The Ecphorizer

More Epigrams and Epitaphs
John Cumming

Issue #14 (October 1982)

Colley Cibber was a minor literary figure who had the misfortune to be a contemporary of the likes of Johnson, Pope, Goldsmith and others. When George II appointed Cibber to the post of Poet Laureate, he seemed to many to be so inferior a choice that wits fairly rushed to prick him with their pens. Consider:

In merry old England it once was the rule,
The king had his poet as well as his fool;
But now we're so frugal, I'd have you to know it,
That one man now serves both for fool and for poet.

Pope, a past master at the brief sally in verse, took his shot too;

Tell if you can, which did the worse, Caligula, or Grafton's Grace.
That made a consul of his horse, and this a Laureate of an ass.

Philip Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield, was in his own way a part of that brilliant literary age that flourished in England in the 18th century (the presence of Colley Cibber, Laureate, notwithstanding). His letters to his son are filled with worldly advice. One can suppose that when they were published, some critics found them a bit too worldly. Thus the following anonymous verse:

ON LORD CHESTERFIELD'S LETTERS TO HIS SON

Vile Stanhope! Demons blush to tell
In twice two hundred places,
Has shown his son the road to Hell
Escourted by the Graces.
But little did th'ungenerous lad
Concern himself about then;
For, base, degenerate, meanly bad,
He sneaked to Hell without then.

Dr. Edward Young, a talented epigrammatist of the same period as Stanhope, seems to have spent some time rummaging about on the lord's desk, as the following bears the note "Written with Lord Chesterfield's diamond pencil"

Accept a miracle instead of wit:
See two doll lines by Stanhope's pencil writ.

Young got off a shot at one of the age's most savage wits when he responded to Voltaire's ridiculing of Milton in his presence with the following extempore epigram:

You are so witty, profligate, and thin,
At once we think thee Milton, Death, and Sin. 

Contributor Profile

John Cumming

john served as a medic in the Vietnam War then returned to Silicon Valley where he has worked as a tchnical writer and programmer at a number of Valley firms. In the 70s - 90s, John held many appointed and elected positions in local and national Mensa - notably as editor of the SFRM newletter Intelligencer and Local Secretary of SFRM, as well as serving as Regional Vice Chair for a number of years. John enjoys a good game of chess and likes nothing better than to curl up and read ancient or niche dictionaries, many of which are reviewed in these pages.




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