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No. 408 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 408
Wednesday, June 18, 1712. Pope.

‘Decet affectus animi neque se nimium erigere, nec subjacere serviliter.’

Tull. de Finibus.


I have always been a very great Lover of your Speculations, as well in Regard to the Subject, as to your Manner of Treating it. Human Nature I always thought the most useful Object of human Reason, and to make the Consideration of it pleasant and entertaining, I always thought the best Employment of human Wit: Other Parts of Philosophy may perhaps make us wiser, but this not only answers that End, but makes us better too. Hence it was that the Oracle pronounced Socrates the wisest of all Men living, because he judiciously made Choice of human Nature for the Object of his Thoughts; an Enquiry into which as much exceeds all other Learning, as it is of more Consequence to adjust the true Nature and Measures of Right and Wrong, than to settle the Distance of the Planets, and compute the Times of their Circumvolutions.

One good Effect that will immediately arise from a near Observation of human Nature, is, that we shall cease to wonder at those Actions which Men are used to reckon wholly unaccountable; for as nothing is produced without a Cause, so by observing the Nature and Course of the Passions, we shall be able to trace every Action from its first Conception to its Death; We shall no more admire at the Proceedings of Catiline or Tiberius, when we know the one was actuated by a cruel Jealousie, the other by a furious Ambition; for the Actions of Men follow their Passions as naturally as Light does Heat, or as any other Effect flows from its Cause; Reason must be employed in adjusting the Passions, but they must ever remain the Principles of Action.

The strange and absurd Variety that is so apparent in Men’s Actions, shews plainly they can never proceed immediately from Reason; so pure a Fountain emits no such troubled Waters: They must necessarily arise from the Passions, which are to the Mind as the Winds to a Ship, they only can move it, and they too often destroy it; if fair and gentle, they guide it into the Harbour; if contrary and furious, they overset it in the Waves: In the same manner is the Mind assisted or endangered by the Passions; Reason must then take the Place of Pilot, and can never fail of securing her Charge if she be not wanting to her self: The Strength of the Passions will never be accepted as an Excuse for complying with them, they were designed for Subjection, and if a Man suffers them to get the upper Hand, he then betrays the Liberty of his own Soul.

As Nature has framed the several Species of Beings as it were in a Chain, so Man seems to be placed as the middle Link between Angels and Brutes: Hence he participates both of Flesh and Spirit by an admirable Tie, which in him occasions perpetual War of Passions; and as a Man inclines to the angelick or brute Part of his Constitution, he is then denominated good or bad, virtuous or wicked; if Love, Mercy, and Good-nature prevail, they speak him of the Angel; if Hatred, Cruelty, and Envy predominate, they declare his Kindred to the Brute. Hence it was that some of the Ancients imagined, that as Men in this Life inclined more to the Angel or Brute, so after their Death they should transmigrate into the one or the other: and it would be no unpleasant Notion, to consider the several Species of Brutes, into which we may imagine that Tyrants, Misers, the Proud, Malicious, and Ill-natured might be changed.

As a Consequence of this Original, all Passions are in all Men, but all appear not in all; Constitution, Education, Custom of the Country, Reason, and the like Causes, may improve or abate the Strength of them, but still the Seeds remain, which are ever ready to sprout forth upon the least Encouragement. I have heard a Story of a good religious Man, who, having been bred with the Milk of a Goat, was very modest in Publick by a careful Reflection he made on his Actions, but he frequently had an Hour in Secret, wherein he had his Frisks and Capers; and if we had an Opportunity of examining the Retirement of the strictest Philosophers, no doubt but we should find perpetual Returns of those Passions they so artfully conceal from the Publick. I remember Matchiavel observes, that every State should entertain a perpetual jealousie of its Neighbours, that so it should never be unprovided when an Emergency happens; [1] in like manner should the Reason be perpetually on its Guard against the Passions, and never suffer them to carry on any Design that may be destructive of its Security; yet at the same Time it must be careful, that it don’t so far break their Strength as to render them contemptible, and consequently it self unguarded.