Page images
PDF
EPUB

For thee the hardy veteran drops a tear,
And the gay courtier feels the sigh sincere.

Withers, adieu! yet not with thee remove
Thy martial spirit or thy social love!
Amidst corruption, luxury, and rage,
Still leave some ancient virtues to our age ;
Nor let us say (those English glories gone)
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 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.

1

х

On Mr. ELIJAH FENTON. At Easthamstead in Berk

shire, 1730.

[ocr errors]

This modest stone, what few vain marbles can,
May truly say, here lies an honest man:
A poet, blest beyond the poet's fate,
Whom heaven kept sacred from the proud and great:
Foe to loud praise, and friend to learned ease,
Content with science in the vale of peace.

Calmly he look'd on either life, and here
Saw nothing to regret, or there to fear;
From nature's temperate feast rose satisfied,
Thank'd heaven that he liv'd, and that he died.

[ocr errors]

The first couplet of this epitaph is borrowed from Crashaw. The four next lines contain a species of praise peculiar, 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 cri. ticism may object to his writings, censure could find very little to blame in his life,

XI.

On Mr. Gay. In Westminster-Abbey, 1732.

Of manners gentle, of affections mild;
In wit, a man ; simplicity a child ;
With native humour tempering virtuous rage,
Form'd to delight at once and lash the age :
Above temptation in a low estate,
And uncorrupted, ev'n among the great:
A safe companion and an easy friend,
Unblam'd through life, lamented in thy end,
These are thy honours ! not that here thy bust
Is mix'd with heroes, or with kings thy dust;
But that the worthy and the good shall say,
Striking their pensive bosoms-Here lies Gar!

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 influenced by causes wholly out of the performer's power, by bints 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 no ideas of excel. lence 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 cor. ruption among the great, is indeed such a peculiarity as deserved notice. But to be a safe companion is a praise merely negative, arising not from possession of virtue, but 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 in his end. Every man that dies is, at least by the writer of his epitaph, supposed to be

* 5* Her wit war more than man, her innocence a child."

DRIDEN on Mrs. Kiligrew. Ç.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

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 approve.

[blocks in formation]

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 neary allied.

XIII.

On EDMUND Duke of BUCKINGHAM, who died in the

19th year of his age 1737.

If modest youth, with cool reflection crown'd,
And every opening virtue blooming round,

Could save a parent's justest pride from fate,
Or add one patriot to a sinking state ;
This weeping marble had not ask'd thy tear,
Or sadly told how many bopes lie here!
The living virtue now had shone approv'd,
The sena e heard him, and his country lov’d,
Yet softer honours, and less noisy fame,
Attend the shade of gentle Buchingham:
In whom a race, for courage fam'd and art,
Ends in the milder merit of the heart :
And, chiefs or sages long to Britain given,
Pays the last tribute of a saint to heaven.

sense.

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 non

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 hardly deserve the notice of criticism. The contemptible “di alogue” between He and She should have been sup pressed 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 sil,
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.

« PreviousContinue »