« AnteriorContinuar »
to the nature of the subject. Their elegance consists in a nervous and expressive brevity ; and sometimes, as we have elsewhere observed, they are closed with an epigrammatic point. In these compositions, no mere Epithet (properly so called) should be admitted; for here illustration would impair the strength, and render the sentiment too disfuse and languid. Words that are synonymous are also to be rejected.
Tho' the true characteristic of the Epitaph is seriousness and gravity.yet we sind many that are jocose and ludicrous; seme likewise have true metre and rhyme, while others are between prose and verse, without any certain measure, tho' the words are truly poetical; and the beauty of this last sort is generally heighten'd by an apt and judicious Antithesis. We shall give examples of each.
There are in the Speilator several old Greek Epitaphs very beautisully tranflated into Englijh verse, one of which I shall take the liberty of transcribing. It is written on Orpheus, a celebrated antient poet and musician, whose story is well known. He is faid to have been the son of Apollo and Calliope, one of the Nine Muses, the Goddess meant in the last line of the Epitaph.
On Orpheus. No longer, Orphius, shall thy facred strains Lead stones, and trees, and beasts along the plains; No longer sooth the boist'rous wind to fleep, Or still the billows of the raging deep: For thou art gone; the Muses mourn'd thy fall In solemn strains, thy mother most of all. Ye mortals idly for your sons ye moan, If thus a Goddess could not fave her own. The ingenious tranflator observes, that if we take the fable for truth, as it was believed to be in the age when this was written,the turn appears to have piety to the gods, and a resigning spirit in the application ; but, if we consider the Point with respect to our present knowledge, it will be less esteem'd ; though the author himself, because he believ'd it, may still be more valued than any one who should now write with a point of the fame nature.
The following Epitaph on Sir Philip Sidney's sister, the Ceuntess of Pembroke, faid to be written by the famous Ben Johnson, is remarkable for the noble thought witlk which it concludes.
On Mary Countess Dtrwager of Pembroke.
Underneath this marble hearse,
Take another Epitaph of Ren Johnson's, on a beautisul and virtuous lady, which has been deservedly admired by very good judges.
Underneath this stone doth lie
Mr. Pope has drawn the character of Mr. Gay, in aa Epitaph now to be seen on his monument in WestminsterAbbey, which he has closed with such a beautisul turn, that I cannot help looking upon it as a master-piece in its kind, as indeed are most of the productions of that surprising genius.
On Mr. Gay.
Of manners gentle, of affections mild;
There is something so tender and moving, and such » strain of paternal and silial affection in Mr. Pope's Epitaph on Dr. Atterbury, that we shall give it a place among these examples, tho' the Critics, perhaps, will object to its being * true Epitaph.
On Dr. Francis Atterbury, Bijbop of Rochester, nibo died in exile at Paris, 1732.
[His only Daughter having expired in his arms, immediately after she arrived in France to see him.]
Sie. Yes, we have liv'd—one pang, and then we part!
He. Dear shade! I will:
Then mix this dust with thine—O spotless ghost!
—He faid, and dy'd.
I shall conclude these examples of the serious kind with an Epitaph written by Mr. Smart, to the memory of Master * • *, who died of a lingering illness, aged eleven.
Henceforth be every tender tear suppress,
Or let us weep for joy that he is blest;
From grief to bliss, from earth to heav'n remov'd,
His mem'ry honour'd, as his lise belov'd.
That heart o'er which no evil e'er had pow'r s
That disposition, sickness cou'd not sour!
That sense, so oft to riper years deny'd!
That patience, heroes might have own'd with pride!
His painsul race undauntedly he ran,
And in th' eleventh winter died a Man.
Amongst the Epitaphs of a punning and ludicrous cast, I know of none prettier than that which is faid to have been written by Mr. Prior on himself, wherein he is'pleasantly fatirical upon the folly of those who value themselves on account of the long series of ancestors through which they can trace their pedigree.
Nobles and Heralds, by your leave,
The son of Adam and of Eve:
Of the fame cast is that Written by Mr. Pope on one who would not be buried in Westminster-abbey.
Heroes, and kings! your distance keep,
The following Epitaph on a Miser contains a good caution and an agreeable raillery.
Reader, beware immod'rate love of pelf:
Here lies the worst of thieves, who robb'd himself.
But Dr. Swift's Epitaph on the fame subject is, I think, a master-piece of the kind.
Epitaph on a Miser.
Beneath this verdant hillock lies
We shall give but one example more of this kind, which is a merry Epitaph on an old Fiddler, who was remarkable (we may suppose) for beating time to his own musick.
On Stephen the Fiddler.
Stephen and Time are now both even;
We are now come to that fort of Epitaph which rejects Rhyme, and has no certain and determinate measure; but where the diction must be pore and strong, every word have weight, and the antithesis be preserved in a clear and direct opposition. We cannot give a better example of this fort of Epitaph, than that on the tomb of Mr. Pulteney, in the cloysters of Westminster-Abbey.
At home, in the Reign of that excellent Prince K. Gargt the sirst.
Public Men, and Public Things,
He abhorred all other :.
In this Missortune of thy Country lament thy own:
That poignant fatire, as well as extravagant praise, may be conveyed in this manner, will be seen by the following Epitaph written by Dr. Aihuthnot on Francis Chartra i which