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He thence traces out the origin of political societies; of monarchy, and patriarchal governments, and shews that true religion and government had both their foundation in the principle of love, and that superstition and tyranny arose from the principle of sear. He considers the influence of self-love, as operating to the social and public good; treats of the restoration of true religion and government on their sirst principles; then descants on mix'd governments and their various forms; and lastly, points out the true end of all, in the following admirable lines.
For forms of government let fools contest;
Man, like the gen'roqs vine, supported lives;
In his fourth epistle he treats of the nature and state of man with respect to happiness, explodes all false notions of happiness, philosophical and popular, and affirms that it is the end of all men, and attainable by all, for God intends happiness to be equal; and to be so, it must be social, since all particular happiness depends on general, and since he governs by general, not particular laws.
Take Nature's path, and mad opinions leave.
Remember, man, < the univerfal cause
He observes that as it is necessary for order, and the peace and welfare of society, that external goods should be unequal, happiness is not made to consisf in these: for notwithstanding that in inequality, the balance of happiness among mankind is kept even by Providence, by the two passions of hope and sear.
If then to all men happiness was mtant,
He tells us what the happiness of individuals is,- as far as is consistent with the constitution of this world; and here it appears that the good man has evidently the advantage.
Know, all the good that individuals sind,
After this he points out the error of imputing to virtue what are only the calamities of nature, or of fortune, and also the folly of expecting that God should alter his general laws in favour of particulars. He proves that we are unable to judge who are good, but concludes that whoever they are they must be happy. He observes that external goods are so far from being the proper rewards of virtue, that they are very often inconsistent with, and destructive to it.
What nothing earthly gives, or can destroy,
To prove that these can make no man nappy without virtue, he has considered the effect of riches, honours, nobility, greatness, fame, superior talents, itfe. and given pictures of human inselicity in men possess'd of them all; whence he concludes, that virtue only constitutes happiness, whose object is univerfal, and whose prospect eternal; and that the persection of virtue and happiness consists in a due conformity to the order of providence here, and a resignation to it here and hereafter.
We have dwelt long enough, perhaps too long, on this poem; but it was necessary to give the whole scope and design of the poet; that the reader might sec what art was required to make a subject so dry and metaphysical, instructive and pleasing: and that it is so will appear by the extracts we have taken, which we hope will induce our readers to peruse attentively the poem itself. From the nature of his plan, the reader will see that the poet was deprived of many embellishments which other subjects will admit of, and tied down as it were to a chain of
argument, which would allow of no digressions, studied similes and descriptions, or allusions to ancient fables; the want of which he has supplied, however, with seasonable remarks, and moral reflections; all of them just, and many of them truly sublime.
A wit's a seather, and a chief a rod;
The learned editor of the author's works informs os that this poem is only a part of what the poet intended on the subject, and that the whole would have made four books, of which this was to have been the sirst; but the author's bad Hate of health, and some other considerations induced him to lay the plan aside : a remnant, however, of what he intended as a subsequent part of this was published under the title of Moral Epistles, which are in number four. The sirst treats of the knowledge and characters of men; the second, of the characters of women; and the two last, of the use of riches; and from the masterly manner in which these are executed the world has great reason to lament the loss of the rest.
We come now to speak of those preceptive poems that concern our philosophical speculations; and these, tho' the subject is so pregnant with matter, affords such a sield for fancy, and is so capable of every decoration, are but sew. Lucretius is the most considerable among the ancients who has written in this manner; and among the moderns I know of none but small detached pieces, except the poem called Anti-Lucretius, which has not yet received an Englijh dress, and Dr. Akenfide's Pleasures of the Imagination; both which are worthy of our admiration. Some of the small pieces are also well executed; r.nd there is one entitled the Universe, written by Mr. Baker, from which I shall borrow an example.
The author's scheme is in some measure coincident with Mr. Pope's, so far especially as it tends to restrain the pride of man, with which design it was prosessedly written. It may be objected, perhaps, that this poem is not preceptive, and theresore not suitable to our purpose; but it is to be considered, that if it is not preceptive, it is didactic; if it does not teach by precept, it does by description; and therefore we hope to be allowed the liberty we are about to take.
The passage we have selected is that respecting the planetary system, which is, in our opinion very beautisul.
Unwise! and thoughtless! impotent! and blind!
Observe how regular the Planets run,
First Mercury, amidst sull tides of light,
Fair Venus, next, sulsils her larger round,
More distant still, our Earth comes roiling on,
See, Mars, alone, runs his appointed race,