History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

16 June 2015

Travels in England, 1782: Westminster Abbey

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 “On a very gloomy dismal day, just such a one as it ought to be, I went to see Westminster Abbey.

I entered at a small door, which brought me immediately to the poets’ corner, where the monuments and busts of the principal poets, artists, generals, and great men, are placed.

Not far from the door, immediately on my entrance, I perceived the statue of Shakespeare, as large as life; with a band, &c., in the dress usual in his time.

A passage out of one of Shakespeare’s own plays (the Tempest), in which he describes in the most solemn and affecting manner, the end, or the dissolution of all things, is here, with great propriety, put up as his epitaph; as though none but Shakespeare could do justice to Shakespeare.

Not far from this immortal bard is Rowe’s monument, which, as it is intimated in the few lines that are inscribed as his epitaph, he himself had desired to be placed there.

At no great distance I saw the bust of that amiable writer, Goldsmith: to whom, as well as to Butler, whose monument is in a distant part of the abbey, though they had scarcely necessary bread to eat during their life time, handsome monuments are now raised.  Here, too you see, almost in a row, the monuments of Milton, Dryden, Gay, and Thomson.  The inscription on Gay’s tombstone is, if not actually immoral, yet futile and weak; though he is said to have written it himself:

“Life is a jest, and all things shew it,
‘I thought so once but now I know it.”

Our Handel has also a monument here, where he is represented as large as life.

An actress, Pritchard, and Booth, an actor, have also very distinguished monuments erected here to their memories.

For Newton, as was proper, there is a very costly one.  It is above, at the entrance of the choir, and exactly opposite to this, at the end of the church, another is erected, which refers you to the former.

As I passed along the side walls of Westminster Abbey, I hardly saw any thing but marble monuments of great admirals, but which were all too much loaded with finery and ornaments, to make on me at least, the intended impression.

I always returned with most pleasure to the poets’ corner, where the most sensible, most able, and most learned men, of the different ages, were re-assembled; and particularly where the elegant simplicity of the monuments made an elevated and affecting impression on the mind, while a perfect recollection of some favourite passage, of a Shakespeare, or Milton, recurred to my idea, and seemed for a moment to re-animate and bring back the spirits of those truly great men.

Of Addison and Pope I have found no monuments here.  The vaults where the kings are buried, and some other things worth notice in the abbey, I have not yet seen; but perhaps I may at my return to London from the country.”


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