William Shakespeare, "A Funeral Elegy for Master William Peter,"
(London: G.Eld for T.Thorpe, 1612). Normalized text, ed. Donald Foster.
To master John Peter of Bowhay in Devon, Esquire.
The love I bore to your brother, and will do to his memory, hath craved from me this last duty of a friend; I am herein but a second to the privilege of truth, who can warrant more in his behalf than I undertook to deliver. Exercise in this kind I will little affect, and am less addicted to, but there must be miracle in that labor which, to witness my remembrance to this departed gentleman, I would not willingly undergo. Yet whatsoever is here done, is done to him and to him only. For whom and whose sake I will not forget to remember any friendly respects to you, or to any of those that have loved him for himself, and himself for his deserts.
Since time, and his predestinated end, Abridged the circuit of his hopeful days, Whiles both his youth and virtue did intend The good endeavors of deserving praise, 5 What memorable monument can last Whereon to build his never-blemished name But his own worth, wherein his life was graced. . . Sith as that ever he maintained the same? Oblivion in the darkest day to come, 10 When sin shall tread on merit in the dust, Cannot rase out the lamentable tomb Of his short-lived deserts; but still they must, Even in the hearts and memories of men, Claim fit respect, that they, in every limb 15 Remembering what he was, with comfort then May pattern out one truly good, by him. For he was truly good, if honest care Of harmless conversation may commend A life free from such stains as follies are, 20 Ill recompensed only in his end. Nor can the tongue of him who loved him least (If there can be minority of love To one superlative above the rest Of many men in steady faith) reprove 25 His constant temper, in the equal weight Of thankfulness and kindness: Truth doth leave Sufficient proof, he was in every right As kind to give, as thankful to receive. The curious eye of a quick-brained survey 30 Could scantly find a mote amidst the sun Of his too-shortened days, or make a prey Of any faulty errors he had done. Not that he was above the spleenful sense And spite of malice, but for that he had 35 Warrant enough in his own innocence Against the sting of some in nature bad. Yet who is he so absolutely blest That lives encompassed in a mortal frame, Sometime in reputation not oppressed 40 By some in nothing famous but defame? Such in the bypath and the ridgeway lurk That leads to ruin, in a smooth pretense Of what they do to be a special work Of singleness, not tending to offense; 45 Whose very virtues are, not to detract Whiles hope remains of gain (base fee of slaves), Despising chiefly men in fortunes wracked. But death to such gives unremembered graves. Now therein lived he happy, if to be 50 Free from detraction happiness it be. His younger years gave comfortable hope To hope for comfort in his riper youth, Which, harvest-like, did yield again the crop Of education, bettered in his truth. 55 Those noble twins of heaven-infused races, Learning and wit, refined in their kind Did jointly both, in their peculiar graces, Enrich the curious temple of his mind; Indeed a temple, in whose precious white 60 Sat reason by religion overswayed, Teaching his other senses, with delight, How piety and zeal should be obeyed. Not fruitlessly in prodigal expense Wasting his best of time, but so content 65 With reason's golden mean to make defense Against the assault of youth's encouragement; As not the tide of this surrounding age (When now his father's death had freed his will) Could make him subject to the drunken rage 70 Of such whose only glory is their ill. He from the happy knowledge of the wise Draws virtue to reprove secured fools And shuns the glad sleights of ensnaring vice To spend his spring of days in sacred schools. 75 Here gave he diet to the sick desires That day by day assault the weaker man, And with fit moderation still retires From what doth batter virtue now and then. But that I not intend in full discourse 80 To progress out his life, I could display A good man in each part exact and force The common voice to warrant what I say. For if his fate and heaven had decreed That full of days he might have lived to see 85 The grave in peace, the times that should succeed Had been best-speaking witnesses with me; Whose conversation so untouched did move Respect most in itself, as who would scan His honesty and worth, by them might prove 90 He was a kind, true, perfect gentleman. Not in the outside of disgraceful folly, Courting opinion with unfit disguise, Affecting fashions, nor addicted wholly To unbeseeming blushless vanities, 95 But suiting so his habit and desire As that his virtue was his best attire. Not in the waste of many idle words Cared he to be heard talk, nor in the float Of fond conceit, such as this age affords, 100 By vain discourse upon himself to dote; For his becoming silence gave such grace To his judicious parts, as what he spake Seemed rather answers which the wise embrace Than busy questions such as talkers make. 105 And though his qualities might well deserve Just commendation, yet his furnished mind Such harmony of goodness did preserve As nature never built in better kind; Knowing the best, and therefore not presuming 110 In knowing, but for that it was the best, Ever within himself free choice resuming Of true perfection, in a perfect breast; So that his mind and body made an inn, The one to lodge the other, both like framed 115 For fair conditions, guests that soonest win Applause; in generality, well famed, If trim behavior, gestures mild, discreet Endeavors, modest speech, beseeming mirth, True friendship, active grace, persuasion sweet, 120 Delightful love innated from his birth, Acquaintance unfamiliar, carriage just, Offenseless resolution, wished sobriety, Clean-tempered moderation, steady trust, Unburthened conscience, unfeigned piety; 125 If these, or all of these, knit fast in one Can merit praise, then justly may we say, Not any from this frailer stage is gone Whose name is like to live a longer day. . . Though not in eminent courts or places great 130 For popular concourse, yet in that soil Where he enjoyed his birth, life, death, and seat Which now sits mourning his untimely spoil. And as much glory is it to be good For private persons, in their private home, 135 As those descended from illustrious blood In public view of greatness, whence they come. Though I, rewarded with some sadder taste Of knowing shame, by feeling it have proved My country's thankless misconstruction cast 140 Upon my name and credit, both unloved By some whose fortunes, sunk into the wane Of plenty and desert, have strove to win Justice by wrong, and sifted to embane My reputation with a witless sin; 145 Yet time, the father of unblushing truth, May one day lay ope malice which hath crossed it, And right the hopes of my endangered youth, Purchasing credit in the place I lost it. Even in which place the subject of the verse 150 (Unhappy matter of a mourning style Which now that subject's merits doth rehearse) Had education and new being; while By fair demeanor he had won repute Amongst the all of all that lived there, 155 For that his actions did so wholly suit With worthiness, still memorable here. The many hours till the day of doom Will not consume his life and hapless end, For should he lie obscured without a tomb, 160 Time would to time his honesty commend; Whiles parents to their children will make known, And they to their posterity impart, How such a man was sadly overthrown By a hand guided by a cruel heart, 165 Whereof as many as shall hear that sadness Will blame the one's hard fate, the other's madness; Whiles such as do recount that tale of woe, Told by remembrance of the wisest heads, Will in the end conclude the matter so, 170 As they will all go weeping to their beds. For when the world lies wintered in the storms Of fearful consummation, and lays down Th' unsteady change of his fantastic forms, Expecting ever to be overthrown; 175 When the proud height of much affected sin Shall ripen to a head, and in that pride End in the miseries it did begin And fall amidst the glory of his tide; Then in a book where every work is writ 180 Shall this man's actions be revealed, to show The gainful fruit of well-employed wit, Which paid to heaven the debt that it did owe. Here shall be reckoned up the constant faith, Never untrue, where once he love professed; 185 Which is a miracle in men, one saith, Long sought though rarely found, and he is best Who can make friendship, in those times of change, Admired more for being firm than strange. When those weak houses of our brittle flesh 190 Shall ruined be by death, our grace and strength, Youth, memory and shape that made us fresh Cast down, and utterly decayed at length; When all shall turn to dust from whence we came And we low-leveled in a narrow grave, 195 What can we leave behind us but a name, Which, by a life well led, may honor have? Such honor, O thou youth untimely lost, Thou didst deserve and hast; for though thy soul Hath took her flight to a diviner coast, 200 Yet here on earth thy fame lives ever whole, In every heart sealed up, in every tongue Fit matter to discourse, no day prevented That pities not thy sad and sudden wrong, Of all alike beloved and lamented. 