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conformable to his own, which he candidly confessed were too much inclined to deism, although he had fortunately become a most serious and earnest believer of Christianity. Whence Dr. Warton infers, that it was probable "Pope also changed his opinion, though at the time of writing the Essay on Man he was tinctured with principles of another kind; and that he was equally in earnest when he was a disciple of Bolingbroke as he afterwards was when he became a disciple of Warburton." That Pope ever changed his religious opinions, and particularly on so important a point, is a supposition entirely contrary to the whole tenor of his writings. What a person may be supposed to have said, or to have assented to in conversation, may have been misunderstood, and consequently may be unintentionally misrepresented; but what he has written is open to the examination and decision of the world at large, who will found their judgment upon it, and not upon hearsay evidence and vague reports, which are in direct opposition to the avowed sentiments of the author.
Were we to inquire into the motives which have given rise to the imputations thrown out against the author of the Essay on Man, as having advanced doctrines unfavourable to revelation, we shall find that they arise chiefly from his not having rendered his work subservient to certain opinions, which those who have censured him have thought proper to espouse, as exclusively the test of Christianity.
In this spirit is the remark of Dr. Warton on the lines,
"Then say not man's imperfect, heaven's in fault ;
Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 69. Consequently," says Warton, man is not in a lapsed or degenerate state; he is as perfect a being as ever his Creator intended him to be; nor, consequently, did he stand in need of any redemption or atonement." To which it may be replied, that Pope was professedly writing a philosophical work, in which it would have been impossible for him to advert either to the Mosaic account of the fall, or to the peculiar tenets and doctrines of Christianity. Nor is it perhaps certain that he held the doctrine of the atonement in the rigorous sense in which it is inculcated by the Lutheran and Calvinistic writers, as he might be a very good Catholic without such opinion, it being the express doctrine of the Roman religion that a legal obedience or conformity to the church, together with good works, is sufficient for salvation.
In a similar spirit of sectarianism, the younger Racine, in his la Religion, has alluded to Pope in the following lines,—
"Sans doute qu'à ces mots des bords de la Tamise,
6 Note on Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 70.
It would surely be difficult to conceive how this sentiment of Pope, as quoted by the French writer, could have given him offence; but it must be recollected that one chief object of the poem of Racine is to demonstrate the wretched condition of man as occasioned by the fall; and therefore whatever represents the Creator as infinitely wise and benevolent, and as having formed all things for the best, is considered by him as the language of an "abstract reasoner, who has no complaints to make;" and he is accused of "flegme Anglican," or English stupidity, because he does not, in a philosophical work, enter upon subjects which are confessedly beyond the power of philosophy to explain.
The real objection then to this Essay is, that the author has not thought proper to render it subservient to the support of any one particular sect of Christianity in exclusion to the rest. This plan he adopted intentionally, and upon principle. Although brought up in, and professing the Roman catholic faith, there was no doctrine that he held in greater abhorrence than that which would exclude those who do not profess that faith, from the mercy of God; and it is not therefore likely that he would become the advocate of the bigoted and intolerant of any other sect, who might consider their own dogmas as indispensably necessary to salvation.
Amongst the objections that have been brought against the principles attributed to this work, it has been said or insinuated that it favours the system of Spinosa; as if all things were only a modification of one universal substance; and that it represents the whole course of things, to use the language of Johnson, as a necessary concatenation of indissoluble fatality 7." Such was the nature of the charge brought against the Essay on Man by M. de Crousaz; and Johnson himself asserts, that "in many passages a religious eye may discover expressions not very favourable to morals or to liberty."
If by this it be meant that Pope intended to inculcate any doubt of a supreme, self-existent, intelligent First Cause, the creator of all things, no charge can be more unjust, as must appear to every unprejudiced reader by the whole tenor of the poem; in which God is represented, not as identified with, but as modifying and controlling matter-as He
-whose hand the lightning forms,
Who heaves old ocean, and who wings the storms."
Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 157.
And again, most forcibly, when the Poet asserts,
God, in the nature of each being, founds
Essay on Man, Ep. iii. ver. 109.
These passages can only be understood as referring to a supreme intel
7 Life of Pope.
ligent being, in whose whole creation, to use the still more decisive and conclusive language of the poet,
"The worker from the work distinct was known."
Essay on Man, Ep. iii. ver. 229. It must also be a matter of surprise to those who have perused this poem in the same spirit in which it was written, to find the author accused of inculcating doctrines unfavourable to the idea of a future state. With this view Dr. Warton has quoted, in a note, a passage "from a MS. of the late learned printer, Mr. Bowyer.” After adducing, as a proof of a future state, the dissatisfaction which the mind experiences in mere earthly things, the poet adds,
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 world to come."
Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 95.
On these two last lines, Mr. Bowyer observes, "In the old editions, it was, 'confin'd at home,' which was altered at the persuasion of the divine, against the sense of the poet. The point to be illustrated is, that hope is implanted in man, to enable him to bear all the evils of life, though it is merely visionary, and has no foundation.
