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E P I S T L E II.
I. NOW then thyself, presume not God to
VARIATION 3. VER. 2. Ed. ist.
The only science of Mankind is Man.
COMMENTARY. VER. 2. The proper sludy, &c.] The Poet having shewn, in the first epistle, that the ways of God are too high for our comprehension, rightly draws this conclusion: and methodi. cally makes it the subject of his Introduction to the second, which treats of the Nature of Man.
But here presently the accusers of Providence would be apt to object, and say, Admit that we had run into an excess, while we pretended to censure or penetrate the designs of Providence, a matter, indeed, too high for us; yet have pot you gone as far into the opposite extreme, while you only
NOTES. VER. 3. Plac’d on this ifthmus, &c.] As the Poet hath given us this description of man for the very contrary purpose to what Sceptics are wont to employ such kind of paintings, namely, not to deter men from the search, but to excite them to the discovery of truth; he hath, with great judgment, re. presented Men as doubting and wavering between the right and wrong object; from which state there are great hopes hę
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic fide, 5 With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
COMMENTARY. send us to the knowlege of our own Nature: You must mock us when you talk of this as a study; for who can doubt but we are intimately acquainted with OURSELVES? The proper conclusion therefore from your proof of our inability to comprehend the ways of God, is, that we should turn outfelves to the study of the frame of NATURE. Thus, I say, would they be apt to object; for, of all Men, those who call themselves Freethinkers are most given up to Pride ; especially that kind of pride, which consists in a boasted knowledge of their own nature, the effects of which 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
NOT E s. may be relieved by a careful and circumspect use of Reason. On the contrary, had he fuppofed Man so blind as to be busied in chasing, or doubtful in his choice, between two objects equally wrong, the case had appeared defperate, and all study of Man had been effectually discouraged. But M. Du Ref nel, not seeing the reason and beauty of this conduct, hath run into the very absurdity, which I have here shewn Mr. Pope fo artfully avoided. Of which the learned Reader may take the following proofs. The Poet says,
“ Man hangs between ; in doubt to ael, or refl." Now he tells us 'tis Man's duty to act, not refl, as the Stoics thought ; and, to this their principle, the latter word alludes, whole Virtue, as he says afterwards, is
Si fix'd as in a Frost,
“ But strength of mind is EXERCISE, Not RÉST.” Now hear the Translator, who is not for mincing matters,
“ Seroit-il en naissant au travail condamné ?
He hangs between; in doubt tò act, or rest;
COMMENTARY. 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,
NOI E s. and these are both wrong, for Man is neither condemned to pavish Toil and Labour, nor yet indulged in the Luxury of Repose. The Poet says,
" 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 Scul, informs our mortal part.”
Ep. i. V. 275. The Translator, as we say, unconscious of the Poet's purpose, rambles as before,
“ Tantôt de son esprit admirant l'excellence,
les RESORTS." 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 Philosophy. 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.” VOL. III.
In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer ;
all the while, continue very ignorant of our selves. For that neither the cleareft science, which results from the Newtonian philosophy, nor the most sublime, which is taught by the Platonic, will at all affist us in this self-study; nay, what is more, that Religion itself, when grown fanatical and enthu
NOTE s. 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,
“ Et toute la raison n'est presque qu'un delire.” and so makes his Author directly contradict himself, where he says of Man, that he hath
-" too much knowledge for the Sceptic side.” 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 por tion 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.
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 abufed by himself, he has it Still in his own power to disabuse himself, in making his Passions fubfervient to the means, and regulating his Reason by the end of life.
VER. 12. Whether he thinks too little, or too much :) This is so true, that igaorance arises as well from pushing our
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus’d;
For more perfection than this state can bear
COMMENTARY. siastic, will be equally useless: Though pure and fober Religion will best instruct us in Man's Nature; that knowledge being essential to religion; whose subject is Man considered in all his relations, and, consequently, whose object is God.
No T E s. enquiries too far, as from not carrying them far enough, that we may observe, when Speculations, 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 reason of this sudden fall out of full light into utter darkness, seems not to result from the natural condition of things, but to be the arbitrary de. cree of infinite wisdom and goodness, which imposed a barrier to the extravagancies of its giddy lawless créature, always inclined to pursue truths of less importance too far, to the neglect of those more necessary for his improvement in his station here.
Ver. 17. Sole judge of Truth, in endless Error hurld:] Some have imagined that the Author, by, in endless error