My Own Epitaph "Life Is A Jest"
by John Gay

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"Life Is A Jest"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Seldom done in the twentieth century, the writing of epitaphs, including one's own, was a frequent practice in the eighteenth century. Relatively seldom were these epitaphs carved in stone for the gravesite; they were, rather, exercises of wit, pieces of literary effort, even sources of amusement. John Gay's epitaph for himself was, however, placed on his tomb in Westminster Abbey. The epitaph is similar to a line found in the second part of Browning's Paracelsus (1835), "Life is but an empty dream." It also carries a thought similar to that of James Russell Lowell in his "Harvard Commemoration Ode" (1865): Life seems a jest of Fate's contriving."

Life is a jest; and all things show it,
I thought so once; but now I know it.