Epistle 2.5 – Essay on Man
by ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)
How odious Vice in itself, and how we deceive ourselves into it.
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 the 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;
E’en those who dwell beneath its very zone,
Or never feel the rage or never own;
What happier natures shrink at with affright,
The hard inhabitant contends is right.
Reading by Martin Geeson for Librivox.org. Download entire audiobook here.
In Juvenal’s lines on Hannibal or Alexander we are always conscious of the absence of true passion. The indignation is theatrical. It is not so in Pope. There may be occasional passages of mere vague tirade for the sake of sustaining the character of moral censor. But in his satirical touches he is in earnest, and in his most severe couplets most so. Even what seem random generalities are often expressions of his real feeling. This reality cannot be felt by readers who are only slightly acquainted with the poet’s history, and who are not aware how thoroughly Pope was penetrated by party passion. He truly believes that the Whigs are ruining the country, that the Court is a nest of sycophants, that the majority in the House of Peers is corrupt and the City is made up of ‘thieves, super cargos, sharpers, and directors.’ The same closely drawn ties which obscured his judgment and confined his sympathies to a clique save him from one of the defects to which satire is liable, viz. an universal indignation and undirected invective. ~ from the introduction to Pope: Satires and Epistles by Alexander Pope