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EPIST L E IV.
Our Poet having, in the three former Epistles, treated of Man in all the three respects in which he can be considered; namely, first, Of his Nature and State with respect to the Universe; secondly, With respect to Himself; thirdly, With respect to Society: seems to have finished his subject in the three foregoing Epistles. This fourth Epistle, therefore, on Happiness, may be thought to be adscititious, and out of its proper place, and ought to have made part of the second Epistle, where Man is considered with respect to Himself. I formerly mentioned this to Dr. Akenside and Mr. Harris, who were of my opinion.
ARGUMENT OF EPISTLE IV.
Of the Nature and State of Man with respect to
I. FALSE Notions of Happiness, Philosophical and Popular, an
swered from Ver. 19 to 27. II. It is the end of all Men, and attainable by all, Ver. 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, Ver. 37. As it is necessary for Order, and the
and welfare of Society, that external goods should be unequal, Happiness is not made to consist in these, Ver. 51. But, notwithstanding that inequality, the balance of Happiness among Mankind is kept even by Providence, by the two Passions of Hope and Fear, Ver. 70. 111. What the Happiness of Individuals is, as far as is consistent with the constitution of this world; and that the good Man har here the advantage, Ver. 77. The error of imputing to Virtue what are only the calamities of Nature, or of Fortune, Ver. 94. IV. The folly of expecting that God should alter his general Laws in favour of particulars, Ver. 121. V. That we are not judges who are good: but that whoever they are, they must be the happiest, Ver. 133, &c. VI. That external goods are not the proper rewards, but often inconsistent with, or destructive of, Virtue, Ver. 165. That even these can make no Man happy without Virtue : Instanced in Riches, Ver. 183. Honours, Ver. 191. Nobility, Ver. 203. Greatness, Ver. 215. Fame, Ver. 235. Superior Talents, Ver. 257, &c. With pictures of human Infelicity in Men possessed of them all, Ver. 267, &c. VII. That Virtue only constitutes a Happiness, whose object is universal, and whose prospect eternal, Ver. 307, &c. 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, Ver. 326, &c.
Oh HAPPINESS! our being's end and aim ! Good, Pleasure, Ease, Content! whate'er thy name : That something still which prompts th’ eternal sigh, For which we bear to live, or dare to die, Which still so near us, yet beyond us lies,
5 O’erlook'd, seen double, by the fool, and wise.
Ver. 1. Oh Happiness! &c.] In the MS. thus :
Oh Happiness! to which we all aspire,
Ver. 1. Oh Happiness !] He begins his address to Happiness after the manner of the ancient hymns, by enumerating the titles and various places of abode of this goddess. He has undoubtedly personified her at the beginning, but he seems to have dropped that idea in the seventh line, where the deity is suddenly transformed into a plant; from thence this metaphor of a vegetable is carried on distinctly through the eleven succeeding lines, till he suddenly returns to consider Happiness again as a person, in the eighteenth line,
“ And fled from Monarchs, St. John! dwells with thee.” For to fly and to dwell, cannot justly be predicated of the same subject, that immediately before was described as twining with laurels, and being reaped in harvests.
Of the numberless treatises that have been written on Happiness, one of the most sensible is that of Fontenelle, in the third volume of his works. Our Author's leading principle is, that Happiness is attainable by all men;
“For mourn our various portions as we please,
Plant of celestial seed ! if dropt below,
15 'Tis no where to be found, or every where : "Tis never to be bought, but always free, And fled from Monarchs, St. John ! dwells with
So Horace also in Epist. xviii. b. 1.
Æquum mî animum ipse parabo." “But Horace,” says a penetrating observer on human life," was grossly mistaken: the thing for which he thought he stood in no need of Jupiter's assistance, was what he could least expect from his own ability. It is much more easy to get even riches and honours by one's industry, than a quiet and contented mind. If it be said that riches and honours depend on a thousand things which we cannot dispose of at pleasure, and that therefore it is necessary to pray to God that he would turn them to our advantage; I answer that the silence of the passions, and the tranquillity and ease of the mind, depend on a thousand things that are not under our jurisdiction. The stomach, the spleen, the lymphatic vessels, the fibres of the brain, and a hundred other organs, whose seat and figure are yet unknown to the anatomists, produce in us many uneasinesses, jealousies, and vexations. Can we alter these organs? Are they in our own power?”
Seneca, by writing De Beata Vita, made neither his readers nor himself happy.
Ver. 18. St. John! dwells with thee.] Among the many passages in Bolingbroke's Posthumous Works that bear a close resemblance to the tenets of this Essay, are the following: Vol. iv.