W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser (eds), The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, Vol. 2
pg 63Critical Apparatus[Essay Upon Epitaphs, ii]
- Editor’s Note1 Yet even these bones from insult to protect
- 2 Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
- 3 With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
- 4 Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
- 5 Their name, their years, spelt by the unletter'd Muse,
- 6 The place of fame and elegy supply,
- 7 And many a holy text around she strews,
- 8 That teach the rustic moralist to die.
9When a Stranger has walked round a Country Church-yard and Editor’s Note10glanced his eye over so many brief Chronicles, as the tomb-stones 11usually contain, of faithful Wives, tender Husbands, dutiful Children, 12and good Men of all classes; he will be tempted to exclaim, in the Editor’s Note13language of one of the Characters of a modern Tale in a similar situa-14tion, "Where are all the bad People buried?" He may smile to himself 15an answer to this question, and may regret that it has intruded upon 16him so soon. For my own part such has been my lot. And, indeed, a 17Man, who is in the habit of suffering his mind to be carried passively Critical Apparatus18towards truth as well as of going with conscious effort in search of it, 19may be forgiven, if he has sometimes insensibly yielded to the delusion 20of those flattering recitals, and found a pleasure in believing that the 21prospect of real life had been as fair as it was in that picture repre-Critical Apparatus22sented. And such a transitory oversight will without difficulty be 23forgiven by those who have observed a trivial fact in daily life, namely, Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus24how apt, in a series of calm weather, we are to forget that rain and 25storms have been, and will return, to interrupt any scheme of business 26or pleasure which our minds are occupied in arranging. Amid the quiet Critical Apparatus27of a Church-yard thus decorated as it seemed by the hand of Memory, Editor’s Note28and shining, if I may so say, in the light of love, I have been affected Critical Apparatus29by sensations akin to those which have risen in my mind while I have Editor’s Note30been standing by the side of a smooth Sea, on a Summer's day. It is 31pg 64such a happiness to have, in an unkind World, one Enclosure where 32the voice of detraction is not heard; where the traces of evil inclinations 33are unknown; where contentment prevails, and there is no jarring tone Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus34in the peaceful Concert of amity and gratitude. I have been rouzed from 35this reverie by a consciousness, suddenly flashing upon me, of the 36anxieties, the perturbations, and, in many instances, the vices and 37rancorous dispositions, by which the hearts of those who lie under so 38smooth a surface and so fair an outside must have been agitated. The 39image of an unruffled Sea has still remained; but my fancy has pene-Critical Apparatus40trated into the depths of that Sea—with accompanying thoughts of Critical Apparatus41Shipwreck, of the destruction of the Mariner's hopes, the bones of Editor’s Note42drowned Men heaped together, monsters of the deep, and all the hideous Editor’s Note43and confused sights which Clarence saw in his Dream!
44Nevertheless, I have been able to return, (and who may not?) to a 45steady contemplation of the benign influence of such a favourable 46Register lying open to the eyes of all. Without being so far lulled as to 47imagine I saw in a Village Church-yard the eye or central point of a 48rural Arcadia, I have felt that with all the vague and general expres-49sions of love, gratitude, and praise with which it is usually crowded, Critical Apparatus50it is a far more faithful representation of homely life as existing among Critical Apparatus51a Community in which circumstances have not been untoward, than 52any report which might be made by a rigorous observer deficient in 53that spirit of forbearance and those kindly prepossessions, without 54which human life can in no condition be profitably looked at or de-Editor’s Note55scribed. For we must remember that it is the nature of Vice to force 56itself upon notice, both in the act and by its consequences. Drunkenness, 57cruelty, brutal manners, sensuality, impiety, thoughtless prodigality, 58and idleness, are obstreperous while they are in the height and heyday 59of their enjoyment; and, when that is passed away, long and obtrusive 60is the train of misery which they draw after them. But, on the contrary, 61the virtues, especially those of humble life, are retired; and many of the 62highest must be sought for or they will be overlooked. Industry, 63ceconomy, temperance, and cleanliness, are indeed made obvious by 64flourishing fields, rosy complexions, and smiling countenances; but 65how few know anything of the trials to which Men in a lowly condition Critical Apparatus66are subject, or of the steady and triumphant manner in which those Critical Apparatus67trials are often sustained, but they themselves! The afflictions which 68Peasants and rural Artizans have to struggle with are for the most part 69secret; the tears which they wipe away, and the sighs which they Editor’s Note70pg 65stifle,—this is all a labour of privacy. In fact their victories are to them-71selves known only imperfectly: for it is inseparable from virtue, in the 72pure sense of the word, to be unconscious of the might of her own 73prowess. This is true of minds the most enlightened by reflection; 74who have forecast what they may have to endure, and prepared them-75selves accordingly. It is true even of these, when they are called into 76action, that they necessarily lose sight of their own accomplishments, Critical Apparatus77and support their conflicts in self-forgetfulness and humility. That 78species of happy ignorance, which is the consequence of these noble 79qualities, must exist still more frequently, and in a greater degree, in Critical Apparatus80those persons to whom duty has never been matter of laborious 81speculation, and who have no intimations of the power to act and to 82resist which is in them, till they are summoned to put it forth. I could 83illustrate this by many examples, which are now before my eyes; but Critical Apparatus84it would detain me too long from my principal subject which was to 85suggest reasons for believing that the encomiastic language of rural 86Tomb-stones does not so far exceed reality as might lightly be supposed. 