« PreviousContinue »
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
; Still by himself abus’d, or disabus'd
; Created half to rise, and half to fall;
For more perfection than this state can bear
NOTES. VER. 11. Alike in ignorance, &c.] i. e. The proper sphere of his Reason is so narrow, and the exercise of it so nice, that the too immoderate use of it is attended with the same ignorance that proceeds from the not using it at all. Yet, tho' in both these cases, he is abused by himself, he has it still in his own power to disabuse himself, in making his passions subservient to the means, and regulating his Reason by the end of Life.
Ver. 12. Whether he thinks too little, or too much :) This is so true, that ignorance arises as well from pushing our enquiries too far, as from not carrying them far enough, that we may observe, when Speculations, even in Science, are carried beyond a certain point; that point, where use is reasonably supposed to end, and mere curiosity to begin ; they conclude in the most extravagant and senseless inferences ; such as the unreality of matter ; the reality of space; the servility of the Will, &c. The reason of this sudden fall out of full light into utter darkness appears not to result from the natural condition of things, but to be the arbitrary decree of infinite wisdom and goodness, which imposed a barrier to the extravagances
of its giddy lawless creature, always inclined to pursue truths of less importance too far, to the neglect of those more necesiary for his improvement in his station here.
Go, wondrous creature ! mount where Science
guides, Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides ;
To be like Man, whose faculties and frame
NOTES. Ver. 17. Sole judge of Truth, in endless Error hurld :) Some have imagined that the author, by, in endless error hurld, meant, cast into endless error, or into the regions of endless error, and therefore have taken notice of it as an incongruity of speech, But they neither understood the poet's language, nor his sense : to hurl and cast are not synonymous; but related only as the genus and species ; for to hurl signifies, not simply to cast, but to cajt backward and forward, and is taken from the rural game called hurling. So that, into endlefs error hurld, as these critics would have it, would have been a barbarism. His words therefore signify, tossed about in endless error; and this he intended they should signify, as appears from the antithesis, sole judge of truth. So that the sense of the whole is,—“. Tho', as “ Cole judge of truth, he is now fixed and stable ; yet, as in« volved in endless error, he is now again hurld, or tossed up “ and down in it.” This fhews us how cautious we ought t@ be in censuring the expressions of a writer, one of whose characteristic qualities was correctness of expression and propriety of sentiment.
Ver. 20. Go, measure carth, &c.] Alluding to the noble
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Then drop into thyself, &c.
Show by what rules the wand'ring planets stray,
NOTE s. and useful project of the modern Mathematicians, to measure a degree at the equator and the polar circle, in order to determine the true figure of the earth; of great importance to astronomy and navigation.
VER. 22. Correct old Time, 1 This alludes to Sir Isaac Newton's Grecian Chronology, which he reformed on those two sublime conceptions, the differenee between the reigns of kings, and the generations of men ; and the position of the colures of the equinoxes and solstices at the time of the Argonautic expedition.
Ver. 29, 30. Go, teach Eternal Wisdom, &c.] These two lines are a conclusion from all that had been said bom x 18, to this effect : Go now, vain Man, elated
Superior beings, when of late they faw
COMMENTARY. VER. 31. Superior beings, &c.] To give this second argument its full force, he illustrates it (from x 30 to 43) by the noblest example that ever was in science, the incomparable NEWTON ; who, although he penetrated so far beyond others into the works of God, yet could go no further in the knowledge of his own nature than the generality of his fellows. Of which the poet assigns this very just and adequate reason : In all other sciences the Understanding is unchecked and uncontrouled by any opposite principle ; but in the science of Man, the Passions overturn as fast as Reason can build up.
herality of them in the others
throuled by ances the unthis very
Notes. with thy acquirements in real science, and imaginary intimacy with God; go, and run into all the extravagancies I have exploded in the first epistle, where thou pretendest to teach Providence how to govern ; then drop into the obscurities of thy own nature, and thereby manifest thy ignorance and folly..
Ver. 31. Superior beings, &c.] In these lines he speaks to this effect: But to make you fully sensible of the difficulty of this study, I shall instance in the great Newton himself; whom, when superior beings, not long lince, saw capable of unfolding the whole law of Nature, they were in doubt whether the owner of such prodigious fagacity should not be reckoned of their own order ; just as men, when they see the surprizing marks of Reason in an Ape, are almost tempted to rank him with their own kind. And yet this wondrous Man could go no further in the knowledge of himself than the generality of his species. In which we see it was not Mr. Pope's intention to bring any of the Ape's qualities, but its sagacity, into the comparison. But why the Ape's, it may be said, rather than the sagacity of some more decent animal, particularly the half-reasoning elephant, as the poet calls it; which, as
Could he, whose rules the rapid Comet bind, Describe or fix one movement of his Mind?
36 Who saw its fires here rise, and there descend, Explain his own beginning, or his end ?
Could he, who taught each Planet where to roll,
NOTES. well on account of this its superiority, as for its having no ridiculous side, like the Ape, on which it could be viewed, seems better to have deserved this honour ? I reply, Because, as none but a shape resembling human, accompanied with great sagacity, could occasion the doubt of that animal's relation to Man, the Ape only having that resemblance, no other animal was fitted for the comparison. And on this ground of relation the whole beauty of the thought depends ; Newton and those fuperior spirits being equally framed for immortality, though of different orders. And here let me take notice of a new species of the Sublime, of which our poet may be justly said to be the maker ; so new, that we have yet no name for it, though of a nature distinct from every other poetical excellence. The two great perfections of works of genius are Wit and Sublimity. Many writers have been witty, several have been sublime, and some few have even poffeffed both these qualities separately ; but none that I know of, besides our Poet, hath had the art to incorporate them ; of which he hath given many examples, both in this Eslay and his other poems, one of the noblest being the passage in question. This seems to be the last effort of the imagination, to poetical perfection : and in this compounded excellence the Wit receives a dignity from the Sublime, and the Sublime a Splendor from the Wit; which, in their state of separate existence, they both wanted.
Ver. 37. IVbo saw its fires here rile, &c.] Sir Isaac New