Epitaph to Earl of Dorset
Epitaphs from The Life Of Pope by Samuel Johnson

On CHARLES Earl of DORSET, in the church of Wythyham in Sussex.

Dorset, the grace of courts, the Muse's pride,
Patron of arts, and judge of nature, died.
The scourge of pride, though sanctified or great,
Of fops in learning, and of knaves in state;
Yet soft in nature, though severe his lay,
His anger moral, and his wisdom gay.
Blest satirist! who touched the means so true,
As showed Vice had his hate and pity too.
Blest courtier! who could king and country please,
Yet sacred kept his friendship and his ease.
Blest peer! his great forefathers' every grace
Reflecting, and reflected on his race;
Where other Buckhursts, other Dorsets shine,
And patriots still, or pests, deck the line.

The first distich of this epitaph contains a kind of information which few would want, that the man for whom the tomb was erected, died. There are indeed some qualities worthy of the praise ascribed to the dead, but none that were likely to exempt him from the lot of man, or incline us much to wonder that he should die. What is meant by "judge of nature" is not easy to say. Nature is not the object of human judgment; for it is in vain to judge where we cannot alter. If by nature is meant what is commonly called nature by the critics, a just representation of things really existing, and actions really performed, nature cannot be properly opposed to art, nature being, in this sense, only the best effect of art.

The scourge of pride —

Of this couplet the second line is not what is intended, an illustration of the former. Pride in the great, is indeed well enough connected with knaves in state, though knaves is a word rather too ludicrous and light; but the mention of sanctified pride will not lead the thoughts to fops in learning, but rather to some species of tyranny or oppression, something more gloomy and more formidable than foppery.

Yet soft his nature —

This is a high compliment, but was not first bestowed on Dorset by Pope. The next verse is extremely beautiful.

Blest satirist! —

In this distich is another line of which Pope was not the author. I do not mean to blame these imitations with much harshness; in long performances they are scarcely to be avoided, and in shorter they may be indulged, because the train of the composition may naturally involve them, or the scantiness of the subject allow little choice. However, what is borrowed is not to be enjoyed as our own, and it is the business of critical justice to give every bird of the Muses his proper feather.

Blest courtier! —

Whether a courtier can properly be commended for keeping his ease sacred, may perhaps be disputable. To please king and country without sacrificing friendship to any change of times was a very uncommon instance of prudence or felicity, and deserved to be kept separate from so poor a commendation as care of his ease. I wish our poets would attend a little more accurately to the use of the word sacred, which surely should never be applied in a serious composition, but where some reference may be made to a higher Being, or where some duty is exacted or implied. A man may keep his friendship sacred, because promises of friendship are very awful ties; but methinks he cannot, but in a burlesque sense, be said to keep his ease sacred.

Blest peer! —

The blessing ascribed to the peer has no connection with his peerage; they might happen to any other man whose posterity were likely to be regarded.

I know not whether this epitaph be worthy either of the writer or the man entombed.

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