Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
Extract from Moral Essays, Epistle I
By Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
 
(See full text.)

YES, you despise the man to books confin’d,
Who from his study rails at human kind;
Tho’ what he learns he speaks, and may advance
Some gen’ral maxims, or be right by chance.
The coxcomb bird, so talkative and grave,        5
That from his cage cries cuckold, whore, and knave,
Tho’ many a passenger he rightly call,
You hold him no philosopher at all.
  And yet the fate of all extremes is such,
Men may be read, as well as books, too much.        10
To observations which ourselves we make,
We grow more partial for th’ observer’s sake;
To written wisdom, as another ’s, less:
Maxims are drawn from notions, those from guess.
There ’s some peculiar in each leaf and grain,        15
Some unmark’d fibre, or some varying vein:
Shall only man be taken in the gross?
Grant but as many sorts of mind as moss.
  That each from other differs, first confess;
Next, that he varies from himself no less:        20
Add nature’s, custom’s, reason’s, passion’s strife,
And all opinion’s colours cast on life.
  Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds,
Quick whirls, and shifting eddies, of our minds?
On human actions reason tho’ you can,        25
It may be reason, but it is not man:
His principle of action once explore,
That instant ’tis his principle no more.
Like following life through creatures you dissect,
You lose it in the moment you detect.        30
  Yet more; the diff’rence is as great between
The optics seeing, as the objects seen.
All manners take a tincture from our own;
Or come discolour’d through our passions shown.
Or fancy’s beam enlarges, multiplies,        35
Contracts, inverts, and gives ten thousand dies.
  Nor will life’s stream for observation stay,
It hurries all too fast to mark their way:
In vain sedate reflections we would make,
When half our knowledge we must snatch, not take.        40
Oft, in the passions’ wide rotation tost,
Our spring of action to ourselves is lost:
Tir’d, not determin’d, to the last we yield,
And what comes then is master of the field.
As the last image of that troubled heap,        45
When sense subsides, and fancy sports in sleep,
(Tho’ past the recollection of the thought,)
Becomes the stuff of which our dream is wrought:
Something as dim to our internal view,
Is thus, perhaps, the cause of most we do.        50
  True some are open, and to all men known;
Others so very close they ’re hid from none;
(So darkness strikes the sense no less than light;)
Thus gracious Chandos is belov’d at sight;
And ev’ry child hates Shylock, tho’ his soul        55
Still sits at squat, and peeps not from its hole.
At half mankind when gen’rous Manly raves,
All know ’tis virtue, for he thinks them knaves:
When universal homage Umbra pays,
All see ’tis vice, and itch of vulgar praise.        60
When flatt’ry glares, all hate it in a queen.
While one there is who charms us with his spleen.
  But these plain characters we rarely find;
Tho’ strong the bent, yet quick the turns of mind:
Or puzzling contraries confound the whole;        65
Or affectations quite reverse the soul.
The dull, flat falsehood serves for policy;
And in the cunning, truth itself ’s a lie;
Unthought-of frailties cheat us in the wise;
The fool lies hid in inconsistencies.        70
  See the same man, in vigour, in the gout;
Alone, in company; in place, or out;
Early at bus’ness, and at hazard late;
Mad at a fox-chase, wise at a debate;
Drunk at a borough, civil at a ball;        75
Friendly at Hackney, faithless at Whitehall.
  Catius is ever moral, ever grave,
Thinks who endures a knave, is next a knave,
Save just at dinner—then prefers, no doubt,
A rogue with ven’son to a saint without.        80
Who would not praise Patritio’s high desert,
His hand unstain’d, his uncorrupted heart,
His comprehensive head! all interests weigh’d,
All Europe sav’d, yet Britain not betray’d.
He thanks you not, his pride is in picquet,        85
Newmarket fame, and judgment at a bet.
  What made (say Montaigne, or more sage Charron!)
Otho a warrior, Cromwell a buffoon?
A perjur’d prince a leaden saint revere,
A godless regent tremble at a star?        90
The throne a bigot keep, a genius quit,
Faithless through piety, and dup’d through wit?
Europe a woman, child, or dotard rule,
And just her wisest monarch made a fool?
  Know, God and Nature only are the same:        95
In man, the judgment shoots at flying game;
A bird of passage! gone as soon as found;
Now in the moon perhaps, now under ground.
  In vain the sage, with retrospective eye,
Would from th’ apparent What conclude the Why,        100
Infer the motive from the deed, and show,
