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An Essay on Man

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Alexander Pope

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Summary and Study Guide

Alexander Pope is the author of “An Essay on Man,” published in 1734. Pope was an English poet of the Augustan Age, the literary era in the first half of the 18th century in England (1700-1740s). Neoclassicism, a literary movement in which writers and poets sought inspiration from the works of Virgil, Ovid, and Horace, influenced the poem. Writing in heroic couplets, Pope explores the connection between God, human nature , and society. The poem is philosophical and discusses order, reason, and balance, themes that dominated the era. Pope dedicated the poem to Henry St. John, one of his close friends and a famous Tory politician.

This is Pope’s final long poem. It was intended to be the first part of a book-length poem on his philosophy of the world, but Pope did not live to complete the book. Pope initially published “An Essay on Man” anonymously, as he had a fractious relationship with critics and wanted to see how people would respond to the work if unaware that he had written it. The work was praised highly when it was published, and is still esteemed as one of the most elegant didactic poems ever composed.

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Poet Biography

Alexander Pope was born in 1688 in London, England. His father was a wealthy merchant, but because he was Catholic and the Church of England was extremely anti-Catholic, his family could not live within ten miles of London, and Pope could not receive a formal education. As a result, Pope grew up near Windsor Forest and was self-taught. At the age of 12, he contracted spinal tuberculosis, which resulted in lifelong debilitating pain. He grew to be four and a half feet tall and was dependent on others.

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Despite these early challenges, Pope’s poetic talent enabled him to attain a higher social status. He began publishing poetry at the age of 16. He translated Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey , as well as the works of Shakespeare, and sold the translations for a subscription fee. From the profits of these translations, Pope purchased a grand mansion and large plot of land in Twickenham in 1719. Pope is famous for being the first poet able to support himself entirely on his writing. He valued his friendships, which were with some of the greatest minds of his time, including Jonathan Swift, the famous satirist and author of A Modest Proposal .  Pope also had many enemies due to his biting wit and talent for mocking the conventions of his era. For this, he was called “The Wasp of Twickenham.” His Essay on Criticism (1711) expressed his views on criticism and poetry. His mock-epic poem, The Rape of the Lock (1714), was one of his most famous satirical poems. His satire , The Dunciad (1728) lambasted the culture and literature of his day.

He died in 1744 at the age of 56 from edema and asthma. He never married and had no children. Pope is considered one of the greatest English poets of the 18th century and his style defined the Augustan age of poetry. After Shakespeare, he is the second most quoted writer in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations .

Pope, Alexander. “ An Essay on Man .” 2007. Project Gutenberg .

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An Essay on Man

  • Alexander Pope

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A definitive new edition of one of the greatest philosophical poems in the English language

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Voltaire called it “the most sublime didactic poem ever written in any language.” Rousseau rhapsodized about its intellectual consolations. Kant recited long passages of it from memory during his lectures. And Adam Smith and David Hume drew inspiration from it in their writings. This was Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man (1733–34), a masterpiece of philosophical poetry, one of the most important and controversial works of the Enlightenment, and one of the most widely read, imitated, and discussed poems of eighteenth-century Europe and America. This volume, which presents the first major new edition of the poem in more than fifty years, introduces this essential work to a new generation of readers, recapturing the excitement and illuminating the debates it provoked from the moment of its publication. Echoing Milton’s purpose in Paradise Lost , Pope says his aim in An Essay on Man is to “vindicate the ways of God to man”—to explain the existence of evil and explore man’s place in the universe. In a comprehensive introduction, Tom Jones describes the poem as an investigation of the fundamental question of how people should behave in a world they experience as chaotic, but which they suspect to be orderly from some higher point of view. The introduction provides a thorough discussion of the poem’s attitudes, themes, composition, context, and reception, and reassesses the work’s place in history. Extensive annotations to the text explain references and allusions. The result is the most accessible, informative, and reader-friendly edition of the poem in decades and an invaluable book for students and scholars of eighteenth-century literature and thought.

" An Essay on Man . . . was one of the most widely disseminated and well-known publications of the 18th century, notably impacting Enlightenment writers Voltaire, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Jones provides a reliable modern version."— Library Journal

"The book is exemplary in its scholarship. [Jones] has unearthed a multiplicity of references and illuminates the antecedents of Pope's ideas with authority. This is an edition which should be recommended to every student and teacher of the poem…. There is no sensible criticism that could be levelled at his work in this volume."— Penniless Press

"Jones's edition makes the energetically paradoxical Essay on Man accessible…. The introduction is extensive and excellent."—Robert Phiddian, Australian Book Review

"This is a definitive, reader-friendly edition of a poem that ought to be circulated as widely as possible. The textual commentary is a model of its kind—lucid, full, rich in insight, and especially good at tracking down and elucidating the allusions in which the poem abounds. The introduction is also an exemplary piece of literary scholarship."—Brian Young, Christ Church College, University of Oxford

"Tom Jones's edition of An Essay on Man is an impressive achievement. His introduction and notes are deeply learned and useful. They synthesize much of what we know about the poem's composition, publication, sources, analogues, and influence, but also present fresh, original insights into its meanings and importance as a document of eighteenth-century intellectual history. The sophistication with which Jones treats the philosophical contexts of the poem is exceptional."—James Noggle, Wellesley College

"This is a very good edition. The lively and wide-ranging introduction is attentive to both the original context and continuing relevance of Pope's poem."—David Womersley, St. Catherine's College, University of Oxford

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An Essay on Man

  • Alexander Pope Edited and with an introduction by Tom Jones
  • Published by: Princeton University Press

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A definitive new edition of one of the greatest philosophical poems in the English language Voltaire called it "the most sublime didactic poem ever written in any language." Rousseau rhapsodized about its intellectual consolations. Kant recited long passages of it from memory during his lectures. And Adam Smith and David Hume drew inspiration from it in their writings. This was Alexander Pope's Essay on Man (1733–34), a masterpiece of philosophical poetry, one of the most important and controversial works of the Enlightenment, and one of the most widely read, imitated, and discussed poems of eighteenth-century Europe and America. This volume, which presents the first major new edition of the poem in more than fifty years, introduces this essential work to a new generation of readers, recapturing the excitement and illuminating the debates it provoked from the moment of its publication. Echoing Milton's purpose in Paradise Lost , Pope says his aim in An Essay on Man is to "vindicate the ways of God to man"—to explain the existence of evil and explore man's place in the universe. In a comprehensive introduction, Tom Jones describes the poem as an investigation of the fundamental question of how people should behave in a world they experience as chaotic, but which they suspect to be orderly from some higher point of view. The introduction provides a thorough discussion of the poem's attitudes, themes, composition, context, and reception, and reassesses the work's place in history. Extensive annotations to the text explain references and allusions. The result is the most accessible, informative, and reader-friendly edition of the poem in decades and an invaluable book for students and scholars of eighteenth-century literature and thought.

Table of Contents

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  • Half-Title, Title, Copyright
  • Acknowledgments
  • pp. vii-viii
  • Abbreviations and Frequently Cited Works
  • Introduction
  • pp. xv-cxvi
  • A Note on the Text
  • pp. cxvii-cxviii
  • POPE’S KNOWLEDGE OF AUTHORS CITED
  • BIBLIOGRAPHY
  • pp. 107-122
  • pp. 123-130

Additional Information

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An Essay on Man

"The Essay on Man in modern editions is a single poem, arranged in four “Epistles.” But in the beginning, each epistle was published separately, the first on February 20 [1733], the second on March 29, the third on May 17, and the fourth in the next year, on January 24, 1734. In May of 1733 the first three epistles were issued as a stitched together pamphlet, but the pamphlet was made up of separately issued copies of the three epistles. It was not until May 2, 1734, that all four parts were printed together as a single poem.", Alexander Pope; a bibliography , by Reginald Harvey Griffith (1922), Volume I, part I, p .211.

This transcription is of an edition published in 1751.

IN FOUR EPISTLES,

Alexander Pope , Esq

EDINBURGH ,

Printed for, and sold by James Reid Bookseller in Leith , MDCCLI.

  • The Contents
  • Epistle II.
  • Epistle III.
  • Epistle IV.
  • The Universal Prayer
  • Notes on the Essay on Man

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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An Essay on Man

“Is the great chain, that draws all to agree, And drawn supports, upheld by God, or Thee?” – Alexander Pope (From “An Essay on Man”)

“Then say not Man’s imperfect, Heav’n in fault; Say rather, Man’s as perfect as he ought.” – Alexander Pope (From “An Essay on Man”)

“All are but parts of one stupendous whole, Whose body Nature is, and God the soul.” – Alexander Pope (From “An Essay on Man”)

Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things

To low ambition, and the pride of kings., let us (since life can little more supply, than just to look about us and die), expatiate free o’er all this scene of man;, a mighty maze but not without a plan;, a wild, where weed and flow’rs promiscuous shoot;, or garden, tempting with forbidden fruit., together let us beat this ample field,, try what the open, what the covert yield;, the latent tracts, the giddy heights explore, of all who blindly creep, or sightless soar;, eye nature’s walks, shoot folly as it flies,, and catch the manners living as they rise;, laugh where we must, be candid where we can;, but vindicate the ways of god to man. (pope 1-16), background on alexander pope.

pope pic 2.jpg

Alexander Pope is a British poet who was born in London, England in 1688 (World Biography 1). Growing up during the Augustan Age, his poetry is heavily influenced by common literary qualities of that time, which include classical influence, the importance of human reason and the rules of nature. These qualities are widely represented in Pope’s poetry. Some of Pope’s most notable works are “The Rape of the Lock,” “An Essay on Criticism,” and “An Essay on Man.”

Overview of “An Essay on Man”

“An Essay on Man” was published in 1734 and contained very deep and well thought out philosophical ideas. It is said that these ideas were partially influenced by his friend, Henry St. John Bolingbroke, who Pope addresses in the first line of Epistle I when he says, “Awake, my St. John!”(Pope 1)(World Biography 1) The purpose of the poem is to address the role of humans as part of the “Great Chain of Being.” In other words, it speaks of man as just one small part of an unfathomably complex universe. Pope urges us to learn from what is around us, what we can observe ourselves in nature, and to not pry into God’s business or question his ways; For everything that happens, both good and bad, happens for a reason. This idea is summed up in the very last lines of the poem when he says, “And, Spite of pride in erring reason’s spite, / One truth is clear, Whatever IS, is RIGHT.”(Pope 293-294) The poem is broken up into four epistles each of which is labeled as its own subcategory of the overall work. They are as follows:

  • Epistle I – Of the Nature and State of Man, with Respect to the Universe
  • Epistle II – Of the Nature and State of Man, with Respect to Himself, as an Individual
  • Epistle III – Of the Nature and State of Man, with Respect to Society
  • Epistle IV – Of the Nature and State of Man with Respect to Happiness

Epistle 1 Intro In the introduction to Pope’s first Epistle, he summarizes the central thesis of his essay in the last line. The purpose of “An Essay on Man” is then to shift or enhance the reader’s perception of what is natural or correct. By doing this, one would justify the happenings of life, and the workings of God, for there is a reason behind all things that is beyond human understanding. Pope’s endeavor to highlight the infallibility of nature is a key aspect of the Augustan period in literature; a poet’s goal was to convey truth by creating a mirror image of nature. This is envisaged in line 13 when, keeping with the hunting motif, Pope advises his reader to study the behaviors of Nature (as hunter would watch his prey), and to rid of all follies, which we can assume includes all that is unnatural. He also encourages the exploration of one’s surroundings, which provides for a gateway to new discoveries and understandings of our purpose here on Earth. Furthermore, in line 12, Pope hints towards vital middle ground on which we are above beats and below a higher power(s). Those who “blindly creep” are consumed by laziness and a willful ignorance, and just as bad are those who “sightless soar” and believe that they understand more than they can possibly know. Thus, it is imperative that we can strive to gain knowledge while maintaining an acceptance of our mental limits.

1. Pope writes the first section to put the reader into the perspective that he believes to yield the correct view of the universe. He stresses the fact that we can only understand things based on what is around us, embodying the relationship with empiricism that characterizes the Augustan era. He encourages the discovery of new things while remaining within the bounds one has been given. These bounds, or the Chain of Being, designate each living thing’s place in the universe, and only God can see the system in full. Pope is adamant in God’s omniscience, and uses that as a sure sign that we can never reach a level of knowledge comparable to His. In the last line however, he questions whether God or man plays a bigger role in maintaining the chain once it is established.

2. The overarching message in section two is envisaged in one of the last couplets: “Then say not Man’s imperfect, Heav’n in fault; Say rather, Man’s as perfect as he ought.” Pope utilizes this section to explain the folly of “Presumptuous Man,” for the fact that we tend to dwell on our limitations rather than capitalize on our abilities. He emphasizes the rightness of our place in the chain of being, for just as we steer the lives of lesser creatures, God has the ability to pilot our fate. Furthermore, he asserts that because we can only analyze what is around us, we cannot be sure that there is not a greater being or sphere beyond our level of comprehension; it is most logical to perceive the universe as functioning through a hierarchal system.

3. Pope utilizes the beginning of section three to elaborate on the functions of the chain of being. He claims that each creatures’ ignorance, including our own, allows for a full and happy life without the possible burden of understanding our fates. Instead of consuming ourselves with what we cannot know, we instead should place hope in a peaceful “life to come.” Pope connects this after-life to the soul, and colors it with a new focus on a more primitive people, “the Indian,” whose souls have not been distracted by power or greed. As humble and level headed beings, Indian’s, and those who have similar beliefs, see life as the ultimate gift and have no vain desires of becoming greater than Man ought to be.

4. In the fourth stanza, Pope warns against the negative effects of excessive pride. He places his primary examples in those who audaciously judge the work of God and declare one person to be too fortunate and another not fortunate enough. He also satirizes Man’s selfish content in destroying other creatures for his own benefit, while complaining when they believe God to be unjust to Man. Pope capitalizes on his point with the final and resonating couplet: “who but wishes to invert the laws of order, sins against th’ Eternal Cause.” This connects to the previous stanza in which the soul is explored; those who wrestle with their place in the universe will disturb the chain of being and warrant punishment instead of gain rewards in the after-life.

5. In the beginning of the fifth stanza, Pope personifies Pride and provides selfish answers to questions regarding the state of the universe. He depicts Pride as a hoarder of all gifts that Nature yields. The image of Nature as a benefactor and Man as her avaricious recipient is countered in the next set of lines: Pope instead entertains the possible faults of Nature in natural disasters such as earthquakes and storms. However, he denies this possibility on the grounds that there is a larger purpose behind all happenings and that God acts by “general laws.” Finally, Pope considers the emergence of evil in human nature and concludes that we are not in a place that allows us to explain such things–blaming God for human misdeeds is again an act of pride.

6. Stanza six connects the different inhabitants of the earth to their rightful place and shows why things are the way they should be. After highlighting the happiness in which most creatures live, Pope facetiously questions if God is unkind to man alone. He asks this because man consistently yearns for the abilities specific to those outside of his sphere, and in that way can never be content in his existence. Pope counters the notorious greed of Man by illustrating the pointless emptiness that would accompany a world in which Man was omnipotent. Furthermore, he describes a blissful lifestyle as one centered around one’s own sphere, without the distraction of seeking unattainable heights.

7. The seventh stanza explores the vastness of the sensory and cognitive spectrums in relation to all earthly creatures. Pope uses an example related to each of the five senses to conjure an image that emphasizes the intricacies with which all things are tailored. For instance, he references a bee’s sensitivity, which allows it to collect only that which is beneficial amid dangerous substances. Pope then moves to the differences in mental abilities along the chain of being. These mental functions are broken down into instinct, reflection, memory, and reason. Pope believes reason to trump all, which of course is the one function specific to Man. Reason thus allows man to synthesize the means to function in ways that are unnatural to himself.

8. In section 8 Pope emphasizes the depths to which the universe extends in all aspects of life. This includes the literal depths of the ocean and the reversed extent of the sky, as well as the vastness that lies between God and Man and Man and the simpler creatures of the earth. Regardless of one’s place in the chain of being however, the removal of one link creates just as much of an impact as any other. Pope stresses the maintenance of order so as to prevent the breaking down of the universe.

9. In the ninth stanza, Pope once again puts the pride and greed of man into perspective. He compares man’s complaints of being subordinate to God to an eye or an ear rejecting its service to the mind. This image drives home the point that all things are specifically designed to ensure that the universe functions properly. Pope ends this stanza with the Augustan belief that Nature permeates all things, and thus constitutes the body of the world, where God characterizes the soul.

10. In the tenth stanza, Pope secures the end of Epistle 1 by advising the reader on how to secure as many blessings as possible, whether that be on earth or in the after life. He highlights the impudence in viewing God’s order as imperfect and emphasizes the fact that true bliss can only be experienced through an acceptance of one’s necessary weaknesses. Pope exemplifies this acceptance of weakness in the last lines of Epistle 1 in which he considers the incomprehensible, whether seemingly miraculous or disastrous, to at least be correct, if nothing else.

1. Epistle II is broken up into six smaller sections, each of which has a specific focus. The first section explains that man must not look to God for answers to the great questions of life, for he will never find the answers. As was explained in the first epistle, man is incapable of truly knowing anything about the things that are higher than he is on the “Great Chain of Being.” For this reason, the way to achieve the greatest knowledge possible is to study man, the greatest thing we have the ability to comprehend. Pope emphasizes the complexity of man in an effort to show that understanding of anything greater than that would simply be too much for any person to fully comprehend. He explains this complexity with lines such as, “Created half to rise, and half to fall; / Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all / Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d: / The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!”(15-18) These lines say that we are created for two purposes, to live and die. We are the most intellectual creatures on Earth, and while we have control over most things, we are still set up to die in some way by the end. We are a great gift of God to the Earth with enormous capabilities, yet in the end we really amount to nothing. Pope describes this contrast between our intellectual capabilities and our inevitable fate as a “riddle” of the world. The first section of Epistle II closes by saying that man is to go out and study what is around him. He is to study science to understand all that he can about his existence and the universe in which he lives, but to fully achieve this knowledge he must rid himself of all vices that may slow down this process.

2. The second section of Epistle II tells of the two principles of human nature and how they are to perfectly balance each other out in order for man to achieve all that he is capable of achieving. These two principles are self-love and reason. He explains that all good things can be attributed to the proper use of these two principles and that all bad things stem from their improper use. Pope further discusses the two principles by claiming that self-love is what causes man to do what he desires, but reason is what allows him to know how to stay in line. He follows that with an interesting comparison of man to a flower by saying man is “Fix’d like a plant on his peculiar spot, / To draw nutrition, propagate and rot,” (Pope 62-63) and also of man to a meteor by saying, “Or, meteor-like, flame lawless thro’ the void, / Destroying others, by himself destroy’d.” (Pope 64-65) These comparisons show that man, according to Pope, is born, takes his toll on the Earth, and then dies, and it is all part of a larger plan. The rest of section two continues to talk about the relationship between self-love and reason and closes with a strong argument. Humans all seek pleasure, but only with a good sense of reason can they restrain themselves from becoming greedy. His final remarks are strong, stating that, “Pleasure, or wrong or rightly understood, / Our greatest evil, or our greatest good,”(Pope 90-91) which means that pleasure in moderation can be a great thing for man, but without the balance that reason produces, a pursuit of pleasure can have terrible consequences.

