"This doctrine is in itself pernicious as well as false; its tendency is to produce the belief of a kind of moral predestination or overruling principle which cannot be resisted: he that admits it is prepared to comply with every desire that caprice or opportunity shall excite, and to flatter himself that he submits only to the lawful dominion of Nature in obeying the resistless authority of his 'ruling Passion.'"
— Johnson, Samuel (1709-1784)
Of any passion thus innate and irresistible, the existence may be reasonably doubted. Human characters are by no means constant; men change by change of place, of fortune, of acquaintance; he who is at one time a lover of pleasure, is at another a lover of money. Those indeed who attain any excellence commonly spend life in one pursuit; for excellence is not often gained upon easier terms. But to the particular species of excellence men are directed, not by an ascendant planet or predominating humour, but by the first book which they read, some early conversation which they heard, or some accident which excited ardour and emulation.
It must be at least allowed that this ruling passion, antecedent to reason and observation, must have an object independent of human contrivance, for there can be no natural desire for artificial good. No man therefore can be born, in the strict acceptation, a lover of money, for he may be born where money does not exist: nor can he be born, in a moral sense, a lover of his country; for society, politically regulated, is a state contradistinguished from a state of nature, and any attention to that coalition of interests which makes the happiness of a country, is possible only to those whom inquiry and reflection have enabled to comprehend it.
This doctrine is in itself pernicious as well as false: its tendency is to produce the belief of a kind of moral predestination, or overruling principle which cannot be resisted; he that admits it, is prepared to comply with every desire that caprice or opportunity shall excite, and to flatter himself that he submits only to the lawful dominion of Nature, in obeying the resistless authority of his ruling passion.
Pope has formed his theory with so little skill that, in the examples by which he illustrates and confirms it, he has confounded passions, appetites, and habits.
Samuel Johnson, Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to the Works of the English Poets, vol. 7 (London: Bathurst et al., 1781). <Link to ESTC><Link to ECCO>
Text from Jack Lynch's online edition, based on G. B. Hill's Lives of the English Poets, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905). <Link>