That what we chanc’d was what we meant to do.
Behold! if fortune or a mistress frowns,
Some plunge in bus’ness, others shave their crowns:
To ease the soul of one oppressive weight,        105
This quits an empire, that embroils a state:
The same adust complexion has impell’d
Charles to the convent, Philip to the field.
  Not always actions show the man: we find
Who does a kindness, is not therefore kind;        110
Perhaps prosperity becalm’d his breast;
Perhaps the wind, just shifted from the east:
Not therefore humble he who seeks retreat,
Pride guides his steps, and bids him shun the great:
Who combats bravely, is not therefore brave,        115
He dreads a death-bed like the meanest slave;
Who reasons wisely is not therefore wise,
His pride in reas’ning, not in acting lies.
  But grant that actions best discover man;
Take the most strong, and sort them as you can.        120
The few that glare each character must mark,
You balance not the many in the dark.
What will you do with such as disagree?
Suppress them, or miscall them policy?
Must then at once (the character to save)        125
The plain rough hero turn a crafty knave?
Alas! in truth the man but chang’d his mind,
Perhaps was sick, in love, or had not din’d.
Ask why from Britain Cæsar would retreat?
Cæsar himself might whisper he was beat.        130
Why risk the world’s great empire for a punk?
Cæsar perhaps might answer he was drunk.
But, sage historians! ’tis your task to prove
One action conduct; one, heroic love.
  ’Tis from high life, high characters are drawn;        135
A saint in crape is twice a saint in lawn;
A judge is just, a chanc’lor juster still;
A gownman, learn’d; a bishop, what you will;
Wise, if a minister; but, if a king,
More wise, more learn’d, more just, more ev’ry thing.        140
Court-virtues bear, like gems, the highest rate,
Born where heaven’s influence scarce can penetrate:
In life’s low vale, the soil the virtues like,
They please as beauties, here as wonders strike.
Though the same sun with all-diffusive rays        145
Blush in the rose, and in the diamond blaze,
We prize the stronger effort of his pow’r,
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 scriv’ner, an exceeding knave:
Is he a churchman? then he ’s fond of power:        155
A quaker? sly: a presbyterian? sour:
A smart free-thinker? all things in an hour.
  Ask men’s opinions: Scoto now shall tell
How trade increases, and the world goes well;
Strike off his pension, by the setting sun,        160
And Britain, if not Europe, is undone.
  That gay free-thinker, a fine talker once,
What turns him now a stupid silent dunce?
Some god, or spirit he has lately found;
Or chanc’d to meet a minister that frown’d.        165
  Judge we by nature? habit can efface,
Interest o’ercome, or policy take place:
By actions? those uncertainty divides:
By passions? these dissimulation hides:
Opinions? they still take a wider range:        170
Find, if you can, in what you cannot change.
  Manners with fortunes, humours turn with climes,
Tenets with books, and principles with times.
  Search then the ruling passion: there, alone,
The wild are constant, and the cunning known;        175
The fool consistent, and the false sincere;
Priests, princes, women, no dissemblers here.
This clue once found, unravels all the rest,
The prospect clears, and Wharton stands confest.
Wharton, the scorn and wonder of our days,        180
Whose ruling passion was the lust of praise:
Born with whate’er could win it from the wise,
Women and fools must like him, or he dies;
Tho’ wond’ring senates hung on all he spoke,
The Club must hail him master of the joke.        185
Shall parts so various aim at nothing new?
He ’ll shine a Tully and a Wilmot too;
Then turns repentant, and his God adores
With the same spirit that he drinks and whores;
Enough, if all around him but admire,        190
And now the punk applaud, and now the friar
Thus with each gift of nature and of art,
And wanting nothing but an honest heart;
Grown all to all, from no one vice exempt;
And most contemptible to shun contempt;        195
His passion still to covet general praise,
His life to forfeit it a thousand ways;
A constant bounty which no friend has made;
An angel tongue, which no man can persuade!
A fool, with more of wit than half mankind,        200
Too rash for thought, for action too refin’d:
A tyrant to the wife his heart approves;
A rebel to the very king he loves;
He dies, sad outcast of each church and state,
And, harder still! flagitious, yet not great.        205
Ask you why Wharton broke thro’ ev’ry rule?
’Twas all for fear the knaves should call him fool.
  Nature well known, no prodigies remain,
Comets are regular, and Wharton plain.
 
 
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