On Mr. Gay, in Westminster Abbey, 1732.
Of manners gentle, of affections mild;
In wit, a muse; simplicity, a child:
With native humour tempering virtuous rage,
Formed to delight at once and lash the age:
Above temptation, in a low estate,
And uncorrupted, even among the Great:
A safe companion and an easy friend,
Unbiased through life, lamented in thy end,
These are thy honours! not that here thy bust
Is mixed 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 anything, 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 man and the simplicity 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 a praise merely negative, arising not from possession of virtue but the absence of vice, and that 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 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.
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