William Shakespeare, "A Funeral Elegy for Master William Peter,"
(London: G.Eld for T.Thorpe, 1612). Normalized text, ed. Donald Foster.

TO MASTER JOHN PETER
of Bowhay in Devon, Esquire.

 
The love I bore to your brother, and will do to his memory, hath craved 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 loved him for himself, and himself for his deserts.
W. S.

A FUNERAL ELEGY.

Since time, and his predestinated end, 
  Abridged 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-blemished name 
But his own worth, wherein his life was graced. . . 
Sith as that ever he maintained 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-lived deserts; but still they must, 
Even in the hearts and memories of men, 
Claim fit respect, that they, in every limb 
15 Remembering 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 loved 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-brained survey 
30 Could scantly find a mote amidst the sun 
Of his too-shortened 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 encompassed in a mortal frame, 
Sometime in reputation not oppressed 
40 By some in nothing famous but defame? 
Such in the bypath 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 wracked. 
But death to such gives unremembered graves. 
Now therein lived 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, bettered 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 overswayed, 
Teaching his other senses, with delight, 
How piety and zeal should be obeyed. 
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 lived to see 
85 The grave in peace, the times that should succeed 
Had been best-speaking witnesses with me; 
Whose conversation so untouched 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 
Cared 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 
Seemed 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 furnished 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 framed 
115 For fair conditions, guests that soonest win 
Applause; in generality, well famed, 
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, wished sobriety, 
Clean-tempered moderation, steady trust, 
Unburthened conscience, unfeigned 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 enjoyed 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 proved 
My country's thankless misconstruction cast 
140 Upon my name and credit, both unloved 
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 crossed 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 obscured 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 wintered 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 revealed, to show 
The gainful fruit of well-employed wit, 
Which paid to heaven the debt that it did owe. 
Here shall be reckoned up the constant faith, 
Never untrue, where once he love professed; 
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 ruined be by death, our grace and strength, 
Youth, memory and shape that made us fresh 
Cast down, and utterly decayed at length; 
When all shall turn to dust from whence we came 
And we low-leveled 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 sealed 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 sundered, but in death. 
And I confess my love was too remiss 
That had not made thee know how much I prized thee, 
215 But that mine error was, as yet it is, 
To think love best in silence: for I sized 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 reserved 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 hired, as heaven can witness in my soul, 
230 By vain conceit, to please such ones as know it, 
Nor servile to be liked, 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 chanced, 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 accursed: 
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 underpropped. 
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, 
Soothed 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 disunioned 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 maintained in sweet content 
And pleasurable rest, wherein he joyed 
A monarchy of comfort's government, 
300 Never until his last to be destroyed. 
For in the vineyard of heaven-favored learning 
Where he was double-honored in degree, 
His observation and discreet discerning 
Had taught him in both fortunes to be free; 
305 Whence now retired 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 fastened 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, 
Foreshowing what he was, and what should be, 
Most true presage; and he discharged 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 Adorned 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 revived 
The rage which wrought his end, for had he been 
335 Slacker in love, he had been longer lived 
And not oppressed by wrath's unhappy sin. . . 
By wrath's unhappy sin, which unadvised 
Gave death for free good will, and wounds for love. 
Pity it was that blood had not been prized 
340 At higher rate, and reason set above 
Most unjust choler, which untimely drew 
Destruction on itself; and most unjust, 
Robbed virtue of a follower so true 
As time can boast of, both for love and trust: 
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 betrayed 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 unfeigned friendship where it least was sought, 
Him to a fatal timeless ruin brought; 
Whereby the life that purity adorned 
360 With real merit, by this sudden end 
Is in the mouth of some in manner scorned, 
Made questionable, for they do intend, 
According to the tenor of the saw 
Mistook, if not observed (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, offering 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 reproved 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 rebuked, who had like destiny? 
Those saints before the everlasting throne 
Who sit with crowns of glory on their heads, 
Washed 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-promised 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 crossed, 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 rumored 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 ranked beneath a gentleman) 
Shall not abridge the commendable thank 
Which wise posterity shall give him then; 
435 For nature, and his therein happy fate. 
Ordained that by his quality of mind 
T' ennoble that best part, although his state 
Were to a lower blessedness confined. 
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 dimmed 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 lower region live 
Exempt from danger of authority 
Have fittest times in reason's rules to thrive, 
460 Not vexed 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-lived 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 
Stove 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 
Lived 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 framed 
520 To be delightful orbs in whom the force 
Of lively sweetness plays, so that ashamed 
Death often pities his unkind divorce. 
Such was the separation here constrained 
(Well-worthy to be termed a rudeness rather), 
525 For in his life his love was so unfeigned 
  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 displayed 
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 deceased! 
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 missed; whereby discomfort should 
Right his old griefs, and former joys retain 
Which now with thee are leaped 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 leveled mine account 
And reckoned 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 detained, and banished 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 proved: 
In life thou lived'st, in death thou died'st beloved.