• Email from Foster re: the elegy
  • Newshour Interview with Foster re find.
  • More info can be found in NYTimes Sunday Jan 14, 1996
  • A critical look at Funeral Elegy by Shakespearean scholars.


    of Bowhay in Devon, Esquire.

    W[illiam] S[hakespeare], "A Funeral Elegy." Edited by Donald W. Foster from W.S., A Funerall Elegye in memory of the late vertuous Maister William Peeter (London: G. Eld for T. Thorpe, 1612). [4,600 words.] Common nouns capitalized and italicized in Q are here capitalized but not italicized; italicized quotations in Q are rendered in quotation marks.

    Participial endings and ellisions may be normalized for use with a private text archive. DWF (1/15/96)

                       TO MASTER JOHN PETER
                      of Bowhay in Devon, Esquire.
    The love I bore to your brother, and will do to his memory, hath
    crav'd from me this last duty of a friend; I am herein but a
    second to the privilege of Truth, who can warrant more in his
    behalf than I undertook to deliver.  Exercise in this kind I will
    little affect, and am less addicted to, but there must be miracle
    in that labor which, to witness my remembrance to this departed
    gentleman, I would not willingly undergo.  Yet whatsoever is here
    done, is done to him, and to him only. For whom and whose sake I
    will not forget to remember any friendly respects to you, or to
    any of those that have lov'd him for himself, and himself for his
                                                                          W. S.
                            A FUNERAL ELEGY
         Since Time, and his predestinated end,
         Abridg'd the circuit of his hopeful days,
         Whiles both his Youth and Virtue did intend
         The good endeavors of deserving praise,
    5    What memorable monument can last
         Whereon to build his never-blemish'd name
         But his own worth, wherein his life was grac'd-
         Sith as [that] ever he maintain'd the same?
         Oblivion in the darkest day to come,
    10   When sin shall tread on merit in the dust,
         Cannot rase out the lamentable tomb
         Of his short-liv'd deserts; but still they must,
         Even in the hearts and memories of men,
         Claim fit Respect, that they, in every limb
    15   Rememb'ring what he was, with comfort then
         May pattern out one truly good, by him.
         For he was truly good, if honest care
         Of harmless conversation may commend
         A life free from such stains as follies are,
    20   Ill recompensed only in his end.
         Nor can the tongue of him who lov'd him least
         (If there can be minority of love
         To one superlative above the rest
         Of many men in steady faith) reprove
    25   His constant temper, in the equal weight
         Of thankfulness and kindness: Truth doth leave
         Sufficient proof, he was in every right
         As kind to give, as thankful to receive.
         The curious eye of a quick-brain'd survey
    30   Could scantly find a mote amidst the sun
         Of his too-short'ned days, or make a prey
         Of any faulty errors he had done-
         Not that he was above the spleenful sense
         And spite of malice, but for that he had
    35   Warrant enough in his own innocence
         Against the sting of some in nature bad.
         Yet who is he so absolutely blest
         That lives encompass'd in a mortal frame,
         Sometime in reputation not oppress'd
    40   By some in nothing famous but defame?
         Such in the By-path and the Ridgeway lurk
         That leads to ruin, in a smooth pretense
         Of what they do to be a special work
         Of singleness, not tending to offense;
    45   Whose very virtues are, not to detract
         Whiles hope remains of gain (base fee of slaves),
         Despising chiefly men in fortunes wrack'd-
         But death to such gives unrememb'red graves.
           Now therein liv'd he happy, if to be
    50     Free from detraction happiness it be.
         His younger years gave comfortable hope
         To hope for comfort in his riper youth,
         Which, harvest-like, did yield again the crop
         Of Education, better'd in his truth.
    55   Those noble twins of heaven-infused races,
         Learning and Wit, refined in their kind
         Did jointly both, in their peculiar graces,
         Enrich the curious temple of his mind;
         Indeed a temple, in whose precious white
    60   Sat Reason by Religion oversway'd,
         Teaching his other senses, with delight,
         How Piety and Zeal should be obey'd-
         Not fruitlessly in prodigal expense
         Wasting his best of time, but so content
    65   With Reason's golden Mean to make defense
         Against the assault of youth's encouragement;
         As not the tide of this surrounding age
         (When now his father's death had freed his will)
         Could make him subject to the drunken rage
    70   Of such whose only glory is their ill.
         He from the happy knowledge of the wise
         Draws virtue to reprove secured fools
         And shuns the glad sleights of ensnaring vice
         To spend his spring of days in sacred schools.
    75   Here gave he diet to the sick desires
         That day by day assault the weaker man,
         And with fit moderation still retires
         From what doth batter virtue now and then.
         But that I not intend in full discourse
    80   To progress out his life, I could display
         A good man in each part exact and force
         The common voice to warrant what I say.
         For if his fate and heaven had decreed
         That full of days he might have liv'd to see
    85   The grave in peace, the times that should succeed
         Had been best-speaking witnesses with me;
         Whose conversation so untouch'd did move
         Respect most in itself, as who would scan
         His honesty and worth, by them might prove
    90   He was a kind, true, perfect gentleman-
         Not in the outside of disgraceful folly,
         Courting opinion with unfit disguise,
         Affecting fashions, nor addicted wholly
         To unbeseeming blushless vanities,
    95     But suiting so his habit and desire
           As that his Virtue was his best Attire.
         Not in the waste of many idle words
         Car'd he to be heard talk, nor in the float
         Of fond conceit, such as this age affords,
    100  By vain discourse upon himself to dote;
         For his becoming silence gave such grace
         To his judicious parts, as what he spake
         Seem'd rather answers which the wise embrace
         Than busy questions such as talkers make.
    105  And though his qualities might well deserve
         Just commendation, yet his furnish'd mind
         Such harmony of goodness did preserve
         As nature never built in better kind;
         Knowing the best, and therefore not presuming
    110  In knowing, but for that it was the best,
         Ever within himself free choice resuming
         Of true perfection, in a perfect breast;
         So that his mind and body made an inn,
         The one to lodge the other, both like fram'd
    115  For fair conditions, guests that soonest win
         Applause; in generality, well fam'd,
         If trim behavior, gestures mild, discreet
         Endeavors, modest speech, beseeming mirth,
         True friendship, active grace, persuasion sweet,
    120  Delightful love innated from his birth,
         Acquaintance unfamiliar, carriage just,
         Offenseless resolution, wish'd sobriety,
         Clean-temper'd moderation, steady trust,
         Unburthen'd conscience, unfeign'd piety;
    125  If these, or all of these, knit fast in one
         Can merit praise, then justly may we say,
         Not any from this frailer stage is gone
         Whose name is like to live a longer day-
         Though not in eminent courts or places great
    130  For popular concourse, yet in that soil
         Where he enjoy'd his birth, life, death, and seat
         Which now sits mourning his untimely spoil.
         And as much glory is it to be good
         For private persons, in their private home,
    135  As those descended from illustrious blood
         In public view of greatness, whence they come.
         Though I, rewarded with some sadder taste
         Of knowing shame, by feeling it have prov'd
         My country's thankless misconstruction cast
    140  Upon my name and credit, both unlov'd
         By some whose fortunes, sunk into the wane
         Of plenty and desert, have strove to win
         Justice by wrong, and sifted to embane
         My reputation with a witless sin;
    145  Yet time, the father of unblushing truth,
         May one day lay ope malice which hath cross'd it,
         And right the hopes of my endangered youth,
         Purchasing credit in the place I lost it.
         Even in which place the subject of the verse
    150  (Unhappy matter of a mourning style
         Which now that subject's merits doth rehearse)
         Had education and new being; while
         By fair demeanor he had won repute
         Amongst the all of all that lived there,
    155  For that his actions did so wholly suit
         With worthiness, still memorable here.
         The many hours till the day of doom
         Will not consume his life and hapless end,
         For should he lie obscur'd without a tomb,
    160  Time would to time his honesty commend;
         Whiles parents to their children will make known,
         And they to their posterity impart,
         How such a man was sadly overthrown
         By a hand guided by a cruel heart,
    165    Whereof as many as shall hear that sadness
           Will blame the one's hard fate, the other's madness;
         Whiles such as do recount that tale of woe,
         Told by remembrance of the wisest heads,
         Will in the end conclude the matter so,
    170  As they will all go weeping to their beds.
         For when the world lies winter'd in the storms
         Of fearful consummation, and lays down
         Th' unsteady change of his fantastic forms,
         Expecting ever to be overthrown;
    175  When the proud height of much affected sin
         Shall ripen to a head, and in that pride
         End in the miseries it did begin
         And fall amidst the glory of his tide;
         Then in a book where every work is writ
    180  Shall this man's actions be reveal'd, to show
         The gainful fruit of well-employed wit,
         Which paid to heaven the debt that it did owe.
