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THE JESSAMY BRIDE.
But there was one mourner, whose enthusiasm for his memory, could it have been foreseen, might have soothed the bitterness of death. After the coffin had been screwed down, a lock of his hair was requested for a lady, a particular friend, who wished to preserve it as a remembrance. It was the beautiful Mary Horneck the Jessamy Bride. The coffin was opened again, and a lock of hair cut off; which she treasured to her dying day. Poor Goldsmith! could he have foreseen that such a memorial of him was to be thus cherished!
One word more concerning this lady, to whom we have so often ventured to advert. She survived almost to the present day. Hazlitt met her at Northcote's painting-room, about twenty years since, as Mrs. Gwyn, the widow of a General Gwyn of the army. She was at that time upwards of seventy years of age. Still, he said, she was beautiful, beautiful even in years. After she was gone, Hazlitt remarked how handsome she still was. "I do not know," said Northcote, "why she is so kind as to come to see me, except that I am the last link in the chain that connects her with all those she most esteemed when youngJohnson, Reynolds, Goldsmith-and remind her of the most delightful period of her life." "Not only so," observed Hazlitt, "but you remember what she was at twenty; and you thus bring back to her the triumphs of her youth-that pride of beauty, which must be the more fondly cherished as it has no external vouchers, and lives chiefly in the bosom of its once lovely possessor. In her, however, the Graces had triumphed over time; she was one of Ninon de l'Enclos's people, of the last of the immortals. I could almost fancy the shade of Goldsmith in the room, looking round with complacency."
The Jessamy Bride survived her sister upwards of forty years, and died in 1840, within a few days of completing her eighty-eighth year. "She had gone through all the stages of life," says Northcote, "and had lent a grace to each." However gayly she may have sported with the half-concealed admiration of the poor awkward poet in the heyday of her youth and beauty, and however much it may have been made a subject of teasing by her youthful companions, she evidently prided herself in after years upon having been an object of his affectionate regard; it certainly rendered her interesting throughout life in the eyes of his admirers, and has hung a poetical wreath above her grave.
The funeral.—The monument.—The epitaph.—Concluding remarks.
In the warm feeling of the moment, while the remains of the poet were scarce cold, it was determined by his friends to honor them by a public funeral and a tomb in Westminster Abbey. His very pall-bearers were designated: Lord Shelburne, Lord Lowth, Sir Joshua Reynolds; the Hon. Mr. Beauclerc, Mr. Burke, and David Garrick. This feeling cooled down, however, when it was discovered that he died in debt, and had not left wherewithal to pay for such expensive obsequies. Five days after his death, therefore, at five o'clock of Saturday evening, the 9th of April, he was privately interred in the buryingground of the Temple Church; a few persons attending as mourners, among whom we do not find specified any of his peculiar and distinguished friends. The chief mourner was Sir Joshua Reynolds's nephew, Palmer, afterwards Dean of Cashel. One person, however, from whom it was but little to be expected, attended the funeral and evinced real sorrow on the occasion. This was Hugh Kelly, once the dramatic rival of the deceased, and often, it is said, his anonymous assailant in the newspapers.
If he had really been guilty of this basest of literary offences, he was punished by the stings of remorse, for we are told that he shed bitter tears over the grave of the man he had injured. His tardy atonement only provoked the lash of some unknown satirist, as the following lines will show:
"Hence Kelly, who years, without honor or shame,
One base wretch deserves to be mentioned, the reptile Kenrick, who, after having repeatedly slandered Goldsmith, while living, had the audacity to insult his memory when dead. The following distich is sufficient to show his malignancy, and to hold him up to execration:
"By his own art, who justly died,
A blund'ring, artless suicide:
Share, earthworms, share, since now he's dead,
This scurrilous epitaph produced a burst of public indignation, that awed for a time even the infamous Kenrick into silence. On the other hand, the press teemed with tributes in verse and prose to the memory of the deceased; all evincing the mingled feeling of admiration for the author and affection for the
Not long after his death the Literary Club set on foot a subscription, and raised a fund to erect a monument to his memory, in Westminster Abbey. It was executed by Nollekens, and consisted simply of a bust of the poet in profile, in high relief, in a medallion, and was placed in the area of a pointed arch, over the south door in Poet's Corner, between the monuments of Gay and the Duke of Argyle. Johnson furnished a Latin epitaph, which was read at the table of Sir Joshua Reynolds, where several members of the club and other friends of the deceased were present. Though considered by them a masterly composition, they thought the literary character of the poet not defined with sufficient exactness, and they preferred that the epitaph should be in English rather than Latin, as "the memory of so eminent an English writer ought to be perpetuated in the language to which his works were likely to be so lasting an ornament."
These objections were reduced to writing, to be respectfully submitted to Johnson, but such was the awe entertained of his frown, that every one shrank from putting his name first to the instrument; whereupon their names were written about it in a circle, making what mutinous sailors call a Round Robin. Johnson received it half graciously half grimly. "He was willing," he said, "to modify the sense of the epitaph in any manner the gentlemen pleased; but he never would consent to disgrace the walls of Westminster Abbey with an English inscription." Seeing the names of Dr. Warton and Edmund Burke among the signers, "he wondered," he said, "that Joe Warton, a scholar by profession, should be such a fool; and should have thought that Mund Burke would have had more sense." The following is the epitaph as it stands inscribed on a white marble tablet beneath the bust: