1792
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elegy. The Dead Beggar.

Public Advertiser (15 November 1792).

Charlotte Smith


Six quatrains, "written in the Church-yard at Brighthelmstone, on seeing the Funeral of a Pauper who persished for Want." The poem, signed "Charlotte Smith, November 3, 1792," is "addressed to Mrs. L." The Dead Beggar, like many other poems on humble subjects published in the 1790s, derives from Gray's Elegy: "Ah! think, that this poor outcast, spurn'd by fate, | Who a long race of pain and sorrow ran, | Is in the grave, even as the rich and great— | Death vindicates the insulted Rights of Man." Smith made textual changes when she collected the poem in Elegiac Sonnets, among them removing the allusion to the conclusion of Gray's Elegy, placed in quotation marks in the last line.

Charlotte Smith later added a footnote refusing to apologize for the phrase "Rights of Man," which some had objected to for political reasons. The Public Advertiser, a vigorously anti-Gallican newspaper, apparently had no such qualms.



Swells then thy feeling heart, and streams thine eye
O'er the deserted being, poor and old,
Whom cold, reluctant parish charity
Consigns to mingle with his kindred mould?

Mourn'st thou, that here, the time-worne sufferer ends
Those evil days, that promis'd woes to come,
HERE, where the friendless feel no want of friends,
Where e'en the houseless Wanderer finds a home!

What tho' no kindred crowd in sable forth,
And sigh, or seem to sigh around the bier;
Tho' o'er his coffin, with the humid earth
No children drop the unavailing tear;

Rather, rejoice, that HERE, HIS sorrows cease,
Whom sickness, age, and poverty oppress'd;
Where Death, the Leveller — restores the peace
The wretch who living knew not where to rest.

Ah! think, that this poor outcast, spurn'd by fate,
Who a long race of pain and sorrow ran,
Is in the grave, even as the rich and great—
Death vindicates the insulted Rights of Man.

Rejoice! that tho' severe his earthly doom,
Tho' rude, and strewn with thorns the path he trod,
Now, where unfeeling fortune cannot come,
He rests upon "the bosom of his God!"

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