Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. III. Addison to Blake
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
 
Extracts from the Essay on Man: Book IV
By Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
 
(See full text.)

  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,        5
For ills or accidents that chance to all.
See Falkland dies, the virtuous and the just!
See godlike Turenne prostrate on the dust!
See Sidney bleeds amid the martial strife!
Was this their virtue, or contempt of life?        10
Say, was it virtue, more tho’ 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,        15
When nature sicken’d, 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.        20
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 improv’d it all.
We just as wisely might of Heaven complain        25
That righteous Abel was destroy’d 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, th’ Eternal Cause,
Prone for his fav’rites to reverse his laws?        30
  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,        35
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?        40
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;        45
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.        50
The very best will variously incline,
And what rewards your virtue, punish mine.
Whatever is, is right.—This world ’tis true,
Was made for Cæsar—but for Titus too:
And which more blest? who chain’d his country, say,        55
Or he whose virtue sigh’d 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,        60
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;        65
‘No—shall the good want health, the good want power?’
Add health, and power, and ev’ry earthly thing.
‘Why bounded power? why private? why no king?’
Nay, why external for internal giv’n?
Why is not man a god, and earth a heaven?        70
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,        75
The soul’s calm sunshine, and the heart-felt joy,
Is virtue’s prize: A better would you fix?
Then give humility a coach and six,
Justice a conqu’ror’s sword, or truth a gown,
Or public spirit its great cure, a crown.        80
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 sigh’st thou now for apples and for cakes?
Go, like the Indian, in another life        85
Expect thy dog, thy bottle, and thy wife,
As well as dream such trifles are assign’d,
As toys and empires, for a god-like mind.
Rewards, that either would to virtue bring
No joy, or be destructive of the thing:        90
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,        95
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.        100
  Honour and shame from no condition rise;
Act well your part, there all the honour lies.
Fortune in men has some small diff’rence made,
One flaunts in rags, one flutters in brocade;
The cobbler apron’d, and the parson gown’d,        105
The friar hooded, and the monarch crown’d.
‘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,        110
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 may’st be by kings, or whores of kings,
Boast the pure blood of an illustrious race,        115
In quiet flow from Lucrece to Lucrece:
But by your father’s 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,        120
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,        125
Where, but among the heroes and the wise?
Heroes are much the same, the point ’s agreed,
From Macedonia’s madman to the Swede;
The whole strange purpose of their lives to find,
Or make, an enemy of all mankind!        130
Not one looks backward, onward still he goes,
Yet ne’er looks forward further 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,        135
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.        140
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 other’s breath,        145
A thing beyond us, ev’n 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;        150
To all beside as much an empty shade,
An Eugene living, as a Cæsar 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;        155
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 t’ oblivion better were resign’d,
Is hung on high, to poison half mankind.        160
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 exil’d feels,        165
Than Cæsar 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:        170
Condemn’d 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 preeminence! yourself to view        175
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:        180
How inconsistent greater goods with these;
How sometimes life is risk’d, 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,        185
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 shin’d,
The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind:        190
Or ravish’d with the whistling of a name,
See Cromwell damn’d to everlasting fame!
If all, united, thy ambition call,
From ancient story learn to scorn them all.
There, in the rich, the honour’d, fam’d, and great,        195
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 sea-weed as proud Venice rose;        200
In each how guilt and greatness equal ran,
And all that rais’d the hero, sunk the man:
Now Europe’s laurels on their brows behold,
But stain’d with blood, or ill exchang’d for gold:
Then see them broke with toils, or sunk in ease,        205
Or infamous for plunder’d 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,        210
The trophied arches, storied 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,        215
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;        220
Where only merit constant pay receives,
Is blest in what it takes, and what it gives;
The joy unequall’d if its end it gain,
And if it lose, attended with no pain:
Without satiety, though e’er so bless’d,        225
And but more relish’d as the more distress’d:
The broadest mirth unfeeling folly wears,
Less pleasing far than virtue’s very tears:
Good, from each object, from each place acquir’d,
For ever exercis’d, yet never tir’d;        230
Never elated, while one man ’s oppress’d;
Never dejected, while another ’s bless’d:
And where no wants, no wishes can remain,
Since but to wish more virtue, is to gain.
 
 
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