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Tho' many a passenger he rightly call,
ject of the third epistle of the first, which treats of Man in his social, political, and religious capacity. But this part the Poet afterward conceived might be best executed in an Epic Poem, as the Action would make it more animated, and the Fate less invidious; in which all the great principles of true and false Governments 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 are detached portions; the two first, on the Characters of Men and Women, being the introductory part of this concluding book. W.
Ver. 1. Yes, you despise] The patrons and admirers of French literature usually extol those authors of that nation who have treated of life and manners; and five of them, particularly, are esteemed to be unrivalled, namely, Montagne, Charron, La' Rochefoucault, Boileau, La Bruyere, and Pascal. These are supposed to have deeply penetrated into the most secret recesses of the human heart, and to have discovered the various vices and vanities that lurk in it. I know not why the English should in this respect yield to their polite neighbours more than in
any other. Bacon in his Essays and Advancement of Learning, Hobbes and Hume in their treatises, Prior in his elegant and witty Alma, Richardson in his Clarissa, and Fielding in his Tom Jones (comic writers are not here included), have shewn a profound knowledge of man; and many portraits of Addison may be compared with the most finished touches of La Bruyere. But the Epistles we are now entering upon will place the matter beyond a dispute; for the French can boast of no author who has so much exhausted the science of morals as Pope has in his five Epistles. They indeed contain all that is solid and valuable in the above-mentioned French writers, of whom our Author was remarkably fond. But whatever observations he has borrowed from them, he has made his own by the dexterity of his application.
And yet the fate of all extremes is such, Men may be read, as well as Books, too much. 10 To observations which ourselves we make, We grow more partial for th' 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, 15 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.
Ver. 10. Men may be read,] “ Say wbat they will of the great Book of the World, we must read others to know how to read that.” M. De Sevigne to R. Rabutin.
Ver. 15. There's some Peculiar, &c.] The Poet enters on the first division of his subject, the difficulties of coming to the Knowledge and true Characters of Men. The first cause of this diffi culty, which he prosecutes (from Ver. 14 to 19), is the great diversity of characters; of which, to abate our wonder, and not discourage our inquiry, he only desires we would grant him
. ." -- but as many sorts of Mind as Moss." Hereby artfully insinuating, that if Nature hath varied the most worthless vegetable into above three hundred species, we need not wonder at a greater diversity in 'her highest work, the human mind: And if the variety in that vegetable has been thought of importance enough to employ the leisure of a serious inquirer, much more will the same circumstance in this masterpiece of the sublunary world deserve our study and attention. . : “ Shall only Man be taken in the gross ?” W.
Ver. 18. as many sorts of Mind] It is related in Mr. Harris's Manuscripts, that “ Newton, hearing Handel play on the harpsichord, could find nothing worthy to remark but the elasticity of his fingers. At another time, having asserted that Terence's plays had no plot, and Bentley (in this knowledge his superior beyond all controversy) having copiously endeavoured to shew the contrary, he concluded as he began, that Terence's plays had
That each from other differs, first confess ; Next, that he varies from himself no less : 20 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 ?
NOTES. no plot. At another time, being asked his opinion of poetry, he quoted a sentiment of Barrow, that it was ingenious nonsense.
“ Thus will it necessarily happen, when men, even the greatest, are (according to the common saying) got out of their element. No genius, perhaps ever existing, more acute than his in discovering true from false, in the subjects of colour, quantity, and motion. No one had an abler intellect to discern what existed from that which existed not. But among the number of things existing, what were fair, beautiful, graceful, elegant, and what the contrary, of this, by these stories, one would imagine he had no conception.”
Ver. 19. That each from other differs, &c.] A second cause of this difficulty (from Ver. 18 to 21), is man's inconstancy; for not only one man differs from another, but the same man from himself.
Ver. 20. Next, that he raries] A sensible French writer says, that the faults and follies of men chiefly arise from this circumstance, qu'ils n'ont pas l'esprit, en equilibre, pour ainsi dire, avec leur charactere: Ciceron, par exemple, etoit un grand esprit et une ame foible; c'est pour cela, qu'il fut grand orateur et homme d'etat mediocre.
