« PreviousContinue »
Huge as the tower which builders vain
Boon nature scatter'd, free and wild,
Highest of all, where white peaks glanced,
Sir Walter Scott.
EXTREMES OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE.
LETTER FROM POPE TO ADDISON-1713.
I HAVE been lying in wait for my own imagination, this week and
more, and watching what thoughts came up in the whirl of the fancy that were worth communicating to you in a letter. But I am at length convinced that my rambling head can produce nothing of that sort ; so I must even be contented with telling you the old story, that I love you heartily. I have often found by experience that nature and truth, though never so low or vulgar, are yet pleasing when openly and artlessly represented. It would be diverting to me to read the very letters of an infant, could it write its innocent inconsistencies and tautologies just as it thought them. This makes me hope a letter from me will not be unwelcome to you, when I am conscious I write with more unreservedness than ever man wrote, or perhaps talked to another. I trust your good nature with the whole range of my follies, and really love you so well, that I would rather you should pardon me than esteem me; since one is an act of goodness and benevolence, the other a kind of constrained deference.
You cannot wonder my thoughts are scarce consistent, when I tell you how they are distracted. Every hour of my life my mind is strangely divided; this minute perhaps I am above the stars, with a thousand systems round about me, looking forward into a vast abyss, and losing my whole comprehension in the boundless space of creation, in dialogues with Whiston and the astronomers; the next moment I am below all trifles grovelling with T— in the very centre of nonsense : now I am recreated with the brisk sallies and quick turns of wit, which Mr Steele in his liveliest and freest humours darts about him ; and now levelling my application to the insignificant observations and quirks of grammar of C— and D-- Good God! what an incongruous animal is man! how unsettled in his best part, his soul! and how changing and variable in his frame of body! the constancy of the one shook by every notion, the temperament of the other affected by every blast of wind. What is he altogether but one mighty inconsistency? sickness and pain is the lot of one half of him : doubt and fear the proportion of the other! What a
bustle we make about passing our time, when all our space is but a point! what aims and ambitions are crowded into this little instant of our life, which (as Shakespeare finely words it) is rounded with a sleep! Our whole extent of being is no more in the eye of Him who gave it than a scarce perceptible moment of duration. Those animals whose circle of living is limited to three or four hours, as the naturalists tell us, are yet as long-lived and possess as wide a scene of action as man, if we consider him with a view to all space and all eternity. Who knows what plots. what achievements a mite may perform in his kingdom of a grain of dust, within his life of some minutes ? and of how much less consideration than even this, is the life of man in the sight of God, who is from ever, and for ever!
Who that thinks in this train, but must see the world and its contemptible grandeurs lessen before him at every thought. It is enough to make one remain stupified in a poise of inaction, void of ail desires, of all designs, of all friendships.
But we must return (through our very condition of being) to our narrow selves, and those things that affect ourselves : our passions, our interests flow in upon us, and unphilosophise us into mere mortals. For my part, I never return so much into myself, as when I think of you, whose friendship is one of the best comforts I have for the insignificancy of myself.