3. Part III of Epistle II also pertains to the idea of self-love and reason working together. It starts out talking about passions and how they are inherently selfish, but if the means to which these passions are sought out are fair, then there has been a proper balance of self-love and reason. Pope describes love, hope and joy as being “Fair treasure’s smiling train,”(Pope 117) while hate, fear and grief are “The family of pain.”(Pope 118) Too much of any of these things, whether they be from the negative or positive side, is a bad thing. There is a ratio of good to bad that man must reach to have a well balanced mind. We learn, grow, and gain character and perspective through the elements of this “Family of pain,”(Pope 118) while we get great rewards from love, hope and joy. While our goal as humans is to seek our pleasure and follow certain desires, there is always one overall passion that lives deep within us that guides us throughout life. The main points to take away from Section III of this Epistle is that there are many aspects to the life of man, and these aspects, both positive and negative, need to coexist harmoniously to achieve that balance for which man should strive.

4. The fourth section of Epistle II is very short. It starts off by asking what allows us to determine the difference between good and bad. The next line answers this question by saying that it is the God within our minds that allows us to make such judgements. This section finishes up by discussing virtue and vice. The relationship between these two qualities are interesting, for they can exist on their own but most often mix, and there is a fine line between something being a virtue and becoming a vice.

5. Section V is even shorter than section IV with just fourteen lines. It speaks only of the quality of vice. Vices are temptations that man must face on a consistent basis. A line that stands out from this says that when it comes to vices, “We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”(Pope 218) This means that vices start off as something we know is wrong, but over time they become an instinctive part of us if reason is not there to push them away.

6. Section VI, the final section of Epistle II, relates many of the ideas from Sections I-V back to ideas from Epistle I. It works as a conclusion that ties in the main theme of Epistle II, which mainly speaks of the different components of man that balance each other out to form an infinitely complex creature, into the idea from Epistle I that man is created as part of a larger plan with all of his qualities given to him for a specific purpose. It is a way of looking at both negative and positive aspects of life and being content with them both, for they are all part of God’s purpose of creating the universe. This idea is well concluded in the third to last line of this Epistle when Pope says, “Ev’n mean self-love becomes, by force divine.”(Pope 288) This shows that even a negative quality in a man, such as excessive self-love without the stability of reason, is technically divine, for it is what God intended as part of the balance of the universe.

Contributors

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  • Nicole Petrone

“Alexander Pope.” : The Poetry Foundation . N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013. < http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/alexander-pope >.

“Alexander Pope Photos.” Rugu RSS . N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013. < http://www.rugusavay.com/alexander-pope-photos/ >.

“An Essay on Man: Epistle 1 by Alexander Pope • 81 Poems by Alexander PopeEdit.” An Essay on Man: Epistle 1 by Alexander Pope Classic Famous Poet . N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013. < http://allpoetry.com/poem/8448567-An_Essay_on_Man_Epistle_1-by-Alexander_Pope >.

“An Essay on Man: Epistle II.” By Alexander Pope : The Poetry Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013. < http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174166 >.

“Benjamin Franklin’s Mastodon Tooth.” About.com Archaeology . N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013. < http://archaeology.about.com/od/artandartifacts/ss/franklin_4.htm >.

“First Edition of An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope Offered by The Manhattan Rare Book Company.” First Edition of An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope Offered by The Manhattan Rare Book Company. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2013. < http://www.manhattanrarebooks- literature.com/pope_essay.htm>.

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Essay on Man, Epistle II

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An Essay on Man

An Essay on Man is a poem written by Alexander Pope in 1733–1734. It is a rationalistic effort to use philosophy in order to, as John Milton attempted, justify the ways of God to man. It is concerned with the part evil plays in the world and with the social order God has decreed for man. Because man cannot know God's purposes, he cannot complain about the existence of evil and must accept that Whatever is, is right. More than any other work, it popularized optimistic philosophy throughout England and the rest of Europe.

  • 1 Epistle I
  • 2 Epistle II
  • 3 Epistle III
  • 4 Epistle IV
  • 6 External links

Epistle I [ edit ]

  • Line 139. Compare: "All the parts of the universe I have an interest in: the earth serves me to walk upon; the sun to light me; the stars have their influence upon me", Montaigne , Apology for Raimond Sebond .
  • Line 217. Compare: "Much like a subtle spider which doth sit / In middle of her web, which spreadeth wide; / If aught do touch the utmost thread of it, / She feels it instantly on every side", John Davies , The Immortality of the Soul .
  • Line 225. Compare: "Great wits are sure to madness near allied, / And thin partitions do their bounds divide", John Dryden , Absalom and Achitophel , part I, line 163.
  • Line 289. Compare: "Whatever is, is in its causes just", John Dryden , Œdipus , Act III, scene 1.

Epistle II [ edit ]

  • Line 1. Compare: "La vray science et le vray étude de l'homme c'est l'homme" (Translated: "The true science and the true study of man is man"), Pierre Charron , De la Sagesse , lib. i. chap. 1; "Trees and fields tell me nothing: men are my teachers", Plato , Phædrus .
  • Line 13. Compare: "What a chimera, then, is man! what a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a prodigy! A judge of all things, feeble worm of the earth, depositary of the truth, cloaca of uncertainty and error, the glory and the shame of the universe", Blaise Pascal , Thoughts , chap. x.
  • Line 217. Compare: " For truth has such a face and such a mien, As to be lov’d needs only to be seen", John Dryden , The Hind and the Panther , Part I, line 33.

Epistle III [ edit ]

  • Line 45; comparable with: "Why may not a goose say thus?… there is nothing that yon heavenly roof looks upon so favourably as me; I am the darling of Nature. Is it not man that keeps and serves me? ", Michel de Montaigne , "Apology for Raimond Lebond".
  • Line 303, this relates to the biblical "Faith, Hope and Charity" of Paul of Tarsus , in I Corinthians , Ch. 13, v. 13. " And now abideth And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. " It is also comparable with Abraham Cowley , On the Death of Crashaw : "His faith , perhaps, in some nice tenets might / Be wrong; his life , I'm sure, was in the right."

Epistle IV [ edit ]

  • Lines 79-82.
  • Line 247. Compare: "Man is his own star; and that soul that can / Be honest is the only perfect man", John Fletcher , Upon an "Honest Man’s Fortune" .
  • Line 281. Compare: "Charm'd with the foolish whistling of a name", Abraham Cowley , Virgil, Georgics , Book ii, Line 72; "May see thee now, though late, redeem thy name, And glorify what else is damn'd to fame", Richard Savage , Character of Foster .
  • Line 331. Compare: "One follows Nature and Nature’s God; that is, he follows God in his works and in his word", Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke St. John , Letter to Alexander Pope . Later used by Thomas Jefferson in the language of the Declaration of Independence , asserting that a people may "assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them".
  • Line 379. Compare: " D'une voix légère / Passer du grave au doux, du plaisant au sévère ", Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux , The Art of Poetry , Canto I, line 75 (translated by John Dryden as "Happy who in his verse can gently steer / From grave to light, from pleasant to severe").
  • Line 397. Compare: "'Tis virtue makes the bliss where'er we dwell", William Collins Oriental Eclogues , i, line 5.

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  • Samuel Johnson , The Life of Pope (1781).

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Critical Essays Alexander Pope's Essay on Man

The work that more than any other popularized the optimistic philosophy, not only in England but throughout Europe, was Alexander Pope's  Essay on Man  (1733-34), a rationalistic effort to justify the ways of God to man philosophically. As has been stated in the introduction, Voltaire had become well acquainted with the English poet during his stay of more than two years in England, and the two had corresponded with each other with a fair degree of regularity when Voltaire returned to the Continent.

Voltaire could have been called a fervent admirer of Pope. He hailed the Essay of Criticism as superior to Horace, and he described the Rape of the Lock as better than Lutrin. When the Essay on Man was published, Voltaire sent a copy to the Norman abbot Du Resnol and may possibly have helped the abbot prepare the first French translation, which was so well received. The very title of his Discours en vers sur l'homme (1738) indicates the extent Voltaire was influenced by Pope. It has been pointed out that at times, he does little more than echo the same thoughts expressed by the English poet. Even as late as 1756, the year in which he published his poem on the destruction of Lisbon, he lauded the author of Essay on Man. In the edition of Lettres philosophiques published in that year, he wrote: "The Essay on Man appears to me to be the most beautiful didactic poem, the most useful, the most sublime that has ever been composed in any language." Perhaps this is no more than another illustration of how Voltaire could vacillate in his attitude as he struggled with the problems posed by the optimistic philosophy in its relation to actual experience. For in the Lisbon poem and in Candide , he picked up Pope's recurring phrase "Whatever is, is right" and made mockery of it: "Tout est bien" in a world filled with misery!

Pope denied that he was indebted to Leibnitz for the ideas that inform his poem, and his word may be accepted. Those ideas were first set forth in England by Anthony Ashley Cowper, Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1731). They pervade all his works but especially the Moralist. Indeed, several lines in the Essay on Man, particularly in the first Epistle, are simply statements from the Moralist done in verse. Although the question is unsettled and probably will remain so, it is generally believed that Pope was indoctrinated by having read the letters that were prepared for him by Bolingbroke and that provided an exegesis of Shaftesbury's philosophy. The main tenet of this system of natural theology was that one God, all-wise and all-merciful, governed the world providentially for the best. Most important for Shaftesbury was the principle of Harmony and Balance, which he based not on reason but on the general ground of good taste. Believing that God's most characteristic attribute was benevolence, Shaftesbury provided an emphatic endorsement of providentialism.

Following are the major ideas in Essay on Man: (1) a God of infinite wisdom exists; (2) He created a world that is the best of all possible ones; (3) the plenum, or all-embracing whole of the universe, is real and hierarchical; (4) authentic good is that of the whole, not of isolated parts; (5) self-love and social love both motivate humans' conduct; (6) virtue is attainable; (7) "One truth is clear, WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT." Partial evil, according to Pope, contributes to the universal good. "God sends not ill, if rightly understood." According to this principle, vices, themselves to be deplored, may lead to virtues. For example, motivated by envy, a person may develop courage and wish to emulate the accomplishments of another; and the avaricious person may attain the virtue of prudence. One can easily understand why, from the beginning, many felt that Pope had depended on Leibnitz.

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An Essay on Man: Epistle I

by Alexander Pope

To Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things To low ambition, and the pride of kings. Let us (since life can little more supply Than just to look about us and to die) Expatiate free o’er all this scene of man; A mighty maze! but not without a plan; A wild, where weeds and flow’rs promiscuous shoot; Or garden, tempting with forbidden fruit. Together let us beat this ample field, Try what the open, what the covert yield; The latent tracts, the giddy heights explore Of all who blindly creep, or sightless soar; Eye Nature’s walks, shoot folly as it flies, And catch the manners living as they rise; Laugh where we must, be candid where we can; But vindicate the ways of God to man. I. Say first, of God above, or man below, What can we reason, but from what we know? Of man what see we, but his station here, From which to reason, or to which refer? Through worlds unnumber’d though the God be known, ‘Tis ours to trace him only in our own. He, who through vast immensity can pierce, See worlds on worlds compose one universe, Observe how system into system runs, What other planets circle other suns, What varied being peoples ev’ry star, May tell why Heav’n has made us as we are. But of this frame the bearings, and the ties, The strong connections, nice dependencies, Gradations just, has thy pervading soul Look’d through? or can a part contain the whole? Is the great chain, that draws all to agree, And drawn supports, upheld by God, or thee? II. Presumptuous man! the reason wouldst thou find, Why form’d so weak, so little, and so blind? First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess, Why form’d no weaker, blinder, and no less! Ask of thy mother earth , why oaks are made Taller or stronger than the weeds they shade? Or ask of yonder argent fields above, Why Jove’s satellites are less than Jove? Of systems possible, if ’tis confest That Wisdom infinite must form the best, Where all must full or not coherent be, And all that rises, rise in due degree; Then, in the scale of reas’ning life, ’tis plain There must be somewhere, such a rank as man: And all the question (wrangle e’er so long) Is only this, if God has plac’d him wrong? Respecting man, whatever wrong we call, May, must be right, as relative to all. In human works, though labour’d on with pain, A thousand movements scarce one purpose gain; In God’s, one single can its end produce; Yet serves to second too some other use. So man, who here seems principal alone , Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown, Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal; ‘Tis but a part we see, and not a whole. When the proud steed shall know why man restrains His fiery course, or drives him o’er the plains: When the dull ox, why now he breaks the clod, Is now a victim, and now Egypt’s God: Then shall man’s pride and dulness comprehend His actions’, passions’, being’s, use and end; Why doing, suff’ring, check’d, impell’d; and why This hour a slave, the next a deity. Then say not man’s imperfect, Heav’n in fault; Say rather, man’s as perfect as he ought: His knowledge measur’d to his state and place, His time a moment, and a point his space. If to be perfect in a certain sphere, What matter, soon or late, or here or there? The blest today is as completely so, As who began a thousand years ago. III. 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 today, 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 soar; 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 blest: The soul, uneasy and confin’d 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 solar walk, or milky way; Yet simple nature to his hope has giv’n, Behind the cloud -topt hill, an humbler heav’n; Some safer world in depth of woods embrac’d, Some happier island in the wat’ry waste, Where slaves once more their native land behold, No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold. To be, contents his natural desire, He asks no angel’s wing, no seraph’s fire; But thinks, admitted to that equal sky, His faithful dog shall bear him company. IV. Go, wiser thou! and, in thy scale of sense Weigh thy opinion against Providence; Call imperfection what thou fanciest such, Say, here he gives too little, there too much: Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gust, Yet cry, if man’s unhappy, God’s unjust; If man alone engross not Heav’n’s high care, Alone made perfect here, immortal there: Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod, Rejudge his justice , be the God of God. In pride, in reas’ning pride, our error lies; All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies. Pride still is aiming at the blest abodes, Men would be angels, angels would be gods. Aspiring to be gods, if angels fell, Aspiring to be angels, men rebel: And who but wishes to invert the laws Of order, sins against th’ Eternal Cause. V. ask for what end the heav’nly bodies shine, Earth for whose use? Pride answers, ” ‘Tis for mine: For me kind Nature wakes her genial pow’r, Suckles each herb, and spreads out ev’ry flow’r; Annual for me, the grape, the rose renew, The juice nectareous, and the balmy dew; For me, the mine a thousand treasures brings; For me, health gushes from a thousand springs; Seas roll to waft me, suns to light me rise; My foot -stool earth, my canopy the skies.” But errs not Nature from this gracious end, From burning suns when livid deaths descend, When earthquakes swallow, or when tempests sweep Towns to one grave, whole nations to the deep? “No, (’tis replied) the first Almighty Cause Acts not by partial, but by gen’ral laws; Th’ exceptions few; some change since all began: And what created perfect?”—Why then man? If the great end be human happiness, Then Nature deviates; and can man do less? As much that end a constant course requires Of show’rs and sunshine, as of man’s desires; As much eternal springs and cloudless skies, As men for ever temp’rate, calm, and wise. If plagues or earthquakes break not Heav’n’s design , Why then a Borgia, or a Catiline? Who knows but he, whose hand the lightning forms, Who heaves old ocean, and who wings the storms, Pours fierce ambition in a Cæsar’s mind, Or turns young Ammon loose to scourge mankind? From pride, from pride, our very reas’ning springs; Account for moral , as for nat’ral things: Why charge we Heav’n in those, in these acquit? In both, to reason right is to submit. Better for us, perhaps, it might appear, Were there all harmony, all virtue here; That never air or ocean felt the wind; That never passion discompos’d the mind. But ALL subsists by elemental strife; And passions are the elements of life. The gen’ral order, since the whole began, Is kept in nature, and is kept in man. VI. What would this man? Now upward will he soar, And little less than angel, would be more; Now looking downwards, just as griev’d appears To want the strength of bulls, the fur of bears. Made for his use all creatures if he call, Say what their use, had he the pow’rs of all? Nature to these, without profusion, kind, The proper organs, proper pow’rs assign’d; Each seeming want compensated of course, Here with degrees of swiftness, there of force; All in exact proportion to the state; Nothing to add, and nothing to abate. Each beast, each insect, happy in its own: Is Heav’n unkind to man, and man alone? Shall he alone, whom rational we call, Be pleas’d with nothing, if not bless’d with all? 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 state 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 through 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 still The whisp’ring zephyr, and the purling rill? Who finds not Providence all good and wise, Alike in what it gives, and what denies? VII. Far as creation’s ample range extends, The scale of sensual, mental pow’rs ascends: Mark how it mounts, to man’s imperial race, From the green myriads in the peopled grass : What modes of sight betwixt each wide extreme, The mole’s dim curtain, and the lynx’s beam: Of smell, the headlong lioness between, And hound sagacious on the tainted green: Of hearing, from the life that fills the flood, To that which warbles through the vernal wood: The spider’s touch, how exquisitely fine! Feels at each thread, and lives along the line: In the nice bee, what sense so subtly true From pois’nous herbs extracts the healing dew: How instinct varies in the grov’lling swine, Compar’d, half-reas’ning elephant, with thine: ‘Twixt that, and reason, what a nice barrier; For ever sep’rate, yet for ever near! Remembrance and reflection how allied; What thin partitions sense from thought divide: And middle natures, how they long to join, Yet never pass th’ insuperable line! Without this just gradation, could they be Subjected, these to those, or all to thee? The pow’rs of all subdu’d by thee alone, Is not thy reason all these pow’rs in one? VIII. See, through this air, this ocean, and this earth, All matter quick, and bursting into birth. Above, how high, progressive life may go! Around, how wide! how deep extend below! Vast chain of being, which from God began, Natures ethereal, human, angel, man, Beast, bird, fish, insect! what no eye can see, No glass can reach! from infinite to thee, From thee to nothing!—On superior pow’rs Were we to press, inferior might on ours: Or in the full creation leave a void, Where, one step broken, the great scale’s destroy’d: From nature’s chain whatever link you strike, Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike. And, if each system in gradation roll Alike essential to th’ amazing whole, The least confusion but in one, not all That system only, but the whole must fall. Let earth unbalanc’d from her orbit fly, Planets and suns run lawless through the sky; Let ruling angels from their spheres be hurl’d, Being on being wreck’d, and world on world; Heav’n’s whole foundations to their centre nod, And nature tremble to the throne of God. All this dread order break—for whom? for thee? Vile worm!—Oh madness, pride, impiety! IX. What if the foot ordain’d the dust 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: Just as absurd, to mourn the tasks or pains, The great directing Mind of All ordains. All are but parts of one stupendous whole, Whose body Nature is, and God the soul; That, chang’d through all, and yet in all the same, Great in the earth, as in th’ ethereal frame, Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze, Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees , Lives through all life, extends through all extent, Spreads undivided, operates unspent, Breathes in our soul, informs our mortal part, As 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 him no high, no low, no great, no small; He fills, he bounds, connects, and equals all. X. 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 blest 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 spite, One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.

Summary of An Essay on Man: Epistle I

  • Popularity of “An Essay on Man: Epistle I”: Alexander Pope, one of the greatest English poets, wrote ‘An Essay on Man’ It is a superb literary piece about God and creation, and was first published in 1733. The poem speaks about the mastery of God’s art that everything happens according to His plan, even though we fail to comprehend His work. It also illustrates man’s place in the cosmos. The poet explains God’s grandeur and His rule over the universe.
  • “An Essay on Man: Epistle I” As a Representative of God’s Art: This poem explains God’s ways to men. This is a letter to the poet’s friend, St. John, Lord Bolingbroke. He urges him to quit all his mundane tasks and join the speaker to vindicate the ways of God to men. The speaker argues that God may have other worlds to observe but man perceives the world with his own limited system. A man’s happiness depends on two basic things; his hopes for the future and unknown future events. While talking about the sinful and impious nature of mankind, the speaker argues that man’s attempt to gain more knowledge and to put himself at God’s place becomes the reason of his discontent and constant misery. In section 1, the poet argues that man knows about the universe with his/her limited knowledge and cannot understand the systems and constructions of God. Humans are unaware of the grander relationships between God and His creations. In section 2, he states that humans are not perfect. However, God designed humans perfectly to suit his plan, in the order of the creation of things. Humans are after angelic beings but above every creature on the planet. In section 3 the poet tells that human happiness depends on both his lack of knowledge as they don’t know the future and also on his hope for the future. In section 4 the poet talks about the pride of humans, which is a sin. Because of pride, humans try to gain more knowledge and pretend that is a perfect creation. This pride is the root of man’s mistakes and sorrow. If humans put themselves in God’s place, then humans are sinners. In section 5, the poet explains the meaninglessness of human beliefs. He thinks that it is extremely ridiculous to believe that humans are the sole cause of creation. God expecting perfection and morality from people on this earth does not happen in the natural world. In section 6, the poet criticizes human nature because of the unreasonable demands and complaints against God and His providence. He argues that God is always good; He loves giving and taking. We also learn that if man possesses the knowledge of God, he would be miserable. In section 7, he shows that the natural world we see, including the universal order and degree, is observable by humans as per their perspective . The hierarchy of humans over earthly creatures and their subordination to man is one of the examples. The poet also mentions sensory issues like physical sense, instinct, thought, reflection, and reason. There’s also a reason which is above everything. In section 8, the poet reclaims that if humans break God’s rules of order and fail to obey are broken, then the entire God’s creation must also be destroyed. In section 9, he talks about human craziness and the desire to overthrow God’s order and break all the rules. In the last section the speaker requests and invites humans to submit to God and His power to follow his order. When humans submit to God’s absolute submission, His will, and ensure to do what’s right, then human remains safe in God’s hand.
  • Major Themes in “An Essay on Man: Epistle I”: Acceptance, God’s superiority, and man’s nature are the major themes of this poem Throughout the poem, the speaker tries to justify the working of God, believing there is a reason behind all things. According to the speaker, a man should not try to examine the perfection and imperfection of any creature. Rather, he should understand the purpose of his own existence in the world. He should acknowledge that God has created everything according to his plan and that man’s narrow intellectual ability can never be able to comprehend the greater logic of God’s order.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “An Essay on Man: Epistle I”

literary devices are modes that represent writers’ ideas, feelings, and emotions. It is through these devices the writers make their few words appealing to the readers. Alexander Pope has also used some literary devices in this poem to make it appealing. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been listed below.

  • Assonance : Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /o/ in “To him no high, no low, no great, no small” and the sound of /i/ in “The whisp’ring zephyr, and the purling rill?”
  • Anaphora : It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. For example, “As full, as perfect,” in the second last stanza of the poem to emphasize the point of perfection.
  • Alliteration : Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. For example, the sound of /m/ in “A mighty maze! but not without a plan”, the sound of /b/ “And now a bubble burst, and now a world” and the sound of /th/ in “Subjected, these to those, or all to thee.”
  • Enjambment : It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break ; instead, it rolls over to the next line. For example.
“Lo! the poor Indian, whose untutor’d mind Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind.”
  • Imagery : Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “All chance, direction, which thou canst not see”, “Planets and suns run lawless through the sky” and “Where, one step broken, the great scale’s destroy’d”
  • Rhetorical Question : Rhetorical question is a question that is not asked in order to receive an answer; it is just posed to make the point clear and to put emphasis on the speaker’s point. For example, “Why has not man a microscopic eye?”, “And what created perfect?”—Why then man?” and “What matter, soon or late, or here or there?”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “An Essay on Man: Epistle I”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  • Heroic Couplet : There are two constructive lines in heroic couplet joined by end rhyme in iambic pentameter . For example,
“And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite, One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.”
  • Rhyme Scheme : The poem follows the ABAB rhyme scheme and this pattern continues till the end.
  • Stanza : A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. This is a long poem divided into ten sections and each section contains different numbers of stanzas in it.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful to put in a speech delivered on the topic of God’s grandeur. These are also useful for children to make them understand that we constitute just a part of the whole.

“ 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.”

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Essay on Man by Alexander Pope

  • Alexander Pope
  • Philosophical literature

An Essay on Man.

Moral essays and satires

by Alexander Pope.

INTRODUCTION.

Pope’s life as a writer falls into three periods, answering fairly enough to the three reigns in which he worked. Under Queen Anne he was an original poet, but made little money by his verses; under George I. he was chiefly a translator, and made much money by satisfying the French-classical taste with versions of the “Iliad” and “Odyssey.” Under George I. he also edited Shakespeare, but with little profit to himself; for Shakespeare was but a Philistine in the eyes of the French-classical critics. But as the eighteenth century grew slowly to its work, signs of a deepening interest in the real issues of life distracted men’s attention from the culture of the snuff-box and the fan. As Pope’s genius ripened, the best part of the world in which he worked was pressing forward, as a mariner who will no longer hug the coast but crowds all sail to cross the storms of a wide unknown sea. Pope’s poetry thus deepened with the course of time, and the third period of his life, which fell within the reign of George II., was that in which he produced the “Essay on Man,” the “Moral Essays,” and the “Satires.” These deal wholly with aspects of human life and the great questions they raise, according throughout with the doctrine of the poet, and of the reasoning world about him in his latter day, that “the proper study of mankind is Man.”

Wrongs in high places, and the private infamy of many who enforced the doctrines of the Church, had produced in earnest men a vigorous antagonism. Tyranny and unreason of low-minded advocates had brought religion itself into question; and profligacy of courtiers, each worshipping the golden calf seen in his mirror, had spread another form of scepticism. The intellectual scepticism, based upon an honest search for truth, could end only in making truth the surer by its questionings. The other form of scepticism, which might be traced in England from the low-minded frivolities of the court of Charles the Second, was widely spread among the weak, whose minds flinched from all earnest thought. They swelled the number of the army of bold questioners upon the ways of God to Man, but they were an idle rout of camp-followers, not combatants; they simply ate, and drank, and died.

In 1697, Pierre Bayle published at Rotterdam, his “Historical and Critical Dictionary,” in which the lives of men were associated with a comment that suggested, from the ills of life, the absence of divine care in the shaping of the world. Doubt was born of the corruption of society; Nature and Man were said to be against faith in the rule of a God, wise, just, and merciful. In 1710, after Bayle’s death, Leibnitz, a German philosopher then resident in Paris, wrote in French a book, with a title formed from Greek words meaning Justice of God, Theodicee, in which he met Bayle’s argument by reasoning that what we cannot understand confuses us, because we see only the parts of a great whole. Bayle, he said, is now in Heaven, and from his place by the throne of God, he sees the harmony of the great Universe, and doubts no more. We see only a little part in which are many details that have purposes beyond our ken. The argument of Leibnitz’s Theodicee was widely used; and although Pope said that he had never read the Theodicee, his “Essay on Man” has a like argument. When any book has a wide influence upon opinion, its general ideas pass into the minds of many people who have never read it. Many now talk about evolution and natural selection, who have never read a line of Darwin.

In the reign of George the Second, questionings did spread that went to the roots of all religious faith, and many earnest minds were busying themselves with problems of the state of Man, and of the evidence of God in the life of man, and in the course of Nature. Out of this came, nearly at the same time, two works wholly different in method and in tone — so different, that at first sight it may seem absurd to speak of them together. They were Pope’s “Essay on Man,” and Butler’s “Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature.”

Butler’s “Analogy” was published in 1736; of the “Essay on Man,” the first two Epistles appeared in 1732, the Third Epistle in 1733, the Fourth in 1734, and the closing Universal Hymn in 1738. It may seem even more absurd to name Pope’s “Essay on Man” in the same breath with Milton’s “Paradise Lost;” but to the best of his knowledge and power, in his smaller way, according to his nature and the questions of his time, Pope was, like Milton, endeavouring “to justify the ways of God to Man.” He even borrowed Milton’s line for his own poem, only weakening the verb, and said that he sought to “vindicate the ways of God to Man.” In Milton’s day the questioning all centred in the doctrine of the “Fall of Man,” and questions of God’s Justice were associated with debate on fate, fore-knowledge, and free will. In Pope’s day the question was not theological, but went to the root of all faith in existence of a God, by declaring that the state of Man and of the world about him met such faith with an absolute denial. Pope’s argument, good or bad, had nothing to do with questions of theology. Like Butler’s, it sought for grounds of faith in the conditions on which doubt was rested. Milton sought to set forth the story of the Fall in such way as to show that God was love. Pope dealt with the question of God in Nature, and the world of Man.

Pope’s argument was attacked with violence my M. de Crousaz, Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics in the University of Lausanne, and defended by Warburton, then chaplain to the Prince of Wales, in six letters published in 1739, and a seventh in 1740, for which Pope (who died in 1744) was deeply grateful. His offence in the eyes of de Crousaz was that he had left out of account all doctrines of orthodox theology. But if he had been orthodox of the orthodox, his argument obviously could have been directed only to the form of doubt it sought to overcome. And when his closing hymn was condemned as the freethinker’s hymn, its censurers surely forgot that their arguments against it would equally apply to the Lord’s Prayer, of which it is, in some degree, a paraphrase.

The first design of the Essay on Man arranged it into four books, each consisting of a distinct group of Epistles. The First Book, in four Epistles, was to treat of man in the abstract, and of his relation to the Universe. That is the whole work as we have it now. The Second Book was to treat of Man Intellectual; the Third Book, of Man Social, including ties to Church and State; the Fourth Book, of Man Moral, was to illustrate abstract truth by sketches of character. This part of the design is represented by the Moral Essays, of which four were written, to which was added, as a fifth, the Epistle to Addison which had been written much earlier, in 1715, and first published in 1720. The four Moral essays are two pairs. One pair is upon the Characters of Men and on the Characters of Women, which would have formed the opening of the subject of the Fourth Book of the Essay: the other pair shows character expressed through a right or a wrong use of Riches: in fact, Money and Morals. The four Epistles were published separately. The fourth (to the Earl of Burlington) was first published in 1731, its title then being “Of Taste;” the third (to Lord Bathurst) followed in 1732, the year of the publication of the first two Epistles on the “Essay on Man.” In 1733, the year of publication of the Third Epistle of the “Essay on Man,” Pope published his Moral Essay of the “Characters of Men.” in 1734 followed the Fourth Epistle of the “Essay on Man;” and in 1735 the “Characters of Women,” addressed to Martha Blount, the woman whom Pope loved, though he was withheld by a frail body from marriage. Thus the two works were, in fact, produced together, parts of one design.

Pope’s Satires, which still deal with characters of men, followed immediately, some appearing in a folio in January, 1735. That part of the epistle to Arbuthnot forming the Prologue, which gives a character of Addison, as Atticus, had been sketched more than twelve years before, and earlier sketches of some smaller critics were introduced; but the beginning and the end, the parts in which Pope spoke of himself and of his father and mother, and his friend Dr. Arbuthnot, were written in 1733 and 1734. Then follows an imitation of the first Epistle of the Second Book of the Satires of Horace, concerning which Pope told a friend, “When I had a fever one winter in town that confined me to my room for five or six days, Lord Bolingbroke, who came to see me, happened to take up a Horace that lay on the table, and, turning it over, dropped on the first satire in the Second Book, which begins, ‘Sunt, quibus in satira.’ He observed how well that would suit my case if I were to imitate it in English. After he was gone, I read it over, translated it in a morning or two, and sent it to press in a week or a fortnight after” (February, 1733). “And this was the occasion of my imitating some others of the Satires and Epistles.” The two dialogues finally used as the Epilogue to the Satires were first published in the year 1738, with the name of the year, “Seventeen Hundred and Thirty-eight.” Samuel Johnson’s “London,” his first bid for recognition, appeared in the same week, and excited in Pope not admiration only, but some active endeavour to be useful to its author.

The reader of Pope, as of every author, is advised to begin by letting him say what he has to say, in his own manner to an open mind that seeks only to receive the impressions which the writer wishes to convey. First let the mind and spirit of the writer come into free, full contact with the mind and spirit of the reader, whose attitude at the first reading should be simply receptive. Such reading is the condition precedent to all true judgment of a writer’s work. All criticism that is not so grounded spreads as fog over a poet’s page. Read, reader, for yourself, without once pausing to remember what you have been told to think. H.M.

POPE’S POEMS.

AN ESSAY ON MAN. TO H. ST. JOHN LORD BOLINGBROKE.

THE DESIGN.

Having proposed to write some pieces of Human Life and Manners, such as (to use my Lord Bacon’s expression) come home to Men’s Business and Bosoms, I thought it more satisfactory to begin with considering Man in the abstract, his Nature and his State; since, to prove any moral duty, to enforce any moral precept, or to examine the perfection or imperfection of any creature whatsoever, it is necessary first to know what condition and relation it is placed in, and what is the proper end and purpose of its being.

The science of Human Nature is, like all other sciences, reduced to a few clear points: there are not many certain truths in this world. It is therefore in the anatomy of the Mind as in that of the Body; more good will accrue to mankind by attending to the large, open, and perceptible parts, than by studying too much such finer nerves and vessels, the conformations and uses of which will for ever escape our observation. The disputes are all upon these last, and, I will venture to say, they have less sharpened the wits than the hearts of men against each other, and have diminished the practice more than advanced the theory of Morality. If I could flatter myself that this Essay has any merit, it is in steering betwixt the extremes of doctrines seemingly opposite, in passing over terms utterly unintelligible, and in forming a temperate yet not inconsistent, and a short yet not imperfect system of Ethics.

This I might have done in prose, but I chose verse, and even rhyme, for two reasons. The one will appear obvious; that principles, maxims, or precepts so written, both strike the reader more strongly at first, and are more easily retained by him afterwards: the other may seem odd, but is true, I found I could express them more shortly this way than in prose itself; and nothing is more certain, than that much of the force as well as grace of arguments or instructions depends on their conciseness. I was unable to treat this part of my subject more in detail, without becoming dry and tedious; or more poetically, without sacrificing perspicuity to ornament, without wandering from the precision, or breaking the chain of reasoning: if any man can unite all these without diminution of any of them I freely confess he will compass a thing above my capacity.

What is now published is only to be considered as a general Map of Man, marking out no more than the greater parts, their extent, their limits, and their connection, and leaving the particular to be more fully delineated in the charts which are to follow. Consequently, these Epistles in their progress (if I have health and leisure to make any progress) will be less dry, and more susceptible of poetical ornament. I am here only opening the fountains, and clearing the passage. To deduce the rivers, to follow them in their course, and to observe their effects, may be a task more agreeable. P.

ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE I.

OF THE NATURE AND STATE OF MAN, WITH RESPECT TO THE UNIVERSE.

Of Man in the abstract.

I. That we can judge only with regard to our own system, being ignorant of the relations of systems and things, v.17, etc.

II. That Man is not to be deemed imperfect, but a being 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, v.35, etc.

III. That it is partly upon his ignorance of future events, and partly upon the hope of future state, that all his happiness in the present depends, v.77, etc.

IV. The pride of aiming at more knowledge, and pretending to more Perfection, the cause of Man’s error and misery. The impiety of putting himself in the place of God, and judging of the fitness or unfitness, perfection or imperfection, justice or injustice of His dispensations, v.109, etc.

V. The absurdity of conceiting himself the final cause of the Creation, or expecting that perfection in the moral world, which is not in the natural, v.131, etc.

VI. The unreasonableness of his complaints against Providence, while on the one hand he demands the Perfections of the Angels, and on the other the bodily qualifications of the Brutes; though to possess any of the sensitive faculties in a higher degree would render him miserable, v.173, etc.

VII. That throughout the whole visible world, an universal order and gradation in the sensual and mental faculties is observed, which cause is a subordination of creature to creature, and of all creatures to Man. The gradations of sense, instinct, thought, reflection, reason; that Reason alone countervails all the other faculties, v.207.

VIII. How much further 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 destroyed, v.233.

IX. The extravagance, madness, and pride of such a desire, v.250.

X. The consequence of all, the absolute submission due to Providence, both as to our present and future state, v.281, etc., to the end.

Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things To low ambition, and the pride of kings. Let us (since life can little more supply Than just to look about us and to die) Expatiate free o’er all this scene of man; A mighty maze! but not without a plan; A wild, where weeds and flowers promiscuous shoot; Or garden tempting with forbidden fruit. Together let us beat this ample field, Try what the open, what the covert yield; The latent tracts, the giddy heights, explore Of all who blindly creep, or sightless soar; Eye Nature’s walks, shoot Folly as it flies, And catch the manners living as they rise; Laugh where we must, be candid where we can; But vindicate the ways of God to man.

I. Say first, of God above, or man below What can we reason, but from what we know? Of man, what see we but his station here, From which to reason, or to which refer? Through worlds unnumbered though the God be known, ‘Tis ours to trace Him only in our own. He, who through vast immensity can pierce, See worlds on worlds compose one universe, Observe how system into system runs, What other planets circle other suns, What varied being peoples every star, May tell why Heaven has made us as we are. But of this frame, the bearings, and the ties, The strong connections, nice dependencies, Gradations just, has thy pervading soul Looked through? or can a part contain the whole? Is the great chain, that draws all to agree, And drawn supports, upheld by God, or thee?

II. Presumptuous man! the reason wouldst thou find, Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind? First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess, Why formed no weaker, blinder, and no less; Ask of thy mother earth, why oaks are made Taller or stronger than the weeds they shade? Or ask of yonder argent fields above, Why Jove’s satellites are less than Jove? Of systems possible, if ’tis confest That wisdom infinite must form the best, Where all must full or not coherent be, And all that rises, rise in due degree; Then in the scale of reasoning life, ’tis plain, There must be, somewhere, such a rank as man: And all the question (wrangle e’er so long) Is only this, if God has placed him wrong? Respecting man, whatever wrong we call, May, must be right, as relative to all. In human works, though laboured on with pain, A thousand movements scarce one purpose gain; In God’s one single can its end produce; Yet serves to second too some other use. So man, who here seems principal alone, Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown, Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal; ‘Tis but a part we see, and not a whole. When the proud steed shall know why man restrains His fiery course, or drives him o’er the plains: When the dull ox, why now he breaks the clod, Is now a victim, and now Egypt’s god: Then shall man’s pride and dulness comprehend His actions’, passions’, being’s, use and end; Why doing, suffering, checked, impelled; and why This hour a slave, the next a deity. Then say not man’s imperfect, Heaven in fault; Say rather man’s as perfect as he ought: His knowledge measured to his state and place; His time a moment, and a point his space. If to be perfect in a certain sphere, What matter, soon or late, or here or there? The blest to-day is as completely so, As who began a thousand years ago.

III. Heaven from all creatures hides the book of Fate, All but the page prescribed, 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? Pleased to the last, he crops the flowery food, And licks the hand just raised to shed his blood. Oh, blindness to the future! kindly given, That each may fill the circle, marked by Heaven: Who sees with equal eye, as God of all, A hero perish, or a sparrow fall, Atoms or systems into ruin hurled, And now a bubble burst, and now a world. Hope humbly, then; with trembling pinions soar; 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 blest: The soul, uneasy and confined from home, Rests and expatiates in a life to come. Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutored mind Sees God in clouds, or hears Him in the wind; His soul, proud science never taught to stray Far as the solar walk, or milky way; Yet simple Nature to his hope has given, Behind the cloud-topped hill, an humbler heaven; Some safer world in depth of woods embraced, Some happier island in the watery waste, Where slaves once more their native land behold, No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold. To be, contents his natural desire, He asks no angel’s wing, no seraph’s fire; But thinks, admitted to that equal sky, His faithful dog shall bear him company.

IV. Go, wiser thou! and, in thy scale of sense, Weigh thy opinion against providence; Call imperfection what thou fanciest such, Say, here He gives too little, there too much; Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gust, Yet cry, if man’s unhappy, God’s unjust; If man alone engross not Heaven’s high care, Alone made perfect here, immortal there: Snatch from His hand the balance and the rod, Re-judge His justice, be the God of God. In pride, in reasoning pride, our error lies; All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies. Pride still is aiming at the blest abodes, Men would be angels, angels would be gods. Aspiring to be gods, if angels fell, Aspiring to be angels, men rebel: And who but wishes to invert the laws Of order, sins against the Eternal Cause.

V. Ask for what end the heavenly bodies shine, Earth for whose use? Pride answers, “‘Tis for mine: For me kind Nature wakes her genial power, Suckles each herb, and spreads out every flower; Annual for me, the grape, the rose renew The juice nectareous, and the balmy dew; For me, the mine a thousand treasures brings; For me, health gushes from a thousand springs; Seas roll to waft me, suns to light me rise; My footstool earth, my canopy the skies.” But errs not Nature from this gracious end, From burning suns when livid deaths descend, When earthquakes swallow, or when tempests sweep Towns to one grave, whole nations to the deep? “No, (’tis replied) the first Almighty Cause Acts not by partial, but by general laws; The exceptions few; some change since all began; And what created perfect?” — Why then man? If the great end be human happiness, Then Nature deviates; and can man do less? As much that end a constant course requires Of showers and sunshine, as of man’s desires; As much eternal springs and cloudless skies, As men for ever temperate, calm, and wise. If plagues or earthquakes break not Heaven’s design, Why then a Borgia, or a Catiline? Who knows but He, whose hand the lightning forms, Who heaves old ocean, and who wings the storms; Pours fierce ambition in a Caesar’s mind, Or turns young Ammon loose to scourge mankind? From pride, from pride, our very reasoning springs; Account for moral, as for natural things: Why charge we heaven in those, in these acquit? In both, to reason right is to submit. Better for us, perhaps, it might appear, Were there all harmony, all virtue here; That never air or ocean felt the wind; That never passion discomposed the mind. But all subsists by elemental strife; And passions are the elements of life. The general order, since the whole began, Is kept in nature, and is kept in man.

VI. What would this man? Now upward will he soar, And little less than angel, would be more; Now looking downwards, just as grieved appears To want the strength of bulls, the fur of bears Made for his use all creatures if he call, Say what their use, had he the powers of all? Nature to these, without profusion, kind, The proper organs, proper powers assigned; Each seeming want compensated of course, Here with degrees of swiftness, there of force; All in exact proportion to the state; Nothing to add, and nothing to abate. Each beast, each insect, happy in its own: Is Heaven unkind to man, and man alone? Shall he alone, whom rational we call, Be pleased with nothing, if not blessed with all? The bliss of man (could pride that blessing find) Is not to act or think beyond mankind; No powers of body or of soul to share, But what his nature and his state 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 given, To inspect a mite, not comprehend the heaven? Or touch, if tremblingly alive all o’er, To smart and agonize at every pore? Or quick effluvia darting through the brain, Die of a rose in aromatic pain? If Nature thundered in his opening ears, And stunned him with the music of the spheres, How would he wish that Heaven had left him still The whispering zephyr, and the purling rill? Who finds not Providence all good and wise, Alike in what it gives, and what denies?

VII. Far as Creation’s ample range extends, The scale of sensual, mental powers ascends: Mark how it mounts, to man’s imperial race, From the green myriads in the peopled grass: What modes of sight betwixt each wide extreme, The mole’s dim curtain, and the lynx’s beam: Of smell, the headlong lioness between, And hound sagacious on the tainted green: Of hearing, from the life that fills the flood, To that which warbles through the vernal wood: The spider’s touch, how exquisitely fine! Feels at each thread, and lives along the line: In the nice bee, what sense so subtly true From poisonous herbs extracts the healing dew? How instinct varies in the grovelling swine, Compared, half-reasoning elephant, with thine! ‘Twixt that, and reason, what a nice barrier, For ever separate, yet for ever near! Remembrance and reflection how allayed; What thin partitions sense from thought divide: And middle natures, how they long to join, Yet never passed the insuperable line! Without this just gradation, could they be Subjected, these to those, or all to thee? The powers of all subdued by thee alone, Is not thy reason all these powers in one?

VIII. See, through this air, this ocean, and this earth, All matter quick, and bursting into birth. Above, how high, progressive life may go! Around, how wide! how deep extend below? Vast chain of being! which from God began, Natures ethereal, human, angel, man, Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see, No glass can reach; from Infinite to thee, From thee to nothing. On superior powers Were we to press, inferior might on ours: Or in the full creation leave a void, Where, one step broken, the great scale’s destroyed: From Nature’s chain whatever link you strike, Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike. And, if each system in gradation roll Alike essential to the amazing whole, The least confusion but in one, not all That system only, but the whole must fall. Let earth unbalanced from her orbit fly, Planets and suns run lawless through the sky; Let ruling angels from their spheres be hurled, Being on being wrecked, and world on world; Heaven’s whole foundations to their centre nod, And nature tremble to the throne of God. All this dread order break — for whom? for thee? Vile worm! — Oh, madness! pride! impiety!

IX. What if the foot, ordained the dust to tread, Or hand, to toil, aspired to be the head? What if the head, the eye, or ear repined To serve mere engines to the ruling mind? Just as absurd for any part to claim To be another, in this general frame: Just as absurd, to mourn the tasks or pains, The great directing Mind of All ordains. All are but parts of one stupendous whole, Whose body Nature is, and God the soul; That, changed through all, and yet in all the same; Great in the earth, as in the ethereal frame; Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze, Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees, Lives through all life, extends through all extent, Spreads undivided, operates unspent; Breathes in our soul, informs our mortal part, As 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 him no high, no low, no great, no small; He fills, he bounds, connects, and equals all.

X. 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, Heaven bestows on thee. Submit. In this, or any other sphere, Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear: Safe in the hand of one disposing Power, 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 spite, One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.

ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE II.

OF THE NATURE AND STATE OF MAN WITH RESPECT TO HIMSELF, AS AN INDIVIDUAL.

I. The business of Man not to pry into God, but to study himself. His Middle Nature; his Powers and Frailties, v.1 to 19. The Limits of his Capacity, v.19, etc.

II. The two Principles of Man, Self-love and Reason, both necessary, v.53, etc. Self-love the stronger, and why, v.67, etc. Their end the same, v.81, etc.

III. The Passions, and their use, v.93 to 130. The predominant Passion, and its force, v.132 to 160. Its Necessity, in directing Men to different purposes, v.165, etc. Its providential Use, in fixing our Principle, and ascertaining our Virtue, v.177.

IV. Virtue and Vice joined in our mixed Nature; the limits near, yet the things separate and evident: What is the Office of Reason, v.202 to 216.

V. How odious Vice in itself, and how we deceive ourselves into it, v.217.

VI. That, however, the Ends of Providence and general Good are answered in our Passions and Imperfections, v.238, etc. How usefully these are distributed to all Orders of Men, v.241. How useful they are to Society, v.251. And to the Individuals, v.263. In every state, and every age of life, v.273, etc.

EPISTLE II.

I. Know, then, thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man. Placed on this isthmus of a middle state, A being darkly wise, and rudely great: With too much knowledge for the sceptic side, With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride, He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest; In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast; In doubt his mind or body to prefer; Born but to die, and reasoning but to err; Alike in ignorance, his reason such, Whether he thinks too little, or too much: Chaos of thought and passion, all confused; Still by himself abused, or disabused; Created half to rise, and half to fall; Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all; Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled: The glory, jest, and riddle of the world! Go, wondrous creature! mount where science guides, Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides; Instruct the planets in what orbs to run, Correct old time, and regulate the sun; Go, soar with Plato to th’ empyreal sphere, To the first good, first perfect, and first fair; Or tread the mazy round his followers trod, And quitting sense call imitating God; As Eastern priests in giddy circles run, And turn their heads to imitate the sun. Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule — Then drop into thyself, and be a fool! Superior beings, when of late they saw A mortal man unfold all Nature’s law, Admired such wisdom in an earthly shape And showed a Newton as we show an ape. Could he, whose rules the rapid comet bind, Describe or fix one movement of his mind? Who saw its fires here rise, and there descend, Explain his own beginning, or his end? Alas, what wonder! man’s superior part Unchecked may rise, and climb from art to art; But when his own great work is but begun, What reason weaves, by passion is undone. Trace Science, then, with Modesty thy guide; First strip off all her equipage of pride; Deduct what is but vanity or dress, Or learning’s luxury, or idleness; Or tricks to show the stretch of human brain, Mere curious pleasure, or ingenious pain; Expunge the whole, or lop th’ excrescent parts Of all our vices have created arts; Then see how little the remaining sum, Which served the past, and must the times to come!

II. 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: Fixed like a plant on his peculiar spot, To draw nutrition, propagate, and rot; Or, meteor-like, flame lawless through the void, Destroying others, by himself destroyed. Most strength the moving principle requires; Active its task, it prompts, impels, inspires. Sedate and quiet the comparing lies, Formed but to check, deliberate, and advise. Self-love still stronger, as its objects 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 still use, to reason still attend. Attention, habit and experience gains; Each strengthens reason, and self-love restrains. Let subtle schoolmen teach these friends to fight, More studious to divide than to unite; And grace and virtue, sense and reason split, With all the rash dexterity of wit. Wits, just like fools, at war about a name, Have full as oft no meaning, or the same. 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 flower: Pleasure, or wrong or rightly understood, Our greatest evil, or our greatest good.

III. Modes of self-love the passions we may call; ‘Tis real good, or seeming, moves them all: But since not every good we can divide, And reason bids us for our own provide; Passions, though selfish, if their means be fair, List under Reason, and deserve her care; Those, that imparted, court a nobler aim, Exalt their kind, and take some virtue’s name. In lazy apathy let stoics boast Their virtue fixed; ’tis fixed as in a frost; Contracted all, retiring to the breast; But strength of mind is exercise, not rest: The rising tempest puts in act the soul, Parts it may ravage, but preserves the whole. On life’s vast ocean diversely we sail, Reason the card, but passion is the gale; Nor God alone in the still calm we find, He mounts the storm, and walks upon the wind. Passions, like elements, though born to fight, Yet, mixed and softened, in his work unite: These, ’tis enough to temper and employ; But what composes man, can man destroy? Suffice that Reason keep to Nature’s road, Subject, compound them, follow her and God. Love, hope, and joy, fair pleasure’s smiling train, Hate, fear, and grief, the family of pain, These mixed with art, and to due bounds confined, Make and maintain the balance of the mind; The lights and shades, whose well-accorded strife Gives all the strength and colour of our life. Pleasures are ever in our hands or eyes; And when in act they cease, in prospect rise: Present to grasp, and future still to find, The whole employ of body and of mind. All spread their charms, but charm not all alike; On different senses different objects strike; Hence different passions more or less inflame, As strong or weak, the organs of the frame; And hence once master passion in the breast, Like Aaron’s serpent, swallows up the rest. As man, perhaps, the moment of his breath Receives the lurking principle of death; The young disease that must subdue at length, Grows with his growth, and strengthens with his strength: So, cast and mingled with his very frame, The mind’s disease, its ruling passion came; Each vital humour which should feed the whole, Soon flows to this, in body and in soul: Whatever warms the heart, or fills the head, As the mind opens, and its functions spread, Imagination plies her dangerous art, And pours it all upon the peccant part. Nature its mother, habit is its nurse; Wit, spirit, faculties, but make it worse; Reason itself but gives it edge and power; As Heaven’s blest beam turns vinegar more sour. We, wretched subjects, though to lawful sway, In this weak queen some favourite still obey: Ah! if she lend not arms, as well as rules, What can she more than tell us we are fools? Teach us to mourn our nature, not to mend, A sharp accuser, but a helpless friend! Or from a judge turn pleader, to persuade The choice we make, or justify it made; Proud of an easy conquest all along, She but removes weak passions for the strong; So, when small humours gather to a gout, The doctor fancies he has driven them out. Yes, Nature’s road must ever be preferred; Reason is here no guide, but still a guard: ‘Tis hers to rectify, not overthrow, And treat this passion more as friend than foe: A mightier power the strong direction sends, And several men impels to several ends: Like varying winds, by other passions tossed, This drives them constant to a certain coast. Let power or knowledge, gold or glory, please, Or (oft more strong than all) the love of ease; Through life ’tis followed, even at life’s expense; The merchant’s toil, the sage’s indolence, The monk’s humility, the hero’s pride, All, all alike, find reason on their side. The eternal art, educing good from ill, Grafts on this passion our best principle: ‘Tis thus the mercury of man is fixed, Strong grows the virtue with his nature mixed; The dross cements what else were too refined, And in one interest body acts with mind. As fruits, ungrateful to the planter’s care, On savage stocks inserted, learn to bear; The surest virtues thus from passions shoot, Wild nature’s vigour working at the root. What crops of wit and honesty appear From spleen, from obstinacy, hate, or fear! See anger, zeal and fortitude supply; Even avarice, prudence; sloth, philosophy; Lust, through some certain strainers well refined, Is gentle love, and charms all womankind; Envy, to which th’ ignoble mind’s a slave, Is emulation in the learned or brave; Nor virtue, male or female, can we name, But what will grow on pride, or grow on shame. Thus Nature gives us (let it check our pride) The virtue nearest to our vice allied: Reason the bias turns to good from ill And Nero reigns a Titus, if he will. The fiery soul abhorred in Catiline, In Decius charms, in Curtius is divine: The same ambition can destroy or save, And makes a patriot as it makes a knave. This light and darkness in our chaos joined, What shall divide? The God within the mind. Extremes in nature equal ends produce, In man they join to some mysterious use; Though each by turns the other’s bound invade, As, in some well-wrought picture, light and shade, And oft so mix, the difference is too nice Where ends the virtue or begins the vice. Fools! who from hence into the notion fall, That vice or virtue there is none at all. If white and black blend, soften, and unite A thousand ways, is there no black or white? Ask your own heart, and nothing is so plain; ‘Tis to mistake them, costs the time and pain. Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As, to be hated, needs but to be seen; Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace. But where th’ extreme of vice, was ne’er agreed: Ask where’s the north? at York, ’tis on the Tweed; In Scotland, at the Orcades; and there, At Greenland, Zembla, or the Lord knows where. No creature owns it in the first degree, But thinks his neighbour farther gone than he; Even those who dwell beneath its very zone, Or never feel the rage, or never own; What happier nations shrink at with affright, The hard inhabitant contends is right. Virtuous and vicious every man must be, Few in th’ extreme, but all in the degree, The rogue and fool by fits is fair and wise; And even the best, by fits, what they despise. ‘Tis but by parts we follow good or ill; For, vice or virtue, self directs it still; Each individual seeks a several goal; But Heaven’s great view is one, and that the whole. That counter-works each folly and caprice; That disappoints th’ effect of every vice; That, happy frailties to all ranks applied, Shame to the virgin, to the matron pride, Fear to the statesman, rashness to the chief, To kings presumption, and to crowds belief: That, virtue’s ends from vanity can raise, Which seeks no interest, no reward but praise; And build on wants, and on defects of mind, The joy, the peace, the glory of mankind. Heaven forming each on other to depend, A master, or a servant, or a friend, Bids each on other for assistance call, Till one man’s weakness grows the strength of all. Wants, frailties, passions, closer still ally The common interest, or endear the tie. To these we owe true friendship, love sincere, Each home-felt joy that life inherits here; Yet from the same we learn, in its decline, Those joys, those loves, those interests to resign; Taught half by reason, half by mere decay, To welcome death, and calmly pass away. Whate’er the passion, knowledge, fame, or pelf, Not one will change his neighbour with himself. The learned is happy nature to explore, The fool is happy that he knows no more; The rich is happy in the plenty given, The poor contents him with the care of Heaven. See the blind beggar dance, the cripple sing, The sot a hero, lunatic a king; The starving chemist in his golden views Supremely blest, the poet in his muse. See some strange comfort every state attend, And pride bestowed on all, a common friend; See some fit passion every age supply, Hope travels through, nor quits us when we die. Behold the child, by Nature’s kindly law, Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw: Some livelier plaything gives his youth delight, A little louder, but as empty quite: Scarves, garters, gold, amuse his riper stage, And beads and prayer-books are the toys of age: Pleased with this bauble still, as that before; Till tired he sleeps, and life’s poor play is o’er. Meanwhile opinion gilds with varying rays Those painted clouds that beautify our days; Each want of happiness by hope supplied, And each vacuity of sense by pride: These build as fast as knowledge can destroy; In folly’s cup still laughs the bubble, joy; One prospect lost, another still we gain; And not a vanity is given in vain; Even mean self-love becomes, by force divine, The scale to measure others’ wants by thine. See! and confess, one comfort still must rise, ‘Tis this, though man’s a fool, yet God is wise.

ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE III.

OF THE NATURE AND STATE OF MAN WITH RESPECT TO SOCIETY.

I. The whole Universe one system of Society, v.7, etc. Nothing made wholly for itself, nor yet wholly for another, v.27. The happiness of Animals mutual, v.49.

II. Reason or Instinct operate alike to the good of each Individual, v.79. Reason or Instinct operate also to Society, in all Animals, v.109.

III. How far Society carried by Instinct, v.115. How much farther by Reason, v.128.

IV. Of that which is called the State of Nature, v.144. Reason instructed by Instinct in the invention of Arts, v.166, and in the Forms of Society, v.176.

V. Origin of Political Societies, v.196. Origin of Monarchy, v.207. Patriarchal Government, v.212.

VI. Origin of true Religion and Government, from the same principle, of Love, v.231, etc. Origin of Superstition and Tyranny, from the same principle, of Fear, v.237, etc. The Influence of Self-love operating to the social and public Good, v.266. Restoration of true Religion and Government on their first principle, v.285. Mixed Government, v.288. Various forms of each, and the true end of all, v.300, etc.

