Quotes from Epistle 2: An Essay on Man

Epistle II, Verse I

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is Man.

With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,

Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little or too much;

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;

Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule—
Then drop into thyself, and be a fool!

But when his own great work is but begun,
What Reason weaves, by Passion is undone.

Epistle II, Verse II

Two principles in human nature reign,
Self-love to urge and reason to restrain;

Self-love, the spring of motion, acts the soul;
Reason’s comparing balance rules the whole.

Fix’d like a plant on his peculiar spot,
To draw nutrition, propagate, and rot;

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;

Wits, just like fools, at war about a name,
Have full as oft no meaning, or the same.

Pleasure, or wrong or rightly understood,
Our greatest evil or our greatest good.

Epistle II, Verse III

In lazy apathy let stoics boast
Their virtue fix’d; ’tis fix’d as in a frost;

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;

Love, hope, and joy, fair pleasure’s smiling train,
Hate, fear, and grief, the family of pain,
These mix’d with art, and to due bounds confined,
Make and maintain the balance of the mind;

All spread their charms, but charm not alike;
On different senses different objects strike;

Nature its mother, habit is its nurse;
Wit, spirit, faculties, but make it worse;

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!

Proud of an easy conquest all along,
She but removes weak passions for the strong:

Let power or knowledge, gold or glory, please,
Or (oft more strong than all) the love of ease;

Lust, through some certain strainers well refined,
Is gentle love, and charms all womankind;

Envy, to which the ignoble mind’s a slave,
Is emulation in the learn’d or brave;

Thus Nature gives us (let it check our pride)
The Virtue nearest to our Vice allied:

The same ambition can destroy or save,
And makes a patriot as it makes a knave.

Epistle II, Verse IV

This light and darkness in our chaos join’d,
What shall divide? The God within the mind.

Extremes in Nature equal ends produce;
In Man they join to some mysterious use;

And oft so mix, the difference is too nice
Where ends the virtue or begins the vice.

If white and black blend, soften, and unite
A thousand ways, is there no black or white?

Epistle II, Verse V

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.

What happier natures shrink at with affright,
The hard inhabitant contends is right.

Epistle II, Verse VI

Each individual seeks a several goal;
But Heaven’s great view is one, and that the whole.

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.

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.

See some strange comfort every state attend,
And Pride bestow’d on all, a common friend:

Behold the child, by Nature’s kindly law,
Pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw:

One prospect lost, another still we gain,
And not a vanity is given in vain:

See! and confess one comfort still must rise;
‘Tis this, Though Man’s a fool, yet God is wise.

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