« AnteriorContinuar »
(Reprinted from Dodsley and Cooper's edition of 1743.)
OF THE KNOWLEDGE AND CHARACTERS OF MEN,
TO SIR RICHARD TEMPLE, LORD VISCOUNT COBHAM.
Tuat for this knowledge it is not sufficient to consider man in the abstract : books will not servo the purpose, nor yet our own observation, singly, V. 1. General maxims, uple-, they be formed upon both, will be but notional, 10. Some peculiarity in every man, characteristic to himself, yet varying from himself, 15; the further difficulty of separating and fixing this, arising from our own passions, fancies, faculties, &c., 23. The shortness of life, to observe in, and the uncertainty of the principles of action in men, to observe by, 29. Our own principle of action often hid from ourselves, 41. No judging of the motives from the actions; the same actions proceeding from contrary motives, and the same motives influencing contrary actions, 51 to 70. Yet to form charact-rs we can only take the strongest actions of a man's life, and try to make them agree : the utter uncertainty of this, from nature itself, and from policy, 71. Characters given according to the rank of men in the world, and some reason for it, 87. Education alters the nature, or at least character of many, 101. Some few characters plain, but in general confounded, dissembled, or inconsistent, 122. The same man utterly different in different places and seasons, 130. Unimaginable weakness in the greatest, 140, Nothing constant and certain but God and Nature. Of men we cannot judge, by his nature, his actions, his passions, his opinions, his manners, bumours, or principles, all subject to change, 160, &c. It only remains to find (if we can) his ruling passion : that will certainly influence all the rest, and only can reconcile the seeming or real inconsistency of his actions, 176. Instanced in the extraordinary character of Clodio, 181. A caution against mistaking second qualities for first, which will destroy all possibility of the knowledge of mankind, 212. Examples of the strength of the ruling passion, and its continuation to the last breath, 224, &c.
SIR RICHARD TEMPLE, LORD VISCOUNT COBHAM.
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,
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.
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, these from guess.
There's some peculiar in each leaf and grain ;
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 :
Add nature's, custom's, reason's, passion's strife,
And all opinion's colours cast on life.
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 thro' our passions shown,
Or fancy's beam inlarges, multiplies,
Contracts, inverts, and gives ten thousand dyes.
Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds ?
Quick whirls, and shifting eddies, of our minds ?
Life's stream for observation will not 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.
On human actions reason tho' you can,
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 thro' creatures you dissect,
You lose it, in the moment you detect.
Oft, in the passions wild 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,
When sense subsides, and fancy sports in sleer,
(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 all we do.
In vain the grave, with retrospective eye,
Would from th' apparent what conclude the why,
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, other shave their crowns :
To ease the soul of one oppressive weight,
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 ;
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 ;
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 then as you can :
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)
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 made retreat!
Cæsar perhaps had told you, he was beat.
The mighty Czar what mov'd to wed a punk !
The mighty Czar 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 ;
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.
Court-virtues bear, like gems, the highest rate,
Born where heav'n's influence scarce 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
Blush in the rose, and in the diamond blazo,