's introduction to his Essay on Man
AN ESSAY ON MAN.
TO H. ST. JOHN LORD BOLINGBROKE
Having proposed to write some pieces of Human Life
, such as (to use my Lord Bacon
's expression) come home to Men's Business 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 enforce any moral precept
, or to examine the perfection or imperfection 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 sciences, reduced to a few clear points: there are not many certain truths in this world. It is therefore in the anatomy
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, the conformations and uses of which will for ever escape our observation. The disputes are all upon these last, and, I will venture to say, they have less sharpened the wits than the hearts of men against each other, and have diminished the practice more than advanced the theory of Morality
. If I could flatter myself that this Essay has any merit, it is in steering betwixt the extremes of doctrine
s seemingly opposite, in passing over terms utterly unintelligible, and in forming 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 appear obvious; that principles, maxims, or precept
s 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 express 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 perspicuity
to ornament, without wandering from the precision, or breaking the chain of reasoning: if any man can unite all these without diminution
of any of them I freely confess he will compass a thing above my capacity.
What is now published is only to be considered as a general Map of Man
, marking out no more than the greater parts, their extent, their limits, and their connection, and leaving the particular to be more fully delineated in the charts which are to follow. Consequently, these Epistle
s in their progress (if I have health and leisure to make any progress) will be less dry, and more susceptible of poetical ornament. I am here only opening the fountains, and clearing the passage. To deduce the rivers, to follow them in their course, and to observe their effects, may be a task more agreeable. P.