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That, happy frailties to all ranks apply'd ;
Heav'n forming each on other to depend,
A master, or a servant, or a friend,
tion of this principle, that Self directs vice and virtue, and its consequence, which is, that
"Each individual seeks a sev'ral goal,"
leads the Author to observe,
"That HEAV'N's great View is One, and that the Whole.” And this brings him naturally round again to his main subject, namely, God's producing good out of ill, which he prosecutes from Ver. 238 to 249.
Ver. 249. Heav'n forming each on other to depend,] I. Hitherto the Poet hath been employed in discoursing of the use of the Passions, with regard to Society at large; and in freeing his doctrine from objections: This is the first general division of the subject of this epistle.
II. He comes now to shew (from Ver. 248 to 261) the use of these Passions, with regard to the more confined circle of our friends, relations, and acquaintance: and this is the second general division.
III. The Poet having thus shewn the use of the Passions in Society, and in Domestic life, comes, in the last place (from Ver. 260 to the end), to shew their use to the Individual, even in their illusions; the imaginary happiness they present, helping to make the real miseries of life less insupportable: And this is his third general division:
"OPINION gilds with varying rays Those painted clouds that beautify our days; One prospect lost, another still we gain;
And not a VANITY is giv'n in vain.”
Bids each on other for assistance call,
Till one Man's weakness grows the strength of all.
Which must needs vastly raise our idea of God's goodness; who hath not only provided more than a counterbalance of real happiness to human miseries, but hath even, in his infinite compassion, bestowed on those who were so foolish as not to have made this provision, an imaginary happiness; that they may not be quite overborne with the load of human miseries. This is the Poet's great and noble thought; as strong and solid, as it is new and ingenious: It teaches, that these illusions are the faults and follies of Men, which they wilfully fall into; and thereby deprive themselves of much happiness, and expose themselves to equal misery: but that still, God (according to his universal way of working) graciously turns these faults and follies so far to the advantage of his miserable creatures, as to become, for a time, the solace and support of their distresses:
"Tho' Man's a fool, yet God is wise."
It was an objection constantly urged by the ancient Epicureans, that Man could not be the creature of a benevolent Being, as he was formed in a state so helpless and infirm: Montague took it, and urged it also. They never considered or perceived that this very infirmity and helplessness were the cause and cement of society; that if men had been perfect and self-sufficient, and had stood in no need of each other's assistance, there would have been no occasion for the invention of the arts, and no opportunity for the exertion of the affections. The lines, therefore, in which Lucretius proposes this objection, are as unphilosophical and inconclusive, as they are highly pathetic and poetical.
"Tum porro puer, ut sævis projectus ab undis
Vagituque locum lugubri complet, ut æquum est,
There is a passage in the Moralists which I cannot forbear
* Lib. v. ver. 223.
Wants, frailties, passions, closer still ally
thinking Pope had in his eye, and which I must not therefore omit, as it serves to illustrate and confirm so many parts of the Essay on Man; I shall therefore give it at length, without apology:
"The young of most other kinds are instantly helpful to themselves, sensible, vigorous, know how to shun danger, and seek their good: a human infant is of all the most weak, helpless, infirm. And wherefore should it not have been so ordered? Where is the loss in such a species? Or what is Man the worse for that defect, amidst such large supplies? Does not this defect engage him the more strongly to society, and force him to own that he is purposely, and not by accident, made rational and sociable; and can no otherwise increase or subsist than in that social intercourse and community which is his natural state? Is not both conjugal affection, and natural affection to parents, duty to magistrates, love of a common city, community, or country, with the other duties and social parts of life, deduced from hence, and founded in these very wants? What can be happier than such a deficiency, as it is the occasion of so much good? What better, than a want so abundantly made up, and answered by so many enjoyments? Now, if there are still to be found among mankind, such as even, in the midst of these wants, seem not ashamed to affect a right of independency, and deny themselves to be by nature sociable; where would their shame have been had nature otherwise supplied their wants? What duty or obligation had been ever thought of? What respect or reverence of parents, magistrates, their country, or their kind? Would not their full and self-sufficient state more strongly have determined them to throw off nature, and deny the ends and author of their creation ?"
Ver. 253. Wants, frailties, passions, closer still ally
The common int'rest, &c.
As these lines have been misunderstood, I shall give the reader their plain and obvious meaning. To these frailties (says he) we owe all the endearments of private life; yet, when we come to that age, which generally disposes men to think more seriously of the true value of things, and consequently of their provision for a future state, the consideration, that the grounds of those joys, loves,
To these we owe true friendship, love sincere, 255
Yet from the same we learn, in its decline,
Whate'er the Passion, knowledge, fame, or pelf,
The starving chemist in his golden views
and friendships, are wants, frailties, and passions, proves the best expedient to wean us from the world; a disengagement so friendly to that provision we are now making for another state. The observation is new, and would in any place be extremely beautiful, but has here an infinite grace and propriety, as it so well confirms, by an instance of great moment, the general thesis, That God makes Ill, at every step, productive of Good. W.
Ver. 266. with the care of Heav'n.] It is, alas! with difficulty we can persuade the Poor, that they are as much the favourites of Heaven as the Rich.
Ver. 270. the poet in his Muse.] The Author having said, that no one could change his own profession or views for those of another, intended to carry his observations still farther, and shew that men were unwilling to exchange their own acquirements even for those of the same kind, confessedly larger, and infinitely more eminent, in another.
To this end he wrote,
"What partly pleases, totally will shock:
See some strange comfort ev'ry state attend,
Scarfs, garters, gold, amuse his riper stage,
And beads and pray'r-books are the toys of age: 280
But wanting another proper instance of this truth, he reserved the lines above for some following edition of this Essay; which he did not live to give.
Ver. 271. See some strange comfort] How exquisite is this stanza of an unfinished Ode of Gray!
"Still where rosy Pleasure leads
The hues of Bliss more brightly glow,
The strength and harmony of life."
Ver. 272. And pride] From La Rochefoucault, whose words "Nature, who so wisely has fitted the organs of our body to make us happy, seems likewise to have bestowed pride on us, on purpose, as it were, to save us the pain of knowing our own imperfections." Maxim 36.
Ver. 274. Hope travels through,] Is this Hope then no more than one of those strange comforts, those delusive pleasures, those sorts of groundless happiness, that constitute the chief enjoyment of the sot, the chemist, the poet, and the lunatic?
Ver. 280. And beads and pray'r-books are the toys of age:] A Satire on what is called, in Popery, the Opus opératum. As this is a description of the circle of human life returning into itself by a second child-hood, the Poet has with great elegance concluded