1720
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Funeral. A Town Eclogue.

Poems on Several Occasions. By Mr. John Gay.

John Gay


A burlesque pastoral elegy, though the humor of "The Funeral" resides in the poem's absence of elegiac sentiment. The poem sketches the character of a modern woman of fashion. Two months have passed since the death of Fidelio, and his risibly odious spouse Sabina has become restive under the constraints of mourning. Yet she declares her affection remains strong: "May cards employ my nights, and never more | May these curst eyes behold a Matadore! | Break, China, perish Shock, die Perroquet! | When I Fidelio's dearer love forget." Lucy enters, Sabina's artful chambermaid and confidant, bearing a letter from Myrtillo, an admirer of the fair widow, and a contest ensues as Sabina is torn between her supposed affection for her husband and her supposed affection for her new suitor. Lucy, who has presumably been bribed, plays her part to perfection: "Sooner the nation shall from snuff be freed, | And fop's apartments smoak with India's weed, | Sooner I'd wish and sigh through nunn'ry grates, | Than recommend the flame Sabina hates." While the dialogue is patently derived from theatrical comedy, the naked display of hypocrisy and simplicity is, if not bucolic, traditionally pastoral.

One can infer how much this poem was admired by the later imitations: compare "A Modern Eclogue" in London Magazine 15 (March 1746) 149; "Shock, an Eclogue" Gentleman's Magazine 20 (January 1750) 87, "The Unfortunate Fair" in the Town and Country Magazine 3 (April 1771) 216, and Ann Murry's town eclogues on nuptial themes in Poems on various Subjects (1779).



SABINA. LUCY.

Twice had the moon perform'd her monthly race,
Since first the veil o'ercast Sabina's face.
Then dy'd the tender partner of her bed.
And lives Sabina when Fidelio's dead?
Fidelio's dead, and yet Sabina lives.
But see the tribute of her tears she gives;
Their absent Lord her rooms in sable mourn,
And all the day the glimmering tapers burn;
Stretch'd on the couch of state she pensive lies,
While oft the snowy Cambric wipes her eyes.
Now enter'd Lucy, trusty Lucy knew
To roll a sleeve, or bear a Billet-doux;
Her ready tongue, in secret service try'd,
With equal fluency spoke truth or ly'd,
She well could flush, or humble, a gallant,
And serve at once as maid and confidant;
A letter from her faithful stays she took;
Sabina snatch'd it with an angry look,
And thus in hasty words her grief confest,
While Lucy strove to sooth her troubled beast.

SABINA.
What, still Myrtillo's hand! his flame I scorn,
Give back his passion with the seal untorn.
To break our soft repose has man a right,
And are we doom'd to read whate'er they write?
Not all the sex my firm resolves shall move,
My life's a life of sorrow, not of love.
May Lydia's wrinkles all my forehead trace,
And Celia's paleness sicken o'er my face,
May Fops of mine, as Flavia's favours, boast,
And Coquets triumph in my honour lost;
May cards employ my nights, and never more
May these curst eyes behold a Matadore!
Break, China, perish Shock, die Perroquet!
When I Fidelio's dearer love forget.
Fidelio's judgment scorn'd the foppish train,
His air was easy, and his dress was plain,
His words sincere, respect his presence drew,
And on his lips sweet conversation grew.
Where's wit, where's beauty, where is virtue fled?
Alas! they're now no more; Fidelio's dead!

LUCY.
Yet when he liv'd, he wanted ev'ry grace;
That easy air was then an aukward pace:
Have not your sighs in whispers often said,
His dress was slovenly, his speech ill-bred?
Have I not heard you, with a secret tear,
Call that sweet converse sullen and severe?
Think not I come to take Myrtillo's part,
Let Chloe, Daphne, Doris share his heart.
Let Chloe's love in ev'ry ear express
His graceful person and genteel address.
All well may judge, what shaft has Daphne hit,
Who suffers silence to admire his wit.
His equipage and liv'ries Doris move,
But Chloe, Daphne, Doris fondly love.
Sooner shall Cits in fashions guide the Court,
And Beaus upon the busy Change resort;
Sooner the nation shall from snuff be freed,
And fop's apartments smoak with India's weed,
Sooner I'd wish and sigh through nunn'ry grates,
Than recommend the flame Sabina hates.

SABINA.
Because some widows are in haste subdu'd;
Shall ev'ry fop upon our tears intrude?
Can I forget my lov'd Fidelio's tongue,
Soft as the warbling of Italian song?
Did not his rosy lips breathe forth perfume,
Fragrant as steams from Tea's imperial bloom?

LUCY.
Yet once you thought that tongue a greater curse
Than squawles of children for an absent nurse.
Have you not fancy'd in his frequent kiss
Th' ungrateful leavings of a filthy Miss?

SABINA.
Love, I thy pow'r defie; no second flame,
Shall ever raze my dear Fidelio's name.
Fannia without a tear might lose her Lord,
Who ne'er enjoy'd his presence but at board.
And why should sorrow sit on Lesbia's face?
Are there such comforts in a sot's embrace?
No friend, no lover is to Lesbia dead,
For Lesbia long had known a sep'rate bed.
Gush forth, ye tears; waste, waste ye sighs, my breast;
My days, my nights were by Fidelio blest!

LUCY.
You cannot sure forget how oft' you said
His teazing fondness jealousy betray'd!
When at the Play the neighb'ring box he took,
You thought you read suspicion in his look;
When cards and counters flew around the board,
Have you not wish'd the absence of a Lord?
His company was the a poor pretence,
To check the freedoms of a wife's expence!

SABINA.
But why should I Myrtillo's passion blame,
Since Love's a fierce involuntary flame?

LUCY.
Could he the sallys of his heart withstand,
Why should he not to Chloe give his hand?
For Chloe's handsome, yet he slights her flame;
Last night she fainted at Sabina's name.
Why, Daphne, dost thou blast Sabina's charms?
Sabina keeps no lover from thy arms.
At Crimp Myrtillo play'd, in kind regards
Doris dealt love; he only dealt the cards;
Doris was touch'd with spleen; her fan she rent,
Flew from the table and to tears gave vent.
Why, Doris, dost thou curse Sabina's eyes?
To her Myrtillo is a vulgar prize.

SABINA.
Yet say, I lov'd; how loud would censure rail!
So soon to quit the duties of the veil!
No, sooner Plays and Op'ras I'd forswear,
And change these China jars for Tunbridge ware,
Or trust my mother as a Confidant,
Or fix a friendship with my maiden aunt;
Than till — to-morrow throw my weeds away,
Yet let me see him, if he comes to-day!

[(1731) 2:91-96]