205 And I here to thy memorable worth, In this last act of friendship, sacrifice My love to thee, which I could not set forth In any other habit of disguise. Although I could not learn, whiles yet thou wert, 210 To speak the language of a servile breath, My truth stole from my tongue into my heart, Which shall not thence be sundered, but in death. And I confess my love was too remiss That had not made thee know how much I prized thee, 215 But that mine error was, as yet it is, To think love best in silence: for I sized thee By what I would have been, not only ready In telling I was thine, but being so, By some effect to show it. He is steady 220 Who seems less than he is in open show. Since then I still reserved to try the worst Which hardest fate and time thus can lay on me. T' enlarge my thoughts was hindered at first, While thou hadst life; I took this task upon me, 225 To register with mine unhappy pen Such duties as it owes to thy desert, And set thee as a president to men, And limn thee to the world but as thou wert. . . Not hired, as heaven can witness in my soul, 230 By vain conceit, to please such ones as know it, Nor servile to be liked, free from control, Which, pain to many men, I do not owe it. But here I trust I have discharged now (Fair lovely branch too soon cut off) to thee, 235 My constant and irrefragable vow, As, had it chanced, thou mightst have done to me. . . But that no merit strong enough of mine Had yielded store to thy well-abled quill Whereby t' enroll my name, as this of thine, 240 How s'ere enriched by thy plenteous skill. Here, then, I offer up to memory The value of my talent, precious man, Whereby if thou live to posterity, Though 't be not as I would, 'tis as I can: 245 In minds from whence endeavor doth proceed, A ready will is taken for the deed. Yet ere I take my longest last farewell From thee, fair mark of sorrow, let me frame Some ampler work of thank, wherein to tell 250 What more thou didst deserve than in thy name, And free thee from the scandal of such senses As in the rancor of unhappy spleen Measure thy course of life, with false pretenses Comparing by thy death what thou hast been. 255 So in his mischiefs is the world accursed: It picks out matter to inform the worst. The willful blindness that hoodwinks the eyes Of men enwrapped in an earthy veil Makes them most ignorantly exercise 260 And yield to humor when it doth assail, Whereby the candle and the body's light Darkens the inward eyesight of the mind, Presuming still it sees, even in the night Of that same ignorance which makes them blind. 265 Hence conster they with corrupt commentaries, Proceeding from a nature as corrupt, The text of malice, which so often varies As 'tis by seeming reason underpropped. O, whither tends the lamentable spite 270 Of this world's teenful apprehension, Which understands all things amiss, whose light Shines not amidst the dark of their dissension? True 'tis, this man, whiles yet he was a man, Soothed not the current of besotted fashion, 275 Nor could disgest, as some loose mimics can, An empty sound of overweening passion, So much to be made servant to the base And sensual aptness of disunioned vices, To purchase commendation by disgrace, 280 Whereto the world and heat of sin entices. But in a safer contemplation, Secure in what he knew, he ever chose The ready way to commendation, By shunning all invitements strange, of those 285 Whose illness is, the necessary praise Must wait upon their actions; only rare In being rare in shame (which strives to raise Their name by doing what they do not care), As if the free commission of their ill 290 Were even as boundless as their prompt desires; Only like lords, like subjects to their will, Which their fond dotage ever more admires. He was not so: but in a serious awe, Ruling the little ordered commonwealth 295 Of his own self, with honor to the law That gave peace to his bread, bread to his health; Which ever he maintained in sweet content And pleasurable rest, wherein he joyed A monarchy of comfort's government, 300 Never until his last to be destroyed. For in the vineyard of heaven-favored learning Where he was double-honored in degree, His observation and discreet discerning Had taught him in both fortunes to be free; 305 Whence now retired home, to a home indeed The home of his condition and estate, He well provided 'gainst the hand of need, Whence young men sometime grow unfortunate; His disposition, by the bonds of unity, 310 So fastened to his reason that it strove With understanding's grave immunity To purchase from all hearts a steady love; Wherein not any one thing comprehends Proportionable note of what he was, 315 Than that he was so constant to his friends As he would no occasion overpass Which might make known his unaffected care, In all respects of trial, to unlock His bosom and his store, which did declare 320 That Christ was his, and he was friendship's rock: A rock of friendship figured in his name, Foreshowing what he was, and what should be, Most true presage; and he discharged the same In every act of perfect amity. 