Moral Essays (also known as Epistles to Several Persons) is a series of four poems on ethical subjects by Alexander Pope, published between 1731 and 1735.
Epistle I, To Lord Cobham (1734)Edit
- The fate of all extremes is such,
Men may read, as well as books, too much.
To observations which ourselves we make,
we grow more partial for th' observer's sake.
- Like following life through creatures you dissect,
You lose it in the moment you detect.
- In vain sedate reflections we would make
When half our knowledge we must snatch, not take.
- Not always actions show the man: we find
Who does a kindness is not therefore kind.
- Who combats bravely is not therefore brave,
He dreads a death-bed like the meanest slave:
Who reasons wisely is not therefore wise,—
His pride in reasoning, not in acting lies.
- 'T is from high life high characters are drawn;
A saint in crape is twice a saint in lawn.
- 'Tis education forms the common mind:
Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined.
- Manners with fortunes, humours turn with climes,
Tenets with books, and principles with times.
- Line 172. Compare: "Omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis" (translated: "All things change, and we change with them"), Matthias Borbonius, Deliciæ Poetarum Germanorum, i, 685.
- "Odious! in woollen! 't would a saint provoke",
Were the last words that poor Narcissa spoke.
- And you, brave Cobham! to the latest breath
Shall feel your ruling passion strong in death.
Epistle II, To Mrs. M. Blount (1735)Edit
- Nothing so true as what you once let fall,
"Most women have no characters at all".
- Whether the charmer sinner it or saint it,
If folly grow romantic, I must paint it.
- Choose a firm cloud before it fall, and in it
Catch, ere she change, the Cynthia of this minute.
- Fine by defect, and delicately weak.
- Line 43. Compare: "That air and harmony of shape express, Fine by degrees, and beautifully less", Matthew Prior, Henry and Emma.
- Chaste to her husband, frank to all beside,
A teeming mistress, but a barren bride.
- Wise wretch! with pleasures too refined to please;
With too much spirit to be e'er at ease;
With too much quickness ever to be taught;
With too much thinking to have common thought.
You purchase pain with all that joy can give,
And die of nothing but a rage to live.
- Atossa, cursed with every granted prayer,
Childless with all her children, wants an heir;
To heirs unknown descends the unguarded store,
Or wanders heaven-directed to the poor.
- "With ev'ry pleasing, ev'ry prudent part,
Say, what can Chloe want?" — She wants a heart.
- Virtue she finds too painful an endeavour,
Content to dwell in decencies forever.
- In men, we various ruling passions find;
In women, two almost divide the kind;
Those, only fixed, they first or last obey,
The love of pleasure, and the love of sway.
- Men, some to business, some to pleasure take;
But every woman is at heart a rake.
- See how the world its veterans rewards!
A youth of frolics, an old age of cards.
- Oh, blest with temper whose unclouded ray
Can make to-morrow cheerful as to-day!
- She who ne'er answers till a husband cools,
Or, if she rules him, never shows she rules;
Charms by accepting, by submitting, sways,
Yet has her humor most, when she obeys.
- And mistress of herself though china fall.
- And yet, believe me, good as well as ill,
Woman's at best a contradiction still.
Epistle III, To Lord Bathurst (1732)Edit
- Who shall decide when doctors disagree,
And soundest casuists doubt, like you and me?
- Blest paper-credit! last and best supply!
That lends corruption lighter wings to fly.
- P. What riches give us let us then inquire:
Meat, fire, and clothes. B. What more? P. Meat, fine clothes, and fire.
- But thousands die, without this or that,
Die, and endow a college, or a cat.
- The ruling passion, be it what it will,
The ruling passion conquers reason still.
- Extremes in Nature equal good produce;
Extremes in man concur to general use.
- Rise, honest muse! and sing The Man of Ross.
- Ye little stars! hide your diminish'd rays.
- Line 282. Compare: "At whose sight all the stars / Hide their diminish’d heads", John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book iv, Line 34.
- Who builds a church to God and not to fame,
Will never mark the marble with his name.
- In the worst inn's worst room, with mat half hung.
- Where London's column, pointing at the skies,
Like a tall bully, lifts the head and lies.
- Satan now is wiser of yore,
And tempts by making rich, not making poor.
Epistle IV, To Lord Burlington (1731)Edit
- Good sense, which only is the gift of Heaven,
And though no science, fairly worth the seven.
- To rest, the cushion and soft dean invite,
Who never mentions hell to ears polite.
- Line 149. Compare: "In the reign of Charles II, a certain worthy divine at Whitehall thus addressed himself to the auditory at the conclusion of his sermon: 'In short, if you don't live up to the precepts of the Gospel, but abandon yourselves to your irregular appetites, you must expect to receive your reward in a certain place which 'tis not good manners to mention here'", Tom Brown, Laconics.
Epistle VII, To Mr. Addison (1720)Edit
- Statesman, yet friend to truth! of soul sincere,
In action faithful, and in honor clear;
Who broke no promise, served no private end,
Who gained no title, and who lost no friend.