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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 neces. sary 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.
0.1 Sir GODFREY KNELLER, in Westminster Abbey, 1723.
Kneller, by Heaven, and not a master, taught,
Living, great Nature feared he might outvie
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.
Withers, adieu! yet not with thee remove
The epitaph on Withers affords another instance of commonplaces, 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 0! used at the beginning of a sentence, always offends. The third couplet is more happy; the value expressed for bim, 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.
A poet, blest beyond the poet's fate,
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 ob. ject to his writings, censure could find very little to blame in his life.
Of manners gentle, of affections mild ;
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 anything, 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 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 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 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 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, in Westminster Abbey.
ISAACUS NEWTONIUS :
Mortalem hoc marmor fatetur.
On 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.
Year of his Age, 1735.