« ZurückWeiter »
other, and the poem is of confiderable length, the mind will require some recreation and refreshment by the way; which is to be procured by seasonable moral reflections, pertinent remarks, familiar fimiles and descriptions naturally introduced, by allusions to ancient histories or fables, and by short and pleasant digreffions and excursions into more noble subjects, so aptly brought in that they may seem to have a remote relation, and be of a piece with the poem. By thus varying the form of instruction the poet gives life to his precepts, and awakens and secures our attention, without permitting us to see by what means we are thus captivated : and his art is the more to be admired, because it is so concealed as to escape the reader's ob. servation.
The style too must maintain a dignity suitable to the subject, and every part be drawn in such lively colours that the things described may seem as if presented to the reader's view.
But all this will appear more evident from example ; and tho? entire poems of this kind are not within the com. pass of our design, we fhall endeavour to select such paffages as will be sufficient to illustrate the rules we have here laid down.
We have already observed, that according to the usual divisions there are four kinds of didactic poems, viz. those that respect our moral duties ; our philofophical speculations; our bufiness and pleasures ; or that give precepts for poetry and criticism.
On the firft subject, indeed, we have scarce any thing that deserves the name of poetry, except Mr. Pope's El ay on Man, and his Ethic Epifles; from these therefore we shall extract some passages to thew the method he has taken to render these dry subjects entertaining.
The first treats of the nature and state of man with respect to the universe ; considers him in the abftraét, and observes, that we can judge only with regard to our own fyftem, fince we are ignorant of the relations of other systems and things ; that man is not to be deem'd imperfect ; but a being perfectly suited to his place and rank in the creation, agreeable to the general order of things, and conformable to ends and relations to him unknown; that it is partly upon his ignorance of future events, and partly upon the hope of a future ftate, that all his happiness in
the present depends. Which last is thus beautifully ex-
Heav'n from all creatures hides the book of fate,
All but the page prescrib'd, their present state ;
From brutes what men, from men what spirits know;
Or who could suffer being here below ?
The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to day,
Had he thy reason, would he skip and play?
Pleas'd to the last, he crops the flow'ry food
And licks the hand just rais'd to shed his blood.
Oh blindness to the future kindly giv'n,
That each may fill the circle mark'd by heav'n. :
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall ;
Atoms or systems into ruin hurl'd,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world.
Hope humbly then ; with trembling pinions foar
Wait the great teacher Death, and God adore.
What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,
But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast :
Man never is, but always to be bleft:
The soul, uneasy, and confind, from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
Lo! the poor Indian, whose untutor’d mind
Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
His soul proud science never taught to stray
Far as the folar walk, or milky way ;
Yet fimple nature to his hope has giv'n,
Behind the cloud topt hill, an humbler heav'ı,
Some safer world in depth of woods embrac'd,
Some happier island in the watry waste,
Where slaves once more their native land behold,
No fiends torment, no christians thirst for gold.
To be content's his natural defire,
He asks no angel's wing, no seraph's fire ;
But thinks, admitted to that equal sky,
His faithful dog shall bear him company.
He then proceeds to prove that the pride of aiming at more knowledge, and pretending to more perfection, is the cause of man's 'error and misery; and Thews the impiety of his presuming to judge of the fitness or unfitness,
perfection or imperfection, justice or injustice, of the dif-
pensations of the Almighty. He represents the absurdity
of man's conceiting himself the final cause of the creation,
or expecting that perfection in the moral world, which is
not in the natural. He shews the unreasonableness of his
complaints againit Providence, while on the one hand he
craves the perfections of angels, and on the other the
bodily qualifications of brutes ; tho' to possess any of the
sensitive faculties in a higher degree, would render him
miserable ; as he has thus proved.
The bliss of man (could pride that blessing find)
Is not to act or think beyond mankind;
No pow'rs of body or of soul to share,
But what his nature and his ftate can bear.
Why has not man a microscopic eye?
For this plain reason, man is not a fly.
Say what the use, were finer optics giv'n,
T'inspect a mite, not comprehend the heav'n?
Or touch, if tremblingly alive all o'er,
To smart and agonize at ev'ry pore?
Or quick effluvia darting thro’ the brain,
Die of a rose in aromatic pain?
If nature thunder'd in his op'ning ears,
And stunn'd him with the music of the spheres,
How would he wish that heav'n had left him ftill
The whisp’ring zephyr, and the purling rill?
Who finds not Providence all good and wife,
Alike in what it gives, and what denies ?
He observes that throughout the whole visible world, an universal order and gradation in the sensual and mental faculties may be seen, which caufes a subordination of creature to creature, and of all creatures to man. He then treats of the gradations of sense, instinct, thought, reflection, and reason; and observes that reason alone countervails all the other faculties. He enquires how far this order and subordination of living creatures may extend, above and below us; were any part of which broken, not that part only, but the whole connected creation must be destroy'd ; and thus beautifully represents the extravagance, madness, and pride, of man's defiring to be other than what he is,
What if the foot, ordain'd the duft to tread,
Or hand to toil, aspir'd to be the head ?
What if the head, the eye, or ear repin'd
To serve mere engines to the ruling mind?
Just as absurd for
any part to claim
To be another, in this gen’ral frame:
Juft as absord, to mourn the talks or pains,
The great directing Mind of All ordains.
All are but parts of one ftupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is, and God the soul ;
That chang'd thro' all, and yet in all the same,
Great in the earth, as in th' æthereal frame.
Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees,
Lives thro' all life, extends thro' all extent,
Spreads undivided, operates unspent ;
Breathes in our soul, informs our mortal part,
All full, as perfect, in a hair as heart ;
As full, as perfect, in vile man that mourns,
As the rapt seraph that adores and burns :
To bim no high, no low, no great, no small;
He fills, he bounds, connects, and equals all.
And this first epistle he concludes by shewing that abso. lute submission is due to Providence, both as to our present and future state.
Cease then, nor order imperfection name :
Our proper bliss depends on what we blame,
Know thy own point: this kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, Heav'n bestows on thee.
Submit. In this, or any other sphere,
Secure to be as bleft as thou canst bear:
Safe in the hand of one disposing pow'r,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour.
All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see ;
All Discord, Harmony, not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good::
And, spite of Pride, in erring Reason's fpite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.
In his second epiltle he treats of the nature and state of man with respect to himself as an individual; and tells us
that the business of man is not to pry into God, but to study himself. He speaks of his middle nature, his powers, frailties, and the limits of his capacities ; observes that the two principles by which he is govern'd, are self-love and reason, which are both necessary, but that self-love is the strongest, and the reason why it is so he has given us in the following lines.
Two principles in human nature reign;
Self-love, to urge, and Reason to restrain :
Nor this a good, nor that a bad we call,
Each works its end, to move or govern all :
And to their proper operation still,
Ascribe all Good ; to their Improper, ill.
Self-love, the spring of motion, acts the soul ;
Reason's comparing balance rules the whole.
Man, but for that, no action could attend,
And, but for this, were active to no end;
Fix'd like a plant on his peculiar spot,
To draw nutrition, propagate, and rot:
Or, meteor-like, flame lawless thro'the void,
Destroying others, by himself destroy'd.
Most strength the moving principle requires ;
Adive its task, it prompts, impels, inspires.
Sedate and quiet the comparing lies,
Form'd but to check, delib'rate, and advise.
Self-love ftill stronger, as its object's nigh;
Reason's at distance, and in prospect lie:
That sees immediate good by present sense ;
Reason, the future and the consequence.
Thicker than arguments, temptations throng,
At best more watchful this, but that more strong.
The action of the stronger to suspend,
Reason ftill use, to reason ftill attend :
Attention, habit and experience gains,
Each strengthens reason, and self-love restrains.
Self-love and reason to one end aspire,
Pain their aversion, pleasure their desire :
But greedy that its object would devour,
This taste the honey, and not wound the flow'r:
Pleasure, or wrong or rightly understood,
Our greatest evil, or our greatest good.