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Milton sought to set forth the story of the Fall in such way as to show that God was love.Pope dealt with the question of God in Nature, and the world of Man. de Crousaz, Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics in the University of Lausanne, and defended by Warburton, then chaplain to the Prince of Wales, in six letters published in 1739, and a seventh in 1740, for which Pope (who died in 1744) was deeply grateful.
Many now talk about evolution and natural selection, who have never read a line of Darwin.
In the reign of George the Second, questionings did spread that went to the roots of all religious faith, and many earnest minds were busying themselves with problems of the state of Man, and of the evidence of God in the life of man, and in the course of Nature.
It may seem even more absurd to name Pope’s “Essay on Man” in the same breath with Milton’s “Paradise Lost;” but to the best of his knowledge and power, in his smaller way, according to his nature and the questions of his time, Pope was, like Milton, endeavouring “to justify the ways of God to Man.” He even borrowed Milton’s line for his own poem, only weakening the verb, and said that he sought to “vindicate the ways of God to Man.” In Milton’s day the questioning all centred in the doctrine of the “Fall of Man,” and questions of God’s Justice were associated with debate on fate, fore-knowledge, and free will.
In Pope’s day the question was not theological, but went to the root of all faith in existence of a God, by declaring that the state of Man and of the world about him met such faith with an absolute denial.
But as the eighteenth century grew slowly to its work, signs of a deepening interest in the real issues of life distracted men’s attention from the culture of the snuff-box and the fan.
As Pope’s genius ripened, the best part of the world in which he worked was pressing forward, as a mariner who will no longer hug the coast but crowds all sail to cross the storms of a wide unknown sea.
“And this was the occasion of my imitating some others of the Satires and Epistles.” The two dialogues finally used as the Epilogue to the Satires were first published in the year 1738, with the name of the year, “Seventeen Hundred and Thirty-eight.” Samuel Johnson’s “London,” his first bid for recognition, appeared in the same week, and excited in Pope not admiration only, but some active endeavour to be useful to its author.
The reader of Pope, as of every author, is advised to begin by letting him say what he has to say, in his own manner to an open mind that seeks only to receive the impressions which the writer wishes to convey.
They swelled the number of the army of bold questioners upon the ways of God to Man, but they were an idle rout of camp-followers, not combatants; they simply ate, and drank, and died.
In 1697, Pierre Bayle published at Rotterdam, his “Historical and Critical Dictionary,” in which the lives of men were associated with a comment that suggested, from the ills of life, the absence of divine care in the shaping of the world.