صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

know, in historic literature. Our author traces the rise of skepticism and the decline of the royal power in England, the workings of the protective spirit in England and France, the causes, remote and proximate, of the French Revolution, all with the most consummate skill. In the case of Spain, he sets before us in vivid colors the utter impotence of government to direct social progress. He describes in bold outlines the course of philosophic investigation among the Scotch, and the influence of their habits of thought upon their general condition. Everywhere, in this part of the work, we see the touches of a master ; everywhere we find something to instruct and entertain. Had Mr. Buckle written nothing more, these chapters alone would suffice to make his name immortal. Considered merely as historic pictures, they rival any thing in Gibbon or Grote.

We have not criticised at length Mr. Buckle's first law, because we have no restrictions to place upon it, and because it may be found demonstrated, as completely as possible, in Mr. Buckle's own work. As the result of our examination into his other laws, we have found that the second contains no truth whatever, being supported by a tangled chain of sophisms, every link in which is unsound; but that the third and fourth are strictly true, if limited to the period of which Mr. Buckle treats. The first law did not originate with him, and the second he has failed to establish ; but the third and fourth may take their places as important additions to our knowledge of human history. This is the lasting service which Mr. Buckle has already rendered to science.

With respect to the tendency of Mr. Buckle's work, an unprejudiced mind can have but one opinion. It is calculated to awaken independent thought, and to diffuse a spirit of scientific inquiry. *Written in an easy and elegant style, it will be read with pleasure by many who would not otherwise have the patience to go through with the subjects of which it treats. Thus, grand and startling in its views, impressive and charming in its eloquence, it cannot fail to arouse many a slumbering mind to intellectual effort. Such has its tendency already been, and such it will continue to be. Indeed, with Mr. Buckle’s diligence, his honesty, his freedom of thought, his bold outspokenness, his hearty admiration for whatever is good and great in man, the tendency of his work could not well be otherwise. All these are qualities which will be remembered, when his inaccuracies and errors, however great, shall be forgotten. And whatever may be thought about the correctness or incorrectness of Mr. Buckle's opinions, the world cannot be long in coming to the conclusion, that his “ History of Civilization in England” is a great and noble book, written by a great and noble man.

Art. III.-1. Essay on Epitaphs. By Samuel Johnson, LL. D. 2. Dart's History of Westminster Abbey, its Monuments and Epi

taphs. London. 3. A Collection of American Epitaphs and Inscriptions. By

TIMOTHY ALDEN. 4. Burning the Dead ; or, Urn Sepulture, Religiously, Socially,

and generally considered ; with Suggestions for a revival of the practice, as a sanitary measure. By a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons. London.

In spite of the assertion of Johnson, that all important epitaphs should be written in a dead language, as then they would live forever, our mother tongue is ever preferable for that purpose. Let grandeur, in this instance, at least, be made subservient to usefulness. Better far a valuble precept, though couched in the homeliest rhetoric that ever extorted a smile, than an inane platitude disguised in the most faultless Latin or Greek. The two simple epitaphs recorded by Leigh Richmond in “ The Little Cottager,” have done more service to the world than all the classic Latin and mystagogic philosophy that ever, through cathedral arch or academic grove, trumpeted real or suppositious virtue. There is a vast amount of sentiment wasted upon tomb-stones which might be put to far better purpose. Of what general utility, for

instance, is that hackneyed passage from Pope, which so frequently challenges our sympathy

“How loved, how honored once, avails thee not,” &c., &c. ? And the famous distich from Young

"Early, bright, transient, chaste, as morning dew,

She sparkled, was exhaled, and went to heaven”. is, to the chance wayfarer, an unproven assertion. · We grant that they are both nice bits of poetry, polished and euphothe emblem itself, awaken but emotions of horror. One exception to the general spirit of gloom was the symbol of the cross, which they regarded as the emblem of a future life.

Our immediate ancestors, too, enjoyed their day of obitual design, in which they must stand acquitted of the imputation of being plagiarists from the stern Egyptians. Plagiarists ! not they ; in the grotesque and comic they revelled, in a way that would scandalize the shade of the most humorsome of the Ptolemies. Not escaped the observant eye, surely, have the gems of fat, chubby cherubs, with stubby wings, and mouths pursed up in Borean efforts on tall trumpets; and of languid-looking effigies, sailing aloft on luxurious featherbed clouds, that adorn every old burial-ground. Of by no means so mirth-provoking a nature are the contemporaneous skull and cross-bones, often accompanied with the grim warning, “ Memento mori," and the representation of the last enemy, bald-pated and scythe-armed, that tone down, by their charnelesque ugliness, the too lively effect of the other artistic figures.

