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On General HENRY WITHERS.
In Westminster-Abbey, 1729.
Withers, adieu ! yet not with thee remove
The last true Briton lies beneath this stone. The epitaph on Withers affords another instance of common.places, though somewhat diversified by mingled qualities and the peculiarity of a profession.
The second couplet is abrupt, general, and unpleasing; exclamation seldom succeeds in our language ; and, I think, it may be observed that the particle O! used at the beginning of the sentence always offends.
The third couplet is more happy; the value expressed for him, by different sorts of men, raises him to esteem : there is yet something of the common cant of superficial satirists, who suppose the insincerity of a courtier destroys all his sensations, and that he is equally a dissembler to the living and the dead.
At the third couplet 1 should be unwilling to lose the two next lines, which yet are dearly bought if they cannot be retained without the four that follow them.
On Mr. ELIJAH FENTON.
Thank'd Heaven that he liv'd, and that he died.
shaw. The four next lines contain a species of praise pe. culiar, original, and just. Here, therefore, the inscription should have ended, the latter part containing nothing but what is common to every man who is wise and good. The character of Fenton was so amiable, that I cannot forbear to wish for some poet or biographer to display it more fully for the advantage of posterity. If he did not stand in the first rank of genius, he may claim a place in the second; and, whatever criticism may object to his writings, censure could find very little to blame in his life.
Of manners gentle, of affections mild ;
that the wortly and the good shall say,
Striking their pensive bosoms-Here lies GÁY! As Gay was the favourite of our Author, this epitaph was probably written with an uncommon degree of attention; yet it is not more successfully executed than the rest, for it will not always happen that the success of a poet is proportionate to his labour. The same observation may be extended to all works of imagination, which are often in. fluenced by causes wholly out of the performer's power, by hints of which he perceives not the origin, by sudden elevations of mind which he cannot produce in himself, and which sometimes rise when he expects them least.
The two parts of the first line are only echoes of each other; gentle manners and mild affections, if they mean any thing, must mean the same.
That Gay was a man in wit is a very frigid commendation; to have the wit of a man is not much for a poet. The wit of man,* and the simplicity of a child, make a poor and vulgar contrast, and raise po ideas of excellence either intellectual or moral. * 'Her wit was more than man, her innocence a child.'
Dryden on Mrs. Killegrew.-C.
In the next couplet rage is less properly introduced after the mention of mildness and gentleness, which are made the constituents of his character; for a man so mild and gentle to temper his rage was not difficult.
The next line is in harmonious in its sound and mean in its conception; the opposition is obvious, and the word lash, used absolutely, and without any modification, is gross and improper.
To be above temptation in poverty, and free from corruption among the great, is indeed such a peculiarity as deserved notice. But to be a sufe companion is a praise merely negative, arising not from possession of virtue, but the absence of vice, and tbat ove of the most odious.
As little can be added to bis character by asserting that he was lamented in his end. Every man that dies is, at least by the writer of his epitaph, supposed to be lamented; and therefore this general lamentation does no honour to Gay.
The first eight lines have no grammar; the adjectives are without any substantive, and the epithets without a subject.
The thought in the last line, that Gay is buried in the bosoms of the worthy and the good, who are distinguished only to lengthen the line, is so dark that few understand it; and so harsh, when it is explained, that still fewer ap. prove.
Hoc marmor fatetur.
God said, Let Newton be! And all was light. Of this epitaph, short as it is, the faults seem not to be very few. Why part should be Latin, and part English, it is not easy to discover. In the Latin the opposition of Immortalis and Mortalis is a mere sound, or a mere quibble; he is not immortal in any sense contrary to that in which he is mortal,
In the verses the thought is obvious, and the words night and light are too nearly allied.
19th Year of his Age, 1735.
This epitaph Mr. Warburton prefers to the rest; but I know not for what reason. To crown with reflection is surely a mode of speech approaching to nonsense. Opening virtues blooming round is something like tautology: the six following lines are poor and prosaic. Art is in another couplet used for arts, that a rhyme may be had to heart. The six last lines are the best, but not excellent.
The rest of his sepulchral performances bardly deserve the notice of criticism. The contemptible ' Dialogue' be. tween He and She should have been suppressed for the Author's sake.
In his last epitaph on himself, in which he attempts to be jocular upon one of the few things that make wise men serious, he confounds the living man with the dead:
Under this stone, or under this sill,
Or under this turf, &c. When a man is once buried, the question, under what he is buried, is easily decided. He forgot that, though he wrote the epitaph in a state of uncertainty, yet it could not be laid over him till his grave was made. Such is the folly of wit when it is ill employed.
The world has but little new; even this wretchedness seems to have been borrowed from the following tuneless lines:
Ludovici Areosti humantur ossa
Olim siquod haberet is sepulchrum. Surely Ariosto did not venture to expect that his trifle would have ever had such an illustrious imitator.
PITT. CHRISTOPHER Pitt, of whom, whatever I shall relate, more than has been already published, I owe to the kind communication of Dr. Wartov, was born in 1699, at Bland. ford, the son of a physician much esteemed.'
He was, in 1714, received as a scholar into Winchester College, where he was distinguished by exercises of uncommon elegance, and, at his removal to New College, in 1719, presented to the electors, as the product of his private and voluntary studies, a complete version of Lucan's poem, which he did not then know to have been translated by Rowe.
This is an instance of early diligence, which well deserves to be recorded. The suppression of such a work, recommended by such uncommon circumstances, is to be regretted. It is indeed culpable to load libraries with superfluous books; but incitements to early excellence are never su. perfluous, and from this example the danger is not great of many imitations.
When he had resided at his college three years, he was presented to the rectory of Pimpern, in Dorsetshire (1722), by his relation, Mr. Pitt, of Stratfield Say, in Hampshire; aod, resigning his fellowship, continued at Oxford two years longer, till he became master of arts (1724).
He probably about this time translated Vida's 'Art of Poetry,' which Tristram's splendid edition had then made popular. In this translation he distinguished himself, both by its general elegance, and by the skilful adaptation of his numbers to the images expressed; a beauty which Vida has with great ardour enforced and exemplified.