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KNOW then thyself, presume not 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, 5 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 ; 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;
Superior beings, when of late they saw
Could he, whose rules the rapid comet bind, 35
Two principles in human nature reign ;
55 Each works itsend to 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 i
That sees immediate good by present sense ;
Let subtle schoolmen teach these friends to fight,
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, And reason bids us for our own provide ; Passions, tho' selfish, if their means be fair, List under reason, and deserve her care ; Those that imparted court a nobler aim, Exalt their kind, and take some virtue's name. 100
In lazy apatby let stoics boast Their virtue fix'd ; 'tis fix'd as in a frost ; Contracted all, retiring to the breast ; 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, Yet, mix'd and soften’d, in his work unite : These 'tis enough toʻtemper and employ ; But what composes man, can man destroy ? Suffice that reason keep to nature's road, Subject, compound them, follow her and God. Love, hope, and joy, fair pleasure's smiling train, Hate, fear, and grief, the family of pain ; These mix'd with art, and to due bounds confin'd, Make and maintain the balance of the mind : 120 The lights and shades, whose well accorded strife Gives all the strength and colour of our life.
Pleasures are ever in our hands and eyes, And when in act they cease, in prospect rise : Present to grasp, and future still to find, 125 The whole 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 inflame, 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. Whatever warms the heară, 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 nurse ;
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 ;