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E LE Ġ Y
TO THE MEMORY OF
AN UNFORTUNATE LADY*.
WHAT beck’ning ghost, along the moon-light shade
Invites my steps, and points to yonder glade ? 'Tis she !—but why that bleeding bosom gor'd, Why dimly gleams the visionary sword !
* See the Duke of Buckingham's Verses to a Lady designing to retire into a Monastery, compared with Mr. Pope's Letters to several lies, p. 206. quarto Edition. She seems to be the fame person whose unfortunate death is the subject of this poem.
Pope. Ver. 1. What beck'ning ghof,]
" What gentle ghost besprent with April dew,
Hails me so solemnly to yonder yew?
BEN JOhnson. The cruelties of her relations, the desolation of the family, the being deprived of the rites of fepulture, 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 ourleopoy oppo. 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 ;
Oh ever beauteous, ever friendly! tell,
Why bade ye else, ye Pow'rs! her soul aspire
Like NOTES, and that we can always feel more than we can imagine; and that the most artful fi&tion must give way to truth, for this Lady was beloved by Pope. After many and wide enquiries, 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, je hanged herself. Johnson has too feverely censured this Elegy, when he says, “ that it has drawn much attention by the illaudable fingularity, of treating suicide with respect ;" and, “ that poetry has not oftea 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.
WARTON. Ver. 6. to love too well?] Steevens quotes Crashaw, “ To love too well.” It is surely an expression fufficiently common,
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
children fall: On all the line a sudden vengeance waits, And frequent herses 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 fouls the Furies steel'd, And curs'd with hearts unknowing how to yield. Thus unlamented pass 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.
That NOTES. VER. 41. Lo! these were they,] Iliad. ix. 749. “ The gods that unrelenting mind have steel'd, And curs'd thee with a mind that cannot yield."
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 graç'd thy 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, By stangers honour'd, and by strangers mourn'd! What tho' no friends in fable weeds appear, 55 Grieve for an hour, perhaps, then mourn a year, And bear about the mockery of woe To midnight dances, and the public show? What tho' no weeping Loves thy ashes grace, Nor polish'd marble emulate thy face?
What NOTES. VER. 59. What tho' no weeping Loves, &c.] This beautiful little Elegy had gained the unanimous admiration of all men of taite. When a Critic comes --But hold ; to give his observation fair play, let us first analize 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 misfortunesexpatiates 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 riling 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 emi. vently, 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 hy others, [Elements of Crit. vol. ii. p. 112.) his Criticism begins to smell furiously of old John Dennis. Well might our Poet's last with be, to commit his writings to the candour of a sensible and rèfiecting judge, rather than to the malice of every short-lighted and malevolent critic."
What tho' no sacred earth allow thee room,
shall blow While Angels with their silver wings o'ershade The Ground, now sacred by the reliques made.
So peaceful rests, without a stone, a name, What once had beauty, titles, wealth, and fame. 70 How lov'd, how honour'd once, avails thee not, To whom related, or by whom begot; A heap of dust alone remains of thee, 'Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be!
74 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 beloy'd no more!
Johnson says, “ Poetry has been seldom 'worse employed, than in dignifying the amorous fury of a raving girl.” This seems fevere, contemptuous, and unfeeling Johnson, however, chiefly adverted, I imagine, to the false reasoning, and abfurd attempt, in the lines, “Is there no bright,” &c. to make suicide the natu. ral consequence of more elevated feelings. Johnson spoke as a severe moralist, and a rigid philosopher, against such contemptible reasoning, as Pope employs upon this subject, from the 5th to the