87Doubtless, an inattentive or ill-disposed Observer, who should apply 88to the surrounding Cottages the knowledge which he may possess of 89any rural neighbourhood, would upon the first impulse confidently 90report that there was little in their living Inhabitants which reflected Editor’s Note91the concord and the virtue there dwelt upon so fondly. Much has been 92said, in a former paper tending to correct this disposition; and which 93will naturally combine with the present considerations. Besides, to 94slight the uniform language of these memorials as on that account not Critical Apparatus95trustworthy would obviously be unjustifiable. Enter a Church-yard by 96the Sea-coast, and you will be almost sure to find the Tomb-stones Critical Apparatus97crowded with metaphors taken from the Sea and a Sea-faring life. 98These are uniformly in the same strain; but surely we ought not thence 99to infer that the words are used of course without any heart-felt sense 100of their propriety. Would not the contrary conclusion be right? But I Critical Apparatus101will adduce a fact which more than a hundred analogical arguments 102will carry to the mind a conviction of the strength and sanctity of these 103feelings which persons in humble stations of society connect with their Editor’s Note104departed Friends & Kindred. We learn from the Statistical account of 105Scotland that, in some districts, a general transfer of Inhabitants has 106pg 66taken place; and that a great majority of those who live, and labour, and 107attend public worship in one part of the Country, are buried in another. 108Strong and inconquerable still continues to be the desire of all, that 109their bones should rest by the side of their forefathers, and very poor 110Persons provide that their bodies should be conveyed if necessary to Critical Apparatus111a great distance to obtain that last satisfaction. Nor can I refrain from 112saying that this natural interchange by which the living Inhabitants of 113a Parish have small knowledge of the dead who are buried in their Editor’s Note114Church-yards is grievously to be lamented wheresoever it exists. For 115it cannot fail to preclude not merely much but the best part of the Critical Apparatus116wholesome influence of that communion between living and dead which 117the conjunction in rural districts of the place of burial and place of Critical Apparatus118worship tends so effectually to promote. Finally let us remember that 119if it be the nature of Man to be insensible to vexations and afflictions Critical Apparatus120when they have passed away he is equally insensible to the height and 121depth of his blessings till they are removed from him.
122An experienced and well-regulated mind will not, therefore, be 123insensible to this monotonous language of sorrow and affectionate 124admiration; but will find under that veil a substance of individual truth. 125Yet, upon all Men, and upon such a mind in particular, an Epitaph must 126strike with a gleam of pleasure, when the expression is of that kind 127which carries conviction to the heart at once that the Author was a 128sincere mourner, and that the Inhabitant of the Grave deserved to be Editor’s Note129so lamented. This may be done sometimes by a naked ejaculation; as 130in an instance which a friend of mine met with in a Church-yard in Critical Apparatus131Germany; thus literally translated. "Ah! they have laid in the Grave a 132brave Man—he was to me more than many!"
- 133Ach! sie haben
- 134Einen Braven
- 135Mann begraben—
- 136Mir war er mehr als viele.
Critical Apparatus137An effect as pleasing is often produced by the recital of an affliction Critical Apparatus138endured with fortitude, or of a privation submitted to with contentment; 139pg 67or by a grateful display of the temporal blessings with which Provi-140dence had favoured the Deceased, and the happy course of life through 141which he had passed. And where these individualities are untouched 142upon it may still happen that the estate of man in his helplessness, in 143his dependence upon his Maker or some other inherent of his nature 144shall be movingly and profitably expressed. Every Reader will be able 145to supply from his own observation instances of all these kinds, and it 146will be more pleasing for him to refer to his memory than to have the 147page crowded with unnecessary Quotations. I will however give one Critical Apparatus148or two from an old Book cited before. The following, of general 149application, was a great favourite with our Forefathers.
- Editor’s Note150 Farwel my Frendys, the tyd abidyth no man,
- 151 I am departed hens, and so sal ye,
- 152 But in this passage the best song I can
- 153 Is Requiem Eternam, now Jesu grant it me.
- 154 When I have ended all myn adversity
- 155 Grant me in Paradys to have a mansion
- 156 That shedst thy bloud for my redemption.
Critical Apparatus159The next opens with a thought somewhat interrupting that com-Critical Apparatus160placency and gracious repose which the language and imagery of a Critical Apparatus161Church-yard tend to diffuse; but the truth is weighty, and will not be 162less acceptable for the rudeness of the expression.