325 Though in the complemental phrase of words He never was addicted to the vain Of boast, such as the common breath affords; He was in use most fast, in tongue most plain, Nor amongst all those virtues that forever 330 Adorned his reputation will be found One greater than his faith, which did persever, Where once it was protested, alway sound. Hence sprung the deadly fuel that revived The rage which wrought his end, for had he been 335 Slacker in love, he had been longer lived And not oppressed by wrath's unhappy sin. . . By wrath's unhappy sin, which unadvised Gave death for free good will, and wounds for love. Pity it was that blood had not been prized 340 At higher rate, and reason set above Most unjust choler, which untimely drew Destruction on itself; and most unjust, Robbed virtue of a follower so true As time can boast of, both for love and trust: 345 So henceforth all (great glory to his blood) Shall be but seconds to him, being good. The wicked end their honor with their sin In death, which only then the good begin. Lo, here a lesson by experience taught 350 For men whose pure simplicity hath drawn Their trust to be betrayed by being caught Within the snares of making truth a pawn; Whiles it, not doubting whereinto it enters, Without true proof and knowledge of a friend, 355 Sincere in singleness of heart, adventers To give fit cause, ere love begin to end: His unfeigned friendship where it least was sought, Him to a fatal timeless ruin brought; Whereby the life that purity adorned 360 With real merit, by this sudden end Is in the mouth of some in manner scorned, Made questionable, for they do intend, According to the tenor of the saw Mistook, if not observed (writ long ago 365 When men were only led by reason's law), That "Such as is the end, the life proves so." Thus he, who to the universal lapse Gave sweet redemption, offering up his blood To conquer death by death, and loose the traps 370 Of hell, even in the triumph that it stood: He thus, for that his guiltless life was spilt By death, which was made subject to the curse, Might in like manner be reproved of guilt In his pure life, for that his end was worse. 375 But O far be it, our unholy lips Should so profane the deity above As thereby to ordain revenging whips Against the day of judgment and of love. The hand that lends us honor in our days 380 May shorten when it please, and justly take Our honor from us many sundry ways, As best becomes that wisdom did us make. The second brother, who was next begot Of all that ever were begotten yet, 385 Was by a hand in vengeance rude and hot Sent innocent to be in heaven set. Whose fame the angels in melodious choirs Still witness to the world. Then why should he, Well-profited in excellent desires, 390 Be more rebuked, who had like destiny? Those saints before the everlasting throne Who sit with crowns of glory on their heads, Washed white in blood, from earth hence have not gone All to their joys in quiet on their beds, 395 But tasted of the sour-bitter scourge Of torture and affliction ere they gained Those blessings which their sufferance did urge, Whereby the grace fore-promised they attained. Let then the false suggestions of the froward, 400 Building large castles in the empty air, By suppositions fond and thoughts untoward (Issues of discontent and sick despair) Rebound gross arguments upon their heart That may disprove their malice, and confound 405 Uncivil loose opinions which insert Their souls into the roll that doth unsound Betraying policies, and show their brains, Unto their shame, ridiculous; whose scope Is envy, whose endeavors fruitless pains, 410 In nothing surely prosperous, but hope. . . And that same hope, so lame, so unprevailing, It buries self-conceit in weak opinion; Which being crossed, gives matter of bewailing Their vain designs, on whom want hath dominion. 415 Such, and of such condition, may devise Which way to wound with defamation's spirit (Close-lurking whisper's hidden forgeries) His taintless goodness, his desertful merit. But whiles the minds of men can judge sincerely, 420 Upon assured knowledge, his repute And estimation shall be rumored clearly In equal worth--time shall to time renew 't. The grave, that in his ever-empty womb Forever closes up the unrespected, 425 Who when they die, die all, shall not entomb His pleading best perfections as neglected. They to his notice in succeeding years Shall speak for him when he shall lie below; When nothing but his memory appears 430 Of what he was, then shall his virtues grow. His being but a private man in rank (And yet not ranked beneath a gentleman) Shall not abridge the commendable thank Which wise posterity shall give him then; 435 For nature, and his therein happy fate. Ordained that by his quality of mind T' ennoble that best part, although his state Were to a lower blessedness confined. Blood, pomp, state, honor, glory and command, 440 Without fit ornaments of disposition, Are in themselves but heathenish and profaned, And much more peaceful is a mean condition Which, underneath the roof of safe content, Feeds on the bread of rest, and takes delight 445 To look upon the labors it hath spent For its own sustenance, both day and night; Whiles others, plotting which way to be great, How to augment their portion and ambition, Do toil their giddy brains, and ever sweat 450 For popular applause and power's commission. But one in honors, like a seeled dove Whose inward eyes are dimmed with dignity, Does think most safety doth remain above, And seeks to be secure by mounting high: 455 Whence, when he falls, who did erewhile aspire, Falls deeper down, for that he climbed higher. Now men who in lower region live Exempt from danger of authority Have fittest times in reason's rules to thrive, 460 Not vexed with envy of priority, And those are much more noble in the mind Than many that have nobleness by kind. Birth, blood, and ancestors, are none of ours, Nor can we make a proper challenge to them 465 But virtues and perfections in our powers Proceed most truly from us, if we do them. Respective titles or a gracious style, With all what men in eminence possess, Are, without ornaments to praise them, vile: 470 The beauty of the mind is nobleness. And such as have that beauty, well deserve Eternal characters, that after death Remembrance of their worth we may preserve, So that their glory die not with their breath. 