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KNOW then thyself, presume pot 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 ; 10 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;
15 Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all ; Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurlid; The glory, jest, and riddle of the world ! Go, wondrous creature ! mount where science guides, Go measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides ; 20 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, 25 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 ruleThen drop into thyself, and be a fool !
30 Superior beings, when of late they saw A mortal man unfold all nature's law, Admir'd such wisdom in an earibly shape, And show'd a Newton as we show an ape :
Could he, whose rules the rapid comet bind, 35
Trace science then, with modesty thy guide ;
50 Then see how little the remaining sum, Which serv'd the past, and must the time 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,
55 Each works its end 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. 60 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, 65 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. 70 Self-love, still stronger, as its object's nigh ; Reason's at distance, and in prospect lie :
That sees immediate good by present sense ;
Let subtle schoolmen teach these friends to fight,
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,
In lazy apathy let stoics boast
i But strength of mind is exercise, not rest : The rising tempest puts in act the soul,
105 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. 110
Passions, like elements, tho’ born to fight,
Pleasures are ever in our hands and eyes,
employ of body and of mind. All spread their charms, but charm not all alike ; On diff'rent senses diff'rent objects strike ; Hence diff'rent passions more or less in flame, As strong or weak the organs of the frame ; 130 And hence one master-passion in the breast, Like Aaron's serpent, swallows up the rest.
As man, perhaps, the moment of his breath, Receives the lurking principle of death ; The young disease, that must subdue at length, 135 Grows with his growth, and strengthens with his
strength : So, cast and mingled with his very
frame, The mind's disease, its ruling passion came ; Each vital humour, which should feed the whole, Soon flows to this, in body and in soul. 140 Whatever warms the heart, or fills the head, As the mind opens, and its functions spread, Imagination plies her dang'rons art, And pours it all upon the peccant part. Nature its mother, habit is its purse ;
145 Wit, spirit, faculties, but make it worse ;
Reason itself but gives it edge and pow'r,
Yes, Nature's road must ever be preferr'd ;
175 Grafts on this passion our best principle : 'Tis thus the mercury of man is fix'd, Strong grows the virtue with his nature mix'd ; The dross cements what else were too refin’d, And in one int'rest body acts with mind.
180 As fruits, ungrateful to the planter's care, On savage stocks inserted, learn to bear ; The surest virtues thus from passions shoot, Wild nature's vigour working at the root.