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   Chapter 2 No.2

The Works of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. in Nine Volumes By Samuel Johnson Characters: 2827

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

On sir William Trumbull, one of the principal secretaries of state to king William the third, who, having resigned his place, died in his retirement at Easthamstead, in Berkshire, 1716.

A pleasing form; a firm, yet cautious mind;

Sincere, though prudent; constant, yet resign'd;

Honour unchang'd, a principle profest,

Fix'd to one side, but mod'rate to the rest:

An honest courtier, yet a patriot too;

Just to his prince, and to his country true;

Fill'd with the sense of age, the fire of youth,

A scorn of wrangling, yet a zeal for truth;

A gen'rous faith, from superstition free;

A love to peace, and hate of tyranny;

Such this man was; who now, from earth remov'd,

At length enjoys that liberty he lov'd.

In this epitaph, as in many others, there appears, at the first view, a fault which, I think, scarcely any beauty can compensate. The name is omitted. The end of an epitaph is to convey some account of the dead; and to what purpose is any thing told of him whose name is concealed? An epitaph, and a history of a nameless hero, are equally absurd, since the virtues and qualities so recounted in either are scattered at the mercy of fortune to be appropriated by guess. The name, it is true, may be read upon the stone; but what obligation has it to the poet, whose verses wander over the earth, and leave their subject behind them, and who is forced, like an unskilf

ul painter, to make his purpose known by adventitious help?

This epitaph is wholly without elevation, and contains nothing striking or particular; but the poet is not to be blamed for the defects of his subject. He said, perhaps, the best that could be said. There are, however, some defects which were not made necessary by the character in which he was employed. There is no opposition between an honest courtier and a patriot; for, an honest courtier cannot but be a patriot.

It was unsuitable to the nicety required in short compositions, to close his verse with the word too: every rhyme should be a word of emphasis; nor can this rule be safely neglected, except where the length of the poem makes slight inaccuracies excusable, or allows room for beauties sufficient to overpower the effects of petty faults.

At the beginning of the seventh line the word filled is weak and prosaick, having no particular adaptation to any of the words that follow it.

The thought in the last line is impertinent, having no connexion with the foregoing character, nor with the condition of the man described. Had the epitaph been written on the poor conspirator[154] who died lately in prison, after a confinement of more than forty years, without any crime proved against him, the sentiment had been just and pathetical; but why should Trumbull be congratulated upon his liberty, who had never known restraint?

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