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The criticism upon Pope's Epitaphs, which was printed in The Visitor, is placed here, being too minute and particular to be inserted in the Life 1.
EVERY art is best taught by example. Nothing contributes more to the cultivation of propriety than remarks on the works of those who have most excelled. I shall therefore endeavour at this visit to entertain the young students in poetry, with an examination of Pope's Epitaphs.
386 To define an epitaph is useless; every one knows that it is an inscription on a tomb3. An epitaph, therefore, implies no particular character of writing, but may be composed in verse or prose. It is indeed commonly panegyrical, because we are seldom distinguished with a stone but by our friends; but it has no rule to restrain or modify it, except this, that it ought not to be longer than common beholders may be expected to have leisure and patience to peruse.
On CHARLES Earl of DORSET 5, in the Church of Wythyham
'Dorset, the grace of courts, the Muses' pride,
In Gent. Mag. Dec. 1740, p. 593, is An Essay on Epitaphs by Johnson. Works, v. 259. În May, 1756, he wrote for The Universal Visiter [sic] A Dissertation on the Epitaphs written by Pope. Both these Essays were 'added to The Idler, when it was collected in volumes.' Boswell's Johnson, i. 306, 335. For The Universal Visiter see ib. ii. 345.
2 In the reprint in The Idler he omits these words, which only suited
Blest peer! his great forefather's' ev'ry grace
The first distich of this epitaph contains a kind of information 388 which few would want, that the man for whom the tomb was erected 'died.' There are indeed some qualities worthy of praise ascribed to the dead, but none that were likely to exempt him from the lot of man, or incline us much to wonder that he should die. What is meant by 'judge of nature' is not easy to say. Nature is not the object of human judgement; for it is vain to judge where we cannot alter. If by nature is meant, what is commonly called nature by the criticks, a just representation of things really existing and actions really performed, nature cannot be properly opposed to art; nature being, in this sense, only the best effect of art.
The scourge of pride
Of this couplet the second line is not, what is intended, an illustration of the former. Pride in the Great is indeed well enough connected with knaves in state, though knaves is a word rather too ludicrous and light; but the mention of sanctified pride will not lead the thoughts to 'fops in learning,' but rather to some species of tyranny or oppression, something more gloomy and more formidable than foppery.
'Forefathers ev'ry grace,' in The Universal Visiter, p. 208, in the reprint in The Idler, and in the editions of Warburton and Warton. 'Forefathers' ev'ry grace,' in Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), iv. 382. Forefather's,' as in the text, is, I believe, the correct reading, the reference being to Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, first Earl of Dorset. 'He was,' said Pope, 'the best English poet between Chaucer's and Spenser's time. His tragedy of Gorboduc is written in a much purer style than Shakespeare's was in several of his first plays.' Spence's Anec. p. 21. Spence reprinted it in 1736. Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), ix. 67. See also DRYDEN, 207.
Horace Walpole (Works, i. 330) describes him as 'the patriarch of
a race of genius and wit.' See also
Horace Walpole wrote of the grandson of the subject of the epitaph, Charles Sackville, second Duke of Dorset:-' He possessed the hereditary talent of his family; and, though a poet of no eminence, had a genteel style in his verses that spoke the man of quality, without subjecting him to the ridicule that has been so justly lavished on what were formerly called poems by a person of honour.' Walpole's Works, i. 460.
From Richard Sackville, greatuncle of the first Earl, Shelley was descended. Collins's Peerage, ed. 1756, i. 708, and Burke's Peerage, &c., under SHELLEY.
Yet soft his nature
This is a high compliment, but was not first bestowed on Dorset by Pope. The next verse is extremely beautiful.
In this distich is another line of which Pope was not the author. I do not mean to blame these imitations with much harshness; in long performances they are scarcely to be avoided, and in shorter they may be indulged, because the train of the composition may naturally involve them, or the scantiness of the subject allow little choice. However, what is borrowed is not to be enjoyed as our own, and it is the business of critical justice to give every bird of the Muses his proper feather.
Blest courtier !—
Whether a courtier can properly be commended for keeping his ease sacred, may perhaps be disputable. To please king and country, without sacrificing friendship to any change of times, was a very uncommon instance of prudence or felicity, and deserved to be kept separate from so poor a commendation as care of his ease. I wish our poets would attend a little more accurately to the use of the word sacred, which surely should never be applied in a serious composition but where some reference may be made to a higher Being, or where some duty is exacted or implied. A man may keep his friendship sacred, because promises of friendships are very awful ties; but methinks he cannot, but in a burlesque sense, be said to keep his ease sacred.
The blessing ascribed to the peer has no connection with his peerage they might happen to any other man, whose ancestors were remembered, or whose posterity were likely to be regarded. 394 I know not whether this epitaph be worthy either of the writer or of the man entombed.
' Johnson refers to Rochester's line
'The best-good man, with the worst-
Ante, DORSET, 13 . I.
2 'All his satires were little personal invectives.' Ante, DORSET, 14.
3 'He received some favourable notice from King James.... He became a favourite of King William.' Ante, DORSET, 10, 12.
On Sir WILLIAM TRUMBAL', one of the principal Secretaries 395 of State to King WILLIAM III., who, having resigned his place, died in his retirement at Easthampsted in Berkshire, 1716.
'A pleasing form, a firm, yet cautious mind,
Just to his prince, and to his country true.
Such this man was; who now, from earth remov'd,
In this epitaph, as in many others, there appears at the first 396 view a fault which I think scarcely any beauty can compensate. The name is omitted. The end of an epitaph is to convey some account of the dead; and to what purpose is any thing told of him whose name is concealed? An epitaph and a history of a nameless hero are equally absurd, since the virtues and qualities so recounted in either are scattered at the mercy of fortune to be appropriated by guess. The name, it is true, may be read upon the stone; but what obligation has it to the poet whose verses wander over the earth and leave their subject behind them, and who is forced, like an unskilful painter, to make his purpose known by adventitious help?
This epitaph is wholly without elevation, and contains nothing 397 striking or particular; but the poet is not to be blamed for the defects of his subject. He said perhaps the best that could be said. There are, however, some defects which were not made necessary by the character in which he was employed.
The name is written Trumbal, Trumball, Trumbul, and Trumbull. Ante, POPE, 23. The first six lines of this epitaph Pope took from one he wrote on John, titular Lord Caryll, who died in 1711. Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), vi. 156. The 'prince' in the sixth line must have
LIVES OF POETS. II
been originally James II, whom Caryll followed into exile. Ante, POPE, 53. In the epitaph it means William III, whom Trumbull served as Secretary of State.
2 Ante, COWLEY, 103, 107; post, POPE, 412; Johnson's Works, v. 264.
There is no opposition between an honest courtier and a patriot; for an honest courtier cannot but be a patriot'.
It was unsuitable to the nicety required in short compositions to close his verse with the word too; every rhyme should be a word of emphasis, nor can this rule be safely neglected, except where the length of the poem makes slight inaccuracies excusable, or allows room for beauties sufficient to overpower the effects of petty faults.
At the beginning of the seventh line the word filled is weak and prosaic, having no particular adaptation to any of the words that follow it.
The thought in the last line is impertinent, having no connexion with the foregoing character, nor with the condition of the man described. Had the epitaph been written on the poor conspirator3 who died lately in prison, after a confinement of more than forty years, without any crime proved against him, the sentiment had been just and pathetical; but why should Trumbal be congratulated upon his liberty, who had never known restraint *?
401 On the Hon. SIMON HARCOURT, only Son of the Lord Chancellor HARCOURT5, at the Church of Stanton-Harcourt in Oxfordshire, 1720.
To this sad shrine, whoe'er thou art, draw near;
I Johnson forgot his description of patriotism as 'the last refuge of a scoundrel.' Boswell's Johnson, ii. 348.
Ante, COWLEY, 187.
3 Bernardi. JOHNSON. In the List of Deaths in Gent. Mag. 1736, p. 553, is 'Major John Bernardi, in Newgate, where he had been a state prisoner 40 years, for a conspiracy against King William III. See also ib. 1780, 125, and Macaulay's History, vii. 284, 297. He was never tried. 'An Act was passed confining him and other conspirators during the pleasure of King William. Similar Acts were passed on the accession of Anne, George I and II. In 1712 he was married in Newgate. His wife bore him ten children.' Dict. Nat. Biog. iv. 390.
4 He had known the restraint of office, for he had served under three Kings. Pope in his first Pastoral (1. 7) thus addresses him :'You that too wise for pride, too good for pow'r,
Enjoy the glory to be great no
And carrying with you all the world can boast,
To all the world illustriously are lost!'
5 Ante, J. PHILIPS, 8; SHEFFIELD, Appendix EE.
Swift wrote to Stella on April 21, 1711: 'We dined to-day according to appointment; Lord-Keeper went away at near eight, I at eight, and I believe the rest will be fairly fuddled; for young Harcourt, Lord-Keeper's