« AnteriorContinuar »
Of the Knowledge and Characters of Men.
YES, you despise the man to books confin’d,
Who from his study rails at human kind; Tho' what he learns he speaks, and may advance Some gen’ral maxims, or be right by chance.
* Moral Essays.] The Essay on Man was intended to be comprised in four books:
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 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 the misapplication of them; illustrated by pictures, characters, and examples.
The Third book regarded civil regimen, or the science of poli. tics ; in which the several forms of a republic were to be examined and explained ; together with the several modes of religious worship, so far forth as they affect society; between which the author always supposed there was the closest connection and the most interesting relation. 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 com
The coxcomb bird, so talkative and grave, 5
And yet the fate of all extremes is such,
municated to L. 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 consideracions, 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 own strong and capacious mind, and as we can have but a very imperfect idea of it from the disjecia membra Poeta, which now remain; it may not be amiss to be a little more particular concerning each of these projected books.
The First, as it creats of man in the abstract, and considers him in general, under every one of his relations, hecomes the foundation, and furnishes out the subjects, of the three following;
The Second Book was to take up again the first and second epistles of the first book; and to 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, was to have con. cained a satire against the misapplication of wit and learning) may be found in the fourth book of the Dunciad; and up and down, occasionally, 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 governments and religions should be chiefy delivered in feigued 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 mo rality; and would have consisted of many members; of which, the four following epistles are detached portions : the two first, on the sbaracters of men and women, being the introductory part of this concluding book.
To observations which ourselves we make,
That each from other differs, first confess ;
Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds,
25 It may
but it is not man: His principle of action once explore,
That instant ’tis his principle no more.
Nor will life's stream for observation stay, It hurries all too fast to mark their way:
In vain sedate reflections we would make,
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 : Something as dim to our internal view, Is thus, perhaps, the cause of most we do. 50
True, some are open, and to all men known; Others so very close they're hid from none; (So darkness strikes the sense no less than light ;) Thus gracious Chandos is belov'd at sight; And ev'ry child hates Shylock, tho' his soul 55 Still sits at squat, and peeps not from its hole. At half mankind when gen'rous Manly raves, All know 'tis virtue, for he thinks them knaves': When universal homage Umbra pays, All see 'tis vice, and itch of vulgar praise. 60 When flatt'ry glares, all hate it in a queen, While one there is who charms us with his spleen.
VER. 57. At balf mankind The character alluded to is the principal one in the Plain Dealer of Wycherly.
VER. 61. bate it in a queen,] Queen Caroline, whom he was fond of censuring.
But these plain characters we rarely find ; Tho' strong the bent, yet quick the turns of mind : Or puzzling contraries confound the whole ; 65 Or affectations quite reverse the soul. The dull, flat falsehood serves for policy; And in the cunning, truth itself's a lie : Unthought-of frailties cheat us in the wise ; The fool lies hid in inconsistencies.
Catius is ever moral, ever grave,
What made (say Montagne, or more sage Charron!) Otho a warrior, Cromwell a buffoon?
Ver. 81. Patritio's bigb desert,] Meaning Lord Godolphin, who, though he was a great gamester, yet was an able and honest minister.