Alexander Pope in “An Essay On Man” and Samuel Johnson in “The Vanity of Human Wishes reflect the idea that man occupies a middle sphere in what Pope referred to as the “great chain” (Pope, Alexander, “ Essay On Man”, Epistle 1, line 33). Man is beneath God, the supreme creator of the universe but reason and free will allow humans higher faculties than animals even though many animals are physically superior. With reason and free will though, man has the ability to develop the pride to challenge God and his structural plan of the universe. Pope poses the question in his discourse, “Heaven from all men hides the book of Fate, All but the page prescribed, their present state: From brutes what men, from men what spirits know: or who could suffer being here below?”(Pope, Alexander, “Essay On Man”, Epistle 1, lines 1-4). Johnson poses a similar question in “The Vanity of Human Wishes”; “Where then shall Hope and Fear their objects find? Must dull Suspense corrupt the stagnant mind? Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate, Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate? “(Johnson, Samuel, “The Vanity of Human Wishes”, lines 343-345). Both questions are rhetorical in that fate is hidden from men by God for reasons beyond human comprehension which should be accepted by faith. Pride of humans aspiring to control their fate causes the downfall of man by disrupting the order that God has created.
Both Johnson and Pope ascertain that on the subject of destiny humans should accept who they are by submitting to God rather than being tainted with pride in seeking happiness in material things. Johnson states that humans should “But leave to heaven the measure and the choice. Safe in his power, whose eyes discern afar, The secret ambush of a specious prayer, Implore his aid, in his decisions rest, Secure whate’er he gives, he gives the best”(Johnson, Samuel, “The Vanity of Human Wishes”, lines 354-358). In “An Essay on Man” Pope ascertains that the universe’s order, which was created by God, should not be disrupted by humans because it is “but part one stupendous whole, whose body nature is, and god the soul” (Pope, Alexander, “Essay On Man”, Epistle 1, lines 267-268). Pope continually urges man to let God place every man in his fated position in life, and explains that due to man’s inability to fully understand God’s intentions, man will want to make his own direction, which will ultimately interrupt God’s universal order. Pope ends Epistle One with his main thesis, “Whatever is, is right” (Pope, Alexander, “Essay On Man”, Epistle 1, line 294). This statement illustrates that all of God’s actions are for the best of man despite the fact that man will never truly be able to grasp the meaning of his fate.
Johnson and Pope both cite pride as a human flaw in man’s attempt to improve or change one’s destiny. Pope concludes that man is “A being darkly wise and rudely great ,With too much knowledge for the skeptic side, With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride” (Pope, Alexander, “Essay On Man”, Epistle 2, Lines 4-6) and the “riddle of the world” (Pope, Alexander, “Essay On Man”, Epistle 2, Line 18). The conflicting feeling on humanity is revealed. We see an admirable trait of knowledge tainted and corrupted, with wisdom “dark” and greatness “rude”. Johnson comes to a similar conclusion in his discourse. He states “Enlarge my life with multitude of days! In health, in sickness, thus the suppliant prays; Hides from himself his state, and shuns to know, That life protracted is protracted woe, Time hovers o’er, impatient to destroy, And shuts up all the passages of joy” (Johnson, Samuel, “The Vanity of Human Wishes”, lines 255-260). According to Johnson man’s pride and overzealous ambition taints the life of man by shutting the “passages of joy”. Pope advises man to be humble in their position in the universe as well in order to live life to the fullest capability of their fate chosen by God. Pope states that man should not blame our life on Heaven, Pope says “Then say not man’s imperfect, Heaven in fault; Say rather, man’s as perfect as he ought; His knowledge measured to his state and place, His time a moment and a point his space” (Pope, Alexander, “Essay On Man”, Epistle 1, lines 69-72). Men should not blame their lack of perfection or knowledge on Heaven because God gave man the position in the universe that they are in for reasons only God can comprehend. Human faculties are sufficient for the role of man, there is no need for perfection as that is God’s role.
Johnson and Pope cited pride as a constant source of man’s aspirations to become more like God. Pope writes, “In pride, in reasoning pride, our error lies, All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies, Pride still is aiming at the blest abodes, Men would be angels, angels would be gods, Aspiring to be gods, if angels fell, Aspire to be angels, men rebel, And who but wishes to invert the laws, Of order, sins against Eternal Cause.” (Pope, Alexander, “Essay On Man”, Epistle 1, lines 123-130). According to the bible, angels fell in their rebellion against God in which Satan and several angels were cast into hell for aspiring to be higher entities than they already were. Pope accuses man of the same pride, unable to accept their role in the World, man wishes to climb the chain of being. Milton begins book 1 of “Paradise Lost” with the lines “Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast Brought death into our world and all our woe” (Milton, John, “Paradise Lost”, Book 1, lines 1-3). Original sin spawned from Eve’s pride in disobeying God and taking fruit from the forbidden tree. Pride is the downfall of man, because understanding and accepting the order of the World is imperative to be a good man. Johnson similarly explains, “Where wavering man, betrayed by venturous Pride, to tread the dreary paths without a guide,” (Johnson, “The Vanity of Human Wishes”, lines 7-8). Fate is man’s guide and when man wavers from that guide due to the pride that deems fate as unsatisfying, man betrays himself. Johnson emphasizes faith in one’s destiny that was created by God. “Implore [Gods’] aid, in his decisions rest, Secure, whate’er he gives, he gives the best” (Johnson, Samuel, “The Vanity of Human Wishes”, lines 355-356). In other words we are only part of a whole and since we belong in the “chain of being”, we are only meant to serve a certain position in life and that lies between angels and beasts. We must be able to limit ourselves because humans were not made to have God like qualities. By accepting the role God gave man, man will be at their best.
Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson wrote their discourses with similar goals in mind which they state at the beginning of each of their works. Pope in “Essay on Man” intends to “Expatiate free o’er all this scene of man” (Pope, Alexander, “Essay On Man”, Epistle 1, line 5). Johnson begins “The Vanity of Human Wishes” with the stated intention to “survey mankind” (Johnson, Samuel, “The Vanity of Human Wishes”, line 2). Both Pope and Johnson describe pride as the source of man’s fall from the order of the universe God has created.