475 Else what avails it in a goodly strife Upon this face of earth here to contend, The good t' exceed the wicked in their life, Should both be like obscured in their end? Until which end, there is none rightly can 480 Be termed happy, since the happiness Depends upon the goodness of the man, Which afterwards his praises will express. Look hither then, you that enjoy the youth Of your best days, and see how unexpected 485 Death can betray your jollity to ruth When death you think is least to be respected! The person of this model here set out Had all that youth and happy days could give him, Yet could not all-encompass him about 490 Against th' assault of death, who to relieve him Strook home but to the frail and mortal parts Of his humanity, but could not touch His flourishing and fair long-lived deserts, Above fate's reach, his singleness was such. 495 So that he dies but once, but doubly lives, Once in his proper self, then in his name; Predestinated time, who all deprives, Could never yet deprive him of the same. And had the genius which attended on him 500 Been possibilited to keep him safe Against the rigor that hath overgone him, He had been to the public use a staff, Leading by his example in the path Which guides to doing well, wherein so few 505 The proneness of this age to error hath Informed rightly in the courses true. As then the loss of one, whose inclination Stove to win love in general, is sad, So specially his friends, in soft compassion 510 Do feel the greatest loss they could have had. Amongst them all, she who those nine of years Lived fellow to his counsels and his bed Hath the most share in loss; for I in hers Feel what distemperature this chance hath bred. 515 The chaste embracements of conjugal love, Who in a mutual harmony consent, Are so impatient of a strange remove As meager death itself seems to lament, And weep upon those cheeks which nature framed 520 To be delightful orbs in whom the force Of lively sweetness plays, so that ashamed Death often pities his unkind divorce. Such was the separation here constrained (Well-worthy to be termed a rudeness rather), 525 For in his life his love was so unfeigned As he was both an husband and a father. . . The one in firm affection and the other In careful providence, which ever strove With joint assistance to grace one another 530 With every helpful furtherance of love. But since the sum of all that can be said Can be but said that "He was good" (which wholly Includes all excellence can be displayed In praise of virtue and reproach of folly). 535 His due deserts, this sentence on him gives, "He died in life, yet in his death he lives." Now runs the method of this doleful song In accents brief to thee, O thou deceased! To whom those pains do only all belong 540 As witnesses I did not love thee least. For could my worthless brain find out but how To raise thee from the sepulcher of dust, Undoubtedly thou shouldst have partage now Of life with me, and heaven be counted just 545 If to a supplicating soul it would Give life anew, by giving life again Where life is missed; whereby discomfort should Right his old griefs, and former joys retain Which now with thee are leaped into thy tomb 550 And buried in that hollow vault of woe, Expecting yet a more severer doom Than time's strict flinty hand will let 'em know. And now if I have leveled mine account And reckoned up in a true measured score 555 Those perfect graces which were ever wont To wait on thee alive, I ask no more (But shall hereafter in a poor content Immure those imputations I sustain, Learning my days of youth so to prevent 560 As not to be cast down by them again); Only those hopes which fate denies to grant In full possession to a captive heart Who, if it were in plenty, still would want Before it may enjoy his better part: 565 From which detained, and banished in th' exile Of dim misfortune, has none other prop Whereon to lean and rest itself the while But the weak comfort of the hapless, "hope". And hope must in despite of fearful change 570 Play in the strongest closet of my breast, Although perhaps I ignorantly range And court opinion in my deep'st unrest. But whether doth the stream of my mischance Drive me beyond myself, fast friend, soon lost, 575 Long may thy worthiness thy name advance Amongst the virtuous and deserving most, Who herein hast forever happy proved: In life thou lived'st, in death thou died'st beloved.