Slike strani

a greater absurdity than that of gracing the walls of a Christian temple with the figure of Mars leading a hero to battle, or Cupids sporting round a virgin. The pope who defaced the statues of the deities at the tomb of Sannazarius is, in my opinion, more easily to be defended, than he that erected them.

It is for the same reason improper to address the EPITAPH to the passenger, a custom which an injudicious veneration for antiquity introduced again at the revival of letters, and which, among many others, Passeratius suffered to mislead him in his EPITAPH upon the heart of Henry king of France, who was stabbed by Clement the monk; which yet deserves to be inserted, for the sake of shewing how beautiful even improprieties may become in the hands of a good writer.

Adsta, viator, et dole regum vices.
Cor Regis isto conditur sub marmore,
Qui jura Gallis, jura Sarmatis dedit.
Tectus cucullo hunc sustulit sicarius.

Abi, viator, et dole regum vices.
In the monkish ages, however ignorant and un-
polished, the EPITAPHS were drawn up with far
greater propriety than can be shewn in those which
more enlightened times have produced.

Orate pro Anima - miserrimi Peccatoris, was an address to the last degree striking and solemn, as it flowed naturally from the religion then believed, and awakened in the reader sentiments of benevolence for the deceased, and of concern for his own happiness. There was nothing

[ocr errors][ocr errors]


trifling or ludicrous, nothing that did not tend to the noblest end, the propagation of piety and the increase of devotion.

It may seem very superfluous to lay it down as the first rule for writing EPITAPHS, that the name of the deceased is not to be omitted; nor should I have thought such a precept necessary, had not the practice of the greatest writers shewn, that it has not been sufficiently regarded. In most of the poetical EPITAPHS, the names for whom they were composed, may be sought to no purpose, being only prefixed on the monument. To

To expose the absurdity of this omission, it is only neeessary to ask how the EPITAPHS, which have outlived the stones on which they were inscribed, would have contributed to the information of posterity, had they wanted the names of those whom they celebrated.

In drawing the character of the deceased, there are no rules to be observed which do not equally relate to other compositions. The praise ought not to be general, because the mind is lost in the extent of any indefinite idea, and cannot be af. fected with what it cannot comprehend. When we hear only of a good or great man, we know not in what class to place him, nor have any notion of his character, distinct from that of a thousand others; his example can have no effect upon our conduct, as we have nothing remarkable or emi. nent to propose to our imitation. The EPITAPH

. composed by Ennius for his own tomb, has both, the faults last mentioned.

Nemo me decoret lacrumis, nec funera, fletu

Faxit. Cur? volito vivu' per ora virum.


The reader of this EPITAPH receives scarce any idea from it; he neither conceives any veneration for the man to whom it belongs, nor is instructed by what methods this boasted reputation is to be obtained.

Though a sepulchral inscription is professedly a panegyrick, and, therefore, not confined to historical impartiality, yet it ought always to be written with regard to truth. No man ought to be commended for virtues which he never possessed, but whoever is curious to know his faults must enquire after them in other places; the monuments of the dead are not intended to perpetuate the memory of crimes, but to exhibit patterns of virtue. On the tomb of Mæcenas his luxury is not to be mentioned with his munificence, nor is the proscription to find a place on the monument of Augustus.

The best subject for EPITAPHS is private virtue; virtue exerted in the same circumstances in which the bulk of mankind are placed, and which, therefore, may admit of many imitators. He that has delivered his country from oppression, or freed the world from ignorance and error, can excite the emulation of a very small number; but he that has repelled the temptations of poverty, and disdained to free himself from distress at the expence of his virtue, may animate multitudes, by his example, to the same firmness of heart and steadiness of resolution.

Of this kind I cannot forbear the mention of two Greek inscriptions; one upon a man whose writings are well known, the other upon a person

whose memory is preserved only in her EPITAPH, who both lived in slavery, the most calamitous estate in human life:

Ζωσιμη η πριν εισα μονω τω σωματι δελη,

Και τω σωματι νυν ευρεν ελευθεριην.
ZOSIMA, que solo fuit olim corpore serva,

Corpore nunc etiain libera facta fuit.
“ ZOSIMA, who in her life could only have her body.

enslaved, now finds her body likewise set at liberty."

[ocr errors]

It is impossible to read this EPITAPH without being animated to bear the evils of life with constancy, and to support the dignity of human nature under the most pressing afflictions, both by the example of the heroine, whose grave we behold, and the prospect of that state in which, to use the language of the inspired writers, “ The poor cease from their labours, and the weary be at rest.”

The other is upon Epictetus, the Stoick philosopher:

Δελών ΕπικτητΘγενομην, και σωμαναπηρΘ,

Και πενην ΙρG», και φιλ6. Αθανατους.
Servus Epictetus, mutilatus corpore viri

Pauperieque Irus, curaque prima Déum,
« EPICTETUS, who lies bere, was a slave and a cripple,

poor as the beggar in the proverb, and the favourite
of Heaven."


In this distich is comprised the noblest panegyrick, and the most important instruction. We may learn from it, that virtue is impracticable in no

condition, since Epictetus could recommend him. self to the regard of Heaven, amidst the temptations of poverty and slavery: slavery, which has always been found so destructive to virtue, that in many languages a slave and a thief are expressed by the same word. And we may be likewise admonished by it, not to lay any stress on a man's outward circumstances, in making an estimate of his real value, since Epictetus the beggar, the cripple, and the slave, was the favourite of Heaven.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »