"An Honest Man's The Noblest Work Of God"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The fourth, and last, epistle in Pope's Essay on Man is a discussion of man's happiness and his struggle to achieve it. Man is destined, says Pope, to search for happiness; he calls the search "our being's end and aim." However, he often fails in this search, but the failure, says Pope, is in himself; he errs in the ways he seeks happiness and so is deprived by his own actions of the felicity intended by God for all. Real happiness, says the poet, can be summed up in three words: "health, peace, and competence." Man's troubles stem from various courses of action, some which Pope examines in detail. Man chases fruitlessly after worldly goods, honor, fame, little guessing that happiness is to be found in virtue. Fame, for example, is not real, but "a fancied life in others' breath." Fame, living in others, is beyond our control, in this life or after death. Pope goes on to examine further the weaknesses of fame:

All that we feel of it begins and ends
In the small circle of our foes or friends;
To all beside as much an empty shade
An Eugene living, as a Caesar dead;
Alike or when, or where, they shone, or shine,
Or on the Rubicon, or on the Rhine.
A wit's a feather, and a chief a rod;
An honest man's the noblest work of God.
Fame but from death a villain's name can save,
As justice tears his body from the grave;
When what t' oblivion better were resign'd,
Is hung on high, to poison half mankind.
All fame is foreign, but of true desert;
Plays round the head, but comes not to the heart:
One self-approving hour whole years outweighs
Of stupid starers, and of loud huzzas.