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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 unbarmonious 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 Great, is indeed such a peculiarity as deserved notice. But to be a safe companion is praise merely negative, arising not from the 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 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.
Hoc marmor fatetur.
· Ald. P. vol. iii. p. 142.
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 nearly allied.
On EDMUND Duke of BUCKINGHAM,' who died in the 19th Year
of his Age, 1735.
“If modest youth, with cool reflection crown'd,
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 nonsense. Opening virtues blooming round, is something like tautology; the six following lines are poor and prosaick. 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.
1 Ald. P. vol. iii. p. 143. E. and C. vol. iv. p. 391.
The rest of his sepulchral performances hardly deserve the notice of criticism. The contemptible Dialogue between He and She should have been suppressed 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 sill,
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.
The world has but little new; even this wretchedness seems to have been borrowed from the following tuneless lines :
“Ludovici Areosti humantur ossa
Olim siquod haberetis sepulchrum. Surely Ariosto ? did not venture to expect that his trifle would have ever had such an illustrious imitator.
2 Dr. Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester, and his daughter. E. and C. vol. iv. p. 390.
* Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533), one of the most famous of Italian poets, author of Orlando Furioso. The sense of the Latin lines in the text is as follows: “ The bones of Ludovico Ariosto lie buried
under this stone, or under this sod, or under whatsoever his kind heir chose, or a comrade kinder than his heir, or a traveller lighting by good hap on his remains. For what would befall him he could not tell, but neither did he esteem his empty carcass enough to desire to provide for it an urn in his lifetime; howbeit in his lifetime he provided this inscription for his sepulchre, if any sepulchre he was hereafter to have.” -Matt. ARNOLD.
It may not be improper here to observe, that since Johnson wrote, the discoveries of Mr. Dilke (see Atheneum, 1854) and Mr. Elwin (in the edition just completed by Mr. Courthope's Life) have proved that Pope carried the manufacture of correspondence much farther than Johnson supposed, and have opened a new chapter in the history of Pope's reputation. But the poet's character, nevertheless, remains much where Johnson left it.