         Here shall be reckon'd up the constant faith,
         Never untrue, where once he love profess'd;
    185  Which is a miracle in men, one saith,
         Long sought though rarely found, and he is best
           Who can make friendship, in those times of change,
           Admired more for being firm than strange.
         When those weak houses of our brittle flesh
    190  Shall ruin'd be by death, our grace and strength,
         Youth, memory and shape that made us fresh
         Cast down, and utterly decay'd at length;
         When all shall turn to dust from whence we came
         And we low-level'd in a narrow grave,
    195  What can we leave behind us but a name,
         Which, by a life well led, may honor have?
         Such honor, O thou youth untimely lost,
         Thou didst deserve and hast; for though thy soul
         Hath took her flight to a diviner coast,
    200  Yet here on earth thy fame lives ever whole,
         In every heart seal'd up, in every tongue
         Fit matter to discourse, no day prevented
         That pities not thy sad and sudden wrong,
         Of all alike beloved and lamented.
    205  And I here to thy memorable worth,
         In this last act of friendship, sacrifice
         My love to thee, which I could not set forth
         In any other habit of disguise.
         Although I could not learn, whiles yet thou wert,
    210  To speak the language of a servile breath,
         My truth stole from my tongue into my heart,
         Which shall not thence be sund'red, but in death.
         And I confess my love was too remiss
         That had not made thee know how much I priz'd thee,
    215  But that mine error was, as yet it is,
         To think love best in silence: for I siz'd thee
         By what I would have been, not only ready
         In telling I was thine, but being so,
         By some effect to show it.  He is steady
    220  Who seems less than he is in open show.
         Since then I still reserv'd to try the worst
         Which hardest fate and time thus can lay on me.
         T' enlarge my thoughts was hindered at first,
         While thou hadst life; I took this task upon me,
    225  To register with mine unhappy pen
         Such duties as it owes to thy desert,
         And set thee as a president to men,
         And limn thee to the world but as thou wert-
         Not hir'd, as heaven can witness in my soul,
    230  By vain conceit, to please such ones as know it,
         Nor servile to be lik'd, free from control,
         Which, pain to many men, I do not owe it.
         But here I trust I have discharged now
         (Fair lovely branch too soon cut off) to thee,
    235  My constant and irrefragable vow,
         As, had it chanc'd, thou mightst have done to me-
         But that no merit strong enough of mine
         Had yielded store to thy well-abled quill
         Whereby t'enroll my name, as this of thine,
    240  How s'ere enriched by thy plenteous skill.
         Here, then, I offer up to memory
         The value of my talent, precious man,
         Whereby if thou live to posterity,
         Though't be not as I would, 'tis as I can:
    245    In minds from whence endeavor doth proceed,
           A ready will is taken for the deed.
         Yet ere I take my longest last farewell
         From thee, fair mark of sorrow, let me frame
         Some ampler work of thank, wherein to tell
    250  What more thou didst deserve than in thy name,
         And free thee from the scandal of such senses
         As in the rancor of unhappy spleen
         Measure thy course of life, with false pretenses
         Comparing by thy death what thou hast been.
    255    So in his mischiefs is the world accurs'd:
           It picks out matter to inform the worst.
         The willful blindness that hoodwinks the eyes
         Of men enwrapped in an earthy veil
         Makes them most ignorantly exercise
    260  And yield to humor when it doth assail,
         Whereby the candle and the body's light
         Darkens the inward eyesight of the mind,
         Presuming still it sees, even in the night
         Of that same ignorance which makes them blind.
    265  Hence conster they with corrupt commentaries,
         Proceeding from a nature as corrupt,
         The text of malice, which so often varies
         As 'tis by seeming reason underpropp'd.
