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Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
A Cheat a Whore who starts not at the name,
The Col'nel swears the Agent is a dog,
Wer. 217. Vice is a monster, &c.] There is another Error, an error of practice, which hath more general and hurtful effects; and is next considered (from Ver. 216 to 221). It is this, that though, at the first aspect, Vice be so horrible as to fright the beholder, yet, when by habit we are once grown familiar with her, we first suffer, and in time begin to lose the memory of her nature; which necessarily implies an equal ignorance in the nature of virtue. Hence men conclude, that there is neither one nor the other. W.
“Hence we find,” says that amiable moralist Hutcheson, “ that the basest actions are dressed in some tolerable mask:” “What others call avarice, appears to the agent a prudent care of a family or friends; fraud, artful conduct; malice and revenge,' a just sense of honour; fire, and sword, and desolation, among enemies, a just, thorough defence of our country; persecution, a zeal for truth, and for the eternal happiness of men, which heretics oppose.”
No creature owns it in the first degree, 225
That counter-works each folly and caprice;
Ver. 231. Virtuous and vicious] A fine and just reflection, and well calculated to subdue and extinguish that petulant contempt and unmerited aversion which men too generally entertain of each other, and which gradually diminish and destroy the social and kind affections. “Our emulation,” says the amiable and sagacious Hutcheson, “our jealousy or envy, should be restrained in a great measure by a constant resolution of bearing always in our minds the lovely side of every character.” And Plato observes, in the Phaedon, that there is something amiable in almost every man living. This charitable doctrine of putting candid constructions on actions that appear blamable, nay, detestable and deformed, is illustrated and enforced, with great strength of argument and of benevolence, by King, in the 5th ch. of the Origin of Evil, when he endeavours to evince the prevalence of moral good in the world.
Ver. 234, by fits, what they despise.] XaAerov ša SAov čupeva, was a saying of Pittacus, quoted and commented upon by Plato, in the Protagoras.
Ver. 239. That counter-works cach folly and caprice; The men
That, happy frailties to all ranks apply'd ;
NOTES. 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. W.
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
Bids each on other for assistance call,
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:
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 saevis projectus ab undis Navita, nudus humijacet, infans, indigus omni Vitali auxilio, cum primum in luminis oras Nixibus ex alvo matris natura profudit; Vagitudue locum lugubri complet, ut aequum est, Cui tantum in vita restet transire malorum”.”
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
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,