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"Όστις λόγες γαρ παρακαταθήκην ως λαβών
ANAXANDRIDES APUD SUIDAM.
MUCH has been said of late on the subject of in, scriptive writing, and that, in my opinion, to very little purpose. Dr. Drake, when treating on this topic, is, for once, inconclusive; but his essay does credit to his discernment, however little it may honour him as a promulgator of the laws of criticism: the exquisite specimens it contains prove that the doctor has a feeling of propriety and general excellence, although he may be unhappy in defining them. Boileau says, briefly, “ Les inscriptions doivent être simples, courtes, et familiares.” We bave, however, many examples of this kind of writing in our language which, although they possess none of these qualities, are esteemed excellent. Akenside's classic imitations are not at all simple, nothing short and the very reverse of familiar, yet who can deny that they are beautiful, and in some instances appropriate? Southey's inscriptions are noble pieces ;-for the opposite qualities of tenderness and dignity, sweetness of imagery and terseness of moral, unrivalled; they are perhaps wanting in propriety, and (which is the criterion) produce a much better effect in a book, than they would on a column or a cenotaph. There is a certain chaste and majestic gravity expected from the voice of tombs and monuments, which probably would displease in epitaphs never intended to be engraved, and inscriptions for obelisks which never existed.
When a man visits the tomb of an illustrious character, a spot remarkable for some memorable deed, or a scene connected by its natural sublimity with the higher feelings of the breast, he is in a mood only for the nervous, the concise, and the impressive; and he will turn with disgust alike from the puerile conceits of the epigrammatist, and the tedious prolixity of the herald. It is a nice thing to address the mind in the workings of generous enthusiasm. As words are not capable of exciting such an effervescence of the sublimer affections, so they can do little towards increasing it. Their office is rather to point these feelings to a beneficial purpose, and by some noble sentiment, or exalted moral, to impart to the mind that pleasure, which results from warm emotions when connected with the virtuous and the gem
In the composition of inscriptive pieces, great attention must be paid to local and topical propriety. The occasion, and the place, must not only regulate the tenor, but even the style of an inscription: for what, in one case, would be proper and agreeable, in another would be impertinent and disgusting. But these rules may always be taken for granted, that an inscription should be unaffected and free from conceits; that no sentiment should be introduced of a trite or hacknied nature; and that the design and the moral to be inculcated should be of sufficient importance to merit the reader's attention, and ensure his regard.Who would think of setting a stone up in the wilderness to tell the traveller what he knew before, or what, when he had learnt for the first time, was not worth the knowing! It' would be equally absurd to call aside his attention to a simile or an epigrammatic point. Wit, on a monument, is like a jest from a judge, or a philosopher cutting capers. It is a severe mortification to meet with flippancy where we looked for solemnity, and meretricious elegance, where the occasion led us to expect the unadorned majesty of truth.
That branch of inscriptive writing which commemorates the virtues of departed worth, or points out the ashes of men who yet live in the admiration of their posterity is, of all others, the most interesting, and, if properly managed, the most useful.
It is not enough to proclaim to the observer that he is drawing near to the reliques of the deceased genius,the occasion seems to provoke a few reflections. If these be natural, they will be in unison with the feel
ings of the reader, and, if they tend wliere they ought to tend, they will leave him better than they found him. But these reflections must not be too much prolonged. They must rather be bints than dissertations. It is sufficient to start the idea, and the imagination of the reader will pursue the train to much more advantage than the writer could do by words.
Panegyric is seldoin judicious in the epitaphs on public characters, for if it be deserved, it cannot need publication; and if it be exaggerated, it will only serve to excite ridicule. When employed in memorizing the retired virtues of domestic life, and qualities which, though they only served to cheer the little circle of privacy, still deserved, from their unfrequency, to triumph, at least for a while, over the power
may be interesting and salutary in its effects. To this purpose, however, it is rarely employed. An epitaph-book will seldom supply the exigencies of character; and men of talents are not always, even in these favoured times, at hand to eternize the virtues of private life.
The following epitaph, by Mr. Hayley, is inscribed on a monument to the memory of Cowper, in the church of East Dereham:
“ Ye who with warmth the public triumph feel
England, exulting in his spotless fame,
“ This epitaph,” says a periodical critic*, " is simply elegant, and appropriately just.” I regard this sentence as peculiarly unfortunate, for the epitaph seems to me to be elegant without simplicity, and just without propriety. No one will deny that it is correctly written, and that it is not destitute of grace; but in what consists its simplicity I am at a loss to imagine. The initial address, is laboured, and circumlocutory. There is something artificial rather than otherwise in the personification of England, and her ranking the poet's name
“ with her dearest sons,” instead of, with those of her dearest sons, is like ranking poor John Doe with a proper bona fide son of Adam, in a writ of arrest. Sense, fancy, and wit, “raising a title," and that to " affection's praise," is not very simple, and not over intelligible. Again, the epitaph is just because it is strictly true; but it is by 10 ineans, therefore, appropriate. Who that would turn aside to visit the ashes of Cowper, would need to be told that England ranks him with her favourite sons, and that sense, fancy, and wit were not his greatest honours, for that his virtues formed the magic of his
The Monthly Revicwer.