         O, whither tends the lamentable spite
    270  Of this world's teenful apprehension,
         Which understands all things amiss, whose light
         Shines not amidst the dark of their dissension?
         True 'tis, this man, whiles yet he was a man,
         Sooth'd not the current of besotted fashion,
    275  Nor could disgest, as some loose mimics can,
         An empty sound of overweening passion,
         So much to be made servant to the base
         And sensual aptness of disunion'd vices,
         To purchase commendation by disgrace,
    280  Whereto the world and heat of sin entices.
         But in a safer contemplation,
         Secure in what he knew, he ever chose
         The ready way to commendation,
         By shunning all invitements strange, of those
    285  Whose illness is, the necessary praise
         Must wait upon their actions; only rare
         In being rare in shame (which strives to raise
         Their name by doing what they do not care),
         As if the free commission of their ill
    290  Were even as boundless as their prompt desires;
         Only like lords, like subjects to their will,
         Which their fond dotage ever more admires.
         He was not so: but in a serious awe,
         Ruling the little ordered commonwealth
    295  Of his own self, with honor to the law
         That gave peace to his bread, bread to his health;
         Which ever he maintain'd in sweet content
         And pleasurable rest, wherein he joy'd
         A monarchy of comfort's government,
    300  Never until his last to be destroy'd.
         For in the Vineyard of heaven-favored learning
         Where he was double-honor'd in degree,
         His observation and discreet discerning
         Had taught him in both fortunes to be free;
    305  Whence now retir'd home, to a home indeed
         The home of his condition and estate,
         He well provided 'gainst the hand of need,
         Whence young men sometime grow unfortunate;
         His disposition, by the bonds of unity,
    310  So fast'ned to his reason that it strove
         With understanding's grave immunity
         To purchase from all hearts a steady love;
         Wherein not any one thing comprehends
         Proportionable note of what he was,
    315  Than that he was so constant to his friends
         As he would no occasion overpass
         Which might make known his unaffected care,
         In all respects of trial, to unlock
         His bosom and his store, which did declare
    320  That Christ was his, and he was Friendship's Rock:
         A Rock of Friendship figured in his name,
         Fore-shewing what he was, and what should be,
         Most true presage; and he discharg'd the same
         In every act of perfect amity-
    325  Though in the complemental phrase of words
         He never was addicted to the vain
         Of boast, such as the common breath affords;
         He was in use most fast, in tongue most plain,
         Nor amongst all those virtues that forever
    330  Adorn'd his reputation will be found
         One greater than his Faith, which did persever,
         Where once it was protested, alway sound.
         Hence sprung the deadly fuel that reviv'd
         The rage which wrought his end, for had he been
    335  Slacker in love, he had been longer liv'd
         And not oppress'd by wrath's unhappy sin-
         By wrath's unhappy sin, which unadvis'd
         Gave death for free good will, and wounds for love.
         Pity it was that blood had not been priz'd
    340  At higher rate, and reason set above
         Most unjust choler, which untimely Drew
         Destruction on itself; and most unjust,
         Robb'd virtue of a follower so true
         As time can boast of, both for love and trust:
    345    So henceforth all (great glory to his blood)
           Shall be but seconds to him, being good.
           The wicked end their honor with their sin
           In death, which only then the good begin.
         Lo, here a lesson by experience taught
    350  For men whose pure simplicity hath drawn
         Their trust to be betray'd by being caught
         Within the snares of making truth a pawn;
         Whiles it, not doubting whereinto it enters,
         Without true proof and knowledge of a friend,
    355  Sincere in singleness of heart, adventers
         To give fit cause, ere love begin to end:
           His unfeign'd friendship where it least was sought,
           Him to a fatal timeless ruin brought;
         Whereby the life that purity adorn'd
    360  With real merit, by this sudden end
         Is in the mouth of some in manner scorn'd,
         Made questionable, for they do intend,
         According to the tenor of the saw
         Mistook, if not observ'd (writ long ago
    365  When men were only led by Reason's law),
         That "Such as is the end, the life proves so."
         Thus he, who to the universal lapse
         Gave sweet redemption, off'ring up his blood
         To conquer death by death, and loose the traps
    370  Of hell, even in the triumph that it stood:
         He thus, for that his guiltless life was spilt
         By death, which was made subject to the curse,
         Might in like manner be reprov'd of guilt
         In his pure life, for that his end was worse.
