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There is also a solemn respect paid by the traveler to the passing funeral in these sequestered places; for such spectacles, occurring among the quiet abodes of Nature, sink deep into the soul. As the mourning train approaches, he pauses, uncovered, to let it go by; he then follows silently in the rear; sometimes quite to the grave, at other times for a few hundred yards, and having paid this tribute of respect to the deceased, turns and resumes his journey.
The rich vein of melancholy which runs through the English character, and gives it some of its most touching and ennobling graces, is finely evidenced in these pathetic customs, and in the solicitude shown by the common people for an honored and peaceful grave. The humblest peasant, whatever may be his lowly lot while living, is anxious that some little respect may be paid to his remains. Sir Thomas Overbury, describing the “faire and happy milkmaid,” observes, “Thus lives she, and all her care is that she may die in the spring time, to have store of flowers stucke upon her winding-sheet.” The poets, too, who always breathe the feeling of a nation, continually advert to this fond solicitude about the grave. In “ The Maid's Tragedy,” by Beaumont and Fletcher, there is a beautiful instance of the kind, describing the capricious melancholy of a broken-hearted girl.
When she sees a bank
The custom of decorating graves was once universally prevalent: osiers were carefully bent over them to keep the turf uninjured, and about them were planted evergreens and flowers. “We adorn their graves," says Evelyn, in his Sylva, “with flowers and redolent plants, just emblems of the life of man, which has been compared in Holy Scriptures to those fading beauties whose roots, being buried in dishonor, rise again in glory." This usage has now become extremely rare in England; but it may still be met with in the churchyards of retired villages among the Welsh mountains; and I recollect an instance of it at the small town of Ruthven, which lies at the head of the beautiful vale of Clewyd. I have been told also by a friend, who was present at the funeral of a young girl in Glamorganshire, that the female attendants had their aprons full of flowers, which, as soon as the body was interred, they stuck about the grave.
He noticed several graves which had been decorated in the same manner. As the flowers had been merely stuck in the ground, and not planted, they had soon withered, and might be seen in various states of decay; some drooping, others quite perished. They were afterward to be supplanted by holly, rosemary, and other evergreens; which on some graves had grown to great luxuriance, and overshadowed the tombstones.
There was formerly a melancholy fancifulness in the arrangement of these rustic offerings, that had something in it truly poetical. The rose was sometimes blended with the lily, to form a general em
blem of frail mortality. “This sweet flower," said Evelyn, "borne on a branch set with thorns, and accompanied with the lily, are natural hieroglyphics of our fugitive, umbratile, anxious, and transitory life, which, making so fair a show for a time, is not yet without its thorns and crosses.” The nature and color of the flowers, and of the ribbons with which they are tied, had often a particular reference to the qualities or story of the deceased, or were expressive of the feelings of the mourner. In an old poem, entitled “Corydon's Doleful Knell," a lover specifies the decorations he intends to use:
A garland shall be framed
By Art and Nature's skill,
In token of good will.
On it I will bestow:
With her to grave shall go.
The rarest ever seen;
I'll keep them fresh and green.
The white rose, we are told, was planted at the grave of a virgin; her chaplet was tied with white ribbons, in token of her spotless innocence; though sometimes black ribbons were intermingled, to bespeak the grief of the survivors. The red rose was occasionally used in remembrance of such as had been remarkable for benevolence; but roses in general were appropriated to the graves of lovers. Eve
lyn tells us that the custom was not altogether extinct in his time, near his dwelling in the county of Surrey, "where the maidens yearly planted and decked the graves of their defunct sweethearts with rose-bushes." And Camden likewise remarks in his Brittania: “Here is also a certain custom, observed time out of mind, of planting rose-trees upon the graves, especially by the young men and maids who have lost their loves; so that this churchyard is now full of them.”
When the deceased had been unhappy in their loves, emblems of a more gloomy character were used, such as the yew and cypress; and if flowers were strewn they were of the most melancholy colors. Thus, in poems by Thomas Stanley, Esq. (published in 1651), is the following stanza:
Forsaken cypresse and yewo;
In “The Maid's Tragedy," a pathetic little air is introduced illustrative of this mode of decorating the funerals of females who have been disappointed in love.
Lay a garland on my hearse
Of the dismal yew,
Say I died true.
From my hour of birth.
Lightly, gentle earth.
The natural effect of sorrow over the dead is to refine and elevate the mind; and we have a proof of it in the purity of sentiment and the unaffected elegance of thought which pervaded the whole of these funeral observances. Thus, it was an especial precaution that none but sweet-scented evergreens and flowers should be employed. The intention seems to have been to soften the horrors of the tomb, to beguile the mind from brooding over the disgraces of perishing mortality, and to associate the memory of the deceased with the most delicate and beautiful objects in Nature. There is a dismal process going on in the grave, ere dust can return to its kindred dust, which the imagination shrinks from contemplating; and we seek still to think of the form we have loved, with those refined associations which it awakened when blooming before us in youth and beauty. “Lay her i' the earth,” says Laertes of his virgin sister,
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
Herrick, also, in his “Dirge of Jephtha," pours forth a fragrant flow of poetical thought and image, which in a manner embalms the dead in the recollections of the living.
Sleep in thy peace, thy bed of spice,