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The coxcomb bird, so talkative and grave, 5
COMMENTARY. · EpistlEI ] This Epistle is divided into three principal parts or members: The first (from y I to 99) treats of the difficulties in coming at the Knowledge and true Characters of Men. - The second (from * 98 to 173) of the wrong means which
Notes. Wit; concluding with a Satyr against the Misapplication of them, illustrated by Pictures, Characters, and Examples.
The Third Book regarded Civil Regimen, or the Science of Politics, in which the several forms of a Republic were to be examined and explained ; together with the several Modes of Religious Worship, as far forth as they affect Society; between which the Author always supposed there was the most interesting relation and closest connection; so that this part would have treated of Civil and Religious Society in their full extent.
The Fourth and last Book concerned private Ethics or practical Morality, considered in all the Circumstances, Orders, Profeffions, and Stations of human Life.
The Scheme of all this had been maturely digested, and communicated to L. Bolinbroke, Dr. Swift, and one or two more, and was intended for the only work of his riper Years : but was, partly through ill health,partly through discouragements from the depravity of the times, and partly on prudential and other confiderations, interrupted, postponed, and, lastly, in a manner laid afide.
But as this was the Author's favourite Work, which more exactly reflected the Image of his strong capacious Mind, and as we can have but a very imperfect idea of it from the difjeila membra Poetæ that now remain, it may not be amiss to be a little more particular concerning each of these projected books.
The FIRST, as it treats of Man in the abstract, and conAders himn in general under every of his relations, becomes the
And yet the fate of all extremes is such, Men may
be read, as well as Books, too much, 10 To observations which ourselves we make, We grow more partial for th Observer's fake ;
COMMENTARY. both Philosophers and Men of the World have employed in surmounting those difficulties. And the third (from x 174 to the end) treats of the right means, with directions for the application of them.
VER. 1. Yes, you despise the man &c.] The Epistle is introduced (from $ i to 15) by observing, that the Knowledge of Men is neither to be gained by Books nor Experience alone, but by the joint use of both ; for that the Maxims of the Philosopher and the Conclusions of the Man of the World can, separately, but supply a vague and superficial knowledge : And often not so much ; as those Maxims are founded in the abstract nations of the writer; and these conclusions are drawn from the uncertain
Notes. foundation, and furnishes out the subjects, of the three following; so that
The second Book was to take up again the First and Second Epistles of the Firft Book, and treats of man in his intellectual Capacity at large, as has been explained above. Of this, only a small part of the conclusion (which, as we said, was to have contained a Satire against the misapplication of Wit and Learning) may be found in the Fourth book of the Dunciad, and up and down, occasionally, in the other thrce.
The THIRD Book, in like manner, was to reassume the subject of the Third Epistle of the First, which treats of Man in his Social, Political, and Religious Capacity. But this part the Poet afterwards conceived might be best executed in an Epic Poem; as the Action would make it more animated, and the Fable less invidious ; in which all the great Principles of true and false Governments and Religions should be chiefly delivered in feigned Examples.
The FOURTH and last Book was to pursue the subject of the Fourth Epistle of the First, and treats of Ethics, or practical
To written Wisdom, as another's, less :
COMMENTARY. conjectures of the observer : But when the writer joins his fpecue lation to the experience of the observer, his notions are rectified into principles : and when the observer regulates his experience on the notions of the writer, his conjectures, advance into science. Such is the reasoning of this introduction; which, besides its propriety to the general subject of the Epiftle, has a peculiar relation to each of its parts or members: For the causes of the difficulty in coming at the knowledge and characters of men, explained in the first, will shew the importance of what is here delivered, of the joint affistance of speculation and practice to surmount it; and the wrong means, which both philofophers and men of the world have employed in overcoming those difficulties discoursed of in the second, have their source here deduced, which is seen to be a separate adherence of each to his own method of studying men, and a mutual contempt of the others. Lastly, the right means delivered in the third, will be of little use in the application, without the direction here delivered: For tho' the observation of Men and Manners discovered a ruling passion, yet, without a philosophic knowledge of human nature, we may easily mistake a secondary and subsidiary passion for the principal, and so be never the nearer in the Knowledge of Men. But the elegant and easy Form of the introduction equals. the Propriety of its matter; for the epistle being addressed to a noble person, distinguished for his knowledge of the World, it opens, as it were, in the midst of a familiar conversation, which lets us at once into his character; where the poet, by politely affecting only to ridicule the useless Knowledge of Men confined to Books, and only to extol that acquired by the World, artfully insinuates how equally defective the latter may be, when conducted on the same narrow principle: Which is too often the cafe, as men of the world are more than ordinarily prejudiced in favour of their own observations for the sake of the
Notes. Morality; and would have consisted of many members ; of which the four following Epistles were detached Portions: the two first, on the Charatters of Men and Women, being the introductory part of this concluding Book.
; and wouwing Epift. Men and Wom
There's some Peculiar in each leaf and grain, 15
That each from other differs, first confess;
COMMENTARY. observer, and, for the same reason, less indulgent to the discoveries of others.
I. VER. 15. There's some Peculiar &c.] The poet enters on the First division of his subject, the difficulties of coming at the Knowledge and true Characters of Men. The first cause of this difficulty, which he prosecutes (from * 14 to 19) is the great diversity of Charaflers, of which, to abate our wonder, and not discourage our inquiry, he only desires we would grant him
—but as many sorts of Mind as Moss. Hereby artfully insinuating, that if Nature has varied the most worthless vegetable into above three hundred species, we need not wonder at the like diversity in the human mind : And if a variety in that vegetable has been thought of importance enough to employ the leisure of a serious enquirer, much more will the fame quality in this master-piece of Nature deserve our study and attention.
Ver. 19. That each from other differs, &c.] A second cause of this difficulty (from 18 to 21) is Man's inconftancy, whereby not only one man differs from another, but each man from himself.
NOTES Ver. 9. And yet - Men may be read, as well as Books, toa much, &c.] The poet has here covertly defcrib’d a famous system of a man of the world, the celebrated Maxims of M. de la Rochefoucault, which are one continued satire on human Nature, and hold much of the ill language of the Parrot: Our author's system of human nature will explain the reason of the censure.
Add Nature's, Custom's, Reason's, Paffion'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 tho' you can, 25 It may be Reason, but it is not Man :
RY. Ver. 21. Add Nature's & c.) A third cause (from + 20 to 23) is that obscurity thrown over the Characters of men, through the strife and contest between nature and custom, between reason and appetite, between truth and opinion. And as most men, either thro' education, temperature, or profesion, have their Characters warp'd by custom, appetite, and opinion, the obscurity arising from thence is almost universal.
VER. 23. Our depths who fathoms, &*c.] A fourth cause (from y 20 to 25) is deep disimulation, and restless caprice, whereby the shallows of the mind are as difficult to be found, as the depths of it to be fathom’d.
Ver. 25. On human actions &c.] A fifth cause (from y 24 to 31) is the sudden change of his Principle of action, either on the point of its being laid open and detected, or when it is reasoned upon, and attempted to be explored,
NOTES VER. 22. And all Opinion's colours cast on life.] The poet refers here only to the effects : In the Ejay on Man he gives both the efficient and the final cause : The First in the third Ep. 231.
E’er Wit oblique had broke that steddy light. For oblique Wit is Opinion. The other, in the second Ep. 283.
Mean while Opinion gilds with varying rays
These painted clouds that beautify our days, &c. VER.26. It may be Reason, but it is not Man:) i.e. The Philosopher may invent a rational hypothesis that fall account for the appearances he would investigate; and yet that hypothesis be all thic while very wide of truth and the nature of things.