Essay on Man by Alexander Pope

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,
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An Essay on Man.

Moral essays and satires

by Alexander Pope.


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.




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.



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.



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.


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.



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.


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.



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.


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.



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!



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.)





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: