« PreviousContinue »
necessary to borrow from himself. The fourteen epitaphs, which he has written, comprise about an hundred and forly 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 eles gant and better connected.
ON SIR GODFREY KNELLER,
IN WESTMINSTER-ABBEY, 1723.
Living, great Nature feard he might outvie
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 luys; and the fourth is not only borrowed from the epitaph on Raphael, but of a very harsh construction,
IN WESTMINSTER-ABBEY, 1729.
Withers, adieu ! yet not with thee remure
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 sicceeds 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 hig sensations, and that he is equally a dissembler to the living and the dead.
At the third couplet I should wish the epitaplı to close, but that I should be un
willing to lose the two next lines, which yet are dearly bought if they cañinot be res tained without the four that follow them.
This modest stone, what few vain marbles can,
Thank'd Heaven that he had liv'd, and that he dy'd. 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 soine poet or biographer to display
it more fully for the advantage of posterity. If he did not stand in the first rank of gepius, 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.
ON MR. GAY,
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 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 poet. The wit of mans, and the simplicity of a child, make 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 great, is indeed such a peculiarity as deserved notice. But to be a safe cornpanion 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 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.
INTENDED FOR SIR ISAAC NEWTON,
Hoc Marmor fatetur.
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 mortulis 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. . Her weit was more than man, her innocence a child.
Dryden on Mrs. Killigrew. C.
If modest youth, with cool reflection crown'd,
Pays the last tribute of a saint to Heaven. 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 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 Dialogue between He and She should have been suppressed for the author's sake.
In bis 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 haberet is sepulchrum. Surely Ariosto did not venture to expect that liis trifle would have ever had such an illustrious imitator.
OCTAVO EDITION OF MR. POPE'S WORKS, 1751.
Ms. Pope, in his last illness, amused himself, amidst the care of his higher concerns, in preparing a corrected and complete edition of his writings; and, with his usual delicacy, was even solicitous to prevent any share of the offence they might occasion, from falling on the friend whom he had engaged to give them to the public.
In discharge of t' is trust, the public has here a complete edition of his works, executed in such a manner, as, I am persuaded, would have been to his satisfaction.
The editor hath not, for the sake of profit, suffered the author's name to be made cheap by a subscription ; nor his works to be defrauded of their due honours by a vulgar or inelegant impression ; nor his memory to be disgraced by any pieces unworthy of his talents or virtue. On the contrary, he hath, at a very great expense, ornamented this edition with all the advantages which the best artists in paper, printing, and pture, could bestow upon it.
If the public bath waited longer than the deference due to it should have suffered, it was owing to a reason which the editor need not to make a secret; it was his regard to the family-interests of his deceased friend. Mr. Pope, at his death, left large impressions of several parts of his works, unsold ; the property of which was adjudged to belong to his executors; and the editor was willing they should have time to dispose of them to the best advantage, before the publication of this edition (which hath been long prepared) should put a stop to the sale.
But it may be proper to be a little more particular concerning the superiority of this edition above all the preceding, so far as Mr. Pope himself was concerucu. What the Editor hath done, the seader must collect for himself.
The first volume, and the original poems in the seco re here printed from a copy corrected throughout by the author himself, even to the very preface ;, which, with several additional notes in his own hand, he delivered to the editor a little before his death. The juvenile translations, in the other part of the second volume, it was never his intention to bring into this edition of his works, on account of the levity of soine, the freedom of others, and the little importance of any : but these being the property of other men, the editor had it not in his power to follow the author's intention.
The third volume, all but the Essay on Man, (which, together with the Essay on Criticism, the author, a little before his death, had corrected and published in quarto, as a specimen or his projected edition) was printed by him in his last illness (but never published) in the manner it is now given. The disposition of the Epistle on the Characters of Men is quite altered; that on the Characters of Women, much enlarged; and the Epistles on Riches and Taste, corrected and improved. To these advantages of the third volume must be added a great number of fine verses taken from the author's manuscript copies of these poems, communicated by him for this purpose to the editor, These, when he first published the poems to which they belong, he thought proper, for various reasons, to omit. Some from the manuscript copy of the Essay on Man, which tended to discredit fate, and to recommend the moral government of God, had, by the editor's advice, bern restored to their places in the last edition of that poem. The rest, together with others of the like sort from his mannseript copy of the other Ethic Epistles, are here inserted at the bottom of the page, under the title of Variations. VOL. XII.