صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

DESECRATION OF THE DEAD.

87

weary with wandering, and sat down to rest myself by the monument, revolving in my mind the checkered and disastrous story of poor Mary.” These beautiful words you have read in Irving.

Time is the great regulator. How sure he is to do justice at last! Mrs. Jamieson has set this matter in its proper light. Mary Stuart needed no better defender of her fame. After waiting nearly 300 years, justice has been done to her name by the heroic and beautiful biographer of the imperious and hateful Elizabeth.

A great number of the tombs and shrines of the Abbey have been shockingly mutilated and defaced. Even the kings of England, not satisfied with grinding from their living subjects all that oppression could exact, have entered this temple, and robbed the dead of those few choice jewels and treasures which surviving affection had placed in their coffins. But this, perhaps, should pass without censure, as the English Constitution declares the king can do no wrong! The sceptre has been stolen from the mouldered hand of Elizabeth, and there is hardly a royal monument which has not been plundered or mutilated. The grave is a sanctuary for the dead in the peaceful country churchyard; but not so in Westminster Abbey. They who are buried here have found no security against the rapacity and insult of the living.

I pity the man who lives and dies in the hope of being long remembered, who has no more enduring

by time.

monument than the marble to perpetuate his fame. There are many inscriptions in the Abbey which cannot be read: they have faded away with the names and deeds of those they were intended to commemorate. Nothing ever appears to me so mournful as a gravestone with its epitaph obliterated

“ Thus man passes away; his name perishes from record and recollection; his history is as a tale that is told, and his very monument becomes a ruin." This is one of those touching morals taught us by Irving, in writing about this hall of death.

One sees in Westminster Abbey almost as much as he would have seen had he lived in England for a thousand years. If a great person has died, or å great deed been done in this island for centuries, they have brought some memento, and placed it within these walls. . Here we read the story of the virtues and the crimes of England's great men; here we find their monuments, their escutcheons, and their ashes. In different ages, and from different scenes of action, England's kings have come to these solemn cloisters at last, to forget in the deep slumber of the grave the troubles, the follies, and the guilt of the life just ended. No one of them, as he went to his sepulchre, stopped to listen to the clamours that swelled behind him ; to the contentions of fierce and eager aspirants to his vacant throne. Even bluff Harry VIII. goes sturdily to his resting-place, without seeming in his dying moments to bestow a thought on his discarded wives or injured daughters.

THE PÅST AND THE PRESENT.

89

But they are not all of royal or noble blood that rest here. Greater Englishmen than English kings have a name and a grave within these solemn chambers. Bucklers, helmets, and broadswords are spread over the tomb of the bold baron; the cross and the crosier mark the sepulchre of some pious bishop; and over this tomb are banners, streamers, and all the insignia of naval triumph, doing honour to some captain of the sea, who is here alike forgetful of the roar of the battle and the terrors of the wreck. As you pass along those aisles whose silence is unbroken save by your own footfall, and read the quaint epitaphs of heroes of olden time, insensibly will the impression steal over the imagination that it was but yesterday that all these dead were alive, and you, a stranger from the far future, have been carried back to the days of ancient chivalry to converse with walking shadows; to think of the present as though it were a prophecy, a dream, or a hope, and of the past as though it were a reality.

And yet speak to that suit of armour which seems now to threaten as it once did in battle--it returns no answer; the voice is still that once spoke through those iron jaws, and the cold moisture which gathers on its rusted face seems like tears shed over the hero who once wore it.

When the mind is full of thoughts suggested by these relics of antiquity, and the heart full of emotions; when the images of great men who have long flitted around the fancy appear, and we see before us

the very sword they once used in battle, and the very banner that once floated over them, there is no room left for other thought; we cannot contemplate modern times or our own existence. While we are lingering in a place where England has preserved all that she could of the great and the virtuous a place of which we have read and thought from childhood, and around which so many bright recollections cluster—what marvel if hours on hours steal away ere we wake from the strong illusion.

The day had passed away as a night of rich dreams goes by, and we were unconscious how long we had been strolling around the walls, until the evening light began to stream in more and more feebly through the lofty stained windows, and a deeper gloom settled upon every part of the Abbey. And when increasing darkness had spread through all the cloisters, chapels, and passages, a more solemn and mysterious gloom, I could not but ask, what is night, deep, dark night-without moon, star, or taper -around these silent poets, barons, priests, sages, heroes, and kings !

Is never a sigh heard to come forth from these damp tombs ? a shout from some sleeping warrior ? or an “ Ave Maria" from some crusader monk ? If we should stay here until midnight-the hour when spirits haunt these halls of the dead, if they ever haunt them-might we not hear the sound of revelry where the ashes of Harry of Monmouth are laid; and a hollow voice calling out through the

RECORDS OF THE ABBEY.

91

stillness of night “ Sweet Hal ?” Around the tomb of “ Queen Bess," should we not hear the flattery of gallant courtiers and the preparations of the stage; the voices of Raleigh, and Burleigh, and Essex, and Leicester, and the notes of the sweet bard of Avon sounding melodiously over all; or the plaintive sorrow of poor Mary Stuart ?-Might we not hear from some part of the Abbey a faint voice as if it came from “the spirit land ?"

No! these dead do never waken or walk: the battle-axe has fallen from the strong hand of the Saxon and the Norman, and they rest in stillness together. Genius, which lived in sorrow and died in want, here sleeps as proudly as royalty. All is silence; but here “ silence is greater than speech."

This is the great treasure-house of England. If every record on earth besides were blotted out, and the memory of the living should fade away, the stranger could still in Westminster Abbey write the history of the past; for England's records are here: from the rude and bloody escutcheons of the ancient Briton to the ensigns of Norman chivalry, and from these to admiralty stars and civic honours. The changes which civilization has made in its progress through the world, have left their impressions upon these stones and marbles. On the monument where each great man rests, his age has uttered its language; and among such numbers of the dead there is the language of many ages. England speaks from its barbarity, its revolutions, and its newest civilization

« السابقةمتابعة »