1780 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Free

John Free, "Epitaph on himself" translated in Gentleman's Magazine 61 (November 1791) 1048.



Here lies buried
JOHN FREE, D.D.
Of the University of Oxford;
A native of that city;
Of both the father:
For at the time of his decease
There was not an older citizen,
Nor, of the University, a Doctor.
This man lived in vain,
for he laboured in vain!
Desired no more than
The moderate necessities of life;
But failed to procure even these,
either for himself or family.
Fifty-three years a public preacher,
A Doctor in Divinity XLIII.
Yet still in vain!
For, when composing this, tho' sunk in years,
He had never obtained a living
That yielded fourscore pounds per annum.
Astonishing!
When told that he was a priest
in the reign of George III.
King of Great Britain,
And "Head of the Church" of England.
Faithful as a subject to whose family,
Faithful, even to his own detriment,
Neither was his political fidelity,
Nor were the labours of his ministry,
Crowned with any reward.
Hence may his life be compared
To the growth of a naturally fertile tree,
That, shaken by perpetual tempest,
Bending to the blast, and at length subdued,
Resigns its life and fruit together,
Just as if originally barren.
Thus it pleased the Great Creator
To bind up and to untie his work:
"And is it thus," as says the Psalmist,
"That all the sons of men were formed to err;
The victims of deception?"
If this be so,
Then to those low and dark abodes,
The dread of antient credulity,
This earth may well be joined,
a seat of torment;
In which, constantly deceived,
Traversing intricate paths, at every turn
Insidious snares best us;
And, after the most arduous exertions,
Hope sinks, entirely frustrate.
How cruel!
'Tis past a doubt, we're brought into this world,
Always to suffer something;
And, what amongst men is justly esteemed
The severest punishment,
Amidst sufferings — to die!
Is not this penalty in the extreme,
When death alone, to which we are born,
As the last great stroke of retribution,
Crowns the work?
Ask we, wherefore it is so provided?
For punishment alone?
Come we into this from another life,
Or from another state of Nature?
Peace to enquiries so delicately obtrusive,
Far better left unbroached!
God only can decide,
Where man in vain may boast to know—
Go, Passenger:
You too must tread life's labyrinth:
Think then betimes, and turn to use
The wise King's dark saying,
"Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!"
Of this aphorism,
Its veracity, and its usefulness,
Consult the evidence below;
Who, in the days of his deception,
(His life was such,) observed
The just man perishing in his integrity,
The villain in his guiltiness triumphant—
Set prudent limits then
To integrity, and to knowledge;
For all beyond is danger:
And why should man persist
To self-destruction?