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   Chapter 11 ON MR. GAY.

The Works of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. in Nine Volumes By Samuel Johnson Characters: 2832

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In Westminster Abbey, 1732.

Of manners gentle, of affections mild;

In wit, a man; simpicity, a child;

With native humour temp'ring virtuous rage,

Form'd to delight at once and lash the age;

Above temptation, in a low estate;

And uncorrupted e'en among the great:

A safe companion and an easy friend,

Unblam'd through life, lamented in thy end;

These are thy honours! not that here thy bust

Is mix'd with heroes, or with kings thy dust;

But that the worthy and the good shall say,

Striking their pensive bosoms-Here lies Gay!

As Gay was the favourite of our author, this epitaph was probably written with an uncommon degree of attention; yet it is not more successfully executed than the rest, for it will not always happen that the success of a poet is proportionate to his labour. The same observation may be extended to all works of imagination, which are often influenced by causes wholly out of the performer's power, by hints of which he perceives not the origin, by sudden elevations of mind which he cannot produce in himself, and which sometimes rise when he expects them least.

The two parts of the first line are only echoes of each other; gentle manners and mild affections, if they mean any thing, must mean the same.

That Gay was a man in wit is a very frigid commendation; to have the wit of a man, is not much for a poet. The wit of a man[158], and the sim

plicity of a child, make a poor and vulgar contrast, and raise no ideas of excellence, either intellectual or moral.

In the next couplet rage is less properly introduced after the mention of mildness and gentleness which are made the constituents of his character; for a man so mild and gentle to temper his rage, was not difficult.

The next line is inharmonious in its sound, and mean in its conception; the opposition is obvious, and the word lash used absolutely, and without any modification, is gross and improper.

To be above temptation in poverty, and free from corruption among the great, is, indeed, such a peculiarity as deserved notice. But to be a safe companion is praise merely negative, arising not from the possession of virtue, but the absence of vice, and one of the most odious.

As little can be added to his character, by asserting that he was lamented in his end. Every man that dies is, at least, by the writer of his epitaph, supposed to be lamented; and, therefore, this general lamentation does no honour to Gay.

The first eight lines have no grammar; the adjectives are without any substantive, and the epithets without a subject.

The thought in the last line, that Gay is buried in the bosoms of the worthy and the good, who are distinguished only to lengthen the line, is so dark that few understand it; and so harsh, when it is explained, that still fewer approve[159].

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