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E P I S T L E IV.
H HAPPINESS! our being's end and aim!
Oh Happiness! to which we all aspire,
, or a Member of Society) this last comes to consider him with regard to the Erd, that is, Happiness.
It opens with an invocation to Happiness, in the manner of the ancient poets, who, when destitute of a patron God, applied to the Muse, and, if she was engaged, took up with any fimple Virtue next at hand, to infpire and prosper their undertakings. This was the ancient Invocation, which few modern poets have had the art to imitate with any degree either of spirit or decorum : but our author hath contrived to make it fubfervient to the method and reafoning of his philofophic compofition. I will endeavour to explain to uncommon a beauty.
It is to be observed that the Pagan deities had each their several names and places of ałode, with fome of which they were supposed to be more delighted than others, and consequently to be then most propitious when invoked by the favourite name and place: Hence we find, the hymns of Homer, Orpheus, and Callimachus to be chiefiy employed in reckoning up the several names and places of abode by which the patron Ged was distinguished. Our poet hath made the'e two circumstances Vol. III.
That something still which prompts th’eternal figh,
COMMENTARY. serve to introduce his subject. His purpose is to write of Happiness; method therefore requires that he first define what men mean by Happiness, and this he does in the ornament of a poetic Invocation ; in which the several names, that happiness goes by, are enumerated.
Oh Happiness ! our being's end and aim,
Good, Pleasure, Ease, Content! whate'er thy Name : After the Definition, that which follows next, is the Propofition, which is, that human Happiness confifts not in external Advantages, but in Virtue. For the subject of this epistle is the detecting the false notions of Happiness, and settling and explaining the true ; and this the poet lays down in the next sixteen lines. Now the enumeration of the several situations in which Happiness is supposed to reside, is a summary of falfe Happiness, placed in Externals ;
Plant of celestial feed! if dropt below,
Twin’d with the wreaths Parnassian laurels yield,
NOTES. Ver. 6. O'erlook'd, seen double,] O’erlook'd by those who place Happiness in any thing exclusive of Virtue ; seen double by those who admit any thing else to have a share with Virtue in procuring Happiness; these being the two general mistakes that this epistle is employed in confuting.
Fair op'ning to some Court's propitious shine,
blind; This bids to serve, and that to Thun mankind; 20
COMMENTARY. The fix remaining lines deliver the true notion of Happiness to be in Virtue. Which is summed up in these two:
Fix'd to no spot is Happiness fincere,
'Tis no where to be found, or ev'ry where. The Poet having thus defined his terms, and laid down his proposition, proceeds to the support of his Thesis; the various arguments of which make up the body of the Epistle.
Ver. 19. Ask of the Learn'd, &c.] He begins (from * 18 to 29) with detecting the false notions of Happiness. These are of two kinds, the Philosophical and Popular : The latter he had re-capitulated in the invocation, when happiness was called upon at her several supposed places of abode; the Philosophic only remained to be delivered:
Ask of the Learn’d the way, the Learn'd are blind;
Some place the bliss in action, some in ease, Those call it Pleasure, and Contentment these ;
Those call it Pleasure, and Contentment there. They differed as well in the means, as in the nature of the end. Some plac'd Happiness in Action, fome in Contemplation; the first called it Pleasure, the second Ease. Of those who placed it in Action and called it Pleasure, the moral rout they pursued either sunk them into sensual pleasures, which ended in Pain, or led them in search of imaginary perfections, unsuitable to their nature and station (see Ep. i.) which ended in Vanity. Of those who placed it in Ease, the contemplative ftation they were fixed in made fome, for their quiet, find truth in every thing, others in nothing.
Who thus define it, say they more or less
Than this, that Happiness is Happiness? The confutation of these Philofophic errors he shews to be very ealy, one common fallacy running through them all ; namely this, that instead of telling us in what the Happiness of human nature consists, which was what was asked of them, each busies himself in explaining in what he placed his own.
NOTES. Ver. 21. Some place the bliss in action,--Some sunk to beasts, &c.] 1. Those who place Happiness, or the summum bonum, in Pleasure, 'Hsovri, such as the Cyrenaic sect, called on that account the Hedonic. 2. Those who place it in a certain tranquillity or calmness of Mind, which they call Evdupích, such as the Democritic fect. 3. The Epicurean. 4. The Stoic. 5. The The Protagorean, which held that Man was or culww Xenpectwv pérgov, the measure of all things; for that all things which appear to him are, and those things which appear not to any Man are not; fo that every imagination or opinion of every man was true. 6. The Sceptic: Whose abfolute Doubt is with great judgment said to be the effect of In
Some sunk to Beasts, find pleasure end in pain; Some swell’d to Gods, confess ev’n Virtue vain ; Or indolent, to each extreme they fall, 25 To trust in ev'ry thing, or doubt of all.
Who thus define it, say they more or less Than this, that Happiness is Happiness?.
Take Nature's path, and mad Opinion's leave; All states can reach it, and all heads conceive; 30. Obvious her goods, in no extreme they dwell; There needs but thinking right, and meaning well; And mourn our various portions as we please, Equal is Common Sense, and Common Ease.
COMMENTARY. Ver. 29. Take Nature's path, &c.] The Poet then proceeds (from y 28 to 35) to reform their mistakes; and shews them that, if they will but take the road of Nature and leave that of mad Opinion, they will soon find Happiness to be a good of the species, and, like Common Sense, equally distributed to all Mankind,
NOTES. dolence, as well as the absolute Trust of the Protagorean : For the same dread of labour attending the search of truth, which makes the Protagorean presume it to be always at hand, makes the Sceptic conclude it is never to be found. The only difference is, that the laziness of the one is desponding, and the laziness of the other fanguine; yet both can give it a good name, and call it Happiness.
Ver. 23. Some funk to Benfis, &c.] These four lines added in the last Edition, as necefiary to complete the summary of the false pursuits after happiness amongst the Greek philosophers.