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With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side, 5 With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
Men, those who call themselves Freethinkers are most given up to Pride; especially to that kind which consists in a boasted knowledge of Man, the effects of which pride are so well exposed in the first Epistle. The Poet, therefore, to convince them that this study is less easy than they imagine, replies (from ver. 2 to 19.) to the first part of the objection, by describing the dark and feeble state of the human understanding, with regard to the knowledge of ourselves. And further to strengthen this argument, he shews, in answer to the second part of the objection, (from ver. 18 to 31.), that the highest advances in natural knowledge may be easily acquired, and yet we, all the while, continue very ignorant of ourselves. For that neither the clearest science, which results from the Newtonian philosophy, nor the most sublime, which is taught by the Platonic, will at all assist us in this selfstudy; nay, what is more, that Religion itself, when grown fanatical and enthusiastic, will be equally useless; though pure and sober Religion will best instruct us in Man's Nature ; that knowledge being necessary to Religion, whose subject is Man, considered in all its relations, and consequently, whose object is God.
as doubting and wavering between the right and wrong object; from which state it is allowable to hope he may be relieved by a careful and circumspect use of Reason. On the contrary, had he supposed Man so blind as to be busied in chusing, or doubtful in his choice, between two objects equally wrong, the case had appeared desperate, and all study of Man had been effectually discouraged. But M. Du Resnel, not seeing the reason and beauty of this conduct, hath run into the very absurdity, which I have here shewn Mr. Pope so artfully avoided. Of which the learned reader may take the following proofs. The Poet says,
“ Man hangs between ; in doubt to act, or rest.” Now he tells us it is Man's duty to act, not rest, as the Stoics thought; and, to this their principle, the latter word alludes, whose Virtue, as he says afterwards, is
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest ;
66 fix'd as in a frost, Contracted all, retiring to the breast :
But strength of mind is EXERCISE NOT REST." Now hear the translator, who is not for mincing matters :
6 Seroit-il en naissant au travail condamné ?
Aux douceurs du répos seroit-il destiné ?" and these are both wrong, for Man is neither condemned to slapish Toil and Labour, nor yet indulged in the Luxury of Repose. The Poet
“In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast." i. e. He doubts, as appears from the very next line, whether his soul be mortal or immortal ; one of which is the truth, namely, its immortality, as the Poet himself teaches, when he speaks of the omnipresence of God: “ Breathes in our Soul, informs our mortal part.”
Ep. i. ver,
275. The translator, as we say, unconscious of the Poet's purpose, rambles as before :
“ Tantôt de son esprit admirant l'excellence,
Il pense qu'il est Dieu, qu'il en a la puissance ;
les RESSORTS.” Here his head, turned to a sceptical view, was running on the different extravagances of Plato in his Theology, and of Des Cartes in his Physiology. Sometimes, says he, Man believes himself a real God; and sometimes again, a mere machine : things quite out of the Poet's thought in this place. Again, the Poet, in a beautiful allusion to Scripture sentiments, breaks out into this just and moral reflection on Man's condition here,
“ Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err.” The translator turns this fine and sober thought into the most outrageous scepticism:
“ Ce n'est que pour mourir, qu'il est né, qu'il respire;
and VOL. V.
In doubt his mind or body to prefer ;
and so makes his author directly contradict himself, where he says of Man, that he hath “ too much knowledge for the Sceptic side.”
Warburton. Ver. 10. Born but to die, &c.] The author's meaning is, that as we are born to die, and yet do enjoy some small portion of life; so, though we reason to err, yet we comprehend some few truths. This is the weak state of reason, in which error mixes itself with all its true conclusions concerning Man's nature. Warburton.
Ver. 11. Alike in ignorance, &c.] i. e. The proper sphere of his Reason is so narrow, and the exercise of it so nice, that the too immoderate use of it is attended with the same ignorance that proceeds from the not using it at all. Yet though, in both these cases he is abused by himself, he has it still in his own power to disabuse himself, in making his Passions subservient to the means, and regulating his Reason by the end of life.
Warburton, Ver. 12. Whether he thinks too little or too much :] It is so true, that ignorance arises as well from pushing our inquiries too far, as from not carrying them far enough, that we may observe, when spéculations, even in Science, are carried beyond a certain point ; that point, where use is reasonably supposed to end, and mere curiosity to begin; they conclude in the most extravagant and senseless inferences, such as the unreality of matter; the reality of space; the servility of the Will, &c. The cause of this sudden fall out of full light into utter darkness, seems not to arise from the natural condition of things, but to be the arbitrary decree of infinite wisdom and goodness, which imposed a barrier to the extravagances of its giddy, lawless creature, always inclined to pursue truths of less importance too far, and to neglect those which are more necessary for his improvement in his station here.
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
15 Great Lord of all things, yet a prey to all; Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurld; The glory, jest, and riddle of the world! Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science
guides, Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides;
Ver. 20. Go, measure carth, &c.] Alluding to the noble and useful labours of the modern mathematicians, in measuring a degree at the equator and the polar circle, in order to determine the true figure of the earth ; of great importance to astronomy and navigation; and which proved of equal honour to the wonderful sagacity of Newton.
After ver. 18. in the MS.
For more perfection than this state can bear
Warburton. These lines were very judiciously and properly expunged by the author.
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Ver. 22. Correct old Time, &c.] This alludes to Newton's Grecian Chronology, which he reformed on those two sublime conceptions, the difference between the reigns of kings, and the generations of men ; and the position of the colures of the equinoxes and solstices at the time of the Argonautic expedition.
Warburton. Ver. 26. And quitting sense, &c.] This alludes to that philosophical system, founded on the doctrines of Plato, which Ammonius Saccas taught, towards the conclusion of the second century, who laid the foundation of the sect which was distinguished by the name of the New Platonics. His object was to unite Platonism with Christianity. He taught his followers to abstract themselves from all worldly feelings, and, by a continual contemplation of the Divine Nature, to work themselves up to an imitation of the Supreme Being, to mortify the body, and to enjoy in spirit a holy and sublime communion with Heaven. See Mosheim, vol. i. p. 85. Maclaine's Trans.—Brucker's Historia Philo. vol. ii. iii.
Bowles. Ver. 29, 30. Go, teach Eternal Wisdom, &c.] These two lines are a conclusion from all that had been said from ver. 18. to this effect: Go now, vain Man, elated with thy acquirements in real
science, VARIATIONS. Ver. 21.] Ed. 4th and 5th.
Show by what rules the wand'ring planets stray,