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ESSAY ON MAN.
N. B. The abbreviations commonly made use of in Dictionaries are also used in the notes to this work. The words in italics have some immediate relation to each other, or are the principal subjects of the note.
AWAKE, my St. John! leave all meaner things To low ambition and the pride of kings. Let us (since life can little more supply Than just to look about us and to die)
Explanatory of the Grammatical construction, &c.
LINE 1. The subject of these epistles is Ethics, or Morals. The poet, after proposing his plan, begins by a reference to the narrow sphere of our knowledge, and the only foundation of all true reasoning; and proceeds to consider the habits, the propensities, and powers of man, his object of pursuit, his discoveries and improvements of every kind. They were addressed to Henry St. John, by the title of Lord Bolingbroke, the friend and patron of Pope, at that time. The peculiarity of the name might prevent the line from being understood by persons not acquainted with his history. The scholar is here reminded that he should ever seek to comprehend the full scope of the poet's reasoning, by a due attention to what were probably the thoughts passing in his mind when writing the lines before him.
4. Than and as are sometimes followed by verbs in the inf. m. which are used in a potential sense; thus since life
Expatiate free o'er all this scene of man;
Or garden, tempting with forbidden fruit;
I. Say, first, of God above, or man below, What can we reason, but from what we know? Of man, what see we but his station here, From which to reason, or to which refer? Through worlds unnumber'd though the God be
'Tis ours to trace him only in our own.
can little more supply, than that we may look, &c. Sometimes, also, a verb in the inf. m. stands as the object, on which an action terminates, like a noun in the obj. case; so, to look, may be connected with the substantive phrase, little more, by the conj. than.
10. Open and covert are adj. supplying the place of their nouns (perhaps parts) understood; a usage common in poetry.
18. From what can we reason, &c.
21. Though the God be known through worlds, &c. A preposition always shows relation between the word which it governs and some other — a verb, noun, or an adjective.
He, who through vast immensity can pierce,
And drawn supports, upheld by God, or thee?
Why form'd so weak, so little, and so blind?
23-28. He, who can pierce, see, and observe, may tell, &c. When a nom. case is immediately followed by a relative, you must look for its verb beyond the relative sentence and its connections.
29-32. Has thy pervading soul looked through the bear ings, ties, &c., of this frame?
37. If thou canst guess, then guess the harder reason. Guess in the end of the line is in the imp. mode.
40. Then the weeds, which they shade, are made.
42. Why Jupiter's moons or satellites, are less than the planet itself?
Of systems possible, if 'tis confest, That wisdom infinite must form the best, Where all must fall or not coherent be, And all that rises, rise in due degree; Then, in the scale of reasoning life, 'tis plain, There must be, somewhere, such a rank as man ; And all the question (wrangle e'er so long) Is only this, if God has placed him wrong? Respecting man, whatever wrong we call May, must be right, as relative to all. In human works, though labor'd on with pain, A thousand movements scarce one purpose gain; In God's, one single can its end produce, Yet serves to second too some other use. So man, who here seems principal alone, Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown, Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal; 'Tis but a part we see, and not a whole.
When the proud steed shall know why man restrains
His fiery course, or drives him o'er the plains;
43. If 'tis confest, that infinite Wisdom must form the best of possible systems.
45. Where all must fall, or not be coherent.
49. Wrangle may be, by hypothesis, put in the imp. m. or in the subj. m. -if we or you wrangle. 50. The phrase, if God has placed him wrong, is in apposition with question.
51. Respecting, by some, is called a prep. and it may be a part. That, respecting man, which we call wrong 55. In God's works one single purposs, can, &c.
When the dull ox, why now he breaks the clod,
Then say not, man's imperfect, Heaven in fault;
What matter, soon or late, or here, or there?
As who began a thousand years ago.
III. Heaven from all creatures hides the book
All but the page prescribed, their present state; From brutes what men, from men what spirits
Or who could suffer being here below?
63. Oxen were offered in sacrifice by most of the ancients, as well as the Jews. With the Egyptians, the species ox, was sacred, and an object of worship. When their god, the bull Apis, died, in the reign of Ptolemy Lagas, the expenses of his funeral pomp exceeded 50,000 French crowns.
75. Blest, a part. used for its s. or, the man, who is (or who began to be) blest to-day, &c.
76. Years Nouns of time and distance, and manner, with the noun, home, are put in the obj. case, without any word expressed to govern them -a prep. being understood. 80. Being is a noun - Who could suffer (i. e. bear the burden of) existence here below.