Ver. 21. Add Nature's, &c.] A third cause (from Ver. 20 to 23), is that obscurity thrown over the characters of men, through the strife and contest between nature and custom, between reason and appetite, between truth and opinion. And as most men, either through education, temperance, or profession, have their characters warped by custom, appetite, and opinion, the obscurity arising from thence is almost universal. W.
Ver. 23. Our depths who fathoms, &c.] A fourth cause (from Ver. 22 to 25), is deep dissimulation, and restless caprice ; whereby the shallows of the mind are as difficult to be found, as the depths of it are to be fathomed. W. .
“A mesure qu'on a plus d'esprit,” says the profound Pascal, “ on trouve qu'il y a plus d'hommes originaux.”
On human Actions reason tho' you can, 25
Yet more; the diff*rence is as great between
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.
NOTES. Ver. 25. On human Actions, &c.] A fifth cause (from Ver. 24 to 31), is the sudden change of his principle of action; either on the point of its being laid open and detected, or when it is reasoned upon, and attempted to be explored. W..
Ver 31. Yet more; the diff'rence, &c.] Hitherto the Poet hath spoken of the causes of difficulty arising from the obscurity of the object; he now comes to those which proceed from defects in the observer. The first of which, and a sixth cause of difficulty, he shews (from Ver. 30 to 37), is the perverse manners, affections, and imaginations, of the observer; whereby the characters of others are rarely seen either in their true light, complexion, or proportion. W. - Ver. 33. All Manners take] A deep knowledge of Human Nature is displayed in these four lines. So also in Ver. 42.
Ver. 37. Nor will Life's stream for Observation, &c.] The seventh cause of difficulty, and the second arising from defects in the Observer (from Ver. 36 to 41), is the shortness of human life; which will not suffer him to select and weigh out his knowledge, but just to snatch it, as it rolls swiftly by him down the rapid current of Time. W.
Oft, in the Passions' wide rotation tost,
41 Our spring of action to ourselves is lost: Tir’d, not determin'd, to the last we yield, And what comes then is master of the field. As the last image of that troubled heap,
45 When sense subsides, and Fancy sports in sleep (Tho' past the recollection of the thought), Becomes the stuff of which our dream is wrought :
Ver. 41. Oft, in the Passions', &c.] We come now to the eighth and last cause, which very properly concludes the account; as, in a sort, it sums up all the difficulties in one (from Ver. 40 to 51), namely, that very often the man himself is ignorant of his own motive of action ; the cause of which ignorance our Author has admirably explained: When the mind (says he) is now tired out by the long conflict of opposite motives, it withdraws its attention, and suffers the will to be seized upon by the first that afterward obtrudes itself, without taking much notice what that motive is. This is finely illustrated by what he supposes to be the natural cause of dreams; where the fancy, just let loose, possesses itself of the last image which it meets with, on the confines between sleep and waking, and on that erects all its ideal scenery; yet this seizure is, with great difficulty, recollected; and never, but when by some accident we happen to have our first slumbers suddenly interrupted. Then (which proves the truth of the hypothesis) we are sometimes able to trace the workings of the Fancy backwards, from idea to idea, in a chain, till we come to that from whence they all arose. W.
Ver. 48. Becomes the stuff of which our dream is wrought :] Giraldus Cambrensis, speaking of a divine vision with which he was favoured, seems yet to think that it might be made out of the stuff of his waking thoughts. His words are these: “Cum igitur super universis quæ nobis acciderant, mecum non mediocriteranxius extiterim-suspiriosæ mihi multoties cogitationes in animum ascen. derint, nocte quadam in somnis ex RELIQUIIS FERTE COGITATIONEM Visionem vidi,” &c. De rebus a se gestis, L. 11. C. 12. By which we see, and it is worth remarking, that to philosophize on our Superstitions is so far from erasing them, that it engraves them but the more deeply in the mind. The reason is plain; it turns the objection to them to a solution in their credit. w.