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Honour and shame from no condition rise; Act well your part, there all the honour lies." "Fortune her gifts may variously dispose, And these be happy call’d, unhappy those; But heav’n’s just balance equal will appear, While those are plac’d in hope, and these in fear: Not present good or ill, the joy or curse, But future views of better, or of worse." "Nor ends the pleasure with the fierce embrace; They love themselves, a third time, in their race.
Their purpose was, in Pope's words, to "vindicate the ways of God to Man," a clear play on Milton's purpose in Paradise Lost to "justify the ways of God to Man," though I think that Pope rather more explained the ways of Man to Man. As those of you who follow my reviews surely have deduced, I am convinced that one cannot fully understand a work of art (or any other fabrication of Man) without grasping its historical and intellectual context.
Not that I believe that the work can be reduced to its context, or is an epiphenomenon of that context (or of the Weltgeist and the like), any more than I think that it can be reduced to the author's life experience or, even less, his psychological constitution.
Plac'd 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 reas'ning but to err; Alike in ignorance, his reason such, Whether he thinks too little, or too much: Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus'd; Still by himself abus'd, or disabus'd; 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! Let me end, though, on a note of optimism with Pope's version of a wisdom which truly seems to be (nearly) universal and which we can all hope is therefore true: 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.(*) He translated only half of a subsequent version of the Odyssey that appeared under his name.(**) This complex of ideas was proselytized by Voltaire, among many others besides Pope.
On a side note, the business with "understood in exactly the same way by everyone" was theory; in practice it could become "understood in exactly the same way by me and my kind." Consider, for example, this passage from Voltaire's Poème sur la Loi naturelle: Est-ce le peuple altier conquérant de Byzance, Le tranquille Chinois, le Tartare indompté, Qui connaît son essence, et suit sa volonté?
and confess, one comfort still must rise, ‘Tis this, - Though man’s a fool, yet God is wise.” “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.” “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.” “For 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.” Overall, I agree with Samuel Johnson’s view on Pope’s An Essay on Man: “The Essay on Man was a work of great labour and long consideration, but certainly not the happiest of Pope's performances.There are further elements of the then contemporary intellectual atmosphere, such as the Great Chain of Being, which play important roles in this striking text, but my review is already long and I want Pope to come to word again in this passage on the peculiar position of Mankind in the order of things.Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of Mankind is Man.Différents dans leurs moeurs ainsi qu'en leur hommage, Ils lui font tenir tous un différent langage: Tous se sont donc trompés. It is the best philosophy in poetic version and Every word has immense meaning so deeply around various topics but merely comprehend basics of man and their surroundings. It is the best philosophy in poetic version and Every word has immense meaning so deeply around various topics but merely comprehend basics of man and their surroundings.Mais détournons les yeux De cet impur amas d'imposteurs odieux The "son" and "sa" refer to the Supreme Being; the "donc" is very telling. Intensely and supremely knitted in blossoming beauty of poetry. Intensely and supremely knitted in blossoming beauty of poetry.The subject is perhaps not very proper for poetry, and the poet was not sufficiently master of his subject; metaphysical morality was to him a new study, he was proud of his acquisitions, and, supposing himself master of great secrets, was in haste to teach what he had not learned.” (The Life of Pope, 17Overall, I agree with Samuel Johnson’s view on Pope’s An Essay on Man: “The Essay on Man was a work of great labour and long consideration, but certainly not the happiest of Pope's performances.The subject is perhaps not very proper for poetry, and the poet was not sufficiently master of his subject; metaphysical morality was to him a new study, he was proud of his acquisitions, and, supposing himself master of great secrets, was in haste to teach what he had not learned.” (The Life of Pope, 1781).“Whatever is, is right” is Pope’s theme as he aims to “vindicate the ways of God to Man.” According to Pope, we are to accept our place in life.The various components of An Essay On Man appeared scattered through the years 1732-1734.Together, they constituted only the first part of a much larger project, one which Pope's lifelong poor health did not permit to be realized.Two foundational aspects of this complex are the idea that human nature is independent of time and place and that the only matters of real importance are those that are understood (or at least are understandable) in exactly the same way by everyone.This latter point bears some emphasis, since it directly contradicts the prevailing attitude here at the beginning of the 21st century: anything that requires recondite theory, anything that is not universally accessible to all human beings is either error or essentially irrelevant to anything of significance.