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E L E GY
TO THE MEMORY OF AN
What beck’ning ghost, along the moonlight
See the Duke of Buckingham's verses to a Lady designing to retire into a monastery, compared with Mr. Pope's Letters to several Ladies, p. 206, quarto edition. She seems to be the same person whose unfortunate death is the subject of this
Ver. 1. What beck’ning ghost,] Who does not, by this striking abruptness, imagine, with the poet, that he suddenly beholds the phantom of his murdered friend? He might, perhaps, have a passage of Ben Jonson in his head, in an elegy on the Marchioness of Winchester, which opens thus;
“ What gentle ghost besprent with April dew,
Why bade ye else, ye Pow'rs! her soul aspire
blest abodes; The glorious fault of Angels and of Gods : Thence to their images on earth it flows,
15 And in the breasts of Kings and Heroes glows. Most souls, 'tis true, but peep out once an age, Dull, sullen pris’ners in the body's cage : Dim lights of life, that burn a length of years Useless, unseen, as lamps in sepulchres ; 20
The cruelties of her relations, the desolation of the family, the being deprived of the rites of sepulture, the circumstance of dying in a country remote from her relations, are all touched with great tenderness and pathos, particularly the four lines from the 51st.
By foreign hands thy dying eyes were clos'd; Which lines may remind one of that exquisite stroke in the Philoctetes of Sophocles, who, among other afflicting circumstances, had not near him any túvtpopov õpua. ver. 171. The true cause of the excellence of this elegy is, that the occasion of it was real; so true is the maxim, that nature is more powerful than fancy; and that we can always feel more than we can imagine; and that the most artful fiction must give way to truth, for this Lady was beloved by Pope. After many and wide inquiries, I have been informed that her name was Wainsbury ; and that (which is a singular circumstance) she was as ill-shaped and deformed as our author. Her death was not by a sword, but, what would less bear to be told poetically, she hanged herself. Johnson has too severely censured this elegy, when he says, " that it has drawn much attention by the illaudable singularity, of treating suicide with respect;" and, "that poetry has not often been worse employed, than in dignifying the amorous fury of a raving girl.” She seems to have been driven to this desperate act by the violence and cruelty of her uncle and guardian, who forced her to a convent abroad; and to which circumstance Pope alludes in one of his Letters.
Like Eastern Kings a lazy state they keep,
From these perhaps (ere nature bade her die)
But thou, false guardian of a charge too good, Thou, mean deserter of thy brother's blood ! 30 See on these ruby lips the trembling breath, These cheeks now fading at the blast of death ; Cold is that breast which warm'd the world before, And those love-darting eyes must roll no more. Thus, if eternal justice rules the ball,
35 Thus shall your wives, and thus your children fall: On all the line a sudden vengeance waits, And frequent hearses shall besiege your gates ; There passengers
shall stand, and pointing say (While the long fun’rals blacken all the way), 40 Lo! these were they, whose souls the Furies steeld, And curs’d with hearts unknowing how to yield. Thus unlamented
the proud away, The gaze of fools, and pageant of a day! So perish all, whose breast ne'er learn'd to glow 45 For others' good, or melt at others' woe.
What can atone (oh ever-injur'd shade !) Thy fate unpity'd, and thy rites unpaid ? No friend's complaint, no kind domestic tear Pleas'd thy pale ghost, or grac'd the mournful bier. By foreign hands thy dying eyes were clos’d, 51 By foreign hands thy decent limbs compos’d,
By foreign hands thy humble grave adorn'd,
60 What tho' no sacred earth allow thee room, Nor hallow'd dirge be mutter'd o'er thy tomb? Yet shall thy grave with rising flow'rs be drest, And the green turf lie lightly on thy breast : There shall the morn her earliest tears bestow, 65 There the first roses of the year shall blow;
NOTES. Ver. 59. What tho' no weeping Loves, &c.] “ This beautiful little Elegy had gained the unanimous admiration of all men of taste; when a critic comes—But hold ; to give his observation fair play, let us first analyze the Poem. The Ghost of the injured person appears to excite the Poet to revenge her wrongs. He describes her character-execrates the author of her misfortunes-expatiates on the severity of her fate-the rites of sepulture denied her in a foreign land : then follows,
“ What tho' no weeping Loves thy ashes grace,” &c.
“ Yet shall thy grave with rising flowers be drest," &c. Can any thing be more naturally pathetic ? Yet the Critic tells us, he can give no quarter to this part of the poem, which is eminently, he says, discordant with the subject, and not the language of the heart. But when he tells us, that it is to be ascribed to imitation, copying indiscreetly what has been said by others (Elements of Crit. vol. ii. p. 182], his criticism begins to smell furiously of old John Dennis. Well might our Poet's last wish be, to commit his writings to the candour of a sensible and reflecting judge, rather than to the malice of every short-sighted and malevolent critic.” W.
While Angels with their silver wings o'ershade
So peaceful rests, without a stone, a name,
Poets themselves must fall like those they sung, Deaf the prais'd ear, and mute the tuneful tongue. Ev'n he, whose soul now melts in mournful lays, Shall shortly want the gen’rous tear he pays; Then from his closing eyes thy form shall part, And the last pang shall tear thee from his heart, 80 Life's idle business at one gasp be o'er, The Muse forgot, and thou belov'd no more!