« VorigeDoorgaan »
ESSAY ON MA N.
WHEN a great Genius, whose Writings have afforded the world much pleasure and instruction, happens to be enviously attacked and falsely accused, it is natural to think, that a sense of gratitude due from readers so agreeably obliged, or a sense of that honour resulting to our Country from such a Writer, should raise a general indignation. But every day's experience shews us the very contrary. Some take a malignant satisfaction in the attack; others, a foolish pleasure in a literary conflict; and the greater part look on with an absolute indifference.
Mr. De Crousaz's Remarks on Mr. Pope's Essay on Man, seen in part, through the deceitful medium of a French translation, have just fallen into my hands. As those Remarks appear to me very groundless and unjust, I thought so much due to truth, as to vindicate our Great Countryman from his censure.
The principal object therefore of this Vindication shall be, to give the Reader a fair and just idea of the Reasoning of that Essay, so egregiously misrepresented; in
* They are contained in two several Books, the one entitled, Examen de l'Essai de Mr. Pope; à Lausanne, 1737. The other, Commentaire sur la Traduction en vers de M. l'Abbé Du Resnel de l'Essai de Mr. Pope sur l'Homme; à Geneve, 1738.
which I shall not consider it as a Poem (for it stands in no need of the licence of such kind of works to defend it), but as a System of Philosophy; and content myself with a plain representation of the sobriety, force, and connection of that Reasoning.
I shall begin with the first Epistle. The opening of which, in fifteen lines, is taken up in giving an account of his subject; which he shews us (agreeably to the title) is An ESSAY ON MAN, or a Philosophical Inquiry into his Nature, and End, his Passions, and Pursuits:
A mighty maze!-but not without a plan,
as Mr. De Crousaz and I have found it, between us. The next line tells us with what design he wrote, viz.
To vindicate the ways of God to Man.
The men he writes against he hath frequently informed us are such, as
Weigh their opinion against Providence.-I. 110. Such as,
-cry, if Man's unhappy, God's unjust.-1. 114. Such as fall into the notion,
That vice and virtue there is none at all.
Ep. ii. 1. 202. This occasioneth the Poet to divide his indication of the Ways of God into two Parts. In the first of which he gives direct answers to those objections which libertine men, on a view of the disorders arising from the perversity of the human will, have intended against Providence: And, in the second, he obviates all those objections, by a true delineation of human Nature, or a general but exact Map of Man; which these objectors either not knowing, or mistaking, or else leaving (for the mad pursuit of metaphysical entities), have lost and bewildered themselves in a thousand foolish complaints against Providence. The first Epistle is employed in the management of the first part of this dispute; and the three following in the management of the second. So that the whole constitutes a complete Essay on Man, written for the best purpose, to vindicate the ways of God.
The Poet therefore having enounced his subject, his end of writing, and the quality of his adversaries, proceeds [from l. 16 to 23.] to instruct us from whence he intends to draw his arguments for their confutation; namely, from the visible things of God, in this system, to demonstrate the invisible things of God, his eternal power and godhead: And why; because we can reason only from what we know, and we know no more of Man than what we see of his station here; no more of God than what we see of his dispensations to Man in this station; therefore
Thro' worlds unnumber'd though the God be known, "Tis ours to trace him only in our own *.
This naturally leads the Poet to exprobrate the miserable folly and impiety of pretending to pry into, and call in question, the profound dispensatious of Providence: Which reproof contains [from 1. 22 to 43.] the most sublime description of the omniscience of God, and the miserable blindness and presumption of Man.
Presumptuous Man! the reason would'st thou find
In the four last lines, the Poet has joined the utmost beauty of argumentation to the sublimity of thought; where the similar instances, proposed for their examination, shew as well the absurdity of their complaints against order, as the fruitlessness of their inquiries into the arcana of the Godhead.
So far his modest and sober Introduction: In which he truly observes, that no wisdom less than omniscient Can tell why Heav'n has made us as we are.
Yet though we can never discover the particular reasons for this mode of our existence, we may be assured in
Hunc cognoscimus solummodo per Proprietates suas et Attributa, et per sapientissimas et optimas rerum structuras et causas finales, Newtoni Principia Schol. gener, sub finem.
general that it is right: For now entering upon his argument, he lays down this self-evident proposition as the foundation of his thesis, which he reasonably supposes will be allowed him: That of all possible systems, infinite Wisdom hath formed the best; [1. 43, 44] From hence he draws two consequences:
1. The first [from 1. 44 to 51.] is, that as the best system cannot but be such a one as hath no inconnected void; such a one in which there is a perfect coherence and gradual subordination in all its parts; there must needs be, in some part or other of the scale of life and. sense, such a creature as MAN; which reduces the dispute to this absurd question, Whether God has placed him wrong?
It being shewn that MAN, the subject of his inquiry, has a necessary place in such a system as this is confessed to be: And it being evident that the abuse of freewill, from whence proceeds all moral evil, is the certain effect of such a creature's existence; the next question will be, how these evils can be accounted for, consistently with the idea we have of God's attributes? Therefore,
2. The second consequence he draws from his principle, That of all possible systems, infinite Wisdom has formed the best, is, that whatever is wrong in our private system, is right, as relative to the whole [1. 50 to 53.1 Respecting Man, whatever wrong we call, May, must be right, as relative to ALL.
That it may, he proves [from 1. 52 to 61.] by shewing in what consists the difference between the systematic works of God and those of Man, viz. that, in the latter, a thousand movements scarce gain one purpose; in the former, one movement gains many purposes. So that Man, who here seems principal alone,
Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown. And acting thus, the appearances of wrong in the particular system may be right in the universal: For,
'Tis but a part we see, and not a whole.
-That it must, the whole body of this Epistle is employed to illustrate and inforce. Thus partial evil is universal good, and thus Providence is fairly acquitted.
From all this he draws a general conclusion [from 1. 60 to 87.] that, as what had been said is sufficient to vindicate the ways of Providence, Man should rest submissive and content, and confess every thing to be disposed for the best; that to pretend to inquire into the manner how God conducts this wonderful scheme to its completion, is as absurd as to imagine that the horse and ox shall ever come to comprehend why they undergo such different manage and fortunes in the hand of Man; nay, that such knowledge, if communicated, would be even pernicious to Man, and make him neglect or desert his duty here.
Heav'n from all creatures hides the Book of Fate,
From brutes what men, from men what spirits know,
This he illustrates by an instance in the lamb, which is happy in not knowing the fate that attends it from the hand of the butcher; and from thence takes occasion to observe, that God is the equal master of all his creatures, and provides for the proper happiness of each Being.
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
But now the objector is supposed to put in, and say; "You tell us indeed, that all things will turn out for good; but we see ourselves surrounded with present evil; and yet you forbid us all inquiry into the manner how we are to be extricated; and in a word, leave "us in a very disconsolate, condition." Not so, replies the Poet [from 1. 86 to 95.] you may reasonably, if you so please, receive much comfort from the HOPE of a happy futurity; a hope given us by God himself for this very purpose, as an earnest of that bliss, which here indeed perpetually flies us, but is reserved for the good man hereafter.
What future bliss he gives not thee to know,
* Matt. X. 29.