- Editor’s Note163 When the bells be merrely roung
- 164 And the Masse devoutly soung
- 165 And the meate merrely eaten
- 166 Then sail Robert Trappis his Wyffs and his Chyldren be forgotten.
- 167 Wherfor Jesu that of Mary sproung
- 168 Set their soulys thy Saynts among
- 169 Though it be undeservyd on their syde
- 170 Yet good Lord let them evermor thy mercy abyde!
Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus171 It is well known how fond our Ancestors were of a play upon the 172Name of the deceased when it admitted of a double sense. The follow-173ing is an instance of this propensity not idly indulged. It brings home 174a general truth to the individual by the medium of a Pun, which will 175pg 68be readily pardoned, for the sake of the image suggested by it, for the 176happy mood of mind in which the Epitaph is composed, for the beauty 177of the language, and for the sweetness of the versification, which indeed, 178the date considered, is not a little curious—it is upon a man whose 179name was Palmer. I have modernized the spelling in order that its Critical Apparatus180uncouthness may not interrupt the Reader's gratification.
- Editor’s Note181 Palmers all our Fathers were
- 182 I a Palmer lived here
- 183 And travelled still till worn with age
- 184 I ended this world's pilgrimage,
- 185 On the blest Ascension-day
- 186 In the chearful month of May;
- 187 One thousand with four hundred seven,
- 188 And took my journey hence to heaven.
- 191 Hic quidem terra tegitur
- 192 Peccati solvens debitum
- 193 Cujus nomen non impositum
- 194 In libro vitæ sit inscriptum.
195The spirit of it may be thus given. "Here lies, covered by the Earth, 196and paying his debt to sin, one whose Name is not set forth; may it be Critical Apparatus197inscribed in the book of Life!"
198But these instances, of the humility, the pious faith, and simplicity 199of our Forefathers have led me from the scene of our contemplations— 200a Country Church-yard! and from the memorials at this day commonly 201found in it. I began with noticing such as might be wholly uninteresting 202from the uniformity of the language which they exhibit; because, with-203out previously participating the truths upon which these general 204attestations are founded, it is impossible to arrive at that state or 205disposition of mind necessary to make those Epitaphs thoroughly felt Critical Apparatus206which have an especial recommendation. With the same view, I will 207venture to say a few words upon another characteristic of these 208Compositions almost equally striking; namely, the homeliness of some 209of the inscriptions, the strangeness of the illustrative images, the 210grotesque spelling, with the equivocal meaning often struck out by 211it, and the quaint jingle of the rhymes. These have often excited regret 212in serious minds, and provoked the unwilling to good-humoured Editor’s Note213laughter. Yet, for my own part, without affecting any superior 214pg 69sanctity, I must say that I have been better satisfied with myself, when Editor’s Note215in these evidences I have seen a proof how deeply the piety of the rude 216Forefathers of the hamlet is seated in their natures, I mean how 217habitual and constitutional it is, and how awful the feeling which they 218attach to the situation of their departed Friends—a proof of this rather Critical Apparatus219than of their ignorance or of a deadness in their faculties to a sense of 220the ridiculous. And that this deduction may be just, is rendered probable 221by the frequent occurrence of passages, according to our present 222notion, full as ludicrous, in the Writings of the most wise and learned Critical Apparatus223men of former ages, Divines or Poets, who in the earnestness of their 224souls have applied metaphors and illustrations, taken either from Critical Apparatus225holy writ or from the usages of their own Country, in entire confidence 226that the sacredness of the theme they were discussing would sanctify 227the meanest object connected with it; or rather without ever conceiving Critical Apparatus228it was possible that a ludicrous thought could spring up in any mind 229engaged in such meditations. And certainly, these odd and fantastic 230combinations are not confined to Epitaphs of the Peasantry, or of the 231lower orders of Society, but are perhaps still more commonly produced 232among the higher, in a degree equally or more striking. For instance, Editor’s Note233what shall we say to this upon Sir George Vane, the noted Secretary of 234State to King Charles 1ṣt?
- 235 His Honour wonne i'th'field lies here in dust,
- 236 His Honour got by grace shall never rust,
- 237 The former fades, the latter shall fade never
- 238 For why? He was Sṛ. George once but Sṭ. George ever.
Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus239The date is 1679. When we reflect that the Father of this Personage 240must have had his taste formed in the punning Court of James 1ṣt and 241that the Epitaph was composed at a time when our literature was stuffed 242with quaint or out-of-the-way thoughts, it will seem not unlikely that 243the Author prided himself upon what he might call a clever hit: I mean 244that his better affections were less occupied with the several associa-245tions belonging to the two ideas than his vanity delighted with that 246act of ingenuity by which they had been combined. But the first couplet 247consists of a just thought naturally expressed: and I should rather 248conclude the whole to be a work of honest simplicity; and that the 249sense of worldly dignity associated with the title, in a degree habitual 250to our Ancestors but which at this time we can but feebly sympathize 251with, and the imaginative feeling involved, viz, the saintly and chival-252rous Name of the Champion of England, were unaffectedly linked Critical Apparatus253pg 70together: and that both were united and consolidated in the Author's 254mind, and in the minds of his contemporaries whom no doubt he had 255pleased, by a devout contemplation of a happy immortality, the reward 256of the just.
