When Men of worthy and excelling Genius's have obliged the World with beautiful and instructive Writings, it is in the nature of Gratitude that Praise should be returned them, as one proper consequent Reward of their Performances. Nor has Mankind ever been so degenerately sunk, but they have made this Return, and even when they have not been wrought up by the generous Endeavour so as to receive the Advantages designed by it. This Praise, which arises first in the Mouth of particular Persons, spreads and lasts according to the Merit of Authors; and when it thus meets with a full Success changes its Denomination, and is called Fame. They who have happily arrived at this, are, even while they live, enflamed by the Acknowledgments of others, and spurred on to new Undertakings for the Benefit of Mankind, notwithstanding the Detraction which some abject Tempers would cast upon them: But when they decease, their Characters being freed from the Shadow which Envy laid them under, begin to shine out with greater Splendour; their Spirits survive in their Works; they are admitted into the highest Companies, and they continue pleasing and instructing Posterity from Age to Age. Some of the best gain a Character, by being able to shew that they are no Strangers to them; and others obtain a new Warmth to labour for the Happiness and Ease of Mankind, from a Reflection upon those Honours which are paid to their Memories.
The Thought of this took me up as I turned over those Epigrams which are the Remains of several of the Wits of Greece, and perceived many dedicated to the Fame of those who had excelled in beautiful poetick Performances. Wherefore, in pursuance to my Thought, I concluded to do something along with them to bring their Praises into a new Light and Language, for the Encouragement of those whose modest Tempers may be deterr'd by the Fear of Envy or Detraction from fair Attempts, to which their Parts might render them equal. You will perceive them as they follow to be conceived in the form of Epitaphs, a sort of Writing which is wholly set apart for a short pointed Method of Praise.
On _Orpheus_, written by _Antipater_.
'No longer_, Orpheus, _shall thy sacred Strains
Lead Stones, and Trees, and Beasts along the Plains;
No longer sooth the boistrous Wind to sleep,
Or still the Billows of the raging Deep:
For thou art gone, the Muses mourn'd thy Fall
In solemn Strains, thy Mother most of all.
Ye Mortals, idly for your Sons ye moan,
If thus a Goddess could not save her own.'
Observe here, that if we take the Fable for granted, as it was believed to be in that Age when the Epigram was written, the Turn appears to have Piety to the Gods, and a resigning Spirit in its Application. But if we consider the Point with respect to our present Knowledge, it will be less esteem'd; though the Author himself, because he believ'd it, may still be more valued than any one who should now write with a Point of the same Nature.
On _Homer_, by _Alpheus_ of _Mytilene_.
'Still in our Ears_ Andromache _complains,
And still in sight the Fate of_ Troy _remains;
Still_ Ajax _fights, still_ Hector's _dragg'd along,
Such strange Enchantment dwells in_ Homer's _Song;
Whose Birth cou'd more than one poor Realm adorn,
For all the World is proud that he was born.'
The Thought in the first part of this is natural, and depending upon the Force of Poesy: In the latter part it looks as if it would aim at the History of seven Towns contending for the Honour of Homer's Birth-place; but when you expect to meet with that common Story, the Poet slides by, and raises the whole World for a kind of Arbiter, which is to end the Contention amongst its several Parts.
On _Anacreon_ by _Antipater._
'This Tomb be thine,_ Anacreon; _all around
Let Ivy wreath, let Flourets deck the Ground,
And from its Earth, enrich'd with such a Prize,
Let Wells of Milk and Streams of Wine arise:
So will thine Ashes yet a Pleasure know,
If any Pleasure reach the Shades below.'
The Poet here written upon, is an easy gay Author, and he who writes upon him has filled his own Head with the Character of his Subject. He seems to love his Theme so much, that he thinks of nothing but pleasing him as if he were still alive, by entering into his Libertine Spirit; so that the Humour is easy and gay, resembling Anacreon in its Air, raised by such Images, and pointed with such a Turn as he might have used. I give it a place here, because the Author may have design'd it for his Honour; and I take an Opportunity from it to advise others, that when they would praise, they cautiously avoid every looser Qualification, and fix only where there is a real Foundation in Merit.
On _Euripides_, by _Ion._
'Divine_ Euripides, _this Tomb we see
So fair, is not a Monument for thee,
So much as thou for it, since all will own
Thy Name and lasting Praise adorns the Stone.'
The Thought here is fine, but its Fault is, that it is general, that it may belong to any great Man, because it points out no particular Character. It would be better, if when we light upon such a Turn, we join it with something that circumscribes and bounds it to the Qualities of our Subject. He who gives his Praise in gross, will often appear either to have been a Stranger to those he writes upon, or not to have found any thing in them which is Praise-worthy.
On _Sophocles_, by _Simonides_.
'Winde, gentle Ever-green, to form a Shade
Around the Tomb where_ Sophocles _is laid;
Sweet Ivy winde thy Boughs, and intertwine
With blushing Roses and the clustring Vine:
Thus will thy lasting Leaves, with Beauties hung,
Prove grateful Emblems of the Lays he sung;
Whose Soul, exalted like a_ God _of_ Wit,
_Among the_ Muses _and the_ Graces _writ.'
This Epigram I have open'd more than any of the former: The Thought towards the latter End seemed closer couched, so as to require an Explication. I fancied the Poet aimed at the Picture which is generally made of Apollo and the Muses, he sitting with his Harp in the Middle, and they around him. This look'd beautiful to my Thought, and because the Image arose before me out of the Words of the Original as I was reading it, I venture to explain them so.
