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Praise undeserv'd is satire in disguise. -POPE. Whatever reasons men may fancy they have for cherishing a spirit of resentment or animosity against any of their contemporaries, such feelings commonly subside when the objects of them have paid the debt of nature. There is something of an humanizing tendency in those solemn reflections which the consideration of our mortality is calculated to inspire, and which incline us to examine with a less scrutinizing eye, failings, that under other circumstances had produced very different sensations. Many of the exciting causes of envy or malevolence have then ceased to exist. A sympathizing sense of the hapless condition of those who were lately our rivals, joined with the knowledge that, ere long, we must be placed in a similar situation, disposes us rather to
“ Seek their merits to disclose" Than
“ Draw their frailties from their dread abode." Such conduct, and such sentiments, are indeed an honour to human nature. But if they appear justly entitled to our approbation, when flowing spontaneously from minds that formerly had few
enjoyments in common with the deceased, cold and unfeeling must that heart be, which, on similar melancholy occasions, will not make some allowances for the partiality of friendship and the overflowings of affection. When the ties that connected us most closely with the world are severed by the death of our dearest friends, their errors and foibles, inseparable from a state of humanity, are either forgotten, or remembered only with sentiments of compassion; while on the other hand,
- busy meddling memory
It is undoubtedly owing in a great measure to the operation of these causes, that the friends of those who have been snatched away by death, are 80 anxious to convey to the world a favourable opinion of their characters.
In some cases, however, other motives, originating in sources of a less honourable nature, may, perhaps with equal truth, be assigned for this peculiar disposition. The possession of one good quality, although evidently more the result of natural constitution than cultivation, or the practice of one single virtue, from which neither situation, opportunity, nor bodily temperament ever offered a plausible
temptation to deviate, . may be ostentatiously brought forward as a counterpoise to qualities or vices of a different kind, and which are carefully withheld from public notice. Among the most abandoned of mankind, few will be found who could wish to see those persons they most esteem plunged into the same vicious career with themselves. The libertine, whose principal gratification is found in inflicting disgrace and infamy upon the families of others, is, in general, exquisitely sensible to the slightest attack of a similar nature upon the honour of his own. From these considerations a reason may be deduced, why individuals, who themselves appear to have discarded all pretensions to the approbation of society, are yet anxious to secure a portion of it to their deceased relatives and friends.
On the other hand, they who strictly adhere to the paths of propriety and virtue, are apt to consider their own characters as implicated in some degree in the misconduct of those connected with them through the ties of blood or friendship; and consequently are stimulated to remove, as far as possible, those stains upon the memories of others, which might ultimately affect their own reputation. To this cause, perhaps, we must partly attribute those softening touches, those fine shades in the portraits of deceased friends,
upon which men of acknowledged veracity and candour have sometimes condescended to employ their pencils. Even here, the stern moralist may probably find some reason to mitigate the severity of censure; since the public usefulness of many exemplary characters is often injured by an indiscriminate ascription to them of the vices and failings of their relations. It may also be observed, that although, the “good and bad alike are fond of fame," as Pope justly alleges, yet it must be considered as a tacit acknowledgment of the inherent dignity of virtue, when the highest commendation which even vicious men can bestow upon their friends is, that they have excelled in the pursuit and practice of it.
In an early period of history, it had become customary to perpetuate, by monumental inscriptions, the memory of those who had deserved well of society; for which purpose the most durable materials were selected, as brass and marble. The difficulty and expense attending this method long confined it to a small number, to whom such memorials of respect were raised by the contributions of their grateful countrymen. In process of time, it was found that these honours, which were at first intended to operate as a reward for praise-worthy actions, and as a stimulus to aspiring virtue, were afterwards
prostituted to the service of those, and those alone, who had amassed wealth enough to purchase their erection; whilst poverty, however dignified by worth or talents, could not hope to attain such marks of distinction. By the invention of printing, and particularly of newspapers, greater facility of circulation has been given to panegyrics upon the dead in modern times; and almost every person, however low his circumstances and situation in life, may now hope to be once at least held out to public notice for his virtues, if he really possess any. It is a disadvantage, however, to which these repositories of knowledge are subject, in common with more voluminous publications, that interest and influence may sometimes procure the insertion of eulogies to which Truth has not affixed her imprimatur. Philosophers have often commended a custom prevalent among the ancient Egyptians, who, on the death of their monarchs, ordered a strict scrutiny to be made into their past lives and conduct. If this investigation proved favourable to the character of the deceased, he was interred with the highest honours. If, on the contrary, the decision was unfavourable, those honours were refused to his remains; and this was considered as a mark of indelible disgrace. Such a regulation, operating on the mind by the most