EPISTLE III.

Here, then, we rest: “The Universal Cause Acts to one end, but acts by various laws.” In all the madness of superfluous health, The trim of pride, the impudence of wealth, Let this great truth be present night and day; But most be present, if we preach or pray. Look round our world; behold the chain of love Combining all below and all above. See plastic Nature working to this end, The single atoms each to other tend, Attract, attracted to, the next in place Formed and impelled its neighbour to embrace. See matter next, with various life endued, Press to one centre still, the general good. See dying vegetables life sustain, See life dissolving vegetate again: All forms that perish other forms supply (By turns we catch the vital breath, and die), Like bubbles on the sea of matter borne, They rise, they break, and to that sea return. Nothing is foreign: parts relate to whole; One all-extending, all-preserving soul Connects each being, greatest with the least; Made beast in aid of man, and man of beast; All served, all serving: nothing stands alone; The chain holds on, and where it ends, unknown. Has God, thou fool! worked solely for thy Thy good, Thy joy, thy pastime, thy attire, thy food? Who for thy table feeds the wanton fawn, For him as kindly spread the flowery lawn: Is it for thee the lark ascends and sings? Joy tunes his voice, joy elevates his wings. Is it for thee the linnet pours his throat? Loves of his own and raptures swell the note. The bounding steed you pompously bestride, Shares with his lord the pleasure and the pride. Is thine alone the seed that strews the plain? The birds of heaven shall vindicate their grain. Thine the full harvest of the golden year? Part pays, and justly, the deserving steer: The hog, that ploughs not nor obeys thy call, Lives on the labours of this lord of all. Know, Nature’s children all divide her care; The fur that warms a monarch, warmed a bear. While man exclaims, “See all things for my use!” “See man for mine!” replies a pampered goose: And just as short of reason he must fall, Who thinks all made for one, not one for all. Grant that the powerful still the weak control; Be man the wit and tyrant of the whole: Nature that tyrant checks; he only knows, And helps, another creature’s wants and woes. Say, will the falcon, stooping from above, Smit with her varying plumage, spare the dove? Admires the jay the insect’s gilded wings? Or hears the hawk when Philomela sings? Man cares for all: to birds he gives his woods, To beasts his pastures, and to fish his floods; For some his interest prompts him to provide, For more his pleasure, yet for more his pride: All feed on one vain patron, and enjoy The extensive blessing of his luxury. That very life his learned hunger craves, He saves from famine, from the savage saves; Nay, feasts the animal he dooms his feast, And, till he ends the being, makes it blest; Which sees no more the stroke, or feels the pain, Than favoured man by touch ethereal slain. The creature had his feast of life before; Thou too must perish when thy feast is o’er! To each unthinking being, Heaven, a friend, Gives not the useless knowledge of its end: To man imparts it; but with such a view As, while he dreads it, makes him hope it too; The hour concealed, and so remote the fear, Death still draws nearer, never seeming near. Great standing miracle! that Heaven assigned Its only thinking thing this turn of mind.

II. Whether with reason, or with instinct blest, Know, all enjoy that power which suits them best; To bliss alike by that direction tend, And find the means proportioned to their end. Say, where full instinct is the unerring guide, What pope or council can they need beside? Reason, however able, cool at best, Cares not for service, or but serves when pressed, Stays till we call, and then not often near; But honest instinct comes a volunteer, Sure never to o’er-shoot, but just to hit; While still too wide or short is human wit; Sure by quick nature happiness to gain, Which heavier reason labours at in vain, This too serves always, reason never long; One must go right, the other may go wrong. See then the acting and comparing powers One in their nature, which are two in ours; And reason raise o’er instinct as you can, In this ’tis God directs, in that ’tis man. Who taught the nations of the field and wood To shun their poison, and to choose their food? Prescient, the tides or tempests to withstand, Build on the wave, or arch beneath the sand? Who made the spider parallels design, Sure as Demoivre, without rule or line? Who did the stork, Columbus-like, explore Heavens not his own, and worlds unknown before? Who calls the council, states the certain day, Who forms the phalanx, and who points the way?

III. God in the nature of each being founds Its proper bliss, and sets its proper bounds: But as He framed a whole, the whole to bless, On mutual wants built mutual happiness: So from the first, eternal order ran, And creature linked to creature, man to man. Whate’er of life all-quickening ether keeps, Or breathes through air, or shoots beneath the deeps, Or pours profuse on earth, one nature feeds The vital flame, and swells the genial seeds. Not man alone, but all that roam the wood, Or wing the sky, or roll along the flood, Each loves itself, but not itself alone, Each sex desires alike, till two are one. Nor ends the pleasure with the fierce embrace; They love themselves, a third time, in their race. Thus beast and bird their common charge attend, The mothers nurse it, and the sires defend; The young dismissed to wander earth or air, There stops the instinct, and there ends the care; The link dissolves, each seeks a fresh embrace, Another love succeeds, another race. A longer care man’s helpless kind demands; That longer care contracts more lasting bands: Reflection, reason, still the ties improve, At once extend the interest and the love; With choice we fix, with sympathy we burn; Each virtue in each passion takes its turn; And still new needs, new helps, new habits rise. That graft benevolence on charities. Still as one brood, and as another rose, These natural love maintained, habitual those. The last, scarce ripened into perfect man, Saw helpless him from whom their life began: Memory and forecast just returns engage, That pointed back to youth, this on to age; While pleasure, gratitude, and hope combined, Still spread the interest, and preserved the kind.

IV. Nor think, in Nature’s state they blindly trod; The state of nature was the reign of God: Self-love and social at her birth began, Union the bond of all things, and of man. Pride then was not; nor arts, that pride to aid; Man walked with beast, joint tenant of the shade; The same his table, and the same his bed; No murder clothed him, and no murder fed. In the same temple, the resounding wood, All vocal beings hymned their equal God: The shrine with gore unstained, with gold undressed, Unbribed, unbloody, stood the blameless priest: Heaven’s attribute was universal care, And man’s prerogative to rule, but spare. Ah! how unlike the man of times to come! Of half that live the butcher and the tomb; Who, foe to nature, hears the general groan, Murders their species, and betrays his own. But just disease to luxury succeeds, And every death its own avenger breeds; The fury-passions from that blood began, And turned on man a fiercer savage, man. See him from Nature rising slow to art! To copy instinct then was reason’s part; Thus then to man the voice of Nature spake– “Go, from the creatures thy instructions take: Learn from the birds what food the thickets yield; Learn from the beasts the physic of the field; Thy arts of building from the bee receive; Learn of the mole to plough, the worm to weave; Learn of the little nautilus to sail, Spread the thin oar, and catch the driving gale. Here too all forms of social union find, And hence let reason, late, instruct mankind: Here subterranean works and cities see; There towns aerial on the waving tree. Learn each small people’s genius, policies, The ant’s republic, and the realm of bees; How those in common all their wealth bestow, And anarchy without confusion know; And these for ever, though a monarch reign, Their separate cells and properties maintain. Mark what unvaried laws preserve each state, Laws wise as nature, and as fixed as fate. In vain thy reason finer webs shall draw, Entangle justice in her net of law, And right, too rigid, harden into wrong; Still for the strong too weak, the weak too strong. Yet go! and thus o’er all the creatures sway, Thus let the wiser make the rest obey; And, for those arts mere instinct could afford, Be crowned as monarchs, or as gods adored.”

V. Great Nature spoke; observant men obeyed; Cities were built, societies were made: Here rose one little state: another near Grew by like means, and joined, through love or fear. Did here the trees with ruddier burdens bend, And there the streams in purer rills descend? What war could ravish, commerce could bestow, And he returned a friend, who came a foe. Converse and love mankind might strongly draw, When love was liberty, and Nature law. Thus States were formed; the name of king unknown, ‘Till common interest placed the sway in one. ‘Twas virtue only (or in arts or arms, Diffusing blessings, or averting harms) The same which in a sire the sons obeyed, A prince the father of a people made.

VI. Till then, by Nature crowned, each patriarch sate, King, priest, and parent of his growing state; On him, their second providence, they hung, Their law his eye, their oracle his tongue. He from the wondering furrow called the food, Taught to command the fire, control the flood, Draw forth the monsters of the abyss profound, Or fetch the aerial eagle to the ground. Till drooping, sickening, dying they began Whom they revered as God to mourn as man: Then, looking up, from sire to sire, explored One great first Father, and that first adored. Or plain tradition that this all begun, Conveyed unbroken faith from sire to son; The worker from the work distinct was known, And simple reason never sought but one: Ere wit oblique had broke that steady light, Man, like his Maker, saw that all was right; To virtue, in the paths of pleasure, trod, And owned a Father when he owned a God. Love all the faith, and all the allegiance then; For Nature knew no right divine in men, No ill could fear in God; and understood A sovereign being but a sovereign good. True faith, true policy, united ran, This was but love of God, and this of man. Who first taught souls enslaved, and realms undone, The enormous faith of many made for one; That proud exception to all Nature’s laws, To invert the world, and counter-work its cause? Force first made conquest, and that conquest, law; Till superstition taught the tyrant awe, Then shared the tyranny, then lent it aid, And gods of conquerors, slaves of subjects made: She, ‘midst the lightning’s blaze, and thunder’s sound, When rocked the mountains, and when groaned the ground, She taught the weak to bend, the proud to pray, To power unseen, and mightier far than they: She, from the rending earth and bursting skies, Saw gods descend, and fiends infernal rise: Here fixed the dreadful, there the blest abodes; Fear made her devils, and weak hope her gods; Gods partial, changeful, passionate, unjust, Whose attributes were rage, revenge, or lust; Such as the souls of cowards might conceive, And, formed like tyrants, tyrants would believe. Zeal then, not charity, became the guide; And hell was built on spite, and heaven on pride, Then sacred seemed the ethereal vault no more; Altars grew marble then, and reeked with gore; Then first the flamen tasted living food; Next his grim idol smeared with human blood; With heaven’s own thunders shook the world below, And played the god an engine on his foe. So drives self-love, through just and through unjust, To one man’s power, ambition, lucre, lust: The same self-love, in all, becomes the cause Of what restrains him, government and laws. For, what one likes if others like as well, What serves one will when many wills rebel? How shall he keep, what, sleeping or awake, A weaker may surprise, a stronger take? His safety must his liberty restrain: All join to guard what each desires to gain. Forced into virtue thus by self-defence, Even kings learned justice and benevolence: Self-love forsook the path it first pursued, And found the private in the public good. ‘Twas then, the studious head or generous mind, Follower of God, or friend of human-kind, Poet or patriot, rose but to restore The faith and moral Nature gave before; Re-lumed her ancient light, not kindled new; If not God’s image, yet His shadow drew: Taught power’s due use to people and to kings, Taught nor to slack, nor strain its tender strings, The less, or greater, set so justly true, That touching one must strike the other too; Till jarring interests, of themselves create The according music of a well-mixed state. Such is the world’s great harmony, that springs From order, union, full consent of things: Where small and great, where weak and mighty, made To serve, not suffer, strengthen, not invade; More powerful each as needful to the rest, And, in proportion as it blesses, blest; Draw to one point, and to one centre bring Beast, man, or angel, servant, lord, or king. For forms of government let fools contest; Whate’er is best administered is best: For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight; His can’t be wrong whose life is in the right: In faith and hope the world will disagree, But all mankind’s concern is charity: All must be false that thwart this one great end; And all of God, that bless mankind or mend. Man, like the generous vine, supported lives; The strength he gains is from the embrace he gives. On their own axis as the planets run, Yet make at once their circle round the sun; So two consistent motions act the soul; And one regards itself, and one the whole. Thus God and Nature linked the general frame, And bade self-love and social be the same.

ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE IV.

OF THE NATURE AND STATE OF MAN WITH RESPECT TO HAPPINESS.

I. False Notions of Happiness, Philosophical and Popular, answered from v.19 to 77.

II. It is the End of all Men, and attainable by all, v.30. 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, v.37. As it is necessary for Order, and the peace and welfare of Society, that external goods should be unequal, Happiness is not made to consist in these, v.51. But, notwithstanding that inequality, the balance of Happiness among Mankind is kept even by Providence, by the two Passions of Hope and Fear, v.70.

III. What the Happiness of Individuals is, as far as is consistent with the constitution of this world; and that the good Man has here the advantage, V.77. The error of imputing to Virtue what are only the calamities of Nature or of Fortune, v.94.

IV. The folly of expecting that God should alter His general Laws in favour of particulars, v.121.

V. That we are not judges who are good; but that, whoever they are, they must be happiest, v.133, etc.

VI. That external goods are not the proper rewards, but often inconsistent with, or destructive of Virtue, v.165. That even these can make no Man happy without Virtue: Instanced in Riches, v.183. Honours, v.191. Nobility, v.203. Greatness, v.215. Fame, v.235. Superior Talents, v.257, etc. With pictures of human Infelicity in Men possessed of them all, v.267, etc.

VII. That Virtue only constitutes a Happiness, whose object is universal, and whose prospect eternal, v.307, etc. That the perfection of Virtue and Happiness consists in a conformity to the Order of Providence here, and a Resignation to it here and hereafter, v.326, etc.

EPISTLE IV.

