網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

through all varieties of situation and character, will be most honourably and profitably preserved in memory. Nor would the model recommended less suit public men, in all instances save of those persons who by the greatness of their services in the employments of peace or war, or by the surpassing excellence of their works in art, literature, or science, have made themselves not only universally known, but have filled the heart of their country with everlasting gratitude. Yet I must here pause to correct myself. In describing the general tenor of thought which epitaphs ought to hold, I have omitted to say, that if it be the actions of a man, or even some one conspicuous or beneficial act of local or general utility, which have distinguished him, and excited a desire that he should be remembered, then, of course, ought the attention to be directed chiefly to those actions or that act: and such sentiments dwelt upon as naturally arise out of them or it. Having made this necessary distinction, I proceed.--The mighty benefactors of mankind, as they are not only known by the immediate survivors, but will continue to be known familiarly to latest posterity, do not stand in need of biographic sketches, in such a place ; nor of delineations of character to individualise them. This is already done by their Works, in the memories of men. Their naked names,

,
and a grand comprehensive sentiment of civic gratitude, patri-
otic love, or human admiration—or the utterance of some ele-
mentary principle most essential in the constitution of true
virtue ;-or a declaration touching that pious humility and self-
abasement, which are ever most profound as minds are most
susceptible of genuine exaltation or an intuition, communicated
in adequate words, of the sublimity of intellectual power;—these
are the only tribute which can here be paid—the only offering
that upon such an altar would not be unworthy.

What needs my Shakspeare for his honoured bones
The labour of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed reliques should be hid
Under a star y-pointing pyramid ?
Dear Son of Memory, great Heir of Fame,
What need'st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a livelong monument,
And so sepulchred, in such pomp dost lie,
That kings for such a tomb would wish to die.

1

a

1

(b) THE COUNTRY CHURCH-YARD, AND CRITICAL

EXAMINATION OF ANCIENT EPITAPHS.

From the Author's Mss.

Yet even these bones from insult to protect

Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,

Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.
Their name, their years, spelt by the unletter'd Muse,

The place of fame and elegy supply,
And many a holy text around she strews,

That teach the rustic moralist to die.

6

WHEN a Stranger has walked round a Country Church-yard and glanced his eye over so many brief chronicles, as the tomb-stones usually contain, of faithful wives, tender husbands, dutiful children, and good men of all classes; he will be tempted to exclaim in the language of one of the characters of a modern Tale, in a similar situation, 'Where are all the bad people buried ?' He may smile to himself an answer to this question, and may regret that it has intruded upon him so soon. For my own part such has been my lot; and indeed a man, who is in the habit of suffering his mind to be carried passively towards truth as well as of going with conscious effort in search of it, may be forgiven, if he has sometimes insensibly yielded to the delusion of those flattering recitals, and found a pleasure in believing that the prospect of real life had been as fair as it was in that picture represented. And such a transitory oversight will without difficulty be forgiven by those who have observed a trivial fact in daily life, namely, how apt, in a series of calm weather, we are to forget that rain and storms have been, and will return to interrupt any scheme of business or pleasure which our minds are occupied in arranging. Amid the quiet of a church-yard thus decorated as it seemed by the hand of Memory, and shining, if I may so say, in the light of love, I have been affected by sensations akin to those which have risen in my mind

а

[ocr errors]

while I have been standing by the side of a smooth sea, on a Summer's day. It is such a happiness to have, in an unkind world, one enclosure where the voice of Detraction is not heard ; where the traces of evil inclinations are unknown; where contentment prevails, and there is no jarring tone in the peaceful concert of amity and gratitude. I have been rouzed from this reverie by a consciousness suddenly flashing upon me, of the anxieties, the perturbations, and in many instances, the vices and rancorous dispositions, by which the hearts of those who lie under so smooth a surface and so fair an outside have been agitated. The image of an unruffled sea has still remained; but my fancy has penetrated into the depths of that sea,—with accompanying thoughts of shipwreck, of the destruction of the mariner's hopes, the bones of drowned men heaped together, monsters of the deep, and all the hideous and confused sights which Clarence saw in his dream.

