Imágenes de página

The first requisite in an epitaph is that it should speak, in a tone which shall sink into the heart, the general language of humanity as connected with the subject of death-the source from which an epitaph proceeds; of death and of life. To be born and to die are the two points in which all men feel themselves to be in absolute coincidence. This general language may be uttered so strikingly as to entitle an epitaph to high praise; yet it cannot lay claim to the highest unless other excellencies be superadded. Passing through all intermediate steps, we will attempt to determine at once what these excellences are, and wherein consists the perfection of this species of composition. It will be found to lie in a due proportion of the common or universal feeling of humanity to sensations excited by a distinct and clear conception conveyed to the reader's mind of the individual whose death is deplored and whose memory is to be preserved ; at least of his character as, after death, it appeared to those who loved him and lament his loss. The general sympathy ought to be quickened, provoked, and diversified by particular thoughts, actions, images-circumstances of age, occupation, manner of life, prosperity which the deceased had known, or adversity to which he had been subject; and these ought to be bound together and solemnized into one harmony by the general sympathy. The two powers should temper, restrain, and exalt each other. The reader ought to know who and what the man was whom he is called upon to think of with interest. A distinct conception should be given (implicitly where it can, rather than explicitly) of the individual lamented. But the writer of an epitaph is not an anatomist who dissects the internal frame of the mind; he is not even a painter who executes a portrait at leisure and in entire tranquillity: his delineation, we must remember, is performed by the side of the grave; and, what is more, the grave of one whom he loves and admires. What purity and brightness is that virtue clothed in, the image of which must no longer bless our living eyes! The character of a deceased friend or a beloved kinsman is not seen, no—nor ought to be seen otherwise than as a tree through a tender haze or a luminous mist, that spiritualizes and beautifies it; that takes away indeed, but only to the end that the parts which are not abstracted may appear more dignified and lovely, may impress and affect the more. Shall we say, then, that this is not truth, not a faithful image; and that accordingly the purposes of commemoration cannot be answered ? It is truth, and of the highest

order! for, though doubtless things are not apparent which did exist, yet, the object being looked at through this medium, parts and proportions are brought into distinct view which before had been only imperfectly or unconsciously seen : it is the truth hallowed by love—the joint offspring of the worth of the dead and the affections of the living! This may easily be brought to the test. Let one whose eyes have been sharpened by personal hostility to discover what was amiss in the character of a good man hear the tidings of his death, and what a change is wrought in a moment! Enmity melts away; and as it disappears, unsightliness, disproportion, and deformity vanish ; and through the influence of commiseration a harmony of love and beauty succeeds. Bring such a man to the tombstone on which shall be inscribed an epitaph on his adversary, composed in the spirit which we have recommended. Would he turn from it as from an idle tale ? Nothe thoughtful look, the sigh, and perhaps the involuntary tear, would testify that it had a sane, a generous, and good meaning; and that on the writer's mind had remained an impression which was a true abstract of the character of the deceased; that his gifts and graces were remembered in the simplicity in which they ought to be remembered. The composition and quality of the mind of a virtuous man, contemplated by the side of the grave where his body is mouldering, ought to appear, and be felt, as something midway between what he was on earth walking about with his living frailties, and what he may be presumed to be as a spirit in heaven.


BURTON. [We give an extract from The Anatomy of Melancholy,' the book of which Dr. Johnson said that it was the only book that took him out of his bed two hours before he wished to rise. This was higher praise than that of Byron, who called this book “the most amusing and instructive medley of quotations and classical anecdotes I ever perused," If Burton had only poured forth his singular feelings in his quaint and sometimes eloquent language, and had less skilfully or less profusely intermingled his scholarship, the book must still have been regarded as a remarkable work. As it is, there is nothing like it in our language. We have made no attempt to give a literal translation of the quotations ; for the author himself often does so, and almost invariably repeats the sentiment in English, so that his meaning cannot be mistaken. Robert Burton was born at Lindley, Leicestershire, in 1576, and was a student of Christchurch, Oxford, in which college he died in 1640.]

Discontents and grievances are either general or particular; general are wars, plagues, dearths, famine, fires, inundations, unseasonable weather, epidemical diseases which afflict whole kingdoms, territories, cities: or peculiar to private men, as cares, crosses, losses, death of friends, poverty, want, sickness, orbities, injuries, abuses, &c. Generally all discontent, homines quatimur fortuna salo. No condition free, quisque suos patimur manes. Even in the midst of our mirth and jollity, there is some grudging, some complaint; as he saith, our whole life is a glucupicron, a bitter sweet passion, honey and gall mixed together; we are all miserable and discontent, who can deny it? If all, and that it be a common calamity, an inevitable necessity, all distressed, then, as Cardan infers, Who art thou that hopest to go free ? Why dost thou not grieve thou art a inortal man, and not governor of the world ? Ferre quam sortem patiuntur omnes, Nemo recuset. If it be common to all, why should one man be more disquieted than another? If thou alone wert distressed, it were indeed more irksome and less to be endured; but when the calamity is common, comfort thyself with this, thou hast more fellows, Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris, 'tis not thy sole case, and why shouldst thou be so impatient? Ay, but, alas! we are more miserable than others, what shall

Besides private miseries, we live in perpetual fear, and danger of common enemies; we have Bellona’s whips, and pitiful outcries, for epithalamiums; for pleasant music, that fearful noise of ordnance, drums, and warlike trumpets still sounding in our ears ; instead of nuptial torches, we have firing of towns and cities; for triumphs, lamentations; for joy, tears. So it is, and so it was, and ever will be. He that refuseth to see and hear, to suffer this, is not fit to live in this world, and knows not the common condition of all men, to whom, so long as they live, with a reciprocal course, joys and sorrows are annexed, and succeed one another. It is inevitable, it may

we do?

not be avoided, and why then shouldst thou be so much troubled ? Grave nihil est homini quod fert necessitas, as Tully deems out of an old poet, that which is necessary cannot be grievous. If it be so, then comfort thyself with this, that whether thou wilt or no, it must be endured; make a virtue of necessity, and conform thyself to undergo it. Si longa est, levis est; si gravis est, brevis est.

If it be long, ’tis light; if grievous, it cannot last. It will away, dies dolorem minuit, and if nought else, yet time will wear it out; custom will ease it; oblivion is a common medicine for all losses, injuries, griefs, and detriments whatsoever, and, when they are once past, this commodity comes of infelicity, it makes the rest of our life sweeter unto us.

Atque hæc olim meminisse juvabit, the privation and want of a thing many times makes it more pleasant and delightsome than before it was. We must not think, the happiest of us all, to escape here without some misfortunes

Usque adeò nulla est sincera voluptas,
Solicitumque aliquid lætis intervenit.

Heaven and earth are much unlike; those heavenly bodies, indeed, are freely carried in their orbs without any impediment or interruption, to continue their course for innumerable ages, and make their conversions : but men are urged with many difficulties, and have divers hindrances, oppositions, still crossing, interrupting their endeavours 'and desires, and no mortal man is free from this law of nature. We must not, therefore, hope to have all things answer our own expectation, to have a continuance of good success and fortunes, Fortuna nunquam perpetuò est bona. And as Minutius Fælix, the Roman Consul, told that insulting Coriolanus, drunk with his good fortunes, look not for that success thou hast hitherto had. It never yet happened to any man since the beginning of the world, nor ever will, to have all things according to his desire, or to whom fortune was never opposite and adverse. Even so it fell out to him as he foretold. And so to others, even to that happiness of Augustus ; though he were Jupiter's almoner, Pluto's treasurer, Neptune's admiral, it could not secure him. Such was Alcibiades' fortune, Narsetes, that great Gonsalvus, and most famous men's, that as Jovius concludes, it is almost fatal to great princes, through their own default or otherwise circumvented with envy and



malice, to lose their honours, and die contumeliously. "Tis so, still hath been, and ever will be, Nihil est ab omni parte beatum,

There's no protection is so absolute,
That some impurity doth not pollute.

Whatsoever is under the moon is subject to corruption, alterations ; and so long as thou livest upon earth look not for other. Thou shalt not here find peaceable and cheerful days, quiet times, but rather clouds, storms, calumnies, such is our fate. And as those errant planets, in their distinct orbs, have their several motions, sometimes direct, stationary, retrograde, in apogeo, perigeo, oriental, occidental, combust, feral, free, and as our astrologers will have their fortitudes and debilities, by reason of those good and bad irradiations, conferred to each other's site in the heavens, in their terms, houses, ease, detriments, &c.; so we rise and fall in this world, ebb and flow, in and out, reared and dejected, lead a troublesome life, subject to many accidents and casualties of fortunes, variety of passions, infirmities, as well from ourselves as others.

Yea, but thou thinkest thou art more miserable than the rest, other men are happy in respect of thee, their miseries are but flea-bitings to thine, thou alone art unhappy, none so bad as thyself. Yet, if as Socrates said : All the men in the world should come and bring their grievances together, of body, mind, fortune, sores, ulcers, madness, epilepsies, agues, and all those common calamities of beggary, want, servitude, imprisonment, and lay them on a heap to be equally divided, wouldst thou share alike, and take thy portion, or be as thou art? Without question thou wouldst be as thou art. If some Jupiter should say, to give us all content,

Jam faciam quod vultis ; eris tu, qui modò miles,
Mercator ; tu, consultus modo, rusticus; hinc vos,
Vos hinc, mutatis discedite partibus; eia!
Quid statis? nolunt.
Well, be 't so then : you, master soldier,
Shall be a merchant; you, sir lawyer,
A country gentleman; go you to this,
That side you; why stand ye? It's well as 'tis.

Every man knows his own but not others' defects and miseries; and

« AnteriorContinuar »