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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 Greck 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 :
Zosima, quæ solo fuit olim corpore serva,
Corpore nunc etiam libera facta fuit. “ Zosima, who in her life could only have her body
enslaved, now finds her body likewise set at liberty.” 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 :
Servus Epictetus, mutilatus corpore, viri
Pauperieque Irus, curaque prima Deúm. “Epicterus, who lies here, 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 himself 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.
ON MILTON'S USE AND IMITATION OF THE
MODERNS IN HIS PARADISE LOST.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE YEAR 1750.
It is now more than half a century since the “ Paradise Lost,” having broke through the cloud with which the unpopularity of the author, for a time, obscured it, has attracted the general admiration of mankind; who have endeavoured to compensate the errour of their first neglect, by lavish praises and boundless veneration. There seems to have arisen a contest, among men of genius and literature, who
* It is to be hoped, nay, it is expected, that the elegant and nervous writer, whose jưdicious sentiments, and inimitable style points out the author of Lauder's Preface and Postscript, will no longer allow one to plume himself with his feathers, who appears so little to have deserved his assistance; an assistance which I am persuaded would never have been communicated, had there been the least suspicion of those facts which I have been the instrument of conveying to the world in these sheets.”—Milton vindicated from the charge of plagiarism brought against him by Mr. Lauder, and Luuder himself convicted of several forgeries and gross impositions on the publick. By John Douglas, M. A. Rector of Euton Constantine, Salop. 8vo. 1751, p. 77.
should most advance its honour, or best distinguish its beauties. Some have revised editions, others have published commentaries, and all have endeavoured to make their particular studies, in some degree, subservient to this general emulation.
Among the inquiries, to which this ardour of criti. cism has naturally given occasion, none is more obscure in itself, or more worthy of rational curiosity, than a retrospection of the progress of this mighty genius, in the construction of his work ; a view of the fabrick gradually rising, perhaps from small beginnings, till its foundation rests in the centre, and its turrets sparkle in the skies; to trace back the structure, through all its varieties, to the simplicity of its first plan; to find what was first projected, whence the scheme was taken, how it was improved, by what assistance it was executed, and from what stores the materials were collected, whether its founder dug them from the quarries of nature, or demolished other buildings to embellish his own.
This inquiry has been, indeed, not wholly neglected, nor, perhaps, prosecuted with the care and diligence that it deserves. Several criticks have offered their conjectures; but none have much endeavoured to enforce or ascertain them. * Mr. Voltaire tells us, without proof, that the first hint of “ Paradise Lost” was taken from a farce called Adamo, written by a player; † Dr. Pearce, that it was derived
* Essay upon the Civil Wars of France, and also upon the Epick Poetry of the European Nations, from Homer down to Milton, 8vo. 1727, p. 103. E.
+ Preface to a Review of the Text of the Twelve Books of Milton's Paradise Lost, in which the chief of Dr. Bentley's Emendations are considered. 8vo. 1733. E.