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VIEW OF THE CONTROVERSY
Mons. CROUSAZ AND MR. WARBI
ON THE SUBJECT OF
MR. POPE's ESSAY ON MAN,
IN A LETTER TO THE
EDITOR OF THE GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE, VOL. XIII.
MR.. URBAN, It would not be found useless in the learned world, if in written controversies as in oral disputations, a moderator could be selected, who might in some degree superintend the debate, restrain all needless excursions, repress all personal reflections, and at last recapitulate the arguments on each side; and who, though he should not assume the province of deciding the question, might at least exhibit it in its true state.
This reflection arose in my mind upon the consideration of Mr. Crousaz's Commentary on the Essay on Man, and Mr. Warburton's Answer to it. The importance of the subject, the reputation and abilities of the controvertists, and perhaps the ardour with which each has endeavoured to support his cause, have made an attempt of this kind necessary for the information of the greatest number of Mr. Pope's readers.
Among the duties of a moderator, I have mentioned that of recalling the disputants to the subject, and cutting off the excrescences of a debate, which Mr. Crousaz will not suffer to be long unemployed, and the repression of personal invectives which have not been very carefully avoided on either part; and are less excusable, because it has not been proved, that either the poet, or his commentator, wrote with any other design than that of promoting happiness by cultivating reason and piety.
Mr. Warburton has indeed so much depressed the character of his adversary, that before I consider the controversy between them, I think it necessary to exhibit some specimens of Mr. Crousaz's sentiments, by which it will probably be shewn, that he is far from deserving either indignation or contempt; that his notions are just, though they are sometimes introduced without necessity; and defended when they are not opposed ; and that his abilities and parts are such as may entitle him to reverence from those who think his criticisms superfluous.
In page 35 of the English translation, he exhibits an observation which every writer ought to impress upon his mind, and which may afford a sufficient apology for his commentary.
On the notion of a ruling passion he offers this remark : “ Nothing so much hinders men from obtaining a complete victory over their ruling passion,
as that all the advantages gained in their days of retreat, by just and sober reflections, whether struck out by their own minds, or borrowed from good books, or from the conversation of men of merit, are destroyed in a few moments by a free intercourse and acquaintance with libertines; and thus the work is always to be begun anew. A gamester resolves to leave off play, by which he finds his health impaired, his family ruined, and his passions inflamed ; in this resolution he persists a few days, but soon yields to an invitation, which will give his prevailing inclination an opportunity of reviving in all its force. The case is the same with other men : but is reason to be charged with these calamities and follies, or rather the man who refuses to listen to its voice in opposition to impertinent solicitations?” .
On the means recommended for the attainment of happiness, he observes, “that the abilities which our Maker has given us, and the internal and external advantages with which he has invested us, are of two very different kinds ; those of one kind are bestowed in common upon us and the brute creation, but the other exalt us far above other animals. To disregard any of these gifts would be ingratitude ; but to neglect those of greater excellence, to go no farther than the gross satisfactions of sense, and the functions of mere animal life, would be a far greater crime. We are formed by our Creator capable of acquiring knowledge, and regulating our conduct by reasonable rules; it is therefore our duty to cultivate our understandings, and exalt our virtues. We need
but make the experiment to find, that the greatest pleasures will arise from such endeavours.
“ It is trifling to allege, in opposition to this truth, that knowledge cannot be acquired, nor virtue pursued, without toil and efforts, and that all efforts produce fatigue. God requires nothing disproportioned to the powers he has given, and in the exercise of those powers consists the highest satisfaction.
“ Toil and weariness are the effects of vanity: when a man has formed a design of excelling others in merit, he is disquieted by their advances, and leaves nothing unattempted, that he may step before them: this occasions a thousand unreasonable emotions, which justly bring their punishment along with them.
“ But let a man study and labour to cultivate and improve his abilities in the eye of his Maker, and with the prospect of his approbation ; let him attentively reflect on the infinite value of that approbation, and the highest encomiums that men can bestow will vanish into nothing at the comparison. When we live in this manner, we find that we live for a great and glorious end.
“When this is our frame of mind, we find it no longer difficult to restrain ourselves in the gratifications of eating and drinking, the most gross enjoyments of sense. We take what is necessary to preserve health and vigour, but are not to give ourselves up to pleasures that weaken the attention, and dull the understanding."
And the true sense of Mr. Pope's assertion, that Whatever is, is right, and I believe the sense in
which it was written, is thus explained :—“A sacred and adorable order is established in the government of mankind. These are certain and unvaried truths: he that seeks God, and makes it his happiness to live in obedience to him, shall obtain what he endeavours after, in a degree far above his present comprehension. He that turns his back upon his Creator, neglects to obey him, and perseveres in his disobedience, shall obtain no other happiness than he can receive from enjoyments of his own procuring ; void of satisfaction, weary of life, wasted by empty cares and remorses equally harassing and just, he will experience the certain consequences of his own choice. Thus will justice and goodness resume their empire, and that order be restored which men have broken.”
I am afraid of wearying you or your readers with more quotations, but if you shall inform me that a continuation of my correspondence will be well received, I shall descend to particular passages, shew how Mr. Pope gave sometimes occasion to mistakes; and how Mr. Crousaz was misled by his suspicion of the system of fatality.*
I am, Sir, yours, &c.
* It does not appear that Dr. Johnson found leisure or encouragement to continue this subject any farther.
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