Excerpt from An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope:
KNOW then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d;
Still by himself abus’d or disabus’d;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
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 follow’rs 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–
Superior beings, when of late they saw
A mortal man unfold all nature’s law,
Admir’d such wisdom in an earthly shape,
And shew’d a Newton as we shew 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
Uncheck’d 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 shew 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 serv’d the past, and must the times to come!
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:
Fix’d like a plant on his peculiar spot,
To draw nutrition, propagate, and rot:
Or, meteor–like, flame lawless thro’ the void,
Destroying others, by himself destroy’d.
Most strength the moving principle requires;
Active its task, it prompts, impels, inspires.
Sedate and quiet the comparing lies,
Form’d but to check, delib’rate, 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 flow’r:
Pleasure, or wrong or rightly understood,
Our greatest evil, or our greatest good.
Modes of self–love the passions we may call:
’ Tis real good, or seeming, moves them all:
But since not ev’ry good we can divide,
And reason bids us for our own provide:
Passions, tho’ 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 fix’d; ’tis fix’d 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, tho’ born to fight,
Yet, mix’d and soften’d, 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 mixt with art, and to due bounds confin’d,
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.