On _Menander_, the Author unnamed.
'The very Bees, O sweet_ Menander, _hung
To taste the_ Muses _Spring upon thy Tongue;
The very_ Graces _made the Scenes you writ
Their happy Point of fine Expression hit.
Thus still you live, you make your_ Athens _shine,
And raise its Glory to the Skies in thine.'
This Epigram has a respect to the Character of its Subject; for Menander writ remarkably with a Justness and Purity of Language. It has also told the Country he was born in, without either a set or a hidden Manner, while it twists together the Glory of the Poet and his Nation, so as to make the Nation depend upon his for an Encrease of its own.
I will offer no more Instances at present, to shew that they who deserve Praise have it returned them from different Ages. Let these which have been laid down, shew Men that Envy will not always prevail. And to the End that Writers may more successfully enliven the Endeavours of one another, let them consider, in some such Manner as I have attempted, what may be the justest Spirit and Art of Praise. It is indeed very hard to come up to it. Our Praise is trifling when it depends upon Fable; it is false when it depends upon wrong Qualifications; it means nothing when it is general; it is extreamly difficult to hit when we propose to raise Characters high, while we keep to them justly. I shall end this with transcribing that excellent Epitaph of Mr. Cowley, wherein, with a kind of grave and philosophick Humour, he very beautifully speaks of himself (withdrawn from the World, and dead to all the Interests of it) as of a Man really deceased. At the same time it is an Instruction how to leave the Publick with a good Grace.
Epitaphium Vivi Authoris.
'Hic, O Viator, sub Lare parvulo_
Couleius _hic est conditus, hic jacet
Defunctus Humani Laboris
Sorte, supervacuaque Vita,
Non Indecora pauperie nitens,
Et non inerti Nobilis Otio,
Vanoque dilectis popello
Divitiis animosus hostis.
Possis ut illum dicere mortuum
En Terra jam nunc Quantula sufficit?
Exempta sit Curis, Viator,
Terra sit illa lævis, precare.
Hic sparge Flores, sparge breves Rosas,
Nam Vita gaudet Mortua Floribus,
Herbisque Odoratis Corona
Vatis adhuc Cinerem Calentem.'
[The Publication of these Criticisms having procured me the following Letter from a very ingenious Gentleman, I cannot forbear inserting it in the Volume, though it did not come soon enough to have a place in any of my single Papers.
'Having read over in your Paper, No. 551. some of the Epigrams made by the Grecian Wits, in commendation of their celebrated Poets, I could not forbear sending you another, out of the same Collection; which I take to be as great a Compliment to Homer, as any that has yet been paid him.
[Greek: Tís poth' ho tòn Troiaes pólemon, &c.]
Who first transcribed the famous_ Trojan _War,
And wise_ Ulysses' _Acts, O_ Jove, _make known:
For since 'tis certain, Thine those Poems are,
No more let_ Homer _boast they are his own.
If you think it worthy of a Place in your Speculations, for ought I know (by that means) it may in time be printed as often in English, as it has already been in Greek, I am (like the rest of the World)
Your great Admirer, G. R. 4th Dec.
The Reader may observe that the Beauty of this Epigram is different from that of any in the foregoing. An Irony is look'd upon as the finest Palliative of Praise; and very often conveys the noblest Panegyrick under the Appearance of Satire. Homer is here seemingly accused and treated as a Plagiary; but what is drawn up in the form of an Accusation is certainly, as my Correspondent observes, the greatest Compliment that could have been paid to that Divine Poet.]
Dear Mr. SPECTATOR,
I am a Gentleman of a pretty good Fortune, and of a Temper impatient of any thing which I think an Injury; however I always quarrelled according to Law, and instead of attacking my Adversary by the dangerous Method of Sword and Pistol, I made my Assaults by that more secure one of Writ or Warrant. I cannot help telling you, that either by the Justice of my Causes, or the Superiority of my Counsel, I have been generally successful; and to my great Satisfaction I can say it, that by three Actions of Slander, and half a dozen Trespasses, I have for several Years enjoy'd a perfect Tranquility in my Reputation and Estate. By these means also I have been made known to the Judges, the Serjeants of our Circuit are my intimate Friends, and the Ornamental Counsel pay a very profound Respect to one who has made so great a Figure in the Law. Affairs of Consequence having brought me to Town, I had the Curiosity t'other day to visit Westminster-Hall; and having placed my self in one of the Courts, expected to be most agreeably entertained. After the Court and Counsel were, with due Ceremony, seated, up stands a learned Gentleman, and began, When this Matter was last stirr'd before your Lordship: The next humbly moved to quash an Indictment; another complain'd that his Adversary had snapp'd a Judgment; the next informed the Court that his Client was stripp'd of his Possession; another begg'd Leave to acquaint his Lordship, that they had been saddled with Costs. At last up got a grave Serjeant, and told us his Client had been hung up a whole Term by a Writ of Error. At this I could bear it no longer, but came hither, and resolv'd to apply my self to your Honour to interpose with these Gentlemen, that they would leave off such low and unnatural Expressions: For surely tho' the Lawyers subscribe to hideous French and false Latin, yet they should let their Clients have a little decent and proper English for their Money. What Man that has a Value for a good Name would like to have it said in a publick Court, that Mr. such-a-one was stripp'd, saddled or hung up? This being what has escaped your Spectatorial Observation, be pleas'd to correct such an illiberal Cant among profess'd Speakers, and you'll infinitely oblige Your humble Servant, Philonicus.
Joe's Coffee-house, Novemb. 28.Translation of motto: