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The Works of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. in Nine Volumes By Samuel Johnson Characters: 2809

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


On the monument of the honourable Robert Digby, and of his sister Mary, erected by their father the lord Digby, in the church of Skerborne, in Dorsetshire, 1727.

Go! fair example of untainted youth,

Of modest wisdom, and pacific truth:

Compos'd in sufferings, and in joy sedate,

Good without noise, without pretension great.

Just of thy word, in ev'ry thought sincere,

Who knew no wish but what the world might hear:

Of softest manners, unaffected mind,

Lover of peace, and friend of human kind:

Go, live! for heav'n's eternal year is thine;

Go, and exalt thy mortal to divine.

And thou, blest maid! attendant on his doom,

Pensive hast follow'd to the silent tomb,

Steer'd the same course to the same quiet shore,

Not parted long, and now to part no more!

Go, then, where only bliss sincere is known!

Go, where to love and to enjoy are one!

Yet take these tears, mortality's relief,

And, till we share your joys, forgive our grief:

These little rites, a stone, a verse receive,

'Tis all a father, all a friend can give!

This epitaph contains of the brother only a general indiscriminate character, and of the sister tells nothing but that she died. The difficulty in writing epitaphs is to give a particular and appropriate praise. This, however, is not always to be performed, whatever be the diligence or ability of the writer; for, the gr

eater part of mankind have no character at all, have little that distinguishes them from others equally good or bad, and, therefore, nothing can be said of them which may not be applied with equal propriety to a thousand more. It is, indeed, no great panegyrick, that there is inclosed in this tomb one who was born in one year, and died in another; yet many useful and amiable lives have been spent, 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 necessary 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.

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