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Why risk the world's great empire for a punk?
'Tis from high life high characters are drawn; 135
Ver. 135. 'Tis from high life, &c.] The Poet, having done with the Philosopher, now turns to the Man of the world; whose first mistake is in supposing men's true characters may be known by their station. This, though a mere mob-opinion, is the opinion in fashion, and cherished by the mob of all denominations : therefore, though beneath the Poet's reasoning, he thought it deserving of his ridicule ; and the strongest was what he gives (from ver. 134 to 141), a naked exposition of the fact ; to which he has subjoined (from ver. 140 to 149) an ironical apology, that, as Virtue is cultivated with infinitely more labour in courts than in cottages, it is but just to set an infinitely higher value on it ; which, says he (with much pleasantry), is most agreeable to all the fashionable ways of estimation. For why do the connoisseurs prefer the lively colour in a gem before that in a flower, but for its extreme rarity and difficulty of production ?
sudden retreat from Britain, after so many pretended victories, we have cause to suspect, even from his own public relation of that matter, that he would have whispered he was beat.-Warburton.
Ver. 131. Why risk the world's great empire for a punk ?) After the battle of Pharsalia, Cæsar pursued his enemy to Alexandria, where he became infatuated with the charms of Cleopatra, and, instead of pushing his advantages, and dispersing the relics of the Pharsalian quarrel, brought upon himself (after narrowly escaping the violence of an enraged populace) an unnecessary war, at a time his arms were most wanted elsewhere. -Warburton.
Ver. 135. 'Tis from high life] Copied from Boileau, v. 203. Sat. 8.Warton. Ver. 137. A judge is just, a chanc'lor juster still ;
A gownman, learn'd; a bishop, what you will ;] Each profession is here equally turned into ridicule ; but not with equal justice. The Lawyer at the Bar pleads indifferently for right and wrong. On the Bench he is the most zealous patron and investigator of truth. The Divine, on the contrary, while in a private station, consults only the honour of his Religion ; but when advanced to a public, he is only anxious that the Ministry be not blamed. Whence comes this difference? Not from their own dispositions, but from that of the times : in which, Justice is supposed to be necessary to civil society ; and Religion, of no such use. Therefore the Lawyer, when advanced into the Magistracy, is invariably attached to the right ; and the Churchman in authority must give no offence.-Warburton.
Court-virtues bear, like gems, the highest rate, 141 Born where heaven's influence
can penetrate: In life's low vale, the soil the virtues like, They please as beauties, here as wonders strike. Tho' the same sun with all-diffusive rays
145 Blush in the rose, and in the diamond blaze, We prize the stronger effort of his power, And justly set the gem above the flower.
'Tis education forms the common mind; Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclin'd. 150 Boastful and rough, your first son is a 'squire ; The next a tradesman, meek, and much a liar; Tom struts a soldier, open, bold, and brave; Will sneaks a scrivener, an exceeding knave. Is he a churchman? then he's fond of pow'r :
155 A quaker? sly: a presbyterian? sour : A smart free-thinker? all things in an hour.
Ver. 149. 'Tis education forms, &c.] The second mistake of the Man of the world is more serious ; it is, that characters are best judged of by the general manners. This the Poet confutes in a lively enumeration of examples (from ver. 148 to 158) which show, that how similar or different soever the manners be by nature, yet they are all new-modelled by Education and Profession ; where each man invariably receives that exotic form, which the mould he falls into is fitted to imprint. The natural character, therefore, can never be judged of by these fictitious manners.
Ver. 141. Court-virtues bear, like gems, &c.] This whole reflection, and the similitude brought to support it, have great delicacy of ridicule, together with all the charms of wit and poetry.-Warburton.
Ver. 151, Boastful and rough,] How much knowledge of life, of manners, and characters, is contained in the eleven succeeding lines! We are not to ascribe so much to the powerful influence of education alone, as does Helvetius in his fanciful Treatise de L'Esprit, who imagines and asserts that all men are born with equal talents, and that it is education alone that causes any difference or superiority in different men. It is the common mind that is formed by education ; which has not the same effect on minds, on which nature and constitution have imprinted deep and strong marks of original genius. It is impossible not to lament that Gray did not finish the design he sketched out, of an Essay on the Alliance of Education and Government, which, from the specimens we find in his life (page 193), would doubtless have been a master-piece of didactic poetry.-Warton.
Ask men's opinions: Scoto now shall tell
That gay free-thinker, a fine talker once,
Judge we by nature ? Habit can efface,
Ver. 158. Ask men's opinions : &c.] The third mistake is, in judging of men's characters by their opinions, and turn of thinking. But these, the Poet shows by two examples (from ver. 157 to 166), are generally swayed by interest, both in the affairs of life and speculation.
Ver. 166. Judge we by nature ? &c.] The Poet having gone through the mistakes both of the Philosopher and Man of the world, separately, turns now to both ; and (from ver. 165 to 174) jointly addresses them in a recapitulation of his reasoning against each. He shows, that if we pretend to develope the
character by the natural disposition in general, we shall find it extremely difficult, because this is often effaced by habit, overswayed by interest, and suspended by policy: if by actions, their contrariety will leave us in utter doubt and uncertainty : if by passions, we shall be perpetually misled by the mask of dissimulation : if by opinions, all these concur together to perplex the inquiry. Show us then, says he, in the whole range of your philosophy and experience, the thing we can be certain of ; for (to sum up all in a word),
“ Manners with fortunes, humours turn with climes,
Tenets with books, and principles with times.”
