Moral Essays

poem written by Alexander Pope

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.
    • Line 9.
  • That each from other differs, first confess;
    Next, that he varies from himself no less.
    • Line 19.
  • Like following life through creatures you dissect,
    You lose it in the moment you detect.
    • Line 29.
  • In vain sedate reflections we would make
    When half our knowledge we must snatch, not take.
    • Line 39.
  • Not always actions show the man: we find
    Who does a kindness is not therefore kind.
    • Line 109.
  • 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.
    • Line 115.
  • 'Tis from high life high characters are drawn;
    A saint in crape is twice a saint in lawn.
    • Line 135.
  • 'Tis education forms the common mind:
    Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined.
    • Line 149.
  • 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.
    • Line 246.
  • And you, brave Cobham! to the latest breath
    Shall feel your ruling passion strong in death.
    • Line 262.

Epistle II, To Mrs. M. Blount (1735) edit

  • Nothing so true as what you once let fall,
    "Most women have no characters at all".
    • Line 1.
  • Whether the charmer sinner it or saint it,
    If folly grow romantic, I must paint it.
    • Line 15.
  • Choose a firm cloud before it fall, and in it
    Catch, ere she change, the Cynthia of this minute.
    • Line 19.
  • 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.
    • Line 71.
  • 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.
    • Line 95.
  • 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.
    • Line 147.
  • "With ev'ry pleasing, ev'ry prudent part,
    Say, what can Chloe want?" — She wants a heart.
    • Line 159.
  • Virtue she finds too painful an endeavour,
    Content to dwell in decencies forever.
    • Line 163.
  • 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.
    • Line 207.
  • Men, some to business, some to pleasure take;
    But every woman is at heart a rake.
    • Line 215.
  • See how the world its veterans rewards!
    A youth of frolics, an old age of cards.
    • Line 243.
  • Oh, blest with temper whose unclouded ray
    Can make to-morrow cheerful as to-day!
    • Line 257.
  • 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.
    • Line 261.
  • And mistress of herself though china fall.
    • Line 268.
  • And yet, believe me, good as well as ill,
    Woman's at best a contradiction still.
    • Line 269.

Epistle III, To Lord Bathurst (1732) edit

  • Who shall decide when doctors disagree,
    And soundest casuists doubt, like you and me?
    • Line 1.
  • Blest paper-credit! last and best supply!
    That lends corruption lighter wings to fly.
    • Line 39.
  • P. What riches give us let us then inquire:
    Meat, fire, and clothes. B. What more? P. Meat, fine clothes, and fire.
    • Line 79.
  • But thousands die, without this or that,
    Die, and endow a college, or a cat.
    • Line 95.
  • The ruling passion, be it what it will,
    The ruling passion conquers reason still.
    • Line 153.
  • Extremes in Nature equal good produce;
    Extremes in man concur to general use.
    • Line 161.
  • Rise, honest muse! and sing The Man of Ross.
    • Line 250.
  • 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.
    • Line 285.
  • In the worst inn's worst room, with mat half hung.
    • Line 299.
  • Where London's column, pointing at the skies,
    Like a tall bully, lifts the head and lies.
    • Line 339.
  • But Satan now is wiser than of yore,
    And tempts by making rich, not making poor.
    • Line 351.

Epistle IV, To Lord Burlington (1731) edit

  • Good sense, which only is the gift of Heaven,
    And though no science, fairly worth the seven.
    • Line 43.
  • Tis use alone that sanctifies expense,
    And splendor borrows all her rays from sense.
    • Ver. 180.
  • 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.
    • Line 67.

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