Oh, happiness, our being’s end and aim! Good, pleasure, ease, content! whate’er thy name: That something still which prompts the eternal sigh, For which we bear to live, or dare to die, Which still so near us, yet beyond us lies, O’erlooked, seen double, by the fool, and wise. Plant of celestial seed! if dropped below, Say, in what mortal soil thou deign’st to grow? Fair opening to some Court’s propitious shine, Or deep with diamonds in the flaming mine? Twined with the wreaths Parnassian laurels yield, Or reaped in iron harvests of the field? Where grows?–where grows it not? If vain our toil, We ought to blame the culture, not the soil: Fixed to no spot is happiness sincere, ‘Tis nowhere to be found, or everywhere; ‘Tis never to be bought, but always free, And fled from monarchs, St. John! dwells with thee. Ask of the learned the way? The learned are blind; This bids to serve, and that to shun mankind; Some place the bliss in action, some in ease, Those call it pleasure, and contentment these; Some, sunk to beasts, find pleasure end in pain; Some, swelled to gods, confess even virtue vain; Or indolent, to each extreme they fall, To trust in everything, or doubt of all. Who thus define it, say they more or less Than this, that happiness is happiness? Take Nature’s path, and mad opinions leave; All states can reach it, and all heads conceive; Obvious her goods, in no extreme they dwell; There needs but thinking right, and meaning well; And mourn our various portions as we please, Equal is common sense, and common ease. Remember, man, “the Universal Cause Acts not by partial, but by general laws;” And makes what happiness we justly call Subsist not in the good of one, but all. There’s not a blessing individuals find, But some way leans and hearkens to the kind: No bandit fierce, no tyrant mad with pride, No caverned hermit, rests self-satisfied: Who most to shun or hate mankind pretend, Seek an admirer, or would fix a friend: Abstract what others feel, what others think, All pleasures sicken, and all glories sink: Each has his share; and who would more obtain, Shall find, the pleasure pays not half the pain. Order is Heaven’s first law; and this confest, Some are, and must be, greater than the rest, More rich, more wise; but who infers from hence That such are happier, shocks all common sense. Heaven to mankind impartial we confess, If all are equal in their happiness: But mutual wants this happiness increase; All Nature’s difference keeps all Nature’s peace. Condition, circumstance is not the thing; Bliss is the same in subject or in king, In who obtain defence, or who defend, In him who is, or him who finds a friend: Heaven breathes through every member of the whole One common blessing, as one common soul. But fortune’s gifts if each alike possessed, And each were equal, must not all contest? If then to all men happiness was meant, God in externals could not place content. Fortune her gifts may variously dispose, And these be happy called, unhappy those; But Heaven’s just balance equal will appear, While those are placed in hope, and these in fear: Nor present good or ill, the joy or curse, But future views of better or of worse, Oh, sons of earth! attempt ye still to rise, By mountains piled on mountains, to the skies, Heaven still with laughter the vain toil surveys, And buries madmen in the heaps they raise. Know, all the good that individuals find, Or God and Nature meant to mere mankind, Reason’s whole pleasure, all the joys of sense, Lie in three words, health, peace, and competence. But health consists with temperance alone; And peace, oh, virtue! peace is all thy own. The good or bad the gifts of fortune gain; But these less taste them, as they worse obtain. Say, in pursuit of profit or delight, Who risk the most, that take wrong means, or right; Of vice or virtue, whether blessed or cursed, Which meets contempt, or which compassion first? Count all the advantage prosperous vice attains, ‘Tis but what virtue flies from and disdains: And grant the bad what happiness they would, One they must want, which is, to pass for good. Oh, blind to truth, and God’s whole scheme below, Who fancy bliss to vice, to virtue woe! Who sees and follows that great scheme the best, Best knows the blessing, and will most be blest. But fools the good alone unhappy call, For ills or accidents that chance to all. See Falkland dies, the virtuous and the just! See god-like Turenne prostrate on the dust! See Sidney bleeds amid the martial strife! Was this their virtue, or contempt of life? Say, was it virtue, more though Heaven ne’er gave, Lamented Digby! sunk thee to the grave? Tell me, if virtue made the son expire, Why, full of days and honour, lives the sire? Why drew Marseilles’ good bishop purer breath, When Nature sickened, and each gale was death? Or why so long (in life if long can be) Lent Heaven a parent to the poor and me? What makes all physical or moral ill? There deviates Nature, and here wanders will. God sends not ill; if rightly understood, Or partial ill is universal good, Or change admits, or Nature lets it fall; Short, and but rare, till man improved it all. We just as wisely might of Heaven complain That righteous Abel was destroyed by Cain, As that the virtuous son is ill at ease When his lewd father gave the dire disease. Think we, like some weak prince, the Eternal Cause Prone for His favourites to reverse His laws? Shall burning Etna, if a sage requires, Forget to thunder, and recall her fires? On air or sea new motions be imprest, Oh, blameless Bethel! to relieve thy breast? When the loose mountain trembles from on high, Shall gravitation cease, if you go by? Or some old temple, nodding to its fall, For Chartres’ head reserve the hanging wall? But still this world (so fitted for the knave) Contents us not. A better shall we have? A kingdom of the just then let it be: But first consider how those just agree. The good must merit God’s peculiar care: But who, but God, can tell us who they are? One thinks on Calvin Heaven’s own spirit fell; Another deems him instrument of hell; If Calvin feel Heaven’s blessing, or its rod. This cries there is, and that, there is no God. What shocks one part will edify the rest, Nor with one system can they all be blest. The very best will variously incline, And what rewards your virtue, punish mine. Whatever is, is right. This world, ’tis true, Was made for Caesar–but for Titus too: And which more blest? who chained his country, say, Or he whose virtue sighed to lose a day? “But sometimes virtue starves, while vice is fed.” What then? Is the reward of virtue bread? That, vice may merit, ’tis the price of toil; The knave deserves it, when he tills the soil, The knave deserves it, when he tempts the main, Where folly fights for kings, or dives for gain. The good man may be weak, be indolent; Nor is his claim to plenty, but content. But grant him riches, your demand is o’er? “No–shall the good want health, the good want power?” Add health, and power, and every earthly thing, “Why bounded power? why private? why no king?” Nay, why external for internal given? Why is not man a god, and earth a heaven? Who ask and reason thus, will scarce conceive God gives enough, while He has more to give: Immense the power, immense were the demand; Say, at what part of nature will they stand? What nothing earthly gives, or can destroy, The soul’s calm sunshine, and the heartfelt joy, Is virtue’s prize: A better would you fix? Then give humility a coach and six, Justice a conqueror’s sword, or truth a gown, Or public spirit its great cure, a crown. Weak, foolish man! will heaven reward us there With the same trash mad mortals wish for here? The boy and man an individual makes, Yet sighest thou now for apples and for cakes? Go, like the Indian, in another life Expect thy dog, thy bottle, and thy wife: As well as dream such trifles are assigned, As toys and empires, for a God-like mind. Rewards, that either would to virtue bring No joy, or be destructive of the thing: How oft by these at sixty are undone The virtues of a saint at twenty-one! To whom can riches give repute or trust, Content, or pleasure, but the good and just? Judges and senates have been bought for gold, Esteem and love were never to be sold. Oh, fool! to think God hates the worthy mind, The lover and the love of human kind, Whose life is healthful, and whose conscience clear, Because he wants a thousand pounds a year. Honour and shame from no condition rise; Act well your part, there all the honour lies. Fortune in men has some small difference made, One flaunts in rags, one flutters in brocade; The cobbler aproned, and the parson gowned, The friar hooded, and the monarch crowned, “What differ more (you cry) than crown and cowl?” I’ll tell you, friend! a wise man and a fool. You’ll find, if once the monarch acts the monk, Or, cobbler-like, the parson will be drunk, Worth makes the man, and want of it, the fellow; The rest is all but leather or prunella. Stuck o’er with titles and hung round with strings, That thou mayest be by kings, or wh***s of kings. Boast the pure blood of an illustrious race, In quiet flow from Lucrece to Lucrece; But by your fathers’ worth if yours you rate, Count me those only who were good and great. Go! if your ancient, but ignoble blood Has crept through scoundrels ever since the flood, Go! and pretend your family is young; Nor own, your fathers have been fools so long. What can ennoble sots, or slaves, or cowards? Alas! not all the blood of all the Howards. Look next on greatness; say where greatness lies? “Where, but among the heroes and the wise?” Heroes are much the same, the points agreed, From Macedonia’s madman to the Swede; The whole strange purpose of their lives, to find Or make, an enemy of all mankind? Not one looks backward, onward still he goes, Yet ne’er looks forward farther than his nose. No less alike the politic and wise; All sly slow things, with circumspective eyes; Men in their loose unguarded hours they take, Not that themselves are wise, but others weak. But grant that those can conquer, these can cheat; ‘Tis phrase absurd to call a villain great: Who wickedly is wise, or madly brave, Is but the more a fool, the more a knave. Who noble ends by noble means obtains, Or failing, smiles in exile or in chains, Like good Aurelius let him reign, or bleed Like Socrates, that man is great indeed. What’s fame? a fancied life in others’ breath, A thing beyond us, even before our death. Just what you hear, you have, and what’s unknown The same (my Lord) if Tully’s, or your own. All that we feel of it begins and ends In the small circle of our foes or friends; To all beside as much an empty shade An Eugene living, as a Caesar dead; Alike or when, or where, they shone, or shine, Or on the Rubicon, or on the Rhine. A wit’s a feather, and a chief a rod; An honest man’s the noblest work of God. Fame but from death a villain’s name can save, As justice tears his body from the grave; When what the oblivion better were resigned, Is hung on high, to poison half mankind. All fame is foreign, but of true desert; Plays round the head, but comes not to the heart: One self-approving hour whole years outweighs Of stupid starers, and of loud huzzas; And more true joy Marcellus exiled feels, Than Caesar with a senate at his heels. In parts superior what advantage lies? Tell (for you can) what is it to be wise? ‘Tis but to know how little can be known; To see all others’ faults, and feel our own; Condemned in business or in arts to drudge, Without a second or without a judge; Truths would you teach or save a sinking land, All fear, none aid you, and few understand. Painful pre-eminence! yourself to view Above life’s weakness, and its comforts too. Bring, then, these blessings to a strict account; Make fair deductions; see to what they mount; How much of other each is sure to cost; How each for other oft is wholly lost; How inconsistent greater goods with these; How sometimes life is risked, and always ease; Think, and if still the things thy envy call, Say, would’st thou be the man to whom they fall? To sigh for ribands if thou art so silly, Mark how they grace Lord Umbra, or Sir Billy: Is yellow dirt the passion of thy life? Look but on Gripus, or on Gripus’ wife; If parts allure thee, think how Bacon shined, The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind: Or ravished with the whistling of a name, See Cromwell; damned to everlasting fame! If all, united, thy ambition call, From ancient story learn to scorn them all. There, in the rich, the honoured, famed, and great, See the false scale of happiness complete! In hearts of kings, or arms of queens who lay, How happy! those to ruin, these betray. Mark by what wretched steps their glory grows, From dirt and seaweed as proud Venice rose; In each how guilt and greatness equal ran, And all that raised the hero, sunk the man: Now Europe’s laurels on their brows behold, But stained with blood, or ill exchanged for gold; Then see them broke with toils or sunk with ease, Or infamous for plundered provinces. Oh, wealth ill-fated! which no act of fame E’er taught to shine, or sanctified from shame; What greater bliss attends their close of life? Some greedy minion, or imperious wife. The trophied arches, storeyed halls invade And haunt their slumbers in the pompous shade. Alas! not dazzled with their noontide ray, Compute the morn and evening to the day; The whole amount of that enormous fame, A tale, that blends their glory with their shame; Know, then, this truth (enough for man to know) “Virtue alone is happiness below.” The only point where human bliss stands still, And tastes the good without the fall to ill; Where only merit constant pay receives, Is blest in what it takes, and what it gives; The joy unequalled, if its end it gain, And if it lose, attended with no pain; Without satiety, though e’er so blessed, And but more relished as the more distressed: The broadest mirth unfeeling folly wears, Less pleasing far than virtue’s very tears: Good, from each object, from each place acquired For ever exercised, yet never tired; Never elated, while one man’s oppressed; Never dejected while another’s blessed; And where no wants, no wishes can remain, Since but to wish more virtue, is to gain. See the sole bliss Heaven could on all bestow! Which who but feels can taste, but thinks can know: Yet poor with fortune, and with learning blind, The bad must miss; the good, untaught, will find; Slave to no sect, who takes no private road, But looks through Nature up to Nature’s God; Pursues that chain which links the immense design, Joins heaven and earth, and mortal and divine; Sees, that no being any bliss can know, But touches some above, and some below; Learns, from this union of the rising whole, The first, last purpose of the human soul; And knows, where faith, law, morals, all began, All end, in love of God, and love of man. For Him alone, hope leads from goal to goal, And opens still, and opens on his soul! Till lengthened on to faith, and unconfined, It pours the bliss that fills up all the mind He sees, why Nature plants in man alone Hope of known bliss, and faith in bliss unknown: (Nature, whose dictates to no other kind Are given in vain, but what they seek they find) Wise is her present; she connects in this His greatest virtue with his greatest bliss; At once his own bright prospect to be blest, And strongest motive to assist the rest. Self-love thus pushed to social, to divine, Gives thee to make thy neighbour’s blessing thine. Is this too little for the boundless heart? Extend it, let thy enemies have part: Grasp the whole worlds of reason, life, and sense, In one close system of benevolence: Happier as kinder, in whate’er degree, And height of bliss but height of charity. God loves from whole to parts: but human soul Must rise from individual to the whole. Self-love but serves the virtuous mind to wake, As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake! The centre moved, a circle straight succeeds, Another still, and still another spreads; Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace; His country next; and next all human race; Wide and more wide, the o’erflowings of the mind Take every creature in, of every kind; Earth smiles around, with boundless bounty blest, And Heaven beholds its image in his breast. Come, then, my friend! my genius! come along; Oh, master of the poet, and the song! And while the muse now stoops, or now ascends, To man’s low passions, or their glorious ends, Teach me, like thee, in various nature wise, To fall with dignity, with temper rise; Formed by thy converse, happily to steer From grave to gay, from lively to severe; Correct with spirit, eloquent with ease, Intent to reason, or polite to please. Oh! while along the stream of time thy name Expanded flies, and gathers all its fame, Say, shall my little bark attendant sail, Pursue the triumph, and partake the gale? When statesmen, heroes, kings, in dust repose, Whose sons shall blush their fathers were thy foes, Shall then this verse to future age pretend Thou wert my guide, philosopher, and friend? That urged by thee, I turned the tuneful art From sounds to things, from fancy to the heart; From wit’s false mirror held up Nature’s light; Showed erring pride, whatever is, is right; That reason, passion, answer one great aim; That true self-love and social are the same; That virtue only makes our bliss below; And all our knowledge is, ourselves to know.

THE UNIVERSAL PRAYER.

DEO OPT. MAX.

Father of all! in every age, In every clime adored, By saint, by savage, and by sage, Jehovah, Jove, or Lord!

Thou Great First Cause, least understood, Who all my sense confined To know but this, that Thou art good, And that myself am blind;

Yet gave me, in this dark estate, To see the good from ill; And binding Nature fast in fate, Left free the human will.

What conscience dictates to be done, Or warns me not to do, This, teach me more than Hell to shun, That, more than Heaven pursue.

What blessings Thy free bounty gives, Let me not cast away; For God is paid when man receives, To enjoy is to obey.

Yet not to earth’s contracted span Thy goodness let me bound, Or think Thee Lord alone of man, When thousand worlds are round:

Let not this weak, unknowing hand Presume Thy bolts to throw, And deal damnation round the land, On each I judge Thy foe.

If I am right, Thy grace impart, Still in the right to stay; If I am wrong, oh, teach my heart To find that better way.

Save me alike from foolish pride, Or impious discontent, At aught Thy wisdom has denied, Or aught Thy goodness lent.

Teach me to feel another’s woe, To hide the fault I see; That mercy I to others show, That mercy show to me.

Mean though I am, not wholly so, Since quickened by Thy breath; Oh, lead me wheresoe’er I go, Through this day’s life or death.

This day, be bread and peace my lot: All else beneath the sun, Thou know’st if best bestowed or not; And let Thy will be done.

To Thee, whose temple is all space, Whose altar earth, sea, skies, One chorus let all being raise, All Nature’s incense rise!

MORAL ESSAYS,

IN FOUR EPISTLES TO SEVERAL PERSONS.

Est brevitate opus, ut currat sententia, neu se Impediat verbis lassas onerantibus aures: Et sermone opus est modo tristi, saepe jocoso, Defendente vicem modo Rhetoris atque Poetae, Interdum urbani, parcentis viribus, atque Extenuantis eas consulto.–HOR. (Sat. I. X. 9-14.)

TO SIR RICHARD TEMPLE, LORD COBHAM.

OF THE KNOWLEDGE AND CHARACTERS OF MEN.

I. That it is not sufficient for this knowledge to consider Man in the Abstract: Books will not serve the purpose, nor yet our own Experience singly, v.1. General maxims, unless they be formed upon both, will be but notional, v.10. Some Peculiarity in every man, characteristic to himself, yet varying from himself, v.15. Difficulties arising from our own Passions, Fancies, Faculties, etc., v.31. The shortness of Life, to observe in, and the uncertainty of the Principles of action in men, to observe by, v.37, etc. Our own Principle of action often hid from ourselves, v.41. Some few Characters plain, but in general confounded, dissembled, or inconsistent, v.51. The same man utterly different in different places and seasons, v.71. Unimaginable weaknesses in the greatest, v.70, etc. Nothing constant and certain but God and Nature, v.95. No judging of the Motives from the actions; the same actions proceeding from contrary Motives, and the same Motives influencing contrary actions v.100.

II. Yet to form Characters, 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, v.120. Characters given according to the rank of men of the world, v.135. And some reason for it, v.140. Education alters the Nature, or at least Character of many, v.149. Actions, Passions, Opinions, Manners, Humours, or Principles all subject to change. No judging by Nature, from v.158 to 178.

III. It only remains to find (if we can) his Ruling Passion: That will certainly influence all the rest, and can reconcile the seeming or real inconsistency of all his actions, v.175. Instanced in the extraordinary character of Clodio, v.179. A caution against mistaking second qualities for first, which will destroy all possibility of the knowledge of mankind, v.210. Examples of the strength of the Ruling Passion, and its continuation to the last breath, v.222, etc.

Yes, you despise the man to books confined, Who from his study rails at human kind; Though what he learns he speaks, and may advance Some general maxims, or be right by chance. The coxcomb bird, so talkative and grave, That from his cage cries c**d, w**e, and knave, Though 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 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, Some unmarked 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. Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds, Quick whirls, and shifting eddies, of our minds? On human actions reason though 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 through creatures you dissect, You lose it in the moment you detect. Yet more; the difference is as great between The optics seeing, as the object seen. All manners take a tincture from our own; Or come discoloured through our passions shown. Or fancy’s beam enlarges, multiplies, Contracts, inverts, and gives ten thousand dyes. 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. Oft, in the passion’s wild rotation tost, Our spring of action to ourselves is lost: Tired, not determined, 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 sleep (Though 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. 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 beloved at sight; And every child hates Shylock, though his soul Still sits at squat, and peeps not from its hole. At half mankind when generous 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. When flattery glares, all hate it in a queen, While one there is who charms us with his spleen. But these plain characters we rarely find; Though strong the bent, yet quick the turns of mind: Or puzzling contraries confound the whole; 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. See the same man, in vigour, in the gout; Alone, in company; in place, or out; Early at business, and at hazard late; Mad at a fox-chase, wise at a debate; Drunk at a borough, civil at a ball; 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 venison to a saint without. Who would not praise Patritio’s high desert, His hand unstained, his uncorrupted heart, His comprehensive head! all interests weighed, All Europe saved, yet Britain not betrayed. He thanks you not, his pride is in piquet, Newmarket-fame, and judgment at a bet. What made (say Montagne, or more sage Charron) Otho a warrior, Cromwell a buffoon? A perjured prince a leaden saint revere, A godless regent tremble at a star? The throne a bigot keep, a genius quit, Faithless through piety, and duped 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: 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 the apparent what conclude the why, Infer the motive from the deed, and show, That what we chanced was what we meant to do. Behold! if fortune or a mistress frowns, Some plunge in business, others shave their crowns: To ease the soul of one oppressive weight, This quits an empire, that embroils a state: The same adust complexion has impelled 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 becalmed 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 reasoning, not in acting lies. But grant that actions best discover man; Take the most strong, and sort them 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 changed his mind, Perhaps was sick, in love, or had not dined. Ask why from Britain Caesar would retreat? Caesar himself might whisper he was beat. Why risk the world’s great empire for a punk? Caesar 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; A saint in crape is twice a saint in lawn; A judge is just, a chancellor juster still; A gownman, learn’d; a bishop, what you will; Wise, if a minister; but, if a king, More wise, more learned, more just, more everything. 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 Blush in the rose, and in the diamond blaze, We prize the stronger effort of his power, And justly set the gem above the flower. ‘Tis education forms the common mind; Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined. 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 scrivener, an exceeding knave: Is he a Churchman? then he’s fond of power: ) A Quaker? sly: A Presbyterian? sour: ) A smart Freethinker? 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, And Britain, if not Europe, is undone. That gay Freethinker, a fine talker once, What turns him now a stupid silent dunce? Some god, or spirit he has lately found: Or chanced to meet a minister that frowned. Judge we by Nature? habit can efface, Interest o’ercome, or policy take place:

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My Unraveling

I had my health. i had a job. and then, abruptly, i didn’t..

essay man

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Let’s begin with an action scene: I was in midair, tumbling sideways, heading for the floor of the Columbus Circle subway station. Not a place I wanted to be. Where I wanted to be was on the downtown 1, five or ten yards away, doors standing open. I’d made this connection more than a thousand times, though usually getting off the 1, not on it.

This time, I was out of practice and I got it wrong. After stepping off the downtown B or C, I took the wrong stairway and had to double back to get over to the right side of the 1. When I climbed up the correct stairs, the stairs I used to fly down every morning, straight from the optimal train door on my precisely plotted commute, I saw the 1 arriving.

And then — well, if I knew exactly what happened, it wouldn’t have happened, would it? What I registered went like this: I sped up, or I meant to speed up. Someone cut across my path. I tried to steer around them and my legs … my legs did something else. Or did nothing. The extra walking and climbing had taken too much effort, and my intentions lost contact with my legs. I reached out and tried to brace myself on someone’s shoulder; they were wearing a black-on-white shirt; I was so undone I was trying to make physical contact with a total stranger on the subway platform . I missed. All that was left was to hit the station floor, so I did.

I rolled to my knees and discovered that was as far as I could make it. My legs couldn’t get me upright again. One guy streaming by broke stride, asked if I was okay, and hauled me to my feet. I checked myself: no torn clothes, no blood. Another 1 was pulling in, one minute behind the train I’d missed. I got on and went where I’d been going. I had just had a fall.

Old people have falls. I had only just turned 52 one week before the September evening I collapsed. But the year from 51 to 52 had been a remarkably bad one. I gambled on a job I wanted, as the editor-in-chief of a small magazine, and it ran out of funding. I sent applications to other publications and got thoughtful rejections. I sent more applications, and they went unanswered. I made an appeal for paid subscriptions at a newsletter I’d been writing. Its revenue flattened out at about 20 percent of my share of our living expenses. The household finances began to drain.

I picked up an adjunct gig, teaching a writing class on Zoom, three straight hours a shot, and the anxiety of filling the time — of giving the students what they were paying for — gathered into a lump in my upper torso until I couldn’t stand the taste of the herbal tea that was supposed to relax me and give me something to do with my hands on-camera. My shoulder locked up. I got pins and needles in my arm.

What was happening to me? I don’t go looking for medical-mystery articles in the newspaper, but when I see one, I read it end to end. The strangest things happen to other people’s bodies! Someone, if I remember right, fought a lingering cough for years because they accidentally inhaled a pea and forgot about it. The medical-mystery column has a beginning and a conclusion. In between is a fumble for clues, moving toward a flash of insight. Some doctor finally runs the right test, recollects the right journal article. The shapeless misery takes shape.

I went to see a shoulder specialist. He knew exactly what was wrong. I had trigger points, little knots in the muscle under the shoulder blade. He gave me some exercises — pin a tennis ball between the shoulder and the wall, lean back, and roll around on it — and a prescription for an anti-inflammatory. A few days later, I noticed my shoes were laced too tight when I tried to put them on. Another day and I made the connection: No, my feet were too big for my shoes. Google said that anti-inflammatories can cause swelling in the extremities, so I stopped taking the pills.

My feet kept swelling, day by day, until my pink ankles looked like deli hams and I started using a butter knife as a shoehorn. I’d reluctantly spent some money to order a new pair of canvas sneakers, off-white, for the spring and summer, and I left them in the box, unable to face the thought of jamming my distended feet into them. The pins and needles spread to both arms, like I’d slept on them funny, except the sensation lasted all day.

