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The Criticism upon Pope's Epitaphs, which was printed in “ The Universal Visitor,” is placed here, being too minute and particular to be inserted in the Life.
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.
To define an epitaph is useless; every one knows that it is an inscription on a tomb. An epitaph, therefore, implies no particular character of trriting, but may be composed in verse or prose. It is indeed commonly panegyric; because we are seldom distinguished with a stone but by our friends ; but it has no rule to restrain or molify 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, in the Church of Wytbybam in Sussex.
Dorset, the grace of courts, the Muse's pride,
The first distich of this epitaph contains a kind of information 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 :0 wonder that he should die. What is meant by “judge of nature" is not easy to say. Nature is not the object of human judgment: for it is in 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 ari; nature being, in this sense, only the best effect of art.
The scourge of prideOf 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
Yet soft his nature. This is a high compliment, but was not first bestowed on Dorset by Pope. The next verse is extremely beautiful.
Blest satyrist! 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 charge of times, was a very uncommon instance of prudence or felicity, and deserved to be kept se parate 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 friendship are very awful ties; but methinks he cannot, but in a burlesque sense, be said to keep his ease sacred,
Blest peer! 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.
I know not whether this epitaph be worthy either of the writer or the man entombed.
II. On Sir WULIAM TRUMBAL, one of the principal Secretaries of State to King
WILLIAM III. who having resigned his place, died in his retirement at East-baststead in Berkshire, 1716.
A pleasing form, a firm, yet cautious mind,
At length enjoys that liberty he lov'd. In this epitaph, as in many others, there appears, at the first 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 naine, it is true, may be read upon the stone; but what obligation has it to the poet, whose verses wasder over the earth, and leave their subject behind them, and who is force: like an unskilful painter, to make his purpose known by adventitious help
This e pitaph is wholly without elevation, and contains nothing strikir; or particular; but the poet is not to be blamed for the defects of his susject. 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. 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 nicery 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 excuseable, or allow3 room for beauties sufficien: 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 connection with the foregoing character, nor with the condition of the man described. Ha the epitaph been written on the poor conspirator* who died lately in prisce,
Major Ihesgardi; who died in Dairesite, Sept 20, 1736. Sen Gent Mag. vol. Lo po 125, N,
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 ?
To this sad shrine, whoe'er thou art, draw near,
And with a father's sorrows mix his own! This epitaph is principally remarkable for the artful introduction of the name, which is inserted with a peculiar felicity, to which chance must concur with genius, which no man can hope to attain twice, and which cannot be copied but with servile invitation.
I cannot but wish that, of this inscription, the two last lines had been omitted, as they take away from the energy what they do not add to the sense.
REGI MAGNA BRITANNIA A SECRETIS
ET CONSILIIS SANCTIORIBVS
PRINCIPIS PARITER AC POPULI AMOR ET DELICIÆ:
VIXIT TITULIS ET INVIDIA MAJOR,
ANNOS HEV PAVCOS, XXXV.
OB. FEB. XVI. MDCCXX.
Statesman, yet friend to truth! of soul sincere,
Prais'd, wept, and honour', by the Muse he lov'd. The lines on Craggs were not originally intended for an epitaph; and therefore some faults are to be imputed to the violence with which they are torn from the poems that first contained them. We may however, observe some defects. There is a redundancy of words in the first couplet: it is superfluous to tell of him, who was sincete, true, and faithful, that he was En honour clear,
4 E 2
There seems to be an opposition intended in the fourth line, which is not very obvious: where is the relation between the two positions, that he gained no title and lost no friend?
It may be proper here to remark the absurdity of joining, in the same inscription, Latin and English, or verse and prose. If either language be preferable to the other, let that only be used; for no reason can be given why part of the information should be given in one tongue, and part in another, on a tomb, more than in any other place, on any other occasion; and to tell all that can be conveniently told in verse, and then to call in the help of prose, has always the appearance of a very artless expedient, or of an attempt unaccomplished. Such an epitaph resembles the conversation of a foreigner, who tells part of his meaning by words, and conveys part by signs
Thy reliques, Rowe, to this fair urn we trust,
What a whole thankless land to his denies. Of this inscription the chief fault is, that it belongs less to Rowe, fit whom it was written, than to Dryden, who was buried near hiin; and is deed gives very little information concerning either.
To wish, Peace to thy shade, is too mythological to be admitted into a Christian temple : the ancient worship has infected almost all our other compositions, and might therefore be contented to spare our epithets. Let fiction, at least, cease with life, and let us be serious over the grave.
Here rests a woman, good without pretence,
Tbe saint sustain’d it, but the woman dy'd.