Or chanc'd to meet a minister that frown'd.] Disasters the most unlooked-for, as they were what the Free-thinker's speculations and practice were principally directed to avoid. The Poet here alludes to the ancient classical opinion, that the sudden vision of a God was wont to strike the irreverent observer speechless. He has only a little extended the conceit, and supposed, that the terrors of a CourtDeity might have the like effect on one of these devoted worshippers.SCRIBL.-Warburton.
Ver. 166. Judge we by nature ?] We find here, in the compass of eight lines, an anatomy of human nature ; more sense and observation cannot well be compressed and concluded in a narrower space. This passage might be drawn out into a voluminous commentary, and be worked up into a system concerning the knowledge of the world. There seems to be an inaccuracy in the use of the last verb; the natural temperament is by
Ver. 165.] Or chanc'd to meet Sir Robert when he frown'd.
By actions ? those uncertainty divides :
170 Find, if you can, in what you cannot change.
Manners with fortunes, humours turn with climes, Tenets with books, and principles with times.
III. Search then the RULING PASSION. There, alone, The wild are constant, and the cunning known; 175
III. Ver. 174. Search then the Ruling Passion, &c.] And now we enter on the third and last part ; which treats of the right means of surmounting the difficulties in coming to the knowledge and characters of men. This the Poet shows, is by investigating the Ruling Passion ; of whose origin and nature we may find an exact account in the second Epistle of the Essay on
no means suddenly changed, or turned, with a change of climate ; though undoubtedly the humours are originally formed by it. “ Influenced by," would be a more proper expression than “turn with,” if the metre would admit it.
I have seen a collection of all the passages, in Horace and Pope, that relate to men and manners, placed together and compared with each other. The superiority was given to Pope, for a deeper knowledge of human nature than could be found in Horace.
We may justly apply to Pope what Cicero says so finely of Thucydides : Omnes dicendi artificio, meâ sententiâ facilè vicit, ut verborum prope numerum, sententiarum numero consequatur ; ità porro verbis aptus et pressus, ut nescias utrum res oratione, an verba sententiis. illustrentur.”. Warton. Ver. 171. in what you cannot change.]
“ Combien diversement jugeons nous de choses ?” says honest Montaigne.
“ Combien de fois changeons nous nos fantasies ? Ce que je tien aujourdhuy, ce que je croy, je le tien et le croy, de toute ma créance ; mais ne m'est-il pas advenu, non une fois mais cent, mais mille, et tous les jours, d'avoir embrassé quelque autre chose ?” Montaigne furnished many hints for this Epistle.—Warton. Ver. 172-3. Manners with fortunes, humours turn with climes,
Tenets with books, and principles with times.] The Poet had hitherto reckoned up the several simple causes . which hinder our knowledge of the natural characters of men. In these two fine lines, he describes the complicated causes. Humours bear the same relation to manners, that principles do to tenets ; that is, the former are modes of the latter ; our manners (says the Poet) are warped from Nature by our fortunes or stations ; our tenets, by our books or professions ; and then each drawn still more oblique into humours and political principles, by the temperature of the climate, and the constitution of the government. Warburton.
Ver. 174. the RULING PASSION.) Two eminent writers have attacked our author's notion of a Ruling Passion, Mr. Harris and Dr. Johnson. The
“ One talks of an universal passion ; as if all passions were VOL. IV.
The fool consistent, and the false sincere;
190 And now the punk applaud, and now the friar.
Man. This Principle, he rightly observes (from ver. 173 to 180), is the clue whi must guide us through all the intrica in the ways of men. To convince us of this, he applies it (from ver. 179 to 210) to the most wild and inconsistent character that ever was ; which (when drawn out at length, as we here find it, in a spirit of poetry as rare as the character itself), we see, this Principle unravels, and renders throughout of one plain consistent thread.
not universal. Another talks of a Ruling Passion ; and means, without knowing it, certain ruling opinions. Thus, when specious falsehood assumes the lyre, we are charmed with the music, and worship her as truth.”
I shall add, that the expression, Ruling Passion, was first used by Roscommon. See how much is attributed to the effects of a Ruling Passion ; Essay on Man, Epistle ii. ver. 132.-Warton.
And see also how this Ruling Passion is modified, controlled, and converted to the most beneficial purposes, in the same Epistle, from ver. 161 to ver. 217.
Ver. 177. Priests, princes, women, no dissemblers here.] Insinuating that one common principle, the pursuit of power, gives a conformity of conduct to the most distant and different characters.—Warburton.
Ver. 181. the lust of praise :) This very well expresses the grossness of his appetite for it ; where the strength of the passion had destroyed all the delicacy of the sensation.-Warburton.
Ver. 187.] John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, famous for his wit and extravagances in the time of Charles the Second.-Warburton.
Ver. 189. With the same spirit] Spirit for principle, not passion.—Warburton.
Ver. 190. Enough, if all around him but admire, &c.] What an able French writer observes of Alcibiades, may be justly applied to this noble