I could still type through the numbness, though, publishing what I could for what money I could get. I stopped buying myself things that seemed discretionary — the good oolong tea leaves, crushproof imported pocket notebooks, a new pair of jeans — but some spending had its own momentum. My wife’s family had booked an Airbnb in Italy for April. It would be our first vacation since before the pandemic, our middle-schooler’s first trip abroad since he was in an infant seat. It would have been absurd to cancel just because I was between jobs. My ankle ached on the clutch pedal of the rented Fiat. I brought along a folder of unfinished tax paperwork. The amount I owed the IRS would match, almost exactly, a big freelance check I was waiting on. The deposit went into and out of my account on the same day.

I went to my regular doctor, whom I’d bypassed on the shoulder thing. He was baffled at the symptoms and frank about his bafflement. Swollen feet can mean congestive heart failure, so he referred me to a cardiologist. She instructed me to walk and then run on an inclined treadmill, hopping on and off for ultrasound imaging of my heart. I have — had — always been extremely healthy without being physically fit, so while I didn’t enjoy the test, I still passed handily. My heart was strong and well.

Sometimes this kind of swelling just happens and then goes away, the cardiologist said. Whatever it is, you won’t die of it.

I’ve told the story over and over, to various doctors, till it almost sounds like a coherent narrative. When I drafted this passage, in the dark, by thumb, on a phone plugged into the USB socket of a hospital bed, I’d been telling it to several people a day: general practitioners, neurologists, rheumatologists, radiologists, nurses, physical therapists, medical aides, a dietitian, a surgeon. The story, I told them, happened in two parts. In the spring and summer, part one, I chased the swelling and numbness and other symptoms — stiff fingers, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest — in slow motion from doctor to doctor. Mostly, this was shepherded by the cardiologist, who seemed to feel as if, by ruling the problem not to be her business, she had made it her duty to discover whose business it might in fact be.

I saw a neurologist, who talked me into spending $700 from our high-deductible health plan on getting my muscles zapped with a little Taser and told me the results said I had carpal tunnel. I did have carpal tunnel, but not really, not because my terrible ergonomic habits had caught up with me. The swelling had simply gotten into my carpal tunnels for a while. I ignored his suggestions for exercises and supplements, and months later, in the hospital, I got an email telling me his practice was going out of business.

I saw a rheumatologist. He ordered a bunch of blood tests and suggested I take prednisone and something else. When I opened the paper bag from the pharmacy, I realized the something else was hydroxychloroquine , the malaria drug that had a moment in the news as a spurious COVID treatment. I took only the prednisone. My ankles stayed puffy. You could jab a finger into one and leave a dent that lingered.

Before this, my hands had been loose-skinned and a bit wrinkly, the one part of me going more visibly on ahead through middle age than the rest. My hands looked like my mom’s hands, and I would catch myself gazing at them sometimes and congratulate myself on my resignation to the realities of aging, the mortality of all flesh. Now my fingers resembled Italian sausage links, tight and shiny, with no reassuring philosophical overtones at all.

One symptom would fade and a new one would assert itself. My ankles deflated and I started wearing the new sneakers, but my breathing and stamina steadily worsened. A wheeze or cough would interrupt my talking. On the mile-long walk back from school with my younger son, the route we’d been taking for two years, I lagged behind, guiltily asking him to slow down. I started buying five-pound bags of rice from H Mart instead of ten-pound ones. Then I just started getting rice delivered.

Nobody cracked the puzzle. The folder of referrals and results I carried to appointments got thicker. My blood tested positive for signs of general inflammation and negative for the constellations of markers that would point to any particular inflammatory condition. I had not been bitten by any ticks; I had never gotten the Lyme rash or any other diagnostically meaningful rash. My fingers did not exhibit a telltale sign of turning stark white when they got cold. My chest X-ray and CT scan were clean. The closest thing to a breakthrough was basically an accident: During a routine vitals check, a nurse asked if I was holding my breath. I was sitting still, and my pulse-oximeter reading was refusing to go over 95 percent.

Normal is 95 and above. Below 90 is an emergency. I self-tested at home with a device on my finger. Light activity, like bustling around the kitchen, would knock my level down to 91. Walking a bag of groceries home and up the stairs dropped me to 87. At a medical center, I did breathing exercises with a mouthpiece in a sealed booth. I passed that test. I went to a pulmonologist and passed every test there, too. If you ignored the pulse-ox readings, my lungs and heart were, officially, fine.

There was zero explanation; there was, maybe, the absolutely obvious explanation: that I was stressing myself into this over money. We’d been absorbing plenty of strain in the household before I lost my job — some normal midlife stuff, some normal parent stuff, some abnormal and menacing stuff that I truly can’t even get into. Our black cat gnawed our potted prosperity bamboo to shreds. Trying to save it, we overwatered it until it rotted from the inside out.

It had not been the wisest time to choose an unstable job in a beyond-unstable field. If my time as an editor-in-chief had even been a job: I applied for unemployment, got rejected, and after months of appeal, the State of New York ruled that my past two full-time situations had been contract gigs, uncovered. I considered whether my illness could be a conversion disorder flowing from my misguided career choices. On some level, I believed the swelling would go down and the oxygen would go up as soon as I collected a few consecutive pay stubs from a normal, salaried job.

Back in the winter, I’d met up with a friendly fellow writer who happened to have just secured, through a different line of work, an amount of money that meant financial security forever. In theory, we were talking about ways to fund the job of mine that was about to run out of money, but we both knew that wouldn’t happen. “You’ve got a good reputation,” he said. “Someone will want you to work for them.”

This had been true enough before. I’d made myself a useful editor and a reasonably well-known writer over the years. I moved between jobs without much trouble, tending to get hired the way murderers in movies get hired: a message or phone call from someone who needed something done and who thought I could do it. Abruptly, all that my connections could offer were gigs. Someone needed a manuscript edited before they gave it to their book editor. A magazine wanted a book review. Work, but no jobs.

I kept applying for something stable. A notoriously lavish start-up loved my proposal for a mini-section within its soon-to-be-launched vertical until the sponsorship for the vertical failed to come through. A major media company advertised for a position that exactly fit my history, then withdrew the listing in the middle of an executive meltdown. A friend of a friend let me know that another major media company was ignoring my application because it wanted someone less opinionated. I started calling in favors, nagging people with whom my friendships had previously been non-transactional. It broke up the dead silence, at least.

My wife and I considered disaster scenarios in which the “disaster” was simply that things kept going the way they were going. We did the math on vacating our condo, finding tenants, and living in a cheaper rental. Maybe it was time to leave New York. But it wasn’t clear if we had enough savings to cover such a move. It wasn’t even clear if I had the physical energy to pack boxes. On the online job forms, there was usually a question about whether I, the applicant, identified as disabled. I paused longer and longer each time. Disabled? I was … less able. To do things. Than I’d been. For now? I clicked “no,” uncertainly.

Part two of the story is I got COVID. I’d avoided it for three years, but everyone is going to contract the virus sooner or later. It’s not worth the trouble, officially, to even politely suggest people should wear masks or to keep the public up to date on the rate of new cases. The pandemic is over, people keep on saying. You are free to make your own decisions about what risks to take individually without any useful information about the overall risk picture.

I’d been furious about this already on other people’s behalf. Most Americans, the Biden administration said, would be fine if they were vaccinated. This elided the people who wouldn’t be: the immunocompromised, for example, and those with certain respiratory conditions. The political and journalistic consensus had set the value of these people’s safety at zero, not even granting them the benefit of mask advisories or ventilation standards.

When I started hearing about the late-summer COVID wave, it occurred to me that now I was one of those people myself. This is what disability advocates have said all along, not that it usually sinks in: The able and the disabled aren’t two different kinds of people but the same people at different times. Last year, I was healthy; this year, I had a breathing ailment, even if nobody could say exactly what that ailment was.

I got Paxlovid delivered and sank into fever. The back of my throat was so raw I would wake up snorting for air. Rolling around in my bed, I felt, for the first time, that this body of mine truly was going to die someday. Not the abstract knowledge that death awaits all of us but the shocking awareness that eventually this system of veins and nerves and organs would lose its familiar stubborn equilibrium, cease functioning, and fail. I fixated on whales. They’re right out in New York Harbor. What if I used up my allotted time on the planet without ever laying eyes on a whale? I booked a whale-watching cruise for the family. Later, when the day came, it got canceled by a hurricane.

In August, when the acute COVID infection ran its course, I got out of bed and back on my feet. But after a week or two on the upswing, a whole new set of malfunctions took over. Routine movements burned as if I were doing deep stretching. I couldn’t get through a meal without a coughing fit from a lump of food getting stuck or a drink of water splashing the wrong way. Saliva accumulated in my mouth till I had to go to the sink and spit. I ate more slowly and stopped getting seconds, feeling like I was in one of those testimonials about the new anti-obesity drugs, in which people tell how their motivation to keep eating has disappeared. I was far past needing or wanting any weight loss. My sedentary midlife flab had long since ebbed away, and now I was losing something else, down ten pounds in a month. Maybe, the cardiologist said, eyeing my scrawny limbs and loose clothes, I should consider checking into a hospital. Just so I could get all my testing coordinated in one place.

It was only a thought, one that dissipated as I sought out second opinions. The medical-mystery column doesn’t usually dwell on how slowly the inquiry goes in our fractured health-care system. How the highly recommended pulmonologist doesn’t return the first phone call and only has an opening five months away, and how the major-medical center does have an appointment but isn’t in network with the major-medical insurer. How the chest X-ray is over by the East River and the breathing booth is in the West 160s and the phlebotomist is by Columbia, and how each one has its own online portal for billing and results.

Every day, my legs were harder to move. Climbing in the door of an SUV, I couldn’t lift my rear foot over the threshold until I reached down with my hands and pulled it in. Then the grab-and-lift maneuver became necessary to step into my pants. I had to ask the kids to pull pots and cutting boards out of the bottom kitchen cabinets for me. I gave up bedtime-story duty, crawling into bed each night before anyone else, half-hearing my wife’s voice reading in the next room, feeling myself fading out of my own life. I imagined living in a world and a class where a person could retreat to a sanatorium and shut everything down until the problem was figured out.

I stopped leaving the apartment. The project of washing left me needing to lie down. One morning, or possibly afternoon, it took me four or five tries to shrug my way into my bathrobe, nearly overcome by the weight and friction. I gave up on shaving, and the rattiest stubble of my life took over my chin. The kids were put in charge of the cat box because I couldn’t reach that corner of the bathroom anymore, but one night I got down on the floor to help and when we were done I couldn’t stand up. I didn’t even know how to start to try. Eventually, my wife grabbed me under the armpits from behind and hauled me most of the way upright while I gabbled warnings about my legs giving way.

Two different realities or images stood superimposed in my mind. There was the body I’d occupied two months ago — my body , as I understood it — walking over to Broadway for pizza, taking the younger boy to the basketball courts, ducking into Central Park to climb the Great Hill. And then there was Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World , a gaunt figure dragging her useless legs along the ground. If this was histrionic or self-pitying, it seemed less so on the days when I couldn’t raise my hips up off the floor. The only thing that still felt more or less normal was sitting at a desk, doing the work I was trying to get someone to pay me to do.

Meanwhile, in the span of time that it took a newspaper to move one step down its hiring checklist from a Zoom interview to an edit test, a law school in a small southern town progressed from sending my wife a preliminary inquiry to making her a tenured job offer with a part-time teaching slot for me thrown in. We booked a visit for the family to see if we could really live there. As the trip came closer, we realized there was simply no way I could walk through an airport. The rest of the family would have to scout out our possible future while I stayed home.

As they prepared to go, my GP called with the results of my latest bloodwork. A normal range for creatine kinase, a marker of muscle breakdown, might be between 30 and 200 units per liter. A new test said my level was 8,000. The reason my muscles felt so weak was that they were actively dissolving into my bloodstream.

I wrapped up a job-recruiting call, threw my glasses and contact-lens case into a shoulder bag, and booked an Uber to the emergency room. My wife took my sons to see about the job. It was unclear which of us was going to the place that would offer a solution.

In the hospital, the medical mystery falls into an awkward, indeterminate zone. Between the fall and the choking and the creatine kinase, my story qualified me as a definite emergency when I shuffled up to the admission desk. But it was a conundrum to be solved, not as straightforward and urgent as a stroke or broken hip. The staff put me in a wheelchair and parked me in a walkway lined with other people in wheelchairs. The hospital was beyond full. There were genuinely not any open beds, not only as an administrative category but as literal objects to lie down on. I spent my first night on a gurney in the ER observation section, fully dressed and still in my shoes. To avoid catching anything else, I kept a mask on, the elastic digging into my ears.

On the second day, I got a bed and changed into two layers of hospital gowns. My clothes and my new sneakers went into a pair of plastic patient-possession bags. Doctors came by, individually and in teams, with blue gloves on, to test my muscles. Squeeze my fingers. Push up against my hand with your knee. Stick out your elbows and don’t let me push them down. The closer the blue gloves came to the middle of my body, the worse I did.

The doctors had questions. Had I been hiking at all back in the spring, when my troubles started? No? Was I sure? Not even in Central Park? This was about Lyme disease again, of course. I knew about Lyme, and the ever-growing literature of people’s struggles with Lyme, and the whole elusive post-Lyme complex. But I also still knew, as solidly as I could know any fact about my health, that I had not been bitten by any ticks. One doctor after another asked me to blink my eyes, harder, over and over, watching for the lids to droop from fatigue, which might mean myasthenia gravis. My lids did not droop.

ER time took over, with “day” and “night” merely more or less busy spells in an unbroken atmosphere of fluorescent lights and beeping. A 24-hour flight in coach, a 48-hour flight in coach, a 72-hour flight in coach. The patient behind the curtain to my right kept his TV blaring all night, cycling episodes of the same forensic true-crime show: some ghastly rape or murder, the bafflement of investigators, the infallibility of scientific evidence coming to the rescue. The Kars-4-Kids jingle playing in between.

My obvious risks — choking, falling — had standard countermeasures: puréed meals and caution-yellow nonslip socks with a matching wristband that read FALL RISK. For treatment, there was nothing but big bags of IV fluids to flush out the creatine kinase while keeping my underlying symptoms untouched, the better for accurate testing and observation. The creatine kinase went down to 5,000, back up to 6,000, down again. The staff rolled me away to a chest X-ray, a thyroid ultrasound, a contrast CT scan, an MRI. Wheeling down the hall toward an echocardiogram, I passed the neurology team going the other way, misconnecting on a planned meeting. I never talked to them again.

A real hospital room, outside the ER, opened up in the late afternoon on the fourth day, a Saturday. It was on the tenth floor with a window looking uptown over the top of Central Park. I could see the boathouse by the Harlem Meer, but not the water itself, because the trees were so thick and green. I wondered, tempting fate, what it might look like when the colors turned.

My new roommate, a friendly, stooped figure, was in agony for non-mysterious reasons — a manageable condition that had gone unmanaged because the treatments cost too much money. The problem-solving sessions on his side of our shared curtain, with the doctors and social workers, were about which programs or policies might help him if he and his family could sort them out.

For me, evidence and theories kept trickling in. Doctors would come by and mention some finding, or my phone would give an automated notice that a new lab result had arrived and I would Google as best I could. Open tabs accumulated on my phone: RNP antibodies, rheumatoid arthritis, polymyositis, mixed connective tissue disease . (“The overall ten-year survival rate is about 80 percent.”) I was negative for hepatitises B and C, negative for Sjögren’s-syndrome antibodies, negative for syphilis, negative for Lyme ( told you ) — negative for most things, as I’d been all along. The speed with which my muscles were falling apart seemed to be, in some sense, good news, meaning that I probably wasn’t going through one of the more gradual neurological degenerations like ALS.

Down in radiology, I took a swallowing test, a three-course flight of barium snacks: a thick barium drink, spoonfuls of barium marshmallow fluff, then bites of the barium fluff on a graham cracker, consumed one after another on live X-ray video. There was my jaw, my tongue, my hyoid bone, and there were clots of barium-tinged food getting visibly hung up short of the esophagus, behind the tongue, in little pockets of underperforming pharyngeal muscle. None of the food, however, was obstructing my windpipe. It meant I was eligible to trade in puréed green beans for individual green beans, French-toast paste for ordinary French toast.

A provisional unifying idea took shape. More and more, the conversations circled back to one form or another of myositis: an autoimmune attack on my proximal muscles. If the muscles were the essence of the problem, then my oxygen troubles could have been a muscle problem all along too, a creeping weakness in the diaphragm. The swallowing trouble would be the muscle problem appearing in the pharynx. The swollen ankles and knuckles — well, those weren’t quite muscle problems, but they also were no longer a pressing concern. What I needed, urgently, was a muscle biopsy, one that might tell the doctors exactly how that part of me was going wrong.

It was my bad luck, the attending doctor said at my bedside, to be an interesting case. Our meetings had a tone of rueful amusement. Yes, I was in pain and reeking from infrequent showering, but we could talk about the unresolved mystery and its submysteries with a certain detachment. My oxygen levels were behaving themselves. No one knew where that problem had gone, nor why my voice had suddenly gone faint and reedy.

My wife was back from the job-scouting trip, but she’d picked up a foot infection and was stuck in the apartment, taking antibiotics. The boys trooped across the park to bring me my laptop. They were visibly alarmed by how gaunt and shaky I was. I took them on a shuffling tour to a long back hallway lined with sleek, derelict equipment, with a window facing out on a black monolith of a building, to show them how much it looked like Andor . We shared the crunchy, startlingly good French fries on my dinner tray. I couldn’t have swallowed that many on my own.

Now that I had the computer, I rummaged through test results and image scans on the hospital information portal. I could navigate this way and that through the inside of my own body on the CT or MRI files, moving the cutaway to watch the stark white rib cage flow into the spine. My thoracic aorta was “normal in caliber and course.” My right iliac bone had a “tiny sclerotic focus” that was probably a “bone island.” My muscles were all fucked up:

Diffuse STIR hyperintense signal throughout the visualized musculature of the pelvis and thighs as well as partially visualized portions of the paraspinal muscles of the lower back, including the quadriceps muscle (vastus lateralis, medialis, intermedius), hamstrings, iliacus, psoas major, gluteus medius and minimus, pubococcygeal muscles, adductor muscles, highly suggestive of systemic myositis in the appropriate clinical setting.

I knew this, implicitly. It was apparent every time a nurse or technician asked me to scoot a little in my bed and my psoas major or adductor or the rest simply wouldn’t do the scooting. The most minimal movements were the most impossible. It was easier to clamber out of bed, take a six-inch step, and clamber back in at the new spot than to shift my body. If my pillow slipped down to the small of my back, there was no retrieving it.

A perverse rule of medical technology is the more you scan, the more you discover, whether those discoveries matter or not. The imaging reports noted a “small hiatal hernia”: Google said a weakened diaphragm could cause that. I had an “underdistended stomach,” as would anyone who was expected to eat French-toast paste. My liver was “prominent in size,” which qualified as “hepatomegaly.” My lower lungs had “minimal mild reticular opacities.”