257At all events, leaving this particular case undecided, the general Critical Apparatus258propriety of these notices cannot be doubted; and I gladly avail myself Critical Apparatus259of this opportunity to place in a clear view the power and majesty of 260impassioned faith, whatever be its object: to shew how it subjugates 261the lighter motions of the mind, and sweeps away superficial difference 262in things. And this I have done, not to lower the witling and the 263worldling in their own esteem, but with a wish to bring the ingenuous Critical Apparatus264into still closer communion with those primary sensations of the human Editor’s Note265heart, which are the vital springs of sublime and pathetic composition, 266in this and in every other kind. And, as from these primary sensations Editor’s Note267such composition speaks, so, unless correspondent ones listen promptly 268and submissively in the inner cell of the mind to whom it is addressed, 269the voice cannot be heard: its highest powers are wasted.
270These suggestions may be further useful to establish a criterion of 271sincerity, by which a Writer may be judged; and this is of high import. 272For, when a Man is treating an interesting subject, or one which he 273ought not to treat at all unless he be interested, no faults have such a 274killing power as those which prove that he is not in earnest, that he is 275acting a part, has leisure for affectation, and feels that without it he could 276do nothing. This is one of the most odious of faults; because it shocks 277the moral sense: and is worse in a sepulchral inscription, precisely in 278the same degree as that mode of composition calls for sincerity more 279urgently than any other. And indeed, where the internal evidence 280proves that the Writer was moved, in other words where this charm 281of sincerity lurks in the language of a Tombstone and secretly pervades 282it, there are no errors in style or manner for which it will not be, in 283some degree, a recompence; but without habits of reflection a test of 284this inward simplicity cannot be come at: and, as I have said, I am now 285writing with a hope to assist the well-disposed to attain it.
Critical Apparatus286Let us take an instance where no one can be at a loss. The following 287Lines are said to have been written by the illustrious Marquis of 288Montrose with the point of his Sword, upon being informed of the death 289of his Master Charles 1sṭ.
- Editor’s Note290 Great, good, and just, could I but rate
- 291 My griefs, and thy so rigid fate;
- 292pg 71 I'd weep the world to such a strain,
- 293 As it should deluge once again.
- 294 But since thy loud-tongued blood demands supplies,
- 295 More from Briar eus hands than Argus eyes,
- 296 I'll sing thy Obsequies with Trumpets sounds,
- 297 And write thy Epitaph with blood and wounds.
298These funereal verses would certainly be wholly out of their place Critical Apparatus299upon a tombstone; but who can doubt that the Writer was transported 300to the height of the occasion?— that he was moved as it became an Critical Apparatus301heroic Soldier, holding those Principles and opinions, to be moved? 302His soul labours;—the most tremendous event in the history of the 303Planet, namely, the Deluge, is brought before his imagination by the 304physical image of tears, —a connection awful from its very remoteness Critical Apparatus305and from the slender bond that unites the ideas:—it passes into the 306region of Fable likewise; for all modes of existence that forward his 307purpose are to be pressed into the service. The whole is instinct with Editor’s Note308spirit, and every word has its separate life; like the Chariot of the 309Messiah, and the wheels of that Chariot, as they appeared to the Critical Apparatus310imagination of Milton aided by that of the Prophet Ezekiel. It had 311power to move of itself but was conveyed by Cherubs.
- Critical Apparatus312 as with stars their bodies all
- 313 And wings were set with eyes, with eyes the wheels
- 314 Of Beryl, and careering fires between.
- 318 England, Netherland, the Heavens, and the Arts,
- 319 The Soldiers, and the World, have made six parts
- 320 Of noble Sidney: for who will suppose
- 321 That a small heap of Stones can Sidney enclose?
- 322 England hath his Body, for she it fed,
- 323 Netherland his Blood, in her defence shed:
- 324 The Heavens have his Soul, the Arts have his Fame,
- 325 The Soldiers the grief, the World his good Name.