What future bliss he gives not thee to know,
Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 93. Thus man, confined on his own earth, dreams of imaginary mansions in another world. Hope supplies the reality of them. He hopes, upon the same ground as the Indian does, for a heaven, where his dog shall accompany him. Sorry am I to give this view of the author's creed; but it is too true a representation of it;" &c. This passage is as erroneous in its premises as it is unjust in its conclusion. The point to be illustrated is not "that hope is implanted in man to enable him to bear the evils of this life, though it is merely visionary, and without foundation," but that it was given us as an earnest of a future state of existence; a sentiment so deeply fixed in human nature, that it is felt and acknowledged by the poor Indian, who sees God in clouds, and hears him in the wind," and that such hope is a consolation to the soul, even in its present state, whilst it is uneasy and confined from its home, and rests and expatiates in a world to come. It is not said by Pope, that the hopes of futurity are all a dream; he only asserts, as St. Paul had done before, that we do not know the nature of the bliss which a future state affords. That Pope intended to change the sense of the passage by adopting the alteration of Warburton, it would be absurd to suppose. He only meant to strengthen it. It was however sufficiently evident, as it before stood, that by the expression at home, he meant our temporary or present home, as contradistinguished from our future, and the alteration was merely a concession to prevent cavils, and by no means an
8 Note on Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 97. Warton's Ed.
improvement. Thus, according to the moral system which the author has undertaken to develop, the certainty of a future state may even be inferred from the general conviction of it entertained by all mankind, and from the necessity of such a state to the completion of the great design, without which the present state of being would only be an imperfection and a blot.
That the certainty of a future state is not only uniformly admitted and reasoned upon in this Essay as an established and indisputable tenet, but is considered as essential to the completion of that great order of things of which we are only permitted to see a portion here below, appears from many passages of the poem.
"Of man what see we, but his station here,
From which to reason, or to which refer?"
Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 19. evidently implying that there is more to be known than is compatible with our present situation. In the same spirit we are told to
'Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar;
Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 91.
But if death be the termination of our existence, this, and all similar passages would be futile and ridiculous. This great union that combines the present with the future, and will perhaps enable us to know more than our mere mortal faculties are enabled to comprehend, is more decisively referred to towards the close of the poem, as
"that chain that links th' immense design,
Essay on Man, Ep. iv. ver. 333. After perusing these, and various other passages to the same effect, it is surely extraordinary that attempts should have been made by the Commentators of Pope, on the pages of his own works, to insinuate that he did not himself believe in the doctrine of a future state.
It is perhaps with greater plausibility, but with equal injustice, that this poem has been represented as containing sentiments favourable to fatalism and necessity, thereby destroying the idea of the freedom of the human will, and overthrowing the barriers between vice and virtue. This idea seems to have arisen from a too confined and partial view of the manner in which the poet has treated his subject, and from judging of it by detached parts and expressions, instead of comprehending the tenor and result of the whole. Those who have attempted to substantiate this objection have in general adverted only to one part of the Essay, that in which the author undertakes to demonstrate the regularity and harmony of the established order of things, and have overlooked that portion of the work in which he contends for the freedom of human action, and the consequent responsibility of man; the compatibility of which apparently irreconcileable opinions it is the chief object of this work to demonstrate. This objection has however been recently countenanced by a dis
tinguished living author, whose observations cannot fail of producing a great effect on the public opinion. It is remarked by Mr. Dugald Stewart, that various writers in their great zeal to "vindicate the ways of God," have been led to hazard principles more dangerous in their consequences than the prejudices and errors, which it was their aim to correct. Amongst this number," says he, "must be included the author of the Essay on Man; who, from a want of precision in his metaphysical ideas, has unconsciously fallen into various expressions equally inconsistent with each other, and with his own avowed opinion;" as a proof of which, he instances the lines,
"If plagues and earthquakes break not heaven's design,
Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 155. "This," says he, "approaches very nearly to the optimism of Leibnitz, and has certainly nothing in common with that of Plato," according to whom, "every thing is right so far as it is the work of God; the creation of beings endowed with free will, and consequently liable to moral delinquency, and the government of the world by general laws, from which occasional evils must result, furnishing no objection to the perfection of the universe, to which a satisfactory reply may not be found in the partial and narrow views of it to which our faculties are at present confined but he held, at the same time, that although the permission of moral evil does not detract from the goodness of God, it is nevertheless imputable to man as a fault, and renders him justly obnoxious to punishment "."
Surely the scope and tendency of the work of Pope could not have been more precisely and truly defined, than in the passage last cited. The lines here objected to, are so far from being liable to the censure applied to them, that they are in perfect accordance with the doctrines before stated, and are merely used as an illustration of the position, “that from the government of the world by general laws occasional evils must result." Pope by no means asserts, that Borgia and Catiline are not morally culpable. He only contends, that as man is not created perfect, there must somewhere be imperfection; but he no where supposes that this detracts from the goodness of God, or that it is not imputable to man as a fault.
The system of Pope is therefore precisely that described by Mr. Stewart, as having "been in all ages maintained (under a variety of forms) by the wisest and best philosophers, who, while they were anxious to vindicate the perfections of God, saw the importance of stating their doctrine in a manner not inconsistent with man's free will and moral agency."
Nor can we admit with Mr. Stewart, that the lines of Pope,
"The general order since the whole began
Is kept in nature, and is kept in man,"
Essay on Man, Ep. i. ver. 171.
9 Dissertation to Pref. to Suppl. of Encyclop. Britan. Part II. p. 46.