One discovery was notable, or might have been. A night-shift doctor brought it up offhandedly, as if someone else must have already mentioned it: The ultrasound had picked up a nodule on my thyroid. Could it be squeezing my trachea? Could it be cancer? Could it be nothing? Sure. A little more inspection and the nodule became nodules, plural, the largest being a nearly inch-long sausage on the thyroid isthmus, salient and crying out for analysis. The thyroid-biopsy team swooped in during lunchtime, chatty and armed with portable gear for working at my bedside. One person tracked down the sausage with an ultrasound wand against my neck while another jackhammered away at it with a tiny needle. They prepared the samples in little vessels of brightly colored liquids laid out in the sun on the windowsill. The technicians eyeballed the cells on a microscope set up in the hallway and declared that nothing looked obviously malignant. My thyroid itself, they said, showed “lymphocytic thyroiditis.” Also known as Hashimoto’s disease, although who could say, here, whether it was a disease unto itself or a manifestation of some greater disease. The question was bigger than the thyroid.

Now there was almost nothing left to do but the muscle biopsy. Ten stories up turned out to be cruising altitude for hawks, wheeling by the window in the sunlight, borne along on the fresh autumn breezes. I gave my daily samples of blood. I sent some follow-up emails about jobs. The procedure was scheduled for Thursday, my ninth day in the hospital, in the last slot of the afternoon.

As the time came closer, I began to apprehend an uncomfortable truth. The actual medical mystery wasn’t about anything inside me. It was whether the tests were going to point to some far side of this where I got my life back. Was there a future where I could walk out the door on Sunday morning in decent shoes and make it to church? Where I could pick up heavy groceries to put a three-course meal on the family dinner table? Where we could rent a rowboat? Where I was a helpful and economically viable member of the household?

The operating team drew a mark on my right thigh and put me under sedation. When I came around, I was still in the operating room. My wound was neatly sewn up but the team was on the phone with the pathologists, who wanted to discuss whether they’d taken a big enough chunk of my leg. Pleasantly high and feeling fantastic, I assured everyone it was fine if they wanted to go back and get more. You know — While we’re here, happy to oblige. They decided against it, and off I went to recovery. It was the nicest feeling I’d had in weeks. I looked at my hands and I could believe the old familiar wrinkles were coming back.

Later on, it felt as if someone had sliced open my thigh, since they had — an additional stabbing pain tucked inside the usual burning pain when I used my quadriceps. But that was tolerable. I was finished with being a test subject. All the possible diagnoses pointed to the same treatment, anyway, so the next morning, I got a syringe of steroids pushed into my IV, chased with a cold squirt of saline to make sure every drop went through. I was a patient, trying to get well. Within hours, maybe, my thigh muscles seemed a little less dead than before. That afternoon, I limped off to the bathroom, pulled the shower chair out of the shower, and sat down to make a job interview call, away from any beeping machines or doctor visits. At least it wasn’t a Zoom.

Out the window, I could see magenta and gold in the tree canopy of Central Park. It was deep enough into October for that now. My creatine kinase dropped from 6,200 to 4,500 overnight, then headed for the 3,000s, a level a person could go home with. Whatever had made my immune system start tearing up my muscles, the steroids seemed to be making it slow down. That’s what they were: immunosuppressive drugs, to be followed over time by other, different immunosuppressives. If all went well, I would trade being an actively sick person for being an immunocompromised one.

The blue-gloved muscle checks resumed. Oh, yes: Much stronger in the legs. I took a lap around the ward. I spent less time in bed and more in a chair. I booked another job call with maybe some steroids-laced overconfidence. My wife, with a counteroffer from her current employer in hand, turned down the southern school.

Normal life, or whatever would stand in for normal, was calling. On my 15th day, with the pathology report on my leg sample still a work in progress, the last sparkling dregs of a fat bottle of immunoglobulin filtered into my veins. The two-day infusion was the final piece of treatment that had required hospital care. I was free to go. When the IV came out of my arm, I dug out my things from the closet and got dressed. Clean pants and a clean T-shirt over my poorly cleaned body. My eyes in the mirror were sunken, my neck withered. Nonstop mask wearing had scraped the bridge of my nose raw, and my ratty stubble was now a full ratty Vandyke, the chin shot through with gray. I peeled off my last pair of grimy yellow nonslip socks and wrestled my way into my own regular socks.

Now the shoes. I’d been imagining how this would feel for days. I reached into the hospital bag for my canvas sneakers and pulled them out. They were mashed out of shape and … damp to the touch? Damp to the touch. Had something spilled into the bag, somehow, or was it just residual sweat? Either way, they had been sealed in plastic with it for two weeks. Flecks of mold had sprung up on the otherwise new-looking insoles.

There was nothing to do but wear them. I would be taking myself home. The hospital had sent my prescriptions to the nearest pharmacy for me to pick up on my way out. A string of robocalls and human calls then informed me that the branch did not, in fact, have all the meds I needed, specifically the steroids. My wife headed across town to another location, where the computer indicated there were enough steroid pills to last me three days.

The nurse who’d unplugged me reappeared with a sheaf of papers: I was discharged. No final consultation with any of the doctors. The nurse asked if I wanted a wheelchair. I figured I might as well start walking.

By the time I reached the ground floor of the hospital with my bags, I understood that had been a mistake. My room had been on the west side of the building; the pharmacy was on the east, an entire avenue over. I walked a few yards down the vast hallway, paused for a stricken moment, then walked a few more. I couldn’t wipe out again. Stopping and going, I made it to the east side of the building, down a short flight of steps, and out. Numbly, I trudged up the sidewalk in the quickly fading twilight, clutching my papers. It dawned on me that I still didn’t have a diagnosis.

I despise those stories where a writer tells you all about some mystery for thousands of words and then fails to deliver the solution. Usually with some metaphysical vamping about the unknowability of all things. What are you even telling anyone about it for? But I didn’t have an answer, and I still don’t. It would be more than another week before the pathology report came back. My muscles, it said, showed “myopathy with scattered necrotic myofibers in the absence of significant lymphocytic inflammatory infiltrates.” I couldn’t raise a doctor on the phone to talk about it. Whoever wrote the report had floated a whole new possibility, “antisynthetase syndrome,” to go with the other possibilities still bobbing around. The hospital rheumatologists, weeks later, would stick with polymyositis; a different myositis expert would propose “immune-mediated necrotizing myopathy.” A neurologist would suggest “lupus-myositis overlap syndrome.”

Medicine hasn’t really solved for the body attacking itself. Since the inflammation first brought me to the rheumatologist months before, I’d been quietly bracing for an answer that wouldn’t feel like an answer. An authoritative-sounding name like scleroderma would come up, and Googling would fill in non-detail details like “no cure” and “symptoms vary” and “don’t know exactly what causes this process to begin.” The thing that had taken me apart was something rare and diffuse, its effects almost certainly melded with those of the coronavirus. I was on my own with it. I was three weeks behind on a freelance editing gig, and November’s bills were cycling into view. In January, an endocrinologist had an opening to see about my thyroid.

The pharmacy window was, as pharmacy windows are, all the way at the back of the store. An incredible distance. A terrifying distance, alone on my shaky legs. I put out a hand to steady myself against the shelves along the way, and waiting in line I just grabbed on. I said my name to the pharmacist as clearly as my cracked voice could muster, got the pills, and retraced the long path to the door.

It was fully night now. As I stepped outside the pharmacy vestibule, I saw an empty taxi coming up the block, preparing to turn the corner. Memory and instinct said it was mine: Two or three long, quick strides to the curb and a sharply upthrust hand would catch the driver’s eye. My body knew otherwise. I ventured a short step, not even to the middle of the sidewalk, and the taxi went on by my half-raised arm.

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Martin Doyle's face

Gerald Murnane is a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Australian author talks to John Self about his career. Evie Woods, pen name of the Galway author Evie Gaughan, has sold more than half a million copies worldwide of her novel The Lost Bookshop. She talks to Edel Coffey. Henrietta McKervey visits the new Book of Kells exhibition at Trinity College. And there is a Q&A with Kelly McCaughrain about her new YA novel, Little Bang.

Reviews are Eamon Maher on The Oxford Handbook of Religion in Modern Ireland edited by Gladys Ganiel and Andrew R Holmes; Kathleen McNamee on Perfectly Imperfect by Ellen Keane; Declan O’Driscoll on the best new translations; Dan O’Brien on Industry and Policy in Independent Ireland, 1922-1972 by Frank Barry; Martina Evans on The Solace of Artemis by Paula Meehan; Paul Clements on Errigal: Sacred Mountain by Cathal Ó Searcaigh and Road to Glenlough by Christy Gillespie; Roslyn Fuller on The Bill Gates Problem: Reckoning with the Myth of the Good Billionaire; Brian Maye on William Sharman Crawford and Ulster Radicalism by Peter Gray; Jessica Traynor on Lavinia Greenlaw’s The Vast Extent; Charleen Hurtubise on Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah; and Sarah Gilmartin on How About My Friends by Hisham Matar.

A Lesson in Malice by Catherine Kirwan is this weekend’s Irish Times Eason offer. You can buy it for €5.99, a €5 saving, with your paper at any branch.

The Solace of Artemis by Paula Meehan: A fierce and vital collection

The Solace of Artemis by Paula Meehan: A fierce and vital collection

Why does Lord of The Rings appeal to the radical right?

Why does Lord of The Rings appeal to the radical right?

The Oxford Handbook of Religion in Modern Ireland: closely aligned to politics and identity

The Oxford Handbook of Religion in Modern Ireland: closely aligned to politics and identity

Kelly McCaughrain on her new book Little Bang and the catalyst that formed it

Kelly McCaughrain on her new book Little Bang and the catalyst that formed it

More money was spent on books in Ireland in 2023 than ever before, according to Nielsen Bookscan, with total sales reaching nearly €171 million, €961,000 ahead of 2022′s peak. Volume sales added up to 13.1 million books, down 2 per cent on 2022. With value once again growing at a stronger rate than volume, the average price paid for print books went from €12.71 to €13.08, the highest on record. 2023 marks the tenth year in a row of value growth for the Irish book market, with sales improving by €64 million since 2014, and while volume fell behind over the last three years, it’s up 3.5 million in that 10-year period. Fiction also set a new lifetime high for value sales, with volume back above 4 million for the first time since 2010, and nonfiction managed slight value growth as well, with children’s down for both measures.

essay man

Philip Casey launch

The library system of Gaza, like life itself in Gaza, has been brutally impacted by the past three months of bombing. The founder of the Edward Said Libraries in Gaza is Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha, and he has got together with Boston bookstore Brookline Booksmith to host a worldwide virtual fundraiser this Saturday, January 6th, in support of libraries and access to literature in the decimated Strip. Even now – especially now.

The reading takes place at 5pm Irish time (12 noon EST), and will feature a powerful line-up of international writers including Mosab Abu Toha himself; Fatima Bhutto; Ilya Kaminsky; Ha Jin; Eileen Myles; Shuchi Saraswat and the Irish poet Damian Gorman. Gorman says, “We know that what we are doing is a drop in the ocean. But we feel that this particular drop contains some very vital properties. Libraries in Gaza, as in any place, are incubators of life itself.”

Access to the reading is either by registration here or via the Brookline Booksmith YouTube page . Access to the reading is free, but donations are very welcome. You will receive information as to how to donate when you register or join via YouTube.

All funds will be used to replace destroyed stock in the libraries.

IN THIS SECTION

Christy gillespie’s road to glenlough: exploring american artist rockwell kent’s irish work, mother ‘abandons’ baby by discharging herself from maternity hospital, court hears, dublin industrial site set to be redeveloped for thousands of homes 3km from city centre, jason hennessy snr: a promising boxer who stayed away from gangland crime until later in life, man and two women killed in three separate crashes around ireland, first look: the pub with no booze that’s full almost every night.

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COMMENTS

  1. An Essay on Man: Epistle I

    An Essay on Man: Epistle I By Alexander Pope To Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things To low ambition, and the pride of kings. Let us (since life can little more supply Than just to look about us and to die) Expatiate free o'er all this scene of man; A mighty maze! but not without a plan;

  2. An Essay on Man

    " An Essay on Man " is a poem published by Alexander Pope in 1733-1734. It was dedicated to Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke (pronounced 'Bull-en-brook'), hence the opening line: "Awake, my St John...".

  3. An Essay on Man

    An Essay on Man describes the order of the universe in terms of a hierarchy, or chain, of being. By virtue of their ability to reason, humans are placed above animals and plants in this hierarchy. Britannica Quiz Famous Poets and Poetic Form This article was most recently revised and updated by Kathleen Kuiper.

  4. An Essay on Man Summary

    An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope Start Free Trial Summary Critical Essays Questions & Answers Quotes Introduction PDF Cite Pope's principle for understanding man is the Great Chain of Being,...

  5. Essay on Man

    Release Date: August 20, 2007 [eBook #2428] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII) ***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ESSAY ON MAN*** Transcribed from the 1891 Cassell & Company edition by Les Bowler. An Essay on Man. moral essays and satires By ALEXANDER POPE. CASSELL & COMPANY, Limited: london, paris & melbourne.

  6. An Essay on Man Summary and Study Guide

    An Essay on Man Alexander Pope 30 pages • 1 hour read Alexander Pope An Essay on Man Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1734 A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. Download PDF Access Full Guide

  7. An Essay on Man

    An Essay on Man Alexander Pope Edited by Introduction by A definitive new edition of one of the greatest philosophical poems in the English language Paperback Price: $17.95/£14.99 ISBN: 9780691181059 Published: May 15, 2018 Copyright: 2018 248 Size: 5.5 x 8.5 in. ebook $17.95/£14.99 9780691181059 May 15, 2018 Copyright: 2018 Pages: 248 Size:

  8. Project MUSE

    This was Alexander Pope's Essay on Man (1733-34), a masterpiece of philosophical poetry, one of the most important and controversial works of the Enlightenment, and one of the most widely read, imitated, and discussed poems of eighteenth-century Europe and America. This volume, which presents the first major new edition of the poem in more ...

  9. An Essay on Man

    AN ESSAY ON MAN IN FOUR EPISTLES, by Alexander Pope, Esq EDINBURGH, Printed for, and sold by James Reid Bookseller in Leith, MDCCLI. page Chapters (not listed in original) The Design The Contents Epistle I. Epistle II. Epistle III. Epistle IV. The Universal Prayer Notes on the Essay on Man

  10. An Essay on Man

    An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture. Ernst Cassirer. Yale University Press, Jan 1, 1944 - Philosophy - 237 pages. One of the twentieth century's greatest philosophers presents the results of his lifetime study of man's cultural achievements. An Essay on Man is an original synthesis of contemporary knowledge, a ...

  11. An Essay on Man

    Intro: Original Publication of "An Essay on Man" Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things To low ambition, and the pride of kings. Let us (since life can little more supply Than just to look about us and die) Expatiate free o'er all this scene of man; A mighty maze! but not without a plan; A wild, where weed and flow'rs promiscuous shoot;

  12. Essay on Man, Epistle II

    Essay on Man, Epistle II. Alexander Pope. 1688 -. 1744. I. Know, then, thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man. Placed on this isthmus of a middle state, A being darkly wise, and rudely great: With too much knowledge for the sceptic side, With too much weakness for the stoic's pride, He hangs between; in doubt ...

  13. An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope

    87K views "An Essay on Man" Summary Pope's essay is divided into four epistles, or letters, addressed to Lord Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke was a good friend of Pope's, and it is more than likely...

  14. An Essay on Man

    An Essay on Man. An Essay on Man is a poem written by Alexander Pope in 1733-1734. It is a rationalistic effort to use philosophy in order to, as John Milton attempted, justify the ways of God to man. It is concerned with the part evil plays in the world and with the social order God has decreed for man. Because man cannot know God's purposes ...

  15. Alexander Pope's Essay on Man

    Following are the major ideas in Essay on Man: (1) a God of infinite wisdom exists; (2) He created a world that is the best of all possible ones; (3) the plenum, or all-embracing whole of the universe, is real and hierarchical; (4) authentic good is that of the whole, not of isolated parts; (5) self-love and social love both motivate humans' con...

  16. An Essay on Man

    An Essay on Man is an original synthesis of contemporary knowledge, a unique interpretation of the intellectual crisis of our time, and a brilliant vindication of man's ability to resolve human problems by the courageous use of his mind. In a new introduction Peter E. Gordon situates the book among Cassirer's greater body of work, and looks at ...

  17. An Essay on Man; Moral Essays and Satires by Alexander Pope

    Free kindle book and epub digitized and proofread by volunteers.

  18. An Essay on Man: Epistle I

    An Essay on Man: Epistle I by Alexander Pope To Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things To low ambition, and the pride of kings. Let us (since life can little more supply Than just to look about us and to die) Expatiate free o'er all this scene of man; A mighty maze! but not without a plan;

  19. Alexander Pope

    An Essay on Man (Epistle I) Lyrics. THE DESIGN. Having proposed to write some pieces on human life and manners, such as (to use my Lord Bacon's expression) come home to men's business and ...

  20. Alexander Pope's Essay on Man: An Introduction

    The Essay on Man is a philosophical poem, written, characteristically, in heroic couplets, and published between 1732 and 1734. Pope intended it as the centerpiece of a proposed system of ethics to be put forth in poetic form: it is in fact a fragment of a larger work which Pope planned but did not live to complete. It is an attempt to justify ...

  21. An Essay on Man : In Epistles to a Friend. Epistle II.

    Page 6 - The proper study of mankind is Man. Placed on this isthmus of a middle state, A being darkly wise and rudely great: With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side, With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride, He hangs between; in doubt to act or rest, In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast, In doubt his mind or body to prefer; Born but to die, and reasoning but to err...

  22. Essay on Man by Alexander Pope

    Page 4. An Essay on Man. Moral essays and satires. by Alexander Pope. INTRODUCTION. Pope's life as a writer falls into three periods, answering fairly enough to the three reigns in which he worked. Under Queen Anne he was an original poet, but made little money by his verses; under George I. he was chiefly a translator, and made much money by ...

  23. Tom Scocca's Medical Mystery: The Year My Body Fell Apart

    As they prepared to go, my GP called with the results of my latest bloodwork. A normal range for creatine kinase, a marker of muscle breakdown, might be between 30 and 200 units per liter. A new ...

  24. Dietary Protein Restriction in Patients with Chronic Kidney Disease

    Dietary Protein Restriction in CKD This feature about a man with chronic kidney disease offers a case vignette accompanied by two essays, one supporting adherence to a low-protein diet and the othe...

  25. More money spent on books in 2023 than ever before

    More money was spent on books in Ireland in 2023 than ever before, according to Nielsen Bookscan, with total sales reaching nearly €171million, €961,000 ahead of 2022′s peak. Volume sales ...

  26. In Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, Hong Kong's past and present meet

    The Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter is a photogenic reminder of Hong Kong's early days, set against the backdrop of the city's ever-changing present. Antony Dickson captures scenes from daily ...

  27. Harvard President Claudine Gay resigns after plagiarism and ...

    Harvard President Claudine Gay announced Tuesday she is stepping down just six months into her presidency amid a firestorm of controversy at the university. "It is with a heavy heart but a deep ...