326There were many points in which the case of Sidney resembled that of Editor’s Note327Charles 1sṭ: He was a Sovereign but of a nobler kind—a Sovereign in 328the hearts of Men: and after his premature death he was truly, as he Editor’s Note329pg 72hath been styled, "the world-mourned Sidney". So fondly did the 330admiration of his Contemporaries settle upon him, that the sudden 331removal of a man so good, great, and thoroughly accomplished, Editor’s Note332wrought upon many even to repining, and to the questioning the Editor’s Note333dispensations of Providence. Yet he, whom Spenser and all the Men of 334Genius of his Age had tenderly bemoaned, is thus commemorated upon 335his Tombstone; and to add to the indignity, the memorial is nothing Editor’s Note336more than the second-hand Coat of a French Commander! It is a servile 337translation from a French Epitaph, which, says Weever, "was by some 338English Wit happily imitated and ingeniously applied to the honour Editor’s Note339of our worthy Chieftain". Yet Weever, in a foregoing Paragraph thus 340expresses himself upon the same Subject; giving without his own 341knowledge, in my opinion, an example of the manner in which such an 342Epitaph ought to have been composed.—"But here I cannot pass over 343in silence Sir Philip Sidney the elder brother, being (to use Camden's 344words) the glorious star of this family, a lively pattern of virtue, and 345the lovely joy of all the learned sort; who fighting valiantly with the 346enemy before Zutphen in Gelderland, dyed manfully. This is that 347Sidney, whom, as God's will was, he should therefore be born into the 348world even to shew unto our age a sample of ancient virtues: so his 349good pleasure was, before any man looked for it, to call for him again, 350and take him out of the world, as being more worthy of heaven than 351earth. Thus we may see perfect virtue suddenly vanisheth out of sight, 352and the best men continue not long."
353There can be no need to analyse this simple effusion of the moment in 354order to contrast it with the laboured composition before given: the Critical Apparatus355difference will flash upon the Reader at once. But I may say, it is not Critical Apparatus356likely that such a frigid composition as the former would have ever 357been applied to a Man whose death had so stirred up the hearts of his 358Contemporaries, if it had not been felt that something different from Critical Apparatus359that nature which each Man carried in his own breast was in this case Critical Apparatus360requisite; and that a certain straining of mind was inseparable from the 361Subject. Accordingly, an Epitaph is adopted in which the Writer had 362turned from the genuine affections and their self-forgetting inspirations, Critical Apparatus363to the end that his Understanding, or the faculty designated by the 364word head as opposed to heart, might curiously construct a fabric to be Critical Apparatus365wondered at. Hyperbole in the language of Montrose is a mean instru-366ment made mighty because wielded by an afflicted Soul, and strange-367ness is here the order of Nature. Montrose stretched after remote pg 73368things but was at the same time propelled towards them; the French Critical Apparatus369Writer goes deliberately in search of them; no wonder then if what Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus370he brings home does not prove worth the carriage!
Critical Apparatus371Let us return to an instance of common life. I quote it with reluctance, 372not so much for its absurdity as that the expression in one place will Critical Apparatus373strike at first sight as little less than impious; and it is indeed, though 374unintentionally so, most irreverent. But I know no other example that Editor’s Note375will so forcibly illustrate the important truth I wish to establish. The 376following Epitaph is to be found in a Church-yard in Westmorland Critical Apparatus377which the present Writer has reason to think of with interest as it con-378tains the remains of some of his Ancestors and Kindred. The date is 3791673.
- 380 Under this Stone, Reader, inter'd doth lye,
- 381 Beauty and virtue's true epitomy.
- 382 At her appearance the noone-son
- 383 Blush'd and shrunk in 'cause quite outdon.
- 384 In her concenter'd did all graces dwell:
- 385 God pluck'd my rose that he might take a smel.
- 386 I'll say no more: But weeping wish I may
- 387 Soone with thy dear chaste ashes com to lay.
- 388 Sic efflevit Maritus
Critical Apparatus389Can any thing go beyond this in extravagance? Yet, if the fundamental 390thoughts be translated into a natural style, they will be found reason-391able and affecting—"The Woman who lies here interred, was in my 392eyes a perfect image of beauty and virtue; she was to me a brighter 393object than the Sun in heaven: God took her, who was my delight, 394from this earth to bring her nearer to himself. Nothing further is 395worthy to be said than that weeping I wish soon to lie by thy dear 396chaste ashes—Thus did the Husband pour out his tears."
Critical Apparatus397These verses are preceeded by a brief account of the Lady, in Latin 398prose; in which the little that is said is the uncorrupted language of 399affection. But, without this introductory communication, I should 400myself have had no doubt, after recovering from the first shock of 401surprize and disapprobation, that this man, notwithstanding his 402extravagant expressions was a sincere mourner; and that his heart, 403during the very act of composition, was moved. These fantastic images, Critical Apparatus404though they stain the writing, stained not his soul.—They did not even pg 74405touch it; but hung like globules of rain suspended above a green leaf, 406along which they may roll and leave no trace that they have passed Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus407over it. This simple-hearted Man must have been betrayed by a com-408mon notion that what was natural in prose would be out of place in 409verse;—that it is not the Muse which puts on the Garb but the Garb 410which makes the Muse. And, having adopted this notion at a time when Critical Apparatus411vicious writings of this kind accorded with the public taste, it is Critical Apparatus412probable that, in the excess of his modesty, the blankness of his in-413experience, and the intensity of his affection, he thought that the Editor’s Note414further he wandered from nature in his language the more would he 415honour his departed Consort, who now appeared to him to have sur-Critical Apparatus416passed humanity in the excellence of her endowments. The quality of 417his fault and its very excess are both in favour of this conclusion.
