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AN ESSAY ON MAN.
IN FOUR EPISTLES,
TO H. ST. JOHN, L. BOLINGBROKE.
HAVING proposed to write some pieces on human life and manners, such as (to use my Lord Bacon's expression) come home to men's business and bosoms, I thought it more satisfactory to begin with considering man in the abstract, his nature and his state: since, to prove any moral duty, to enforce any moral precept, or to examine the perfection or imperfection of any creature whatsoever, it is necessary first to know what condition and relation it is placed in, and what is the proper end and purpose of its being.
The science of human nature, is, like all other sciences, reduced to a few clear points:-There are not many certain truths in this world. It is therefore in the anatomy of the mind, as in that of the body; more good will accrue to mankind by attending to the large, open and perceptible parts, than by studying too much such finer nerves and vessels the conformation and uses of which will forever escape our observation. The disputes are all upon these last, and I will venture to say, they have less sharpened the wits than the hearts of men against each other, and have diminished the practice, more than ad vanced the theory of morality. If I could flatter myself that this essay has any merit, it is in steering betwixt the
extremes of doctrines seemingly opposite, in passing over terms utterly unintelligible, and in forming, a temperate, yet not inconsistent, and a short, yet not imperfect system of ethics.
This I might have done in prose: but I chose verse, and even rhyme, for two reasons. The one will appear obvious; that principles, maxims, or precepts, so writ. ten, both strike the reader more strongly at first, and are more easily retained by him afterwards. The other may seem odd, but is true; I found I could express them more shortly this way than in prose itself; and nothing is more certain than that much of the force, as well as grace of arguments or instructions, depends on their conciseness. I was unable to treat this part of my sub ject more in detail, without becoming dry and tedious: or more poetically, without sacrificing perspicuity to ornament, without wandering from the precision, or breaking the chain of reasoning. If any man can unite all these without diminution of any of them, I freely confess he will compass a thing above my capacity.
What is now published, is only to be considered as a general map of man, marking out no more than the greater parts, their extent, their limits, and their connexion, but leaving the particulars to be more fully delineated in the charts which are to follow. Consequent ly, these epistles, in their progress, (if I have health and leisure to make any progress) will be less dry, and more susceptible of poetical ornament. I am here only opening the fountains, and clearing the passage:-To deduce the rivers, to follow them in their course, and to observe their effects, may be a task more agreeable.
OF THE NATURE AND STATE OF MAN WITH RESPECT TO THE
Of Man in the abstract.-That we can judge only with regard to our own system, being ignorant of the relations of systems and things, ver. 17, c. to 69. That man is not to be deemed imperfect. bra 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 him unknown, 9, c That it is partly upon his ignorance of future events, and partly upon the hope of a future state, that all his happeness in the present depends 73, &c. 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 unfit ness, perfection or imperfection, justice or injustice of his dispensations, 109 to 120. The absurdity of conceiting himself the final cause of the creation, or expecting that perfection in the moral world which is not in the natural, 127 to 140. The unreasonableness of his complaints against providence, while on the one hand he demands the perfections of the angels, on the other hand the bodily qualifications of the brutes, 165. That to possess any of the sensitive faculties in a higher degree would render him miserable, 181 to 198. That throughout the whole visible world, one 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, 199 to 224. How much farther this order and subordination of living creatures may extend above and below us; where any part of which broken, not that part only, but the whole connected creation must be destroyed. The extravagance, madness, and pride of such a desire, 225 to 260. The consequence of all, the absolute submission due to Providence, both as to our present and future stale, 273, c.
AWAKE my St. JOHN ! leave all meaner things
A wild, where weeds and flowers promiscuous shoot :
I. Say first, of God above, or man below; What can we reason, but from what we know?
Of man, what see we, but his station here,
From which to reason, or to which refer?
Thro' worlds unnumber'd tho' the God be known,
'Tis ours to trace him only in our own.
He, who thro' vast immensity can pierce,
May tell why heav'n has made us as we are.