britain Cæsar would retreat?
Cæsar himself might whisper he was beat.
Why risk the world's great empire for a punk ?14
Cæsar perhaps might answer, he was drunk.
But, sage historians! 'tis your task to prove
One action, conduct; one, heroic love.

A saint in crape is twice a saint in lawn:
A judge is just, a chancellor juster still;



'Tis from high life high characters are drawn


A gownman, learn'd; a bishop, what you will;
Wise, if a minister; but, if a king,

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.
Though the same sun with all diffusive rays
Blush in the rose, and in the diamond blaze,


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.]

« PreviousContinue »