Critical Apparatus418Let us contrast this Epitaph with one taken from a celebrated Writer 419of the last Century.
- Editor’s Note420 "To the memory of Lucy Lyttleton, Daughter &c
- 421 who departed this life &c aged 29. Having employed
- 422 the short time assigned to her here in the uniform
- 423 practice of religion and virtue.
- 424 Made to engage all hearts, and charm all eyes;
- 425 Though meek, magnanimous; though witty, wise;
- 426 Polite, as all her life in courts had been;
- 427 Yet good, as she the world had never seen;
- 428 The noble fire of an exalted mind,
- 429 With gentle female tenderness combined.
- 430 Her speech was the melodious voice of love,
- 431 Her song the warbling of the vernal grove;
- 432 Her eloquence was sweeter than her song,
- 433 Soft as her heart, and as her reason strong;
- 434 Her form each beauty of the mind express'd,
- 435 Her mind was Virtue by the Graces drest."
Critical Apparatus436The prose part of this inscription has the appearance of being 437intended for a Tomb-stone; but there is nothing in the verse that would Critical Apparatus438suggest such a thought. The composition is in the style of those laboured 439portraits in words which we sometimes see placed at the bottom of a 440print, to fill up lines of expression which the bungling Artist had left pg 75Critical Apparatus441imperfect. We know from other evidence that Lord Lyttleton dearly Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus442loved his wife: he has indeed composed a monody to her memory 443which proves this, and that she was an amiable Woman; neither of 444which facts could have been gathered from these inscriptive Verses. Critical Apparatus445This Epitaph would derive little advantage from being translated into 446another style as the former was; for there is no under current, no 447skeleton or stamina, of thought and feeling. The Reader will perceive 448at once that nothing in the heart of the Writer had determined either Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus449the choice, the order, or the expression, of the ideas—that there is no 450interchange of action from within and from without—that the con-451nections are mechanical and arbitrary, and the lowest kind of these— 452Heart and Eyes—petty alliterations, as meek and magnanimous, witty Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus453and wise, combined with oppositions in thoughts where there is no 454necessary or natural opposition. These defects run through the whole; 455the only tolerable verse is,
- 456 "Her speech was the melodious voice of love."
457Observe, the question is not which of these Epitaphs is better or worse; 458but which faults are of a worse kind. In the former case we have a 459Mourner whose soul is occupied by grief and urged forward by his 460admiration. He deems in his simplicity that no hyperbole can transcend 461the perfections of her whom he has lost: for the version which I have 462given fairly demonstrates that, in spite of his outrageous expressions, 463the under current of his thoughts was natural and pure. We have 464therefore in him the example of a mind misled during the act of 465composition by false taste—to the highest possible degree; and, in that 466of Lord Lyttleton, we have one of a feeling heart, not merely misled, Critical Apparatus467but wholly laid asleep by the same power. Lord Lyttleton could not 468have written in this way upon such a subject, if he had not been seduced Editor’s Note469by the example of Pope, whose sparkling and tuneful manner had 470bewitched the men of letters his Contemporaries, and corrupted the Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus471judgment of the Nation through all ranks of society.
pg 76472The course which we have taken having brought us to the name of 473this distinguished Writer, I will in this place give a few observations 474upon his Epitaphs, the largest collection we have in our language, from 475the pen of any Writer of eminence. As the Epitaphs of Pope, and also Editor’s Note476those of Chiabrera, which occasioned this disquisition, are in metre, it Critical Apparatus477may be proper here to enquire how far the notion of a perfect Epitaph, Editor’s Note478as given in a former Paper, may be modified by the choice of metre for 479the vehicle in preference to prose. If our opinions be just, it is manifest Editor’s Note480that the basis must remain the same in either case; and that the differ-481ence can only lie in the superstructure; and it is equally plain, that a 482judicious Man will be less disposed in this case than in any other to 483avail himself of the liberty given by metre to adopt phrases of fancy, or 484to enter into the more remote regions of illustrative imagery. For the 485occasion of writing an Epitaph is matter of fact in its intensity, and 486forbids more authoritatively than any other species of composition all 487modes of fiction, except those which the very strength of passion has 488created; which have been acknowledged by the human heart, and have 489become so familiar that they are converted into substantial realities. Critical Apparatus490When I come to the Epitaphs of Chiabrera, I shall perhaps give Editor’s Note491instances in which I think he has not written under the impression of Critical Apparatus492this truth: where the poetic imagery does not elevate, deepen, or refine Critical Apparatus493the human passion, which it ought always to do or not to act at all, but 494excludes it. In a far greater degree are Pope's Epitaphs debased by Critical Apparatus495faults into which he could not I think have fallen if he had written in 496prose as a plain Man, and not as a metrical Wit. I will transcribe from Critical Apparatus497Pope's Epitaphs the one upon Mrṣ? Corbet (who died of a Cancer); Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus498D.r Johnson having extolled it highly and pronounced it the best of 499the collection.