    375  But O far be it, our unholy lips
         Should so profane the deity above
         As thereby to ordain revenging whips
         Against the day of Judgment and of Love.
         The hand that lends us honor in our days
    380  May shorten when it please, and justly take
         Our honor from us many sundry ways,
         As best becomes that wisdom did us make.
         The second brother, who was next begot
         Of all that ever were begotten yet,
    385  Was by a hand in vengeance rude and hot
         Sent innocent to be in heaven set-
         Whose fame the angels in melodious choirs
         Still witness to the world.  Then why should he,
         Well-profited in excellent desires,
    390  Be more rebuk'd, who had like destiny?
         Those saints before the everlasting throne
         Who sit with crowns of glory on their heads,
         Wash'd white in blood, from earth hence have not gone
         All to their joys in quiet on their beds,
    395  But tasted of the sour-bitter scourge
         Of torture and affliction ere they gained
         Those blessings which their sufferance did urge,
         Whereby the grace fore-promis'd they attained.
         Let then the false suggestions of the froward,
    400  Building large castles in the empty air,
         By suppositions fond and thoughts untoward
         (Issues of discontent and sick despair)
         Rebound gross arguments upon their heart
         That may disprove their malice, and confound
    405  Uncivil loose opinions which insert
         Their souls into the roll that doth unsound
         Betraying policies, and show their brains,
         Unto their shame, ridiculous; whose scope
         Is envy, whose endeavors fruitless pains,
    410  In nothing surely prosperous, but hope-
         And that same hope, so lame, so unprevailing,
         It buries self-conceit in weak opinion;
         Which being cross'd, gives matter of bewailing
         Their vain designs, on whom want hath dominion.
    415  Such, and of such condition, may devise
         Which way to wound with defamation's spirit
         (Close-lurking whisper's hidden forgeries)
         His taintless goodness, his desertful merit.
         But whiles the minds of men can judge sincerely,
    420  Upon assured knowledge, his repute
         And estimation shall be rumor'd clearly
         In equal worth--time shall to time renew 't.
         The Grave-that in his ever-empty womb
         Forever closes up the unrespected
    425  Who, when they die, die all-shall not entomb
         His pleading best perfections as neglected.
         They to his notice in succeeding years
         Shall speak for him when he shall lie below;
         When nothing but his memory appears
    430  Of what he was, then shall his virtues grow.
         His being but a private man in rank
         (And yet not rank'd beneath a gentleman)
         Shall not abridge the commendable thank
         Which wise posterity shall give him then;
    435  For Nature, and his therein happy Fate.
         Ordain'd that by his quality of mind
         T' ennoble that best part, although his state
         Were to a lower blessedness confin'd.
         Blood, pomp, state, honor, glory and command,
    440  Without fit ornaments of disposition,
         Are in themselves but heathenish and [profaned],
         And much more peaceful is a mean condition
         Which, underneath the roof of safe content,
         Feeds on the bread of rest, and takes delight
    445  To look upon the labors it hath spent
         For its own sustenance, both day and night;
         Whiles others, plotting which way to be great,
         How to augment their portion and ambition,
         Do toil their giddy brains, and ever sweat
    450  For popular applause and power's commission.
         But one in honors, like a seeled dove
         Whose inward eyes are dimm'd with dignity,
         Does think most safety doth remain above,
         And seeks to be secure by mounting high:
    455    Whence, when he falls, who did erewhile aspire,
           Falls deeper down, for that he climbed higher.
         Now men who in a lower region live
         Exempt from danger of authority
         Have fittest times in Reason's rules to thrive,
    460  Not vex'd with envy of priority,
           And those are much more noble in the mind
           Than many that have nobleness by kind.
         Birth, blood, and ancestors, are none of ours,
         Nor can we make a proper challenge to them,
    465  But virtues and perfections in our powers
         Proceed most truly from us, if we do them.
         Respective titles or a gracious style,
         With all what men in eminence possess,
         Are, without ornaments to praise them, vile:
    470  The beauty of the mind is nobleness.
         And such as have that beauty, well deserve
         Eternal characters, that after death
         Remembrance of their worth we may preserve,
         So that their glory die not with their breath.
