Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Happiness in the Fourth Epistle of Alexander Popes An Essay on Man
Alexander Pope's philosophical poem An Essay on Man, published in 1732-134, may even more precisely be classified, to use a German phrase, as Weltanschauungliche Dichtung (worldviewish poetry). That it is appropriate to understand An Essay on Man as world view in verse, as a work which depicts humanity's relationship to and understanding of a perplexing and amazing world, is indicated in the statement of the poem's "Design" in which the author avows that his goal was to examine "Man in the abstract, his Nature and his State." Indeed, Pope sought to fulfill his agenda by describing in each of the work's four "epistles" the nature and state of man with respect (1) to the universe, (2) to man himself as an individual, (3) to society, and finally, (4) in relation to happiness. Pope's poetic and powerful examination of these themes in which "attitudes generated by deism, eighteenth-century sociality, and Roman Catholicism come together" (Mack lxxiv-lxxv) establish this composition as one of the truly great literary statements of a particular world view perspective in the history of the West. Pope's concern with human teleology in An Essay on Man also distinguish it as a distinctive piece of world view literature. According to "The Design" of the poem, Pope asserted that in order to understand man or any creature, it was necessary "first to know what condition and relation it is placed in, and what is the proper end and purpose of its being." For Pope, drawing on a venerable ideal from antiquity onwards, the end and purpose of humanity was happiness.1 As he exclaims at the very beginning of the fourth epistle, The heritage of the supremacy of happiness is impressive. For example, Aristotle believed that happiness was man's stron... ...he bliss of all beings in the chain of being) "Sees, that no Being any bliss can know, But touches some above, and some below." EM 4. 343-50 (regarding bliss in God) "For him alone, hope leads from goal to goal And opens still, and opens on his soul; Till lengthened on to Faith, and unconfined, It pours the bliss that fills up all the mind. He sees, why Nature plants in Man alone Hope of known bliss, and Faith in bliss unknown: (Nature, whose dictates to no other kind Are given in vain, but what they seek they find) Wise is her present; she connects in this His greatest Virtue with his greatest Bliss." EM 4. 359-60 (regarding love and happiness) "Happier as kinder, in whate'er degree, And height of Bliss but height of Charity." EM 4. 397-98 (regarding bliss and virtue) "That Virtue only makes our bliss below; And all our Knowledge is, ourselves to know."