Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

180

ELEGY

TO THE MEMORY OF AN UNFORTUNATE LADY,

5

10

15

WHAT beckoning ghost along the moonlight shade

Invites my steps, and points to yonder glade ?
'Tis she !—but why that bleeding bosom gored,
Why dimly gleams the visionary sword ?
Oh, ever beauteous, ever friendly! tell,
Is it, in heaven, a crime to love too well ?
To bear too tender or too firm a heart,
To act a lover's or a Roman's part ?
Is there no bright reversion in the sky
For those who greatly think, or bravely die ?

Why bade ye else, ye powers! her soul aspire
Above the vulgar flight of low desire ?
Ambition first sprung from your blest abodes,
The glorious fault of angels and of gods :
Thence to their images on earth it flows,
And in the breast of kings and heroes glows.
Most souls, 'tis true, but peep out once an age,
Dull, sullen prisoners in the body's cage:
Dim lights of life, that burn a length of years,
Useless, unseen, as lamps in sepulchres ;
Like Eastern kings a lazy state they keep,
And, close confined to their own palace, sleep.

From these rerhaps (ere Nature bade her die)
Fate snatch'd her early to the pitying sky.
As into air the purer spirits flow,
And separate from their. kindred dregs below;
So flew the soul to its congenial place,
Nor left one virtue to redeem her race.

But thou, false guardian of a charge too good,
Thou, mean deserter of thy brother's blood !
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.

20

25

30

Thus, if eternal justice rules the ball,
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 funerals blacken all the way,)
“Lo! these were they, whose souls the Furies steel'd,
And cursed with hearts unknowing how to yield.” 1
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
For others' good, or melt at others' woe.

What can atone (oh ever-injured shade!)
Thy fate unpitied, and thy rites unpaid ?
No friend's complaint, no kind domestic tear
Pleased thy pale ghost, or graced thy mournful bier.
By foreign hands thy dying eyes were closed,
By foreign hands thy decent limbs composed,
By foreign hands thy humble grave adorn'd,
By strangers honour'd, and by strangers mourn'd!
What, though no friends in sable weeds appear,
Grieve for an hour, perhaps, then mourn a year,
And bear about the mockery of woe.
To midnight dances, and the public show?
What, though no weeping loves thy ashes grace,
Nor polish'd marble emulate thy face?
What, though no sacred earth allow thee room,
Nor hallow'd dirge be mutter'd o'er thy tomb?
Yet shall thy grave with rising flowers be dressid,
And the green turf lie lightly on thy breast:
There shall the morn her earliest tears bestow,
There the first roses of the year shall blow;
While angels with their silver wings o'ershade
The ground now sacred by thy reliques made.

So peaceful rests, without a stone, a name,
What once had beauty, titles, wealth, and fame.
How loved, how honour'd once, avails thee not,
To whom related, or by whom begot;

[ocr errors]

75

A heap of dust alone remains of thee,
'Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be!

Poets themselves must fall, like those they sung,
Deaf the praised ear, and mute the tuneful tongue.
Even he, whose soul now melts in mournful lays,
Shall shortly want the generous tear he pays;
Then from his closing eyes thy form shall part,
And the last pang shall tear thee from his heart,
Life's idle business at one gasp be o'er,
The Muse forgot, and thou beloved no more !

80

["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.' She seems to be the same person whose unfortunate death is the subject of this poem." -Pope. The Verses by Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, are rather calculated to break the spell contained in Pope's exquisitely pathetic and musical Elegy. The following is about one half of Sheffield's poem, and the only part having a reference to the lady's history :

“What breast but yours can hold the double fire
Of fierce devotion and of fond desire ? :
Love would shine forth were not your zeal so bright,
Whose glaring flames eclipse his gentler light:
Less seems the faith that mountains can remove
Than this which triumphs over youth and love.

“But shall some threatening priest divide us two,
What worse than that could all his curses do?
Thus with a fright some have resign'd their breath,
And poorly died only for fear of death.'

“While to us nothing but ourselves is dear,
Should the world frown, yet what have we to fear?
Fame, wealth, and power, those high-prized gifts of Fate,
The low concerns of a less happy state,
Are far beneath us; fortune's self may take
Her aim at us, yet no impression make;
Let worldlings ask her help, or fear her harms;
We can lie safe, lock'd in each other's arms;
Like the blest saints, eternal raptures know,
And slight those storms that vainly rest below.

“Yet this, all this, you are resolved to quit;
I see my ruin and I must submit;
But think, O think, before you prove unkind,
How lost a wretch you leave forlorn behind.
Malignant envy, mix'd with hate and fear,
Revenge for wrongs too burdensome to bear,
Even zeal itself, from whence all mischiefs spring,
Have never done so barbarous a thing."

And Sheffield then goes on to apply the case of Armida and Rinaldo, with other choice conceits, which have a ludicrous air as coming from a man above sixty and married to his third wife. There was no real feeling in this poem; Pope's is full of it, and of a sad earnestness, which attests the truth of the main incidents in the Elegy. The name of the lady has not transpired. Pope appears to have been reluctant to mention it; for his friend, Mr. Caryll, of West Grinstead, in the published Correspondence, twice asks the question, and no answer is given. The earliest allusion to the case seems to occur in one of the suppressed letters to Cromwell, in July, 1711, when the distressed lady was represented by her relations “of large acres and little souls," as in an unsound state of mind. From subsequent letters we learn, that she was a Mrs. W., niece to a Lady A., and that on the 25th of May, 1712, she went on a visit to her aunt, Lady A., after a series of hardships or misfortunes, of the nature of which we are not informed. Craggs the younger interested himself in the lady. He wrote to her aunt, “as pressingly as possible,” not to let anything obstruct the journey, “and," he adds, “I will write again to my lady, to urge as much as possible the effecting the only thing that in my opinion can make her niece easy." Pope answers, that he is afraid Craggs's charitable intention of writing again to Lady A. may be frustrated by the short stay the lady was to make there. “She went thither on the 25th,” he says, “with that mixture of expectation and anxiety with which people usually go into unknown or half-discovered countries, utterly ignorant of the disposition of the inhabitants and the treatment they are to meet with.” He also blames some of his own friends. “I cannot excuse some near allies of mine for their conduct of late towards this lady, which has given me a great deal of anger as well as sorrow: all I shall say to you of them at present is, that they have not been my relations these two months. The consent of opinions in our minds is certainly a nearer tie than can be contracted by all the blood in our bodies." From the poem we learn, that the lady had “beauty, titles, wealth, and fame," and that she was ambitious in her love; but, thwarted by her relatives and deserted by her uncle, who was her guardian, she committed suicide. Johnson's stern morality allows no quarter to the unhappy lady, or to Pope's apology for suicide. Warton, less severe and more active in his sympathies, made “many and wide inquiries" after the lady, the result of which was, that he was in. formed her name was Wainsbury; that she was as ill-shaped and deformed as our author;” and that her death was not by a sword, but, what would less bear to be told poetically, she hanged herself. Mr. Bowles revives the romance of the story, by stating, on the authority of Voltaire, communicated to Condorcet, and by Condorcet to a gentleman of high birth and character, from whom Mr. Bowles received it, "that her attachment was not to Pope, or to any Englishman of inferior degree, bu to a young French prince, of the blood royal, Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Berry, whom, in early youth, she had met at the Court of France," and who, in 1712, was in his twentysixth year. This certainly explains the poet's allusion to the lady's ambition,

“ Above the vulgar flight of low desire."

It may also account for the lady's despair and distraction of mind, with its fatal termination. Such an alliance was unattainable, and in the tumult of passion, amidst the reproaches or alienation of her guardian and relatives, reason was overthrown. When Craggs stated that he would urge Lady A. to effect the only thing that, in his opinion, could make her niece easy, he most probably referred to retirement to a convent. Pope, in one of his “letters to several ladies," without name or date, alludes to this intention :

“ Though you modestly say the world has left you, yet, I verily believe it is coming to you again as fast as it can: for, to give the world its due, it is always very fond of merit when it is past its power to oppose it. Therefore, if you can, take it into favour again upon its repentance, and continue in it. But if you are resolved in revenge to rob the world of so much example as you may afford it, I believe your design will be vain: for even in a monastery your devotions cannot carry you so far toward the next world as to make this lose the sight of you; but you'll be like a star, that, while it is fixed to heaven, shines over all the earth. Wheresoever Providence shall dispose of the most valuable thing I know, I shall ever follow you with my sincerest wishes, and my best thoughts will be perpetually waiting upon you, when you never hear of me nor them. Your own guardian angels cannot be more constant, nor more silent.”

There is no reference to the case in the Maple-Durham MSS. Ayre states that the lady had formed an attachment to a young gentleman of inferior rank, and refused a match proposed to her by her guardian, who forced her abroad. All this is contrary to express declarations in the poem and letters. Ruff head servilely copies Ayrema proof that Pope had not informed Warburton of the secret. The poet, we conceive, threw ideal circumstances into the case to heighten its interest and poetical effect, and, when he came to publish his letters, put wrong initials, as in other instances, to conceal the real names.]

« ZurückWeiter »