An essay on man: being the first book of ethic epistles. To Henry St. John, L. Bolingbroke. London: printed by John Wright, for Lawton Gilliver, 1734. [8],74p. : ill. ; 4⁰. (ESTC T5607; Foxon P852; OTA K023079.000)







    HAVING proposed to write some Pieces on Hu man Life and Manners, such as (to use my Lord Bacon's expression) come home to Men's Busi ness and Bosoms, I thought it more satisfactory to begin with considering Man in the Abstract, his Nature and his State: since to prove any moral Duty, to inforce any moral Precept, or to examine the Perfection or Imperfe ction of any Creature whatsoever, it is necessary first to know what Condition and Relation it is placed in, and what is the proper End and Purpose of its Being.

    The Science of Human Nature is, like all other Scien ces, reduced to a few, clear Points: There are not many certain Truths in this World. It is therefore in the Ana tomy of the Mind as in that of the Body; more Good will accrue to mankind by attending to the large, open, and perceptible parts, than by studying too much such finer nerves and vessels as will for ever escape our observation. The Disputes are all upon these last, and I will ven ture[Page] to say, they have less sharpen'd the Wits than the Hearts of Men against each other, and have diminished the Practise, more than advanced the Theory, of Mora lity. If I could flatter my self that this Essay has any Merit, it is in steering betwixt Doctrines seemingly op posite, in passing over Terms utterly un-intelligible, and in forming out of all a temperate yet not inconsistent, and a short yet not imperfect System of Ethics.

    This I might have done in Prose; but I chose Verse, and even Rhyme, for two reasons. The one will ap pear obvious; that Principles, Maxims, or Precepts so written, both strike the reader more strongly at first, and are more easily retained by him afterwards. The other may seem odd but is true; I found I could ex press them more shortly this way than in Prose itself, and nothing is more certain than that much of the Force as well as Grace of Arguments or Instructions depends on their Conciseness. I was unable to treat this part of my subject more in detail, without becoming dry and tedious; or more poetically, without sacrificing Perspi cuity to Ornament, without wandring from the Precision, or breaking the Chain of Reasoning. If any man can unite all these, without diminution of any of them, I freely con fess he will compass a thing above my capacity.

    What is now published, is only to be considered as a ge neral Map of MAN, marking out no more than the Greater[Page] Parts, their Extent, their Limits, and their Connection, but leaving the Particular to be more fully delineated in the Charts which are to follow. Consequently, these Epistles in their progress will become less dry, and more susceptible of Poetical Ornament. I am here only opening the Foun tains, and clearing the passage; To deduce the Rivers, to follow them in their Course, and to observe their Effects, will be a task more agreeable.


    EPISTLE I. Of the NATURE and STATE of MAN, with respect to the UNIVERSE.

    OF Man in the Abstract. We can judge only with regard to our own System, being ignorant of the Relations of Sy stems and Things, VER. 17, &c. to 68. Man is not therefore to be deem'd Imperfect, but a Being suited to his Place and Rank in the Creation, agreeable to the General Order of Things, and conformable to Ends and Relations to him unknown. 69, &c. It is partly upon this Ignorance of future Events, and partly upon the Hope of a Future State, that all his Happiness in the present depends, 73, &c. His Pride, in aiming at more Know ledge and pretending to more Perfection, the cause of his Error and Misery, 109. 119. The Impiety of putting himself in the[Page] place of God, and judging of the fitness or unfitness, perfection or imperfection, justice or injustice of his dispensations, 109 to 120. The Absurdity of conceiting himself the final cause of the creation, or expecting that Perfection in the moral world which is not in the natural, 127 to 164. The Unreasonableness of his complaints against Providence, while on the one hand he demands the perfections of the Angels, on the other the bodily qualifica tions of the Brutes, 165. That the gift of Reason alone counter vails all the latter, and that to possess any of the sensitive faculties in a higher degree, would render him miserable, 181 to 198. That throughout the whole visible world, an universal Order and gra dation in these is observ'd, which causes a subordination of crea ture to creature, and of all creatures of man. The gradations of sense, instinct, thought, reflection, reason, 199 to 224. How much farther this order and subordination of living creatures may extend, above and below us? 225. Were any part of this bro ken, not that part only, but the whole connected Creation must be destroyed. The extravagance, madness, and pride of such a de sire, 239, &c. Consequently, the absolute submission due to Pro vidence, both as to our present and future state, 292, &c.

    EPISTLE II. Of the NATURE and STATE of MAN, with respect to HIMSELF as an Individual.

    THE business of man not to pry into God, but to study him self. His Middle Nature; his powers and frailties, and the Limits of his capacity, VER. 3 to 43. His two Principles, Self-love[Page] and Reason, 43. both necessary, 49. Self-love the stronger, and why?, 57. their End the same, 71. The Passions, and their Use, 83 to 120. The Predominant Passion, and its force, 122 to 150. its necessity, in directing men to different purposes, 153, &c. its providential use, in fixing our principle, and ascertaining our virtue, 167. Virtue and Vice join'd in our mixt nature; the limits near, yet the things separate, and evident. What is the office of Reason? 187, &c. How odious Vice in itself, and how we deceive our selves into it, 209. That however, the Ends of Providence and general Good are answer'd in our Passions, and Im perfections, 230, &c. How usefully these are distributed to all Orders of men, 233. how useful they are to Society, 241. and to the Individuals, 253. In every State, and in every Age of life, 263 to the end.

    EPISTLE III. Of the NATURE and STATE of MAN, with respect to SOCIETY.

    THE whole Universe one system of Society, VER. 7, &c. Nothing is made wholly for itself, nor yet wholly for an other, 27. The happiness of animals mutual, 53. Reason or In stinct operate alike to the good of each individual, 83. Reason or instinct operate to society, in all animals, 109. How far Society carry'd by Instinct, 119. How much farther by Reason, 132. Of that which is call'd the State of Nature, 148. Reason instructed by Instinct in the invention of Arts, 170. and in the Forms of so ciety, 180. Origin of political Societies, 199. Origin of Ma narchy,[Page] 211. Patriarchal government, 216. Origin of true Religion and Government, from the same principle, of Love, 235, &c. Origin of Superstition and Tyranny, from the same principle, of Fear, 241, &c. The influence of Self-love operating to the social and publick good, 269. Restoration of true Religion and Govern ment on their first principle, 285. Mixt Government, 289. Va rious Forms of each, and the true end of all, 303, &c.

    EPISTLE IV. Of the NATURE and STATE of MAN, with respect to HAPPINESS.

    HAppiness ill defin'd by the Philosophers, VER. 19. That it is the End of all men, and attainable by all, 28. God go verns by general, not particular laws: intends Happiness to be equal; and to be so it must be social, since all particular happiness de pends on general, 35. As it is necessary for Order, and the peace and welfare of Society, that External goods should be unequal, hap piness is not made to consist in these, 47. But, notwithstand ing that inequality, the Balance of Happiness among mankind is kept even by Providence, by the two Passions of Hope and Fear, 66. What the happiness of Individuals is? as far as is consistent with the constitution of this world, 76. That the good man has here the advantage, 80. The error of imputing to Virtue what are only the calamities of Nature, or of Fortune, 92. The folly of expecting that God should alter his General Laws in favour of par ticulars, 118. That we are not judges who are good? but that whoever they are, they must be happiest, 130, &c. That ex ternal[Page] goods are not the proper rewards, often inconsistent with, or destructive of Virtue, 166. But that even these can make no man happy without Virtue. Instanced in Riches, 176. Ho nours, 184. Birth, 203. Greatness, 213. Fame, 233. Supe rior talents, 257. with pictures of human Infelicity in men pos sest of them all, 275, &c. That VIRTUE ONLY constitutes a Hap piness, whose Object is universal 311. and whose Prospect eter nal, 345. The perfection of which consists in a conformity to the Order of Providence, here, and in a resignation to it, here and hereafter, 534. Or (in other words) in Love of God and Charity to all men, &c. to the end.