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affliction endured with fortitude, or of a privation submitted to with contentment; or by a grateful display of the temporal blessings with which Providence had favoured the deceased, and the happy course of life through which he had passed. And where these individualities are untouched upon, it may still happen that the estate of man in his helplessness, in his dependence upon his Maker, or some other inherent of his nature shall be movingly and profitably expressed. Every Reader will be able to supply from his own observation instances of all these kinds, and it will be more pleasing for him to refer to his memory than to have the page crowded with unnecessary quotations. I will however give one or two from an old book cited before. The following of general application, was a great favourite with our forefathers :
Farwel my Frendys, the tyd abidyth no man,
I am departed hens, and so sal ye,
Is Requiem Eternam, now Jesu grant it me.
That shedst Thy bloud for my redemption. This epitaph might seem to be of the age of Chaucer, for it has the very tone and manner of the Prioress's Tale.
The next opens with a thought somewhat interrupting that complacency and gracious repose which the language and imagery of a church-yard tend to diffuse, but the truth is weighty and will not be less acceptable for the rudeness of the expression.
When the bells be mearely roung
Yet good Lord let them evermor Thy mercy abyde ! It is well known how fond our ancestors were of a play upon the name of the deceased when it admitted of a double sense. The following is an instance of this propensity not idly indulged. It brings home a general truth to the individual by the medium of a pun, which will be readily pardoned for the
sake of the image suggested by it, for the happy mood of mind in which the epitaph is composed, for the beauty of the language, and for the sweetness of the versification, which indeed, the date considered, is not a little curious. It is upon a man whose name was Palmer. I have modernized the spelling in order that its uncouthness may not interrupt the Reader's gratification.
Palmers all our Fathers were
And took my journey hence to heaven.
Hic quidem terra tegitur
In libro vitae sit inscriptum. The spirit of it may be thus given: 'Here lies, covered by the earth, and paying his debt to sin, one whose name is not set forth : may it be inscribed in the Book of Life !'
But these instances, of the humility, the pious faith and simplicity of our forefathers, have led me from the scene of our contemplations--a Country Church-yard! and from the memorials at this day commonly found in it. I began with noticing such as might be wholly uninteresting from the uniformity of the language which they exhibit; because, without previously participating the truths upon which these general attestations are founded, it is impossible to arrive at that state of disposition of mind necessary to make those epitaphs thoroughly felt which have an especial recommendation. With the same view, I will venture to say a few words upon another characteristic of these compositions almost equally striking; namely, the homeliness of some of the inscriptions, the strangeness of the illustrative images, the grotesque spelling, with the equivocal meaning often struck out by it, and the quaint jingle of the rhymes. These have often excited regret in serious minds, and provoked the
unwilling to good-humoured laughter. Yet, for my own part, without affecting any superior sanctity, I must say that I have been better satisfied with myself, when in these evidences I have seen a proof how deeply the piety of the rude forefathers of the hamlet, is seated in their natures; I mean how habitual and constitutional it is, and how awful the feeling which they attach to the situation of their departed friends,-a proof of this rather than of their ignorance or of a deadness in their faculties to a sense of the ridiculous. And that this deduction may
be just, is rendered probable by the frequent occurrence of passages according to our present notion, full as ludicrous, in the writings of the most wise and learned men of former ages, divines and poets, who in the earnestness of their souls have applied metaphors and illustrations, taken either from Holy Writ or from the usages of their own country, in entire confidence that the sacredness of the theme they were discussing would sanctify the meanest object connected with it; or rather without ever conceiving it was possible that a ludicrous thought could spring up in any mind engaged in such meditations. And certainly, these odd and fantastic combinations are not confined to epitaphs of the peasantry, or of the lower orders of society, but are perhaps still more commonly produced among the higher, in a degree equally or more striking. For instance, what shall we say to this
upon Sir George Vane, the noted Secretary of State to King Charles I.?
His Honour wonne i'th' field lies here in dust,
For why? He was St George once but St George ever. The date is 1679. When we reflect that the father of this personage must have had his taste formed in the punning Court of James I., and that the epitaph was composed at a time when our literature was stuffed with quaint or out-of-the-way thoughts, it will seem not unlikely that the author prided himself upon what he might call a clever hit: I mean his better affections were less occupied with the several associations belonging to the two ideas than his vanity delighted with that act of ingenuity by which they had been combined. But the first couplet consists of a just thought naturally expressed; and I should rather conclude the whole to be a work of honest simplicity; and that the sense of worldly dignity associated with the title, in a degree habitual to our ancestors, but which at this time we can but feebly sympathize with, and the imaginative feeling involvedviz. the saintly and chivalrous name of the champion of England, were unaffectedly linked together: and that both were united and consolidated in the author's mind, and in the minds of his contemporaries whom no doubt he had pleased, by a devout contemplation of a happy immortality, the reward of the just.
At all events, leaving this particular case undecided, the general propriety of these notices cannot be doubted; and I gladly avail myself of this opportunity to place in a clear view the power and majesty of impassioned faith, whatever be its object : to shew how it subjugates the lighter motions of the mind, and sweeps away superficial difference in things. And this I have done, not to lower the witling and the worldling in their own esteem, but with a wish to bring the ingenuous into still closer communion with those primary sensations of the human heart, which are the vital springs of sublime and pathetic composition, in this and in every other kind. And as from these primary sensations such composition speaks, so, unless correspondent ones listen promptly and submissively in the inner cell of the mind to whom it is addressed, the voice cannot be heard ; its highest powers are wasted.
These suggestions may be further useful to establish a cri. terion of sincerity, by which a writer may be judged; and this is of high import. For, when a man is treating an interesting subject, or one which he ought not to treat at all unless he be interested, no faults have such a killing power as those which prove that he is not in earnest, that he is acting a part, has leisure for affectation, and feels that without it he could do nothing. This is one of the most odious of faults; because it shocks the moral sense, and is worse in a sepulchral inscription, precisely in the same degree as that mode of composition calls for sincerity more urgently than any other. And indeed where the internal evidence proves that the writer was moved, in other words where this charm of sincerity lurks in the language of a tombstone and secretly pervades it, there are no errors in style or manner for which it will not be, in some degree, a recompence; but without habits of reflection a test of this inward
simplicity cannot be come at; and as I have said, I am now writing with a hope to assist the well-disposed to attain it.
Let us take an instance where no one can be at a loss. The following lines are said to have been written by the illustrious Marquis of Montrose with the point of his sword, upon being informed of the death of his master, Charles I. :
Great, good, and just, could I but rate
These funereal verses would certainly be wholly out of their place upon a tombstone; but who can doubt that the writer was transported to the height of the occasion ? that he was moved as it became an heroic soldier, holding those principles and opinions, to be moved ? His soul labours ;—the most tremendous event in the history of the planet-namely, the deluge, is brought before his imagination by the physical image of tears,a connection awful from its very remoteness and from the slender band that unites the ideas :-it passes into the region of fable likewise ; for all modes of existence that forward his purpose are to be pressed into the service. The whole is instinct with spirit, and every word has its separate life; like the chariot of the Messiah, and the wheels of that chariot, as they appeared to the imagination of Milton aided by that of the prophet Ezekiel. It had
power to move of itself, but was conveyed by cherubs.
-with stars their bodies all
Compare with the above verses of Montrose the following epitaph upon Sir Philip Sidney, which was formerly placed over his grave in St. Paul's Church.
England, Netherland, the Heavens, and the Arts,
That a small heap of stones can Sidney enclose ?