Images de page

true that the Athenians occasionally consigned their dead to the earth. On the other hand, the Scythians suspended their dead in the air. It seems that the corpses were first sewn up in skins, lest birds of prey should devour them, then suspended on the topmost branches of trees, where they were left swinging to and fro in the breeze, to succumb, at last, to the destructive agencies of wind and weather. Ptolemy tells us of certain fish-eaters, or Ichthyophagia, dwelling on the Persian Gulf, who invariably committed their deceased to the sea. As they lived on the flesh of the fish which they drew forth from the sea, they felt that they were, in a measure, repaying their debt, by feeding its finny inhabitants with the remains of poor humanity.

The Bactrians, a tribe living in Asia, consigned their dead neither to the air, nor to the fire, nor to the earth. They preferred to offer them to be devoured by beasts. Indeed, it is said that they kept enormous savage dogs, which were not only allowed to feast and grow fat on the flesh of the dead, but which were trained to eat up, while yet alive, such useless members of the tribe, 'as had lived to an extreme age, or who were enfeebled and rendered troublesome, through long sickness.'

Endophagy, or in other words, the eating of one's own kinsfolk, was practised as a pious funeral rite by the ancient Egyptians and Libyans. In such cases, the act of cannibalism was not preceded by murder, but was, on the contrary, intended as a reverent method of disposing of the remains of one's relatives, who had died a natural death.1

As the modes of disposing of the dead varied according to the locality and the age, so did the external signs of mourning. To most Europeans, it seems natural to put on black, as a mark of grief, but such a practice is by no means so universal as we might suppose. The Egyptians, for example, clothe themselves with yellow, when they bear a deceased relative to his last resting-place. Their idea is to imitate Nature, which stains the fallen leaf and the decayed foliage a bright yellow hue. For a similar reason, the Ethiopians will put on brown, to signify that those whom they mourn have returned to their native brown earth. The Turks, on the other hand, who prefer 1 See Nelson's Encyclopædia, vol. v. p. 153, VOL. XIV-14

to picture the dead to themselves as having been transplanted into another world, will put on purple, the colour of the spring violets, and other early flowers, just appearing above the ground. In fact, the signs and symbols of sorrow and loss are quite conventional, and differ among different tribes and peoples.

Though graveyards and tombstones would seem, by their very nature, to suggest serious and solemn thoughts, yet this is by no means always the case. In fact, the very solemnity of the surroundings, and the mournfulness of the scene, often provokes the contrary spirit of frivolity and mirth, in those not directly concerned. We have an instance in the case of the husband, weeping and lamenting over the loss of his young and beautiful wife, who erected a costly monument over her, upon which was engraved a most eulogistical epitaph to her memory. It expressed his heart-broken grief, and concluded with the words:

Alas! Alas! The light of my life has gone out.

However, so little did these sentiments impress the 'man in the street,' that one of them, who must have been somewhat of a wag, passing by, and reading the words, took a piece of chalk, and wrote under them:

If your light has gone out, why don't you strike another match?

The inscriptions to be met with, even within our English churchyards, are most varied, and differ from one another quite as much as the folk who compose them. We may almost say that they form a literature of themselves. The most part of them are in verse, and are composed by men and women of every class, and in all sorts of moods and dispositions. Though usually serious and even solemn, yet these are interspersed with others which are often quaint and comical. Few epitaphs are enriched by any deep thought and fewer still are marked by any profound wisdom. Indeed, the vast majority are of the commonplace and stereotyped type. But occasionally one comes across more thoughtful compositions, full of feeling and expression. Take the following as an illustration. Though the captain, here commemorated, was actually buried in the ocean, the monument was erected on the coast; the epitaph is much

too long to give in full, but I copy the concluding


The solemn words are said: Let the sea receive the dead

In its vast unfathomed bed, until Time shall be no more.
The frothing of a wave, and the good, the kind, the brave,
Is in his ocean grave. All his storms of life are o'er.

His messmates stare with eyes of dull and long surprise,
That where their comrade lies, not a trace should now be seen.
The waves still roll and leap o'er the chamber of his sleep,
Down, down in the great deep, as though he'd never been.

Sometimes the inscriptions are picturesque, and not without a touch of humour, as may be seen, for instance, in the following, on the gravestone of an infant of three months :

Since I am so quickly done for,

I wonder what I was begun for !

