"The Glory And The Nothing Of A Name"

Context: Charles Churchill (1731–1764) must have won the admiration of satirical Byron by his biting wit. Though he had died long before Byron's time, his writings, especially his political satires, were still admired. As a young man, son of a Westminster curate, Churchill was refused admittance to Oxford and Cambridge, probably because he had married at the age of seventeen. He tried for the position of postmaster at Merton, but was turned down, allegedly because of lack of a classical training. However, he was ordained a priest in 1756. His was a riotous life. From his acquaintance with the theater and its performers, he published the anonymous Rosciad (1761), influenced by Pope's Dunciad. In it he lauded Garrick and several of the actresses, but unmercifully criticized many contemporary actors with such lines as "He mouths a sentence as curs mouth a bone." Divorced in 1761, Churchill led a life of dissipation. He gave up his Church offices in 1763 to write campaign literature for John Wilkes (1727–1797), an English political reformer, the idol of the mobs. Wilkes was expelled from Parliament in 1764 and exiled to France. On his trip to visit his friend, Churchill died in Boulogne of a fever. His body was brought back across the Channel to Dover and buried in St. Martin Cemetery, beneath an inscription: "Life to the last enjoyed, here Churchill lies." About to leave England for the last time, Byron visited his grave. Then he tried to write a poem to him in imitation of Churchill's style, with its beauties and its defects. He also included some touches mocking Wordsworth. At the ill-kept tomb, Byron sees a gardener who tells him he does not know who is buried there. The death happened before the gardener's time, and he cannot read the name. But he does know that strangers come to pay their respects to the dead man and pay to the sexton a few pennies, and that some have said the dead man was the most famous writer of his day. So Churchill has both glory and namelessness. Byron gives the sexton a few silver coins he can scarcely spare, and writes: "Let profane ones smile because my homely phrase the truth would tell." Here is the beginning and the conclusion of the forty-three-line poem.

I stood beside the grave of him who blazed
The comet of a season, and I saw
The humblest of all sepulchres, and gazed
With not the less of sorrow and of awe
On that neglected turf and quiet stone . . .
. . .
You are the fools, not I–for I did dwell
With a deep thought, and with a soften'd eye,
On that Old Sexton's natural homily,
In which there was Obscurity and Fame,–
The Glory and the Nothing of a Name.