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On JAMES CRAGGS, Esq.
ET CONSILIIS SANCTIORIBVS,
VIXIT TITVLIS ET INVIDIA MAJOR
OB. FEB. XVI. MDCCXX.
Prais'd, wept, and honour'd, by the Muse he lov'd! The lines on Craggs were not originally intended for an epitaph; and therefore some faults are to be imputed to the violence with which they are torn from the poem that first contained them. We may, however, observe some defects. There is a redundancy of words in the first couplet: it is superfluous to tell of him who was sincere, true, and faithful, that he was in honour clear.
There seems to be an opposition intended in the fourth line, which is not very obvious: where is the relation between the two positions, that he gained no title, and lost no friend?
It may be proper here to remark the absurdity of joining in the same inscription Latin and English, or verse and prose. If either language be preferable to the other, let that only be used; for no reason can be given why part of the information should be given in one tongue, and part in another, on a tomb more than in any other place, or any other occasion; and to tell all that can be conveniently told in verse, and then to call in the help of prose, has always the appearance of a very artless expedient, or of an attempt unaccomplished. Such an epitaph resembles the conversation of a foreigner, who tells part of his meaning by words, and conveys part by signs.
Peace to thy gentle shade, and endless rest!
What a whole thankless land to his denies. Of this inscription the chief fault is, that it belongs less to Rowe, for whom it is written, than to Dryden, who was buried near him; and indeed gives very little information concerning either.
To wish Peace to thy shade is too mythological to be admitted into a Christian temple: the ancient worship has infected almost all our other compositions, and might therefore be contented to spare our epitaphs. Let fiction at least cease with life, and let us be serious over the grave.
On Mrs. CORBET,
The saint sustain'd it, but the woman died. 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 splendour, 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. Domestic 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 scarcely one line taken from common- 2-places, unless it be that in which only virtue is said to be our own. I once heard a lady of great beauty and elegance object to the fourth line, that it contained an unnatural and incredible panegyric. Of this let the ladies judge.
VII. 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 Dorsetshire, 1727.
Go! fair example of untainted youth,
And thou, blest maid! attendant on his doom,
Yet take these tears, Mortality's relief,
'Tis all a father, all a friend can give! 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 panegyric, 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 a 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.
In Westminster - Abbey, 1723.
Living, great Nature fear'd 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 lays; 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 remove
The epitaph on Withers affords another instance of common-places, though somewhat diversified by mingled qualities and his 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 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.
Thank'd Heaven that he liv'd, and that he died. 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.