Its deity was not a historical personage, but the name of a metaphysical conception. To vindicate Providence meant no longer to stimulate imagination by pure and sublime rendering of accepted truths, but to solve certain philosophical problems, and especially the grand difficulty of reconciling the existence of evil with divine omnipotence and benevolence.Pope might conceivably have written a really great poem on these terms, though deprived of the concrete imagery of a Dante or a Milton.When Milton told the story of the war in heaven and the fall of man, he gave implicitly his theory of the true relations of man to his Creator, but the abstract doctrine was clothed in the flesh and blood of a concrete mythology.
The story of Adam and Eve would it self require to be justified or to be rationalized into thin allegory.
Nothing was left possessed of any vitality but a bare skeleton of abstract theology, dependent upon argument instead of tradition, and which might use or might dispense with a Christian phraseology.
His vision pierces to the world hidden from our senses, and realizes in the transitory present a scene in the slow development of a divine drama.
To make us share his vision is to give his justification of Providence.
The Essay on Man is Pope's most ambitious performance, and the one by which he was best known beyond his own country.
It has been frequently translated, it was imitated both in France and Germany, and provoked a controversy, not like others in Pope's history of the purely personal kind. Pope, with an echo of the Miltonic phrase, proposes to Vindicate the ways of God to man.Having finished the Dunciad, he was soon employed on a more ambitious task.Pope resembled one of the inferior bodies of the solar system, whose orbit is dependent upon that of some more massive planet ; and having been a satellite of Swift, he was now swept into the train of the more imposing Bolingbroke.He might again conceivably have written an interesting work, though it would hardly have been a poemif he had versified the arguments by which a coherent theory might be supported.Unluckily, he was quite unqualified for either undertaking, and, at the same time, he more or less aimed at both.IT is a relief to turn from this miserable record of Pope's petty or malicious deceptions to the history of his legitimate career.I go back to the period when he was still in full power.If he had fairly grasped some definite conception of the universe, whether pantheistic or atheistic, optimist or pessimist, proclaiming a solution of the mystery, or declaring all solutions to be impossible, he might have given forcible expression to the corresponding emotions.He might have uttered the melancholy resignation and the confident hope incited in different minds by a contemplation of the mysterious world.In his exile, Bolingbroke, though never really weaned from political ambition, had amused himself with superficial philosophical studies.In political life it was his special glory to extemporize statesmanship without sacrificing pleasure.