Dr. Johnson, in his Essay on Epitaphs, recommends, in their composition, terseness, point, simplicity, and, more particularly, truth. Some are positive satires, so glaringly do they diverge from the last-named virtue. He quotes a very ancient one, which he deems a model of its kind :

“Orate pro anima-miserrimi

Peccatoris." It was an address, he affirms, to the last degree striking and solemn, as it flowed naturally from the religion then believed, and awakened in the reader sentiments of benevolence for the deceased, and of concern for his own happiness. While we do not agree with the Spartans and Romans, who forbade epitaphs to any save those who fell in conflict, or had distinguished themselves by miraculous virtues or state services, yet would we wish a censorship established, which might restrict to the expression of religious hope or pious love the memorials of the departed. High-flown adulations of the dead are always in questionable taste; all displays of facetia are revolting ; and essentially vile are profane or ludicrous metaphor, and the vulgar doggerels which often disfigure the monumental marble. It would be a sorry compliment to a person of literary erudition to suppose him to be ignorant of this pathetic jewel which has graced so many stones and

prefaced so many obituary notices, with variations almost incredible :

" Affliction sore long time he bore,
Physicians' aid was vain;
Till Heaven did please to give him ease,
And free him from his pain, pain, pain,

And free him from his pain.'
Or this :

An honest man, a husband dear,

And a good Christian slumbers here." The crime of desecrating the most sacred spot on earth by the use of such fulsome atrocities should be punishable by fine or imprisonment. Here is a sweet little

poem

from a stone in Derbyshire, England :

“The man that lies beneath this stone
Was for his honesty well known;
An industrious wife he had, and children kind,
Which gave great satisfaction to his mind;
His debts he paid ; his grave you see!

Prepare yourself to follow he!” Viewing it from all points, it is a profoundly suggestive paragraph, and by no means clear of the suspicion of being a bright scintillation of the genius of said " industrious wife.” The fact, however, that “ his debts he paid,” is an important item of information, highly creditable to his integrity of soul, and forcibly reminds one of a circumstance related in the history of an illustrious prince-warrior, a son of the Fourth English Henry, who, dying while absent on a crusade, gave orders that his body should not receive sepulture until his debts were all paid. Were this observance followed in our day, an undesirable and unwholesome state of things would, it is to be feared, prevail. We remember of once reading an epitaph dedicated by a French woman to the memory of her spouse—we fear it may be found in the Cemetery of Père la Chaise—which struck us as being extremely comical. After recording his name and virtues, it proceeds to say that his disconsolate relict continues his late traffic in teas and groceries, we think) in the Rue something, where she will sell on the most accommodating terms.

Terseness is frequently more expressive than the greatest redundancy of language, and on tombs it may be employed with finest effect. Byron, in a letter to a friend, adverts to the profound impression produced on his mind by seeing upon some tombs sententious inscriptions. He says: “Some

of the epitaphs at the Certosa Cemetery, at Ferrara, pleased me more than the more splendid monuments at Bologna; for instance:

"Martini Luigi

Implora pace.' Can any thing be more full of pathos ? I hope whoever may survive me will see those two words, and no more, put over me.” To those who believe in the efficacy of prayers for the repose of the departed, the words are fraught with import, though to us they are no more than a gentle sentiment. On a nameless monument in Worcester Cathedral, the single word “ Miserrimus” claims from the passing stranger the tribute of a sigh; and “O rare Ben Jonson!” which, engraven upon a tablet that cost eighteen pence, may be seen any day at Westminster Abbey, is a well-known instance of conciseness. “Exit Burbage” is similarly laconic; but nothing can exceed in beauty an epitaph which a literary gentleman ordered should be inscribed upon his tomb-stone“ Finis." There is a certain fitness in the inscription which designates the sleeping-place of Tasso : " Here lie the bones of Tasso." It seems to disdain eulogium.

In Dart's erudite and celebrated History of Westminster Abbey, there is a poetical descant, tracing the progressive improvement in sepulchral architecture and monumental biography, from the earliest date of their commencement in England, down to the period at which the work was issued. Concerning the funeral customs of the very early ages, he says,

“But no vile epitaph bely'd the dead,

For with the corpse they enclos’d the lettered lead ;" showing that, at that rude period, the spirit of ostentation, which afterward so prevailed, was yet in a nascent state; for they merely carved the name of the deceased on a piece of lead, and laid it on the coffin.

A curious work, which lately fell into our hands, is entitled, “A Collection of American Epitaphs and Inscriptions, by Timothy Alden.” It contains some rare specimens of funeral lore. One of the most unique gems upon which it has ever been our fortune to light, is from the tomb-stone of an eccentric gentleman of Virginia, who expressly enjoined it upon his administrator to see these words engraved thereupon-he died about 1750: “Here lies the body of John

« السابقةمتابعة »