An Essay on Man
by Alexander Pope
Of the Nature and State of Man, With Respect to Happiness
False notions of Happiness, philosophical and popular, answered.
It is the end of all men, and attainable by all. God intends Happiness
to be equal; and, to be so, it must be social, since all particular
Happiness depends on general, and since he governs by general, not
particular laws. As it is necessary for order, and the peace and
welfare of Society, that external goods should be unequal, Happiness
is not made to consist in these. But notwithstanding that inequality,
the balance of Happiness among mankind is kept even by Providence,
by the two passions of Hope and Fear.
What the Happiness of
individuals is, as far as is consistent with the constitution of this
world; and that the good man has here the advantage. The error of
imputing to virtue what are only the calamities of Nature, or of
The folly of expecting that God should alter his general
laws in favour of particulars.
That we are not judges who are good;
but that whoever they are, they must be happiest.
goods are not the proper rewards, but often inconsistent with,
or destructive of Virtue. That even these can make no man happy without
Virtue:--instanced in Riches; Honours; Nobility; Greatness; Fame;
Superior Talents, with pictures of human infelicity in men possessed of
That Virtue only constitutes a Happiness, whose object
is universal, and whose prospect eternal. That the perfection of Virtue
and Happiness consists in a conformity to the Order of Providence here,
and a resignation to it here and hereafter.
- Oh Happiness! our being's end and aim!
- Good, Pleasure, Ease, Content! whate'er thy name,
- That something still which prompts th'eternal sigh,
- For whch we bear to live, or dare to die;
- Which still so near us, yet beyond us lies,
- O'erlook'd, seen double, by the fool and wise:
- Plant of celestial seed! if dropt below,
- Say in what mortal soil thou deign'st to grow?
- Fair opening to some court's propitious shine,
- Or deep with diamonds in the flaming mine?
- Twin'd with the wreaths Parnassian laurels yield,
- Or reap'd in iron harvests of the field?
- Where grows?--where grows it not? vain our toil,
- We ought to blame the culture, not the soil:
- Fix'd to no spot is Happiness sincere;
- 'Tis nowhere to be found, or ev'rywhere:
- 'Tis never to be bought, but always free,
- And fled from monarchs, St. John!, dwells with thee.
- Ask of the Learn'd the way? the Learn'd are blind,
- This bids to serve, and that to shun mankind:
- Some place the bliss in Action, some in Ease,
- Those call it Pleasure, and Contentment these;
- Some sunk to beasts, find pleasure end in Pain;
- Some swell'd to Gods, confess ev'n Virtue vain;
- Or indolent, to each extreme they fall,
- To trust in everything, or doubt of all.
- Who thus define it, say they more or less
- Than this, that happiness is happiness?
- Take Nature's path and mad Opinion's leave;
- All states can reach it, and all heads conceive;
- Obvious her goods, in no extreme they dwell;
- There needs but thinking right and meaning well:
- And, mourn our various portions as we please,
- Equal is common sense and common ease.
- Remember, Man, `the Universal Cause
- Acts not by partial but by gen'ral laws,'
- And makes what Happiness we justly call
- Subsist not in the good of one, but all.
- There's not a blessing individuals find,
- But some way leans and hearkens to the kind;
- No bandit fierce, no tyrant mad with pride,
- No cavern'd hermit, rests self-satisfied;
- Who most to shun or hate mankind pretend,
- Seek an admirer, or would fix a friend.
- Abstract what others feel, what others think,
- All pleasures sicken, and all glories sink:
- Each has his share; and who would more obtain,
- Shall find the pleasure pays not half the pain.
- Order is Heav'n's first law; and, this confest,
- Some are and must be greater than the rest,
- More rich, more wise: but who infers from hence
- That such are happier, shocks all common sense.
- Heav'n to mankind impartial we confess,
- If all are equal in their happiness:
- But mutual wants this happiness increase;
- All Nature's diff'rence keeps all Nature's peace.
- Condition, circumstance, is not the thing;
- Bliss is the same in subject or in king,
- In who obtain defence, or who defend,
- In him who is, or him who finds a friend:
- Heav'n breathes thro' every member of the whole
- One common blessing, as one common soul.
- But Fortune's gifts, if each alike possest,
- And each were equal, must not all contest?
- If then to all men happiness was meant,
- God in externals could not place content.
- Fortune her gifts may variously dispose,
- And these be happy call'd, unhappy those;
- But Heav'n's just balance equal will appear,
- While those are placed in hope and these in fear:
- Not present good or ill the joy or curse,
- But future views of better or of worse.
- O sons of earth! attempt ye still to rise
- By mountains piled on mountains to the skies?
- Heav'n still with laughter the vain toil surveys,
- And buries madmen in the heaps they raise.
- Know all the good that individuals find,
- Or God and Nature meant to mere mankind,
- Reason's whole pleasure, all the joys of sense,
- Lie in three words--Health, Peace, and Competence.
- But health consists with temperance alone,
- And peace, O Virtue! peace is all thy own.
- The good or bad the gifts of fortune gain;
- But these less taste them as they worse obtain.
- Say, in pursuit of profit or delight,
- Who risk the most, that take wrong means or right?
- Of vice or virtue, whether blest or curst,
- Which meets contempt, or which compassion first?
- Count all th'advantage prosp'rous vice attains,
- 'Tis but what virtue flies from and disdains:
- And grant the bad what happiness they would,
- One they must want, which is, to pass for good.
- O 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,
- 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?
- Say, was it virtue, more tho' Heav'n 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
- When Nature sicken'd, and each gale was death?
- Or why so long (in life if long can be)
- Lent Heav'n a parent to the poor and me?
- What makes all physical or moral ill?
- There deviates Nature, and here wanders Will.
- 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 Heav'n complain
- 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?
- Shall burning Ætna, if a sage requires,
- Forget to thunder, and recall her fires?
- On air or sea new motions be imprest,
- O blameless Bethel! to relieve thy breast?
- When the loose mountain trembles from on high,
- 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?
- 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 Heav'n's own spirit fell;
- Another deems him instrument of Hell:
- If Calvin feel Heav'n'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.
- 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 bless'd? who chain'd his country, say,
- 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,
- 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.
- `No: shall the good want health, the good want power?'
- Add health and power, and every 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 Heav'n?'
- 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,
- The soul's calm sunshine and the heartfelt joy,
- Is Virtue's prize. A better would you fix?
- Then give humility a coach and six,
- Justice a comqueror's sword, or truth a gown,
- Or public spirit its great cure, a crown.
- Weak, foolish man! will Heav'n 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
- Expect thy dog, thy bottle, and thy wife;
- As well as dream such trifles are assign'd,
- As toys and empires, for a godlike mind:
- Rewards, that either would to Virtue bring
- No joy, or be destructive of the thing:
- 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,
- Esteem and Love were never to be sold.
- O fool! to think God hates the worthy mind,
- The lover and the love of humankind,
- Whose life is healthful, and whose conscience clear,
- Because he wants a thousand pounds a year.
- 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;
- 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,
- 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 mayst be by kings, or whores of kings,
- Boast the pure blood of an illustrious race,
- In quiet flow from Lucrece to Lucrece:
- But by your fathers' worth if yours you rate,
- Count me those only who were good and great.
- Go! if your ancient but ignoble blood
- Has crept thro' scroundrels ever since the flood,
- 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.
- `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!
- 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,
- 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.
- 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 others' breath;
- 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;
- 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;
- 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;