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OF THE KNOWLEGE AND CHARACTERS OF MEN.
Yes, you despise the man to books confined,
Some general maxims, or be right by chance.
4 Some general marims. Pope has been charged with adducing the ruling passion as a sort of predestinarian doctrine, by which the course of every man's life is to be regulated under the influence of an original necessity: but Roscoe has fully shown, on the evidence of the poem itself, that the only ruling passion asserted in these pages, is the known propensity wbich directs peculiar minds to peculiar objects, and which may be guided, modified, or mastered, by the wisdom, experience, or energy, of the individual. The present arrangement of the epistle was suggested by Warburton, wbo, on this ground at least, may be taken as authority for its divi. sion :- The whole is distributed into three principal parts or members. The first, from ver. 1 to 99, treats of the difficulties in ascertaining the characters of men; the second, to 174, of the wrong means which both philosophers and men of the world have employed in surmounting those difficulties; and the third, to the end, treats of the right means, with rules for their application.'
Though many a passenger he rightly call,
And yet the fate of all extremes is such,
grow more partial for the 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 Next, that he varies from himself. Warton quotes a French writer, as 'sensible,' who says that Cicero was un grand esprit,' but'une ame foible.' The Frenchman who said this, was neither sensible, nor qualified to play the critic on Cicero. The man who rose from an humble condition of life to the highest, who vanquished the jealousy of birth, opulence, and office, and who was looked on by common consent as the pillar of the state in its time of most imminent peril, could not have been either une ame foible,' or un homme d'état médiocre.' The leader of the Roman nobility, the master of the senate, the hope and pride of every Roman, must have added to the talents of the great orator the faculties of the great man: the overthrower of Catiline, and the exterminator of the furious faction which had already prepared the ruin of the commonwealth, and of which Catiline himself was but a symptom, must have possessed the qualities of the statesman in an eminent degree. His submission to Cæsar supplies no evidence of weakness. The cause of the republic was gone; the state contained no elements for its restoration. The alternative to him, as to many a man of sense and honor since, lay between anarchy and power. If Cæsar, with all his noble and unrivalled qualities for government, were not to be sovereign, faction, led by some furious thirster for blood, must have assumed the national supremacy; the days of Marius and Sylla must have been renewed, and Rome flooded with slaughter. Cicero, thus maligned as a willing slave, exhibited only the intelligence and integrity of a statesman cf the first rank in deciding the question against anarchy. The result proved his wisdom. The assassination of Cæsar threw the national power into the hands of the democracy: those bands were found totally ineffectual to sustain the government; and that sceptre, which was arrogantly refused to Cæsar, the generous, the brilliant, and the merciful; was feebly dropped into the possession of Augustus, selfish, sullen, and defiled with the incalculable murders of the triumvirate. From that hour Rome was essentially a despotism.
Add nature's, custom's, reason's, passion's strife, And all opinion's colors cast on life.
Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds, Quick whirls and shifting eddies of our minds? On human actions reason though 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 difference is as great between The optics seeing, as the objects seen. All manners take a tincture from our own; Or come discolor'd, through our passions shown: Or fancy's beam enlarges, multiplies, 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 knowlege we must snatch, not take.
40 Oft, in the passions' wide rotation toss'd, Our spring of action to ourselves is lost :
Tired, not determined, to the last we yield,
True, some are open, and to all men known;
But these plain characters we rarely find; Though strong the bent, yet quick the turns of
mind : Or puzzling contraries confound the whole; 65 Or affectations quite reverse the soul.
57 Manly raves. The principal character in the ‘Plain Dealer' of Wycherley. The epithet 'generous' seems but ill applied to that harsh and crude libeller of human nature.
61 Hate it in a queen. Supposed to be queen Caroline, who was frequently laughed at for an idle pedantry, and a pretended love of science.
62 Charms us with his spleen. Swift. The sentiment is in Boileau ; but given on general and natural grounds :
Un esprit né chagrin plaît par son chagrin même.
The dull, flat falsehood serves for policy ;
See the same man, in vigor, in the gout;
69 Unthought-of frailties cheat us in the wise. Warton tells us, that the night before the battle of Blenheim, prince Eugene, having occasion to return to Marlborough's tent, soon after the council held on the operations of the forthcoming day had broken up, found the great duke giving orders to his aide-decamp, colonel Selwyn, (who narrated the circumstance) by the light of a single candle, all the others having been put out the moment the council was over. • What a man is this,' said the prince, 'who at such a time can think of saving candle-ends !' Marlborough's love of economy in trifles (for in matters of a higher order no man was more magnificent) might have laid him open to the observation of the lively Frenchman; but a more important observation might also have been made on the mind, which in a moment of such natural anxiety, could have attended to trifles. On the battle of Blenheim depended much to Europe, but to Marlborough every thing. The march into Germany was the most daring exercise of responsibility in modern times : Marlborough himself was so conscious at once of its necessity and its hazard, that he had not ventured to communicate his plan even to his own government, through a conviction that its boldness would lead them to throw obstacles in its way. Within a few hours the die was to be cast, on which hung his fame and fortune, perhaps his existence : yet, at a period which might have exhausted or overwhelmed any other intellect of his day, we find him saving ends of candles. The habit may be humiliating to the stateliness, but it gives a striking proof of the composure, of his mind.