- Editor’s Note500 Here rests a Woman, good without pretence,
- 501 Blest with plain reason and with sober sense;
- 502 No conquest she but o'er herself desir'd;
- 503 No arts essayed, but not to be admir'd.
- 504 Passion and pride were to her soul unknown,
- 505 Convinc'd that virtue only is our own.
- 506 So unaffected, so compos'd a mind,
- 507 So firm, yet soft, so strong, yet so refin'd
- 508 Heaven as it's purest gold by tortures tried
- 509 The Saint sustain'd it, but the Woman died.
pg 77Critical Apparatus510This may be the best of Pope's Epitaphs; but if the standard which we 511have fixed be a just one it cannot be approved of. First, it must be Critical Apparatus512observed, that in the Epitaphs of this Writer the true impulse is always 513wanting, and that his motions must of necessity be feeble. For he has 514no other aim than to give a favourable Portrait of the Character of the Critical Apparatus515Deceased. Now mark the process by which this is performed. Nothing Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus516is represented implicitly, that is, with its accompaniment of circum-Critical Apparatus517stances, or conveyed by its effects. The Author forgets that it is a Critical Apparatus518living creature that must interest us and not an intellectual Existence, Editor’s Note519which a mere character is. Insensible to this distinction the brain of the 520Writer is set at work to report as flatteringly as he may of the mind of Critical Apparatus521his subject; the good qualities are separately abstracted (can it be 522otherwise than coldly and unfeelingly?) and put together again as Critical Apparatus523coldly and unfeelingly. The Epitaph now before us owes what exemp-524tion it may have from these defects in its general plan to the excruciating Critical Apparatus525disease of which the Lady died; but it too is liable to the same censure; 526and is, like the rest, further objectionable in this: namely, that the 527thoughts have their nature changed and moulded by the vicious 528expression in which they are entangled, to an excess rendering them 529wholly unfit for the place which they occupy.
- Critical Apparatus530 "Here rests a Woman good without pretence
- 531 Blest with plain reason"
- —from which, sober
532sense is not sufficiently distinguishable. This verse and a half, and the Editor’s Note533one, so unaffected, so composed a mind, are characteristic, and the Editor’s Note534expression is true to nature; but they are, if I may take the liberty of Editor’s Note535saying it, the only parts of the Epitaph which have this merit. Minute Critical Apparatus536criticism is in its nature irksome; and, as commonly practised in books 537and conversation, is both irksome and injurious. Yet every mind must 538occasionally be exercised in this discipline, else it cannot learn the art Critical Apparatus539of bringing words rigorously to the test of thoughts; and these again 540to a comparison with things, their archetypes; contemplated first in 541themselves, and secondly in relation to each other; in all which pro-542cesses the mind must be skilful, otherwise it will be perpetually 543imposed upon. In the next couplet the word, conquest, is applied in a pg 78544manner that would have been displeasing even from its triteness in a 545copy of complimentary Verses to a fashionable Beauty; but to talk of Critical Apparatus546making conquests in an Epitaph is not to be endured. No arts essayed, 547but not to he admired—are words expressing that she had recourse 548to artifices to conceal her amiable and admirable qualities; and the 549context implies that there was a merit in this; which surely no sane 550mind would allow. But the meaning of the Author, simply and honestly 551given, was nothing more than that she shunned admiration, probably 552with a more apprehensive modesty than was common; and more than 553this would have been inconsistent with the praise bestowed upon her— 554that she had an unaffected mind. This couplet is further objectionable, 555because the sense of love and peaceful admiration, which such a character 556naturally inspires, is disturbed by an oblique and ill-timed stroke of 557satire. She is not praised so much as others are blamed—and is degraded 558by the Author in thus being made a covert or stalking-horse for grati-559fying a propensity the most abhorrent from her own nature. "Passion 560and pride were to her soul unknown"—It cannot be meant that she had 561no Passions, but that they were moderate and kept in subordination 562to her reason; but the thought is not here expressed; nor is it clear that 563a conviction in the understanding that virtue only is our own, though it Critical Apparatus564might suppress her pride, would be itself competent to govern or abate 565many other affections and passions to which our frail nature is, and 566ought, in various degrees, to be subject.—In fact, the Author appears 567to have had no precise notion of his own meaning. If she was "good 568without pretence" it seems unnecessary to say that she was not proud. Editor’s Note569Dr Johnson, making an exception of the verse, Convinced that virtue Critical Apparatus570only is our own, praises this Epitaph for "containing nothing taken from 571common places." Now in fact, as may be deduced from the principles of 572this discourse, it is not only no fault but a primary requisite in an Editor’s Note573Epitaph that it shall contain thoughts and feelings which are in their Editor’s Note574substance common-place, and even trite. It is grounded upon the 575universal intellectual property of man;—sensations which all men 576have felt and feel in some degree daily and hourly;—truths whose very 577interest and importance have caused them to be unattended to, as things 578which could take care of themselves. But it is required that these truths Critical Apparatus579should be instinctively ejaculated, or should rise irresistibly from Editor’s Note580circumstances; in a word that they should be uttered in such connection Critical Apparatus581as shall make it felt that they are not adopted—not spoken by rote, but 582perceived in their whole compass with the freshness and clearness of an 583original intuition. The Writer must introduce the truth with such pg 79Critical Apparatus584accompaniment as shall imply that he has mounted to the sources of 585things—penetrated the dark cavern from which the River that murmurs 586in every one's ear has flowed from generation to generation. The line 587"Virtue only is our own"—is objectionable, not from the common-588placeness of the Truth, but from the vapid manner in which it is con-Editor’s Note589veyed. A similar sentiment is expressed with appropriate dignity in an Critical Apparatus590Epitaph by Chiabrera, where he makes the Archbishop of Urbino say 591of himself, that he was
- 592 —"smitten by the great Ones of the world,
- 593 But did not fall; for Virtue braves all shocks,
- 594 Upon herself resting immoveably."
Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus595"So firm yet soft, so strong yet so refined"—these intellectual operations 596(while they can be conceived of as operations of intellect at all, for in 597fact one half of the process is mechanical, words doing their own work, 598and one half of the line manufacturing the rest) remind me of the 599motions of a Posture-Master, or of a Man balancing a Sword upon his Critical Apparatus600finger, which must be kept from falling at all hazards. "The Saint sus-601tained it but the Woman died"—Let us look steadily at this antithesis— 602the Saint, that is her soul strengthened by Religion supported the 603anguish of her disease with patience and resignation;—but the Woman, 604that is her body, (for if any thing else be meant by the word, woman, it Critical Apparatus605contradicts the former part of the proposition and the passage is Critical Apparatus606nonsense) was overcome. Why was not this simply expressed; without Critical Apparatus607playing with the Reader's fancy to the delusion and dishonour of his 608Understanding, by a trifling epigrammatic point? But alas! ages must 609pass away before men will have their eyes open to the beauty and Critical Apparatus610majesty of Truth, and will be taught to venerate Poetry no further Critical Apparatus611than as She is a Handmaid pure as her Mistress—the noblest Hand-612maid in her train!
Ach! sie haben
Ah! they have
Put a brave
Man in Grave!
Vielen war er mehr.["]
He was more than Many!
- Farwel my frendys [etc., verbally as in text].'
- Hic quidem [etc., as in text].'
HERE LIETH THE BODY OF SR. GEORGE VANE INTERRED / MAY THE FIRST 1679 SECOND SON OF SR. HENERY / VANE SOME TIME PRINCIPALL SECRETARY OF STATE / TO KING CHARLES THE FIRST. HE MARRIED ELIZABETH / THE HEIRESS OF Sr LYONELL MADDISON OF NEW-/ CASTLE UPON TYNE, BY WHOM HE HAD THIRTEENE / HOPEFULL CHILDREN viz FOURE SONS & NINE DAUGHTERS.
- HIS HONOUR WONNE I'TH FIELD LIES HERE IN DUST
- HIS HONOUR GOT BY GRACE SHALL NEVER RUST
- THE FORMER FADES, THE LATTER SHALL FALLE NEVER
- FOR WHY, HE WAS SR GEORGE ONCE, B'T St GEORGE EVER.
Some write, that though he had not the courteous invention of an Epitaph by any of his Friends to memorize him, that he was so zealous of the Fame of his great Master Charles the First, that with the point of his Sword he wrote these following lines.
- Great, good, and just, could I hut rate
- My griefs,and thy so ridgid fate;
- I'de weep the world to such a strain,
- As it should deluge once again.
- But since thy loud-tongu'd Bloud demands supplies,
- More from Briareus hands than Argus eyes,
- I'll sing thy Obsequies with Trumpets sounds,
- And write thy Epitaph with Bloud and Wounds.
- And (world mourn'd) Sidney, warbling to the Thames
- His Swan-like tunes, so courts her coy proud streams,
- That (all with child with Fame) his Fame they bear
- To Thetis Lap, and Thetis every w[h]ere.'
Seigneur Des Accords in his booke entituled, Les Bigarrures … amongst many choice Epitaphs, hath one, selected out of the works of Isaac du Bellay, the French Poet, excellently composed, to the memory of Sieur de Boniuet, a great Commander in the warres; which by some English wit was happily imitated, and ingeniously applyed to the honour of this our worthy chiefetaine Sir Philip; written vpon a Tablet, and fastened to a pillar in S. Pauls Church London, the place of his buriall, as the sequele will more plainly shew.