« PreviousContinue »
When statesmen, heroes, kings, in dust repose,
THE UNIVERSAL PRAYER.
DEO OPT. MAX.
It may be proper to observe, that some passages in the preceding Essay, having been unjustly suspected of a tendency towards fate and naturalism, the author composed this prayer as the sum of all, to show that his system was founded in free-will, and terminated in piety: That the First Cause was as well the Lord and Governor of the universe as the Creator of it: and that, by submission to his will (the great principle enforced throughout the Essay) was not meant the suffering ourselves to be carried along by a blind determination, but the resting in a religious acquiescence, and confidence full of hope and immortality. To give all this the greater weight, the poet chose for his model the Lord's Prayer, which of all others, best deserves the title prefixed to this paraphrase,
FATHER of all! in every age,
By saint, by savage, and by sage,
Thou Great First Cause, least understood;
Who all my sense confined;
To know but this, That thou art good,
Yet gave me, in this dark estate,
Left free the human will;
What conscience dictates to be done,
This, teach me more than hell to shun
What blessings thy free bounty gives,
For God is paid when man receives :
Yet not to earth's contracted span
Let not this weak, unknowing hand
If I am right, thy grace impart,
If I am wrong, O teach my heart
Save me alike from foolish pride,
At aught thy wisdom has denied,
Mean though I am, not wholly so,
Through this day's life or death.
Thou know'st if best bestow'd or not,
To thee, whose temple is all space,
IN FOUR EPISTLES TO SEVERAL PERSONS.
Est brevitate opus, ut currant sententia, neu se
THE Essay on Man was intended to have been comprised in
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 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.
But as this was the author's favourite work, which more exactly reflected the image of his strong capacious mind, and as we can have but a very imperfect idea of it from the disjecta membra poetoe that now remain, it may not be amiss to be a little more particular concerning each of these projected books.
The first, as it treats of man in the abstract, and considers him in general under every of his relations, becomes the foundation, and furnishes out the subjects, of the three following; so that
The second book was to take up again the first and second epistles of the first book, and treat of man in his intellectual capacity at large, as has been explained above. Of this only a small part of the conclusion (which, as we said, to have contained a satire against the misapplication of wit and learning) may be found in the fourth book of the Dunciad, and up and down, occasionly, in the other three.
The third book, in like manner, was to re-assume the subject of the third epistle of the first, which treats of man in his social, political, and religious capacity. But this part the poet afterwards conceived might be best executed in an epic poem; as the action would make it more animated, and the fable less invidious: in which all the great principles of true and false govenments and religions should be chiefly delivered in feigned examples.
The fourth and last book was to pursue the subject of the fourth epistle of the first, and to treat of ethics, or practical morality; and would have consisted of many members: of which the four following epistles were detatched portions: the first two, on the characters of men and women, being the introductory part of this concluding book.
TO SIR RICHARD TEMPLE, LORD COBHAM.
Of the Knowledge and Characters of men.
1. 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 national, 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. 62, 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