Here is another, over the remains of a little boy, somewhat more elaborate, but containing the same idea :

The cup of life just with his lips he pressed;
Found the taste bitter, and declin'd the rest;
Averse, then turning from the face of day,
He softly sigh'd his little soul away.

Formerly, it was customary to bury people, not only in the churchyard, but also in the church itself, and the nearer the tomb was to the sanctuary, the larger was the fee. Here is an old entry in one of the now musty volumes, recording certain charges, in the sixteenth century, which illustrates this fact. I give it just as it is found, with the strange spelling, etc.: 'A.D. 1521. Recd. of R. Cabzll, for lyying of his wyffe in the PORCH, 3/4. Recd. of R Blundon, for lyying of his wwyffe in the CHURCH? 6/8.' N.B.For inside the church the fee is double.

These charges are sometimes alluded to in the epitaphs themselves, as in this, for instance :

Here lie I, at the chancel door,
Here I lie, because I'm poor;
The further in, the more to pay;
Here lie I as warm as they.

The following is taken from a churchyard in Hereford, and is a sad commentary on the fickleness of human affection, and on the ease with which heart-wounds are healed. The grammar and general style of composition suggest

neither education nor refinement. In the first part, the wife is supposed to be speaking, and then the husband replies:

Grieve not for me, my husband dear,
I am not dead, but sleeping here;
With patience wait. Prepare to die.
And in short time, you'll come to I.

(The husband.)

I am not grieved, my dearest life.
Sleep on. I've got another wife;
Therefore, I cannot come to thee,
For I must go and live with she.


Sometimes the writer is inclined to moralize. reader will notice that this tendency has been indulged in the two instances that follow. The first over the body of Y. Zearn, and the other over that of Mr. Dan. G. :

Sacred to the Memory of Y. Zearn.

How strangely fond of life poor mortals be!

Who, that shall see THIS BED would change with me?
Yet, gentle Reader, tell me which is best,

The toilsome journey, or the Trav'ller's Rest?

On Mr. Dan. G.

'Mongst thousand insects in the Spring,
The watching Sparrow one espies;
He nimbly flits, and drops his wing,
The gilded prey unheeded dies.

So insect man, we daily see,
Drops unregarded as the bee;
This maxim learn, as from a friend,

None live so well, but they may mend.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the tombstone artist is his irresistible inclination to joke and to play upon the name of the deceased, if only the name will lend itself to such juggling. Again and again we come across instances of this, all over the country. Neither the solemnity of the occasion, nor respect for the lamented departed, nor even regard for surviving relatives and friends, seem able to restrain him. Whatever happens, he seems determined to exercise his wit, and to leave some record of it on the imperishable marble. Among a great variety of examples, we may select the following. The first is on Peter Stiller. Now, 'Stiller,' of course, is an excellent word to play with, and the composer of his epitaph at

once seizes the occasion, and the result is that we are treated to the following

On Peter Stiller.

As still as death, poor Peter lies,

Yet Stiller when alive was he,
Still not without a hope to rise,

Though Stiller then he still will be.

A somewhat similar liberty has been taken with the name of another gentleman, a Mr. Robert Remnant :To the Memory of Rob. Remnant.

O! Cease ye mourning friends to weep;
Be on each heart engraved.

God has ordained, of those who sleep,

A REMNANT shall be saved.

Here is another specimen, over the body of William Quick :

Here is laid

The QUICK and the dead.

While F. Strange, who was a well-known Limb of the Law,' lies under a stone, on which is engraved :

On F. Strange; Lawyer. }

Here lies an honest Lawyer. That is STRANGE!

[ocr errors]

Over the burial-place of the Earl of Kildare it is written :-

Who killed Kildare?

Who dared Kildare to kill?

Death kill'd Kildare, who

Dare kill whom he will.

Then we come across a strange inscription on the headstone of a gentleman bearing the somewhat unusual name of 'Monday.' It seems he had committed suicide :-On Mr. James Monday.

Hallowed be the Sabboth;
Farewell all worldly Pelfe;
The week begins on TUESDAY

For, MONDAY's hanged himself!

One of the most puzzling compositions was suggested by a lady called Maria Nott. Such an appellation afforded an opportunity, which was at once taken advantage of, and resulted in the following epitaph :-

On Mrs. Maria Nott.

Nott born, Nott died,
Nott christened, Nott begot.
Lo! Here she lies, that was,
And that was Nott.

« PrécédentContinuer »