    475  Else what avails it in a goodly strife
         Upon this face of earth here to contend,
         The good t'exceed the wicked in their life,
         Should both be like obscured in their end?
         Until which end, there is none rightly can
    480  Be termed happy, since the happiness
         Depends upon the goodness of the man,
         Which afterwards his praises will express.
         Look hither then, you that enjoy the youth
         Of your best days, and see how unexpected
    485  Death can betray your jollity to ruth
         When death you think is least to be respected!
         The person of this model here set out
         Had all that youth and happy days could give him,
         Yet could not all-encompass him about
    490  Against th'assault of death, who to relieve him
         Strook home but to the frail and mortal parts
         Of his humanity, but could not touch
         His flourishing and fair long-liv'd deserts,
         Above fate's reach, his singleness was such-
    495  So that he dies but once, but doubly lives,
         Once in his proper self, then in his name;
         Predestinated Time, who all deprives,
         Could never yet deprive him of the same.
         And had the Genius which attended on him
    500  Been possibilited to keep him safe
         Against the rigor that hath overgone him,
         He had been to the public use a staff,
         Leading by his example in the path
         Which guides to doing well, wherein so few
    505  The proneness of this age to error hath
         Informed rightly in the courses true.
         As then the loss of one, whose inclination
         Strove to win love in general, is sad,
         So specially his friends, in soft compassion
    510  Do feel the greatest loss they could have had.
         Amongst them all, she who those nine of years
         Liv'd fellow to his counsels and his bed
         Hath the most share in loss:  for I in hers
         Feel what distemperature this chance hath bred.
    515  The chaste embracements of conjugal love,
         Who in a mutual harmony consent,
         Are so impatient of a strange remove
         As meager death itself seems to lament,
         And weep upon those cheeks which nature fram'd
    520  To be delightful orbs in whom the force
         Of lively sweetness plays, so that asham'd
         Death often pities his unkind divorce.
         Such was the separation here constrain'd
         (Well-worthy to be termed a rudeness rather),
    525  For in his life his love was so unfeign'd
         As he was both an husband and a father-
         The one in firm affection and the other
         In careful providence, which ever strove
         With joint assistance to grace one another
    530  With every helpful furtherance of love.
         But since the sum of all that can be said
         Can be but said that "He was good" (which wholly
         Includes all excellence can be display'd
         In praise of virtue and reproach of folly).
    535     His due deserts, this sentence on him gives,
           "He died in life, yet in his death he lives."
         Now runs the method of this doleful song
         In accents brief to thee, O thou deceas'd!
         To whom those pains do only all belong
    540  As witnesses I did not love thee least.
         For could my worthless brain find out but how
         To raise thee from the sepulcher of dust,
         Undoubtedly thou shouldst have partage now
         Of life with me, and heaven be counted just
    545  If to a supplicating soul it would
         Give life anew, by giving life again
         Where life is miss'd; whereby discomfort should
         Right his old griefs, and former joys retain
         Which now with thee are leap'd into thy tomb
    550  And buried in that hollow vault of woe,
         Expecting yet a more severer doom
         Than time's strict flinty hand will let 'em know.
         And now if I have level'd mine account
         And reckon'd up in a true measured score
    555  Those perfect graces which were ever wont
         To wait on thee alive, I ask no more
         (But shall hereafter in a poor content
         Immure those imputations I sustain,
         Learning my days of youth so to prevent
    560  As not to be cast down by them again)-
         Only those hopes which fate denies to grant
         In full possession to a captive heart
         Who, if it were in plenty, still would want
         Before it may enjoy his better part;
    565  From which detain'd, and banish'd in th' exile
         Of dim misfortune, has none other prop
         Whereon to lean and rest itself the while
         But the weak comfort of the hapless, Hope.
         And Hope must in despite of fearful change
    570  Play in the strongest closet of my breast,
         Although perhaps I ignorantly range
         And court opinion in my deep'st unrest.
         But whether doth the stream of my mischance
         Drive me beyond myself, fast friend, soon lost,
    575  Long may thy worthiness thy name advance
         Amongst the virtuous and deserving most,
           Who herein hast forever happy prov'd:
           In life thou liv'dst, in death thou died'st belov'd.