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A PANEGYRICAL POEM, DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF THE LATE COUNTESS OF ABINGDON.
ΤΟ THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE EARL ОБ
HE commands with which you honoured me fome months ago are now performed: they had been fooner; but betwixt ill health, fome bufinefs, and many troubles, I was forced to defer them till this time. Ovid, going to his banishment, and writing from on fhipboard to his friends, excufed the faults of his poetry by his misfortunes; and told them, that good verfes never flow but from a ferene and compofed fpirit. Wit, which is a kind of Mercury, with wings fastened to his head and heels, can fly but slowly in a damp air. I therefore chofe rather to obey you late than ill; if at least I am capable of writing any thing, at any time, which is worthy your perusal and your patronage. I cannot fay that I have escaped from a fhipwreck; but have only gained a rock by hard fwimming; where I may pant a while and gather breath: for the doctors give me a fad affurance, that my disease never took its leave of any man, but with a purpose to return. However, my lord, I have laid hold on the
interval, and managed the fmall stock, which age has left me, to the best advantage, in performing this inconfiderable fervice to my lady's memory. We, who are priests of Apollo, have not the inspiration when we please; but must wait till the God comes rufhing on us, and invades us with a fury which we are not able to refift: which gives us double ftrength while the fit continues, and leaves us languishing and spent at its departure. Let me not seem to boaft, my lord; for I have really felt it on this occafion, and prophefied beyond my natural power. Let me add, and hope to be believed, that the excellency of the fubject contributed much to the happiness of the execution; and that the weight of thirty years was taken off me while I was writing. I fwam with the tide, and the water under me was buoyant. The reader will eafily observe, that I was tranfported by the multitude and variety of my fimilitudes; which are generally the product of a luxuriant fancy, and the wantonnefs of wit. Had I called in my judgment to my affiftance, I had certainly retrenched many of them. But I defend them not; let them pass for beautiful faults amongst the better fort of critics: for the whole poem, though written in that which they call Heroic verse, is of the Pindaric nature, as well in the thought as the expreffion; and, as fuch, requires the fame grains of allowance for it. It was intended, as your lordship fees in the title, not for an elegy, but a panegyric: a kind of apotheofis, indeed, if a Heathen word may by applied to a Christian use. And on all occafions of praise, if we take the Ancients
for our patterns, we are bound by prescription to employ the magnificence of words, and the force of figures, to adorn the fublimity of thoughts. Ifocrates amongst the Grecian orators, and Cicero and the Younger Pliny amongst the Romans, have left us their precedents for our fecurity: for I think I need not mention the inimitable Pindar, who ftretches on these pinions out of fight, and is carried upward, as it were, into another world.
This, at leaft, my lord, I may juftly plead, that, if I have not performed fo well as I think I have, yet I have used my best endeavours to excel myself. One difadvantage I have had; which is, never to have known or feen my lady: and to draw the lineaments of her mind from the description which I have received from others, is for a painter to set himself at work without the living original before him: which, the more beautiful it is, will be fo much the more difficult for him to conceive, when he has only a relation given him of fuch and fuch features by an acquaintance or a friend, without the nice touches which give the best resemblance, and make the graces of the picture. Every artift is apt enough to flatter himself (and I amongst the reft) that their own ocular obfervations would have discovered more perfections, at least others, than have been delivered to them: though I have received mine from the best hands, that is, from persons who neither want a juft understanding of my lady's worth, nor a due veneration for her memory.
Doctor Donne, the greateft wit, though not the greatest poet of our nation, acknowledges, that he had
never feen Mrs. Drury, whom he has made immortal in his admirable Anniverfaries. I have had the fame fortune, though I have not succeeded to the fame genius. However, I have followed his footsteps in the design of his panegyric; which was to raise an emulation in the living, to copy out the example of the dead. And therefore it was, that I once intended to have called this poem "The Pattern:" and though, on a fecond confideration, I changed the title into the name of the illuftrious perfon, yet the defign continues, and Eleonora is ftill the pattern of charity, devotion, and humility; of the best wife, the best mother, and the best of friends.
And now, my lord, though I have endeavoured to anfwer your commands, yet I could not answer it to the world, nor to my confcience, if I gave not your lordfhip my teftimony of being the best hufband now living: I fay my teftimony only; for the praife of it is given you by yourself. They who defpife the rules of virtue both in their practice and their morals, will think this a very trivial commendation. But I think it the peculiar happiness of the Countefs of Abingdon, to have been fo truly loved by you while fhe was living, and fo gratefully honoured after she was dead. Few there are who have either had, or could have, such a lofs; and yet fewer who carried their love and conftancy beyond grave. The exteriors of mourning, a decent funeral, and black habits, are the ufual ftints of common husbands and perhaps their wives deserve no better than to be mourned with hypocrify, and forgot with cafe. But you have distinguished yourself from ordi
nary lovers, by a real and lasting grief for the deceased; and by endeavouring to raise for her the moft durable monument, which is that of verfe. And fo it would have proved, if the workman had been equal to the work, and choice of the artificer as happy as your defign. Yet, as Phidias, when he had made the ftatue of Minerva, could not forbear to engrave his own name, as author of the piece: fo give me leave to hope that, by subscribing mine to this poem, I may live by the goddess, and transmit my name to pofterity by the memory of hers. 'Tis no flattery to affure your lordfhip, that fhe is remembered, in the present age, by all who have had the honour of her conversation and acquaintance; and that I have never been in any company, fince the news of her death was firft brought me, where they have not extolled her virtues, and even spoken the fame things of her in profe which I have done in verfe..
I therefore think myself obliged to thank your lord-fhip for the commiffion which you have given me: how I have acquitted myself of it, must be left to the opinion of the world, in spite of any proteftation which I can enter against the present age, as incompetent or cor-rupt judges. For my comfort, they are but English-men, and, as fuch, if they think ill of me to-day, they are inconftant enough to think well of me to-morrow.. And, after all, I have not much to thank my fortune that I was born amongst them. The good of both fexes are fo few in England, that they stand like exceptions against general rules: and though one of them has de