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DOCTOR CORBET,* LATE BISHOP OF OXFORD,
He that would write an Epitaph for thee,
And write it well, must first begin to be
Such as thou wert; for none can truly know
Thy life and worth, but he that hath liv'd so :
He must have Wit to spare, and to hurl down,
Enough to keep the gallants of the town.
He must have Learning plenty ; both the Laws,
Civil and common, to judge any cause.
Divinity, great store, above the rest,
Not of the last edition, but the best.
He must have Language, Travel, all the Arts,
Judgment to use, or else he wants thy parts.
He must have friends the highest, able to do,
Such as Mecænas and Augustus too.
He must have such a sickness, such a death,
Or else his vain descriptions come beneath.
He that would write an Epitaph for thee,
Should first be dead ;-let it alone for me.
* Dr. Richard Corbet, an eminent Divine and Poet, born at Ewell in Sur. rey, and educated at Westminster, whence he removed to Christ Church Col. lege, Oxford, in 1597–98. Upon entering into Holy Orders, he was made Chaplain in Ordinary to King James I.; and in July 1630, he was consecrated Bishop of Oxford. In April 1632, he was translated to the See of Norwich, and he died July 28th, 1635. He was, according to Aubrey, a very convivial man, and in his younger years, one of the most celebrated wits of the Uni. versity, and his volume of Poems is both a rare and meritorious production.
MY EVER-DESIRED FRIEND DOCTOR DONNE.
BY H. KING, LATE BISHOP OF CHICHESTER.
To have liv'd eminent, in a degree
Beyond our loftiest thoughts, that is, like Thee;
Or † have had too much merit is not safe,
For such excesses find no epitaph.
At common graves we have poetic eyes
Can melt themselves in easy elegies ;
Each quill can drop his tributary verse,
And pin it, like the hatchments, to the hearse;
But at thine, poem or inscription-
Rich soul of wit and language—we have none.
Indeed a silence does that tomb befit,
Where is no herald left to blazon it.
Widow'd Invention justly doth forbear
To come abroad, knowing thou art not there :
Late her great patron, whose prerogative
Maintain’d and cloth'd her so, as none alive
Must now presume to keep her at thy rate,
Tho' he the Indies for her dower estate.
Or else, that awful fire which once did burn
In thy clear brain, now fallen into thy urn,
Lives there, to fright rude empirics from thence,
Which might profane thee by their ignorance.
Whoever writes of thee, and in a style
Unworthy such a theme, does but revile
Thy precious dust, and wakes a learned spirit,
Which may revenge his rapes upon thy merit:
For, all a low-pitched fancy can devise
Will prove at best but hallow'd injuries.
Thou like the dying swan didst lately sing,
Thy mournful dirge in audience of the King ;
When pale looks and faint accents of thy breath,
Presented so to life that piece of death,
That it was fear'd and prophesy'd by all
Thou thither cam'st to preach thy funeral.
Oh! had'st thou in an elegiac knell
Rung out unto the world thine own farewell
And in thy high victorious numbers beat
The solemn measures of thy griev'd retreat,
Thou might’st the Poet's service now have miss'd
As well as then thou didst prevent the Priest;
And never to the world beholden be,
So much as for an epitaph for thee.
I do not like the office; nor is't fit
Thou, who didst lend our age such sums of wit,
Should'st now re-borrow from her bankrupt mine
That ore to bury thee which first was thine :
Rather still leave us in thy debt; and know,
Exalted soul, more glory 'tis to owe
Thy memory what we can never pay,
Than with embased coin those rites defray.
Commit we then Thee to Thyself, nor blame
Our drooping loves, that thus to thine own fame
Leave Thee executor, since but thine own
No pen could do thee justice, nor bays crown
Thy vast deserts; save that we nothing can
Depute, to be thy ashes' guardian.
So Jewellers no art or metal trust,
To form the diamond, but the diamond's dust.
Our Donne is dead! and we may sighing say,
We had that man, where language chose to stay,
And shew her utmost power. I would not praise
That, and his great wit, which in our vain days
Make others proud; but as these serv’d to unlock
That cabinet his mind, where such a stock
Of knowledge was repos’d, that I lament
Our just and general cause of discontent.
And I rejoice I am not so severe,
But as I write a line, to weep a tear
For his decease; such sad extremities
Can make such men as I write elegies.
And wonder not; for when so great a loss
Falls on a nation, and they slight the cross,
God hath rais’d Prophets to awaken them
From their dull lethargy; witness my pen,
Not us’d to upbraid the world, though now it must
Freely and boldly, for the cause is just.
Dull age! Oh, I would spare thee, but thou’rt worse : Thou art not only dull, but hast a curse Of black ingratitude: if not, couldst thou Part with this matchless man, and make no vow For thee and thine successively to pay Some sad remembrance to his dying day?
Did his youth scatter Poetry, wherein Lay Love's Philosophy ? was every sin Pictur'd in his sharp Satires, made so foul, That some have fear'd sin's shapes, and kept their soul Safer by reading verse; Did he give days, Past marble monuments, to those whose praise
He would perpetuate ? Did he—I fear
Envy will doubt—these at his twentieth year
But, more matur’d, did his rich soul conceive
And in harmonious holy numbers weave
A Crown of Sacred Sonnets,* fit t'adorn
A dying martyr's brow, or lo be worn
On that blest head of Mary Magdalen,
After she wip'd Christ's feet, but not till then ;
Did he-fit for such penitents as she
And he to use leave us a Litany,t
Which all devout men love, and doubtless shall,
As times grow better, grow more classical ?
Did he write Hymns, for piety and wit,
Equal to those great grave Prudentius writ ?
Spake he all Languages ? Knew he all Laws ?
The grounds and use of Physic; but, because
'Twas mercenary, wav'd it ? went to see
That happy place of Christ's nativity ?
Did he return and preach him? preach him so,
As since St. Paul none ever did ? they know-
Those happy souls that heard him—know this truth.
Did he confirm thy ag'd ? convert thy youth ?
La Corona," a poem, written by Dr. Donne, and consisting of seven boly sonnets, the first line of each sonnet beginning with the last line of the preceding one, the poem beginning and ending with the same line—namely
Deigne at my hands this crown of prayer and praise."
The subjects are -Annunciation—Nativitie—Temple-crucifying—Resurrection
† A poem so called, written by Dr. Donne, who, in a letter to his friend, Sir Henry Goodyere, gives this account of it. “ Since my imprisonment in my bed I have made a meditation in verse, which I call a Litany. The word, you know, imports no other than supplication; but all churches have one form of supplication by that name. Amongst ancient annals, I mean some 800 years, I have met two Litanies in Latin verse, which gave me not the reason of my meditations; for in good faith I thought not upon them, but they give me a defence, if any man to a Layman and a Private impute it as a fault to tako such divine and publique names to his own little thoughts.” (Letters, foc. p. 32.)