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THE DYING CHRISTIAN TO HIS SOUL.
VITAL spark of heavenly flame,
Quit, 0, quit this mortal frame!
O, the pain, the bliss of dying !
Hark! they whisper; angels say,
Drowns my spirits, draws my breath?
The world recedes; it disappears :
With sounds seraphic ring :
O Death! where is thy sting?
The difficulty of producing a good epitaph is to be estimated by the singular rareness of success. To be at once clear and comprehensive, forcible and refined, pointed without the terseness of epigram, and laudatory without the extravagance of panegyric, are palpably among the happiest efforts of the mind. Still, if success in this difficult art must be only comparative, Pope has the merit of possessing the highest rank. Johnson's well-known eramen of his epitaphs is the work more of cavil than of criticism : he begins with a determination to find defects: where he finds, he exaggerates; where he cannot find, he makes them.
Difficult as the task might be, it is strongly to be desired, that some man of ability would rescue this fine but neglected style from its modern humiliation. The general order of epitaphs in our churchyards is a mixture of barbarism and absurdity dishonorable to the national name: the lowest work of ignorance seems to be held sufficient for the sacredness of the grave; and the finest feelings of the man and the Christian are scandalised by language worthy only of clowns. By a folly scarcely inferior, the chief inscriptions on our public monuments are in Latin, as if they were written for foreigners, and not for our own countrymen; or, as if the language of Rome could be transmitted to posterity with nobler recollections than the language of England.
ON CHARLES EARL OF DORSET.
IN THE CHURCH OF WITHYAM, IN SUSSEX.
Dorset, the grace of courts, the Muses' pride,
One of the principal secretaries of state to King William III.,
who having resigned his place, died in his retirement at Easthamsted, in Berkshire, 1716.
A PLEASING form ; a firm, yet cautious mind ;
ON THE HON. SIMON HARCOURT,
ONLY SON OF THE LORD CHANCELLOR HARCOURT,
At the church of Stanton-Harcourt in Oxfordshire, 1720.
To this sad shrine, whoe'er thou art, draw near! Here lies the friend most loved, the son most dear: Who ne'er knew joy, but friendship might divide; Or gave his father grief but when he died.
How vain is reason, eloquence how weak! If Pope must tell what Harcourt cannot speak. 0, let thy once-loved friend inscribe thy stone, And with a father's sorrows mix his own!