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I have always considered this as the most valuable of all Pope's epitaphs ; the subject of it is a character not discriminated by any shining or eminent peculiarities; yet that which really makes, though not the splendor, the felicity of life, and that which every wise man will choose for his final and lasting companion in the languor of age, in the quiet of privacy, when he departs weary and disgusted from the ostentatious, the volatile, and the vain Of such a character, which the dull overlook, and the gay despise, it was fit that the value should be made known, and the dignity established. Domestick virtue, as it is exerted without great occasions, or conspicuous consequences in an even unnoted tenor, required the genius of Pope to display it in such a manner as might attract regard, and enforce reverence. Who can forbear to lament that this amiable woman has no name in the verses.
If the particular lines of this inscription be examined, it will appear less faulty than the rest. There is scarce one line taken from common places, untess it be that in which only Virtue is said to be our own. I once heard a Lady of great beauty and excellence object to the fourth line, that it contained an unnatural and incredible panegyrick. Of this let the Ladies Judge.
On the Monument of the Hon. ROBERT DIGBY, and of his Sister MARY,
erected by their Father the Lord DIGBY, in the Church of Sherborne in Dorset shire, 1727.
Go! fair example of untainted youth,
And thou, blest maid ! attendant on his doom,
Yet take these tears, Mortality's relief.
This epitaph contains of the brother only a general indiscriminate character, and of the sister tells nothing but that she died. The difficulty in writing epitaphs is to give a particular and appropriate praise. This, however, is not always to be performed, whatever be the diligence or ability of the writer; for the greater part of mankind have no character at all, have little that distinguishes them from others equally good or bad, and therefore nothing can be said of them which may not be applied with equal propriety to a thousand more. It is indeed no great panegyrick, that there is inclosed in this tomb one who was born in one year, and died in another ; yet many useful and amiable lives have been spent, which yet leave little materials for any other memorial. These are however not the proper subjects of poetry ; and whenever friendship ; or any other motive, obliges a poet to write on such subjects, he must be forgiven if he sometimes wanders in generalities, and utters the same praises over different tombs.
The scantiness of human praises can scarcely be made more apparent, than by. remarking how often Pope has, in the few epitaphs which he composed, found it necessary to borrow from himself. The fourteen epitaphs, which he has written, comprise about an hundred and forty lines, in which there are more repetitions than will easily be found in all the rest of his works. In the eight lines which make the character of Digby, there is scarce any thought, or word, which may not be found in the other epitaphs.
The ninth line, which is far the strongest and most elegant, is borrowed from Dryden. The conclusion is the same with that on Harcourt, but is here more elegant and better connected.
On Sir GODFREY KNELLER. In Westminster-Abbey, 1723.
Kneller, by heaven, and not a master taught,
Living great Nature feared he might outvle
Her works; and dying, fears herself may die. Of this epitaph the first couplet is good, the second not bad, the third is deformed with a broken metaphor, the word crowned not being applicable to the honours or the lays, and the fourth is not only borrowed from the epitaplı on Raphael, bui of a very harsh construction.
On General HENRY WITHERS. I» Westminster Abbey, 5729.
Here, Withers, rest ! thou bravest, gentlest mind,
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 0 ! used at the beginning of a 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 that 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 I should wish the epitaph to close, but that I 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. A: Easthamstead in Berkshire, 1730.
This modest stone, what few vain marbles can,
The first couplet of this epitaph is borrowed from Crashaw. The foor next lines contain a species of praise peculiar, original, and just. Here, therefore, the inscription should have ended, the latter part contain 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;
Striking their pensive bosomsHere lies Gay. As Gay was the favourite of our author, this epitaph was probably wrkten 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 influenced 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, aud the simplicity of a child, inake a poor and vulgar contrast, and raise no ideas of excellence, either intellectual or moral
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 inharmonious 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 reat is indeed such a peculiarity as deserved notice. But to be a safe npanion is a praise merely negative, arising not from possession of virtue, t the absence of vice, and that one of the most odious. As little can be added to his character, by asserting that he was lamented his end.' Every man that dies is, at least by the writer of his epitaph, pposed to be lamented, and therefore this general lamentation does no ho
ur to Gay. 1. The first eight lines have no grammar; the adjectives are without any
bstantive, and the epithets without a subject. The thought in the last line, that Gay is buried in the bosoms of the worj and the good, who are distinguished only to lengthen the line, is so rk that few understand it; and so harsh, when it is explained, that still
ISAACUS NEWTONIUS :
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 art should be Latin, and part English, it is not easy to discover. In the atin the opposition of Immortalis and Mortalis, is a mere sound, or a mere uibble; he is not immortal in any sense contrary to that in which he is nortal.
In the verses the thought is obvious, and the words night and light are too learly allied.
Attend the shade of gentle Buckingham: