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Then see how little the remaining sum,
II. Two Principles in human nature reign;
NOTES. Ver. 53. Two Principles, &c.] The Poet having shewn the difficulty which attends the study of Man, proceeds to remove it, by laying before us the elements or true principles of this science, in an account of the Origin, Use, and End, of the Passions ; which, in my opinion, contains the truest, clearest, shortest, and consequently the best, system of Ethics that is any where to be met with. He begins (from Ver. 52 to 59) with pointing out the two grand Principles in human nature, SeLF-LOVE and Reason. Describes their general nature: The first sets Man upon acting, the other regulates his action. However, these principles are natural, not moral; and therefore, in themselves, neither good nor evil, but so only as they are directed. This observation is made with great judgment, in opposition to the desperate folly of those Fanatics, who, as the Ascetic, vainly pretend to eradicate Selflove; or, as the Mystic, are more successful in stifling Reason; and both, on the absurd fancy of their being moral, not natural, principles. W.
Ver. 54. Self-love, to urge,] Such popular writers as Pascal, Nicole, and Rochefoucault, having given a wrong and improper definition of Self-love, and mistaken the origin of it for its end, having argued unfairly and inconclusively on the subject, and represented this first spring of all human actions, as base, mean, and disgraceful. Our Author, more wise and temperate, has endeavoured to reconcile Self-love with social, and private good with universal happiness. He had the hint from Shaftesbury: “ If there can possibly be supposed in a creature such an affection towards self-good, as is actually, in its natural degree, conducing to his private interest, and at the same time inconsistent with the public good; this may indeed be called still a vicious affection. And on this supposition a creature cannot really be good and natural in respect of his society or public, without being ill and unnatural towards himself. But if the affection be then only injurious to society when it is immoderate, and not so when it is moderate, duly tempered, and allayed, then is the immoderate degree of the affection truly vicious, but not the moderate.” Cha
Nor this a good, nor that a bad we call,
Self-love, the spring of motion, acts the soul;
Most strength the moving principle requires : Sulfikoumen
NOTES. racteristics, vol. ii. p. 22. He had said before, vol. i. p. 120, speaking of those who had written on Self-love, “ If these gentlemen who delight so much in the play of words, but are cautious how they grapple closely with definitions, would tell us only what Self-interest was, and would determine Happiness and Good, there would be an end of this enigmatical wit." See also pages 78, 79, 80, 87, 139, 140, of volume the second. Pope does not appear to have read, though published before this Essay, Hutcheson's admirable Illustrations and Defence of the Moral Sense, and his fine Treatise on the Passions. Burlamaqui's work, Principes du Droit Naturel, was not yet published, by which our Author might have profited much.
Ver. 59. Self-love, the spring of motion, acts the soul ;] The Poet proceeds (from Ver. 58 to 67) more minutely to mark out the distinct offices of these two Principles, which offices he had before assigned only in general; and here he shews their necessity; for without Self-love, as the spring, Man would be inactive: and without Reason, as the balance, active to no purpose. W.
Self-love still stronger, as its objects nigh;
Let subtle schoolmen teach these friends to fight,
After Ver. 86 in the MS.
Of good and evil Gods what frighted Fools,
NOTES. Ver. 81. Let subtle schoolmen, &c.] From this description of Self love and Reason it follows, as the Poet observes (from Ver. 80 to 93), that both conspire to one end, namely human happiness, though they be not equally expert in the choice of the means; the difference being this, that the first hastily seizes every thing which hath the appearance of good; the other weighs and examines whether it be indeed what it appears.
This shews, as he next observes, the folly of the schoolmen, who consider them as two opposite principles, the one good and the other evil. The observation is seasonable and judicious; for this dangerous school-opinion gives great support to the Manichean or Zoroastrian error, the confutation of which was one of the Author's chief ends in writing. For if there be two principles
Self-love and Reason to one end aspire,
III. Modes of Self-love the Passions we may call:
In lazy Apathy let Stoics boast
in Man, a good and evil, it is natural to think him the joint product of the two Manichean Deities (the first of which contributed to his Reason, the other to his Passions) rather than the creature of one Individual Cause. This was Plutarch's opinion, and, as we may see in him, of some of the more ancient theistical Philosophers. It was of importance, therefore, to reprobate and subvert a notion that served to the support of so dangerous an error: and this the Poet hath done with much force and clearness. W.
Ver. 101. In lazy Apathy] Swift observes that “ the Stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our passions, is like cutting off our legs for want of shoes.” How easy is it to expose assertions which were never asserted; to refute tenets which were never held; to become St. George when we make our own dragons? What says old Epictetus, who knew Stoicism better than these men ? Où ydp dei pe elva. AJIAOH às 'Avdpárta, &c. "I am not to be Apathetic, or void of passions, like a statue. I am to discharge all the relations of a social and friendly life, the
Contracted all, retiring to the breast;
NOTES. parent, the husband, the brother, the magistrate.” These words are copied from a valuable manuscript of my late excellent friend James Harris, Esq. author of Hermes, and other admirable treatises. Perhaps a stronger example cannot be found, of taking notions upon trust without any examination, than the universal censure that has been passed upon the Stoics, as if they constantly and strenuously inculcated a total insensibility with respect to passion, to which these lines of Pope allude; when it is certain the Stoics meant only, a freedom from strong perturbation, from irrational and excessive agitations of the soul; and no more.
Ver. 105. The rising tempest puts in act the soul,] As it was from observation of the evils occasioned by the passions, that the Stoics thus extravagantly projected their extirpation, the Poet recurs (from Ver. 104 to 111) to his grand principle so often before, and to so good purpose, insisted on, that partial Ill is universal Good; and shews, that though the tempest of the passions, like that of the air, may tear and ravage some few parts of nature in its passage, yet the salutary agitation produced by it preserves the Whole in life and vigour. This is his first argument against the Stoics, which he illustrates by a very beautiful similitude, on a hint taken from Scripture:
“ Nor God alone in the still calm we find,
He mounts the storm, and walks upon the wind.” W. From factions, and ferments, and political agitations, and commotions, and wars, arise the most striking and vigorous exertions of the human mind. Witness what happened in Greece, and Rome, and modern Italy; in France after the league ; and in England after, and in, our civil war. Great occasions call forth great and latent abilities; and every man becomes capable of every exertion. A Socrates and a Sophocles were found, alone, in the time of Themistocles and Thrasybulus. The dead calm of despotism, in such a government as China for instance, crushes and overwhelms all effort and all emulation.