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Compos'd in sufferings, and in joy sedate,
“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.
E. and C.
wrong, as Mary died of small-pox, April 5th, 1729. vol. iv. p. 386.
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.
Kneller, by heaven, and not a master taught,
Living, great Nature fear'd he might outvie
1 Ald. P. vol. iii. p. 140. “I paid Sir Godfrey Kneller a visit two days before he died. I think I never saw a scene of so much vanity in my life. He was lying in his bed and contemplating the plan he had formed for his own monument.
He said he should not like to lie among the rascals at Westminster. A memorial there would be sutticient, and he desired me to write an epitaph for it. I did so afterwards, and I think it is the worst thing I ever wrote in my life.” Pope, Spence, p. 165. E. and C. vol. iv. p. 387.
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 epitaph on Raphael, but of very harsh construction.
On General HENRY WITHERS.
“ Here, Withers, rest! thou bravest, gentlest mind,
“ Withers, adieu ! yet not with thee remove
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 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 de
1 Ald. P. vol. iii. p. 140.
stroys 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 next two lines, which yet are dearly bought if they cannot be retained without the four that follow them.
On Mr. ELIJAH FENTON.
6. This modest stone, what few vain marbles can,
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 criticism may object to his writings, censure could find very little to blame in his life.
1 Ald. P. iii. p. 141. Vid. supr. Life of Fenton, vol. ii. p. 245. See Swift's criticisms on the first draft of this epitaph in his letter to Pope, March 21st, 1733. E. and C. vol. vii.
On Mr. Gay.
Striking their pensive bosoms—Here lies Gay. As Gay was the favourite of our author, this epitaph was probably written with an uncommon degree of atten. tion; 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 commenda
to have the wit of a man is not much for a poet. The I wit of man, and the simplicity of a child, make a poor and vulgar contrast, and raise no ideas of excellence, either intellectual or moral.
E. and C. vol. iv. p. 389.
1 Ald. P. vol. iii. p. 142. Life of Gay, vol. ii. p. 257.