-In his "Essay on Man", Alexander Pope offers a reasonable argument to, as he puts it, vindicate the ways of God to men. Compare the assertions he makes about man's plight and the state of society with the Christian worldview of the same. Pay particular attention to the final lines of the poem.
Alexander Pope’s seminal essay is probably one of the greatest poems ever written although it has also been criticised as being too rigid with regards to man’s independence. Pope acknowledges that man is suffering and his plight is great but he asserted that the natural order of things dictated that man should accept/his her station in life or else he would live an unhappy existence.
The Christian worldview at the time was to view those who were poor with compassion and to assist those in need. However this did not change the natural order of things and man remained essentially stuck in the same place. Pope does not seem to depart from this mentality although the final lines of the poem seem to depart from that view. The poet seems to pass through a transcendental phase asserting the glory of God who is continually at the top of the pyramid and man can only hope to reach the same niche without attempting to overthrow his maker.
The final lines are truly awe inspiring in their beauty. They reveal an innate sense of hope and serenity in the contemplation of God as a truly celestial being. Thus Pope skilfully crafts the importance of a higher Being in the universe whilst always professing the dignity of man as paramount in more ways than one. It is a poem of true glory in the face of adversity.
In Rasselas, Samuel Johnson's characters first debate about the institution of marriage and then about the dangers of the imagination. What basic concerns do they discuss in each selection? How do they use reason to support their views?
Rasselas is another seminal work which is hugely important in the canon of philosophical literature. Being a strong opponent of slavery, Johnson entered into the consciousness of the abolitionists through this work especially with regard to the dangers of imagination. The critique of the institution of marriage is also an important element in the novel which also touches on polygamy and other similarly debased institutions. The pleasures of adventure which are disseminated by the main characters are instructive since we seem to experience a sense of want for something which cannot be achieved. The question of taking rash decisions is also discussed at length in Rasselas especially during the sojourn in Egypt where the question of imagination is brought to the fore. The characters deal with both issues in a philosophical manner eventually returning to the safety of Abyssinia where they can feel comfortable and settle accordingly. Marriage is perhaps an institution which is only based on legalisms without much emotion and that is the heart and thrust of the whole argument.
The danger of lingering into the past and a longing for the present is part and parcel of the Rasselas story. Johnson seems to argue that letting oneself go through the dangers of exotic imagination is important for a lively existence but this should not be taken too far. Rasselas is embroiled in deep thoughts of lust and pleasure but in the end he realizes that this cannot make him content. Some literary observers have seen Rasselas as a longing for youth by Johnson who remains a quixotic and almost forlorn figure in old age. The astonishing depth of the philosophical implications of the novel, are very much its backbone as is ‘Essay on Man’ after all.
Johnson S: Rasselas; London 1759
Selected Poetry of Alexander Pope, Representative Poetry Online, hosted by University of Toronto Libraries