Nevertheless, I have been able to return (and who may not?) to a steady contemplation of the benign influence of such a favourable Register lying open to the eyes of all. Without being so far lulled as to imagine I saw in a village church-yard the eye or central point of a rural Arcadia, I have felt that with all the vague and general expressions of love, gratitude, and praise, with which it is usually crowded, it is a far more faithful representation of homely life as existing among a community in which circumstances have not been untoward, than any report which might be made by a rigorous observer deficient in that spirit of forbearance and those kindly prepossessions, without which human life can in no condition be profitably looked at or described. For we must remember that it is the nature of vice to force itself upon notice, both in the act and by its consequences. Drunkenness, cruelty, brutal manners, sensuality and impiety, thoughtless prodigality and idleness, are obstreperous while they are in the height and heyday of their enjoyment; and when that is passed away, long and obtrusive is the train of misery which they draw after them. But on the contrary, the virtues, especially those of humble life, are retired; and many of the highest must be sought for or they will be overlooked. Industry, economy, temperance, and cleanliness, are indeed made obvious by flourishing fields, rosy complexions, and smiling countenances; but how few know anything of the trials to which men

in a lonely condition are subject, or of the steady and triumphant manner in which those trials are often sustained, but they themselves? The afflictions which peasants and rural citizens have to struggle with are for the most part secret; the tears which they wipe away, and the sighs which they stifle,—this is all a labour of privacy. In fact their victories are to themselves known only imperfectly; for it is inseparable from virtue, in the pure sense of the word, to be unconscious of the might of her own prowess. This is true of minds the most enlightened by reflection; who have forecast what they may have to endure, and prepared themselves accordingly. It is true even of these, when they are called into action, that they necessarily lose sight of their own accomplishments and support their conflicts in self-forgetfulness and humility. That species of happy ignorance, which is the consequence of these noble qualities, must exist still more frequently, and in a greater degree, in those persons to whom duty has never been matter of laborious speculation, and who have no intimations of the power to act and to resist which is in them, till they are summoned to put it forth. I could illustrate this by many examples, which are now before my eyes; but it would detain me too long from my principal subject which was to suggest reasons for believing that the encomiastic language of rural tomb-stones does not so far exceed reality as might lightly be supposed. Doubtless, an inattentive or ill-disposed Observer, who should apply to surrounding cottages the knowledge which he may possess of any rural neighbourhood, would upon the first impulse confidently report that there was little in their living inhabitants which reflected the concord and the virtue there dwelt upon so fondly. Much has been said in a former Paper tending to correct this disposition; and which will naturally combine with the present considerations. Besides, to slight the uniform language of these memorials as on that account not trustworthy would obviously be unjustifiable.

Enter a church-yard by the sea-coast, and you will be almost sure to find the tomb-stones crowded with metaphors taken from the sea and a sea-faring life. These are uniformly in the same strain; but surely we ought not thence to infer that the words are used of course, without any heartfelt sense of their propriety. Would not the contrary conclusion be right? But I will adduce

a

a

a fact which more than a hundred analogical arguments will carry to the mind a conviction of the strength and sanctity of those feelings which persons in humble stations of society connect with their departed friends and kindred. We learn from the Statistical Account of Scotland that in some districts, a general transfer of inhabitants has taken place; and that a great majority of those who live, and labour, and attend public worship in one part of the country, are buried in another. Strong and unconquerable still continues to be the desire of all, that their bones should rest by the side of their forefathers, and very poor persons provide that their bodies should be conveyed if necessary to a great distance to obtain that last satisfaction. Nor can I refrain from saying that this natural interchange by which the living inhabitants of a parish have small knowledge of the dead who are buried in their church-yard is grievously to be lamented, wherever it exists. For it cannot fail to preclude not merely much but the best part of the wholesome influence of that communion between living and dead which the conjunction in rural districts of the place of burial and place of worship tends so effectually to promote. Finally, let us remember that if it be the nature of man to be insensible to vexations and afflictions when they have passed away, he is equally insensible to the height and depth of his blessings till they are removed from him. An experienced and well-regulated mind, will not, therefore, be insensible to this monotonous language of sorrow and affectionate admiration; but will find under that veil a substance of individual truth. Yet upon all men,

Yet upon all men, and upon such a mind in particular, an Epitaph must strike with a gleam of pleasure, when the expression is of that kind which carries conviction to the heart at once that the author was a sincere mourner, and that the inhabitant of the grave deserved to be so lamented. This may be done sometimes by a naked ejaculation ; as in an instance which a friend of mine met with in a church-yard in Germany, thus literally translated : 'Ah! they have laid in the grave a brave man: he was to me more than many !'

Ach! sie haben
Einen Braven

Mann begraben

Mir war er mehr als viele. An effect as pleasing is often produced by the recital of an

« 上一頁繼續 »