Page images
PDF
EPUB

ignorance was easily continued by craft. Habington indeed, who was a catholic, accounts for this famous odour with a poet's feeling, in lines which ennoble the subject

• What perfumes come
From the happy vault? In her sweet martyrdom
The nard breathes never so; nor so the rose
When the enamoured spring, by kissing, blows
Soft blushes on her cheek ; nor the early East
Vyeing with Paradise i' the phenix' nest.
These gentle perfumes usher in the day,
Which from the night of his discoloured clay
Breaks on the sudden; for a soul so bright
Of force must to her earth contribute light.
But if we are so far blind we cannot see
The wonder of this truth, yet let us be
Not infidels ; nor, like dull atheists, give
Ourselves so long to lust, till we believe
(To allay the grief of sin) that we shall fall
To a loath'd nothing in our funeral !
The bad man's death is horror; but the just

Keeps something of his glory in his dust. Mr. Hobhouse praises the Turks for the care with which they preserve the tombs of their kings. He describes the royal mausoleums as open at the top, having been so built that the rain may fall upon the Howers and herbs which are planted round the grave; but birds are kept out by a net-work of brass or of gilded wires. Did this fashion originate in a circumstance which Sir George Wheler relates ? We observed one monument,' he says, ' in the fairest and largest street of Constantinople, with the cuppalo covered only with a grate of wire, of which we had this account, that it was of Mahomet Capriuli, father to the present vizier, who settled the government, during the minority of the present emperor very near destruction, through the discontents and factions of the principal hagas, and the mutinies of the Janizarięs. Concerning whom, after his decease, being buried here, and having this stately monument of white marble covered with lead erected over his body, the Grand Signior and Grand Vizier had this dream both in the same night, to wit, that Capriuli came to them and earnestly begged of them a little water to refresh him, being in a burning heat. Of this the Grand Signior and Vizier told each other in the morning, and therefore thought fit to consult the Mufti what to do concerning it; who, according to their gross superstition, advised that he should have the roof of his sepulchre uncovered that the rain might descend on his body, thereby to quench the flames tormenting his soul. And this remedy the people, who smarted under his oppression, think he had great need of, supposing him to be tormented in the other world for the tyrannies and cruelties committed by him in this.' Muley Ishmael, the Morocco tyrant, intended to bave his coffin suspended by a chain from the roof of bis mausoleum, disdaining perhaps to commit it to the earth. The Mabommedans, in general, discover better taste than the Christians both in their mausoleums and burial-places—they never bury in their temples, nor within the walls of a town.

world were therefore

An inhabitant of Louvain desired that this epitaph might be placed over his remains :-Philippus Verheyen, Medicina Doctor et Professor, partem sui materialem hoc in cæmeterio condi voluit, ne templum dehonestaret aut nocivis halitibus inficeret. Requiescat in pace. The evil custom which he thus condemned grew out of the superstitious notions with which Christianity in the course of a few generations was corrupted. It had been forbidden in the pagan time; and Theodosius, after the triumph and establishment of Christianity, renewed the prohibition, upon the old and reasonable ground, that graves within the city were detrimental to the health of the living, and that monuments by the wayside presented salutary memorials to the traveller. The law was passed when the practices of burning and of interment were both in use:- Omnia quæ supra terram urnis clausa, vel sarcofagis corpora detinentur, extra urbem delata ponantur; ut et humanitatis instar exhibeant, et relinquunt incolarum domicilio sanctitatem. Any person who should disobey this law was to forfeit the third part of his patrimony, and the undertaker who directed a funeral contrary to the prohibition was to be fined forty pounds of gold. The gradual introduction of the present practice is traced by Bingham with his usual erudition. It began in the respect paid to the remains of martyrs, which originated in a noble feeling, but soon degenerated into the grossest creature-worship, and produced frauds and follies innumerable,—and incredible, if the proofs were not in existence, and the facts themselves at this day to be seen, by those who have eyes and do not wilfully close them upon a fact so flagrant as the abominations of the Romish idolatry. Churches were first erected over the ashes or bodies of saints and martyrs, or the remains were translated to the churches. As the Devil began to act a greater part in hagiographic romance, it was thought good policy to be buried as near as possible to the remains of those great champions who had carried on the war against him with such heroism while they were living, and whose very dust and ashes he was believed to dread. Emperors and kings began by obtaining this protection for themselves,—most of them, indeed, in those ages having good reason to desire all the protection they could get : but they were contented with a place in the porch, or the galilee. In the sixth century, the common people were allowed places in the churchyard, and even under the walls of the church. By the time of Charlemagne, they had got into the church; and an attempt was made at the council of Fribur, a synod held in his reign, to put a stop to the abuse. The rule wbich was made at that synod shows to what an extent the practice had prevailed: it said that such bodies as were already buried in the church might not be cast out, but that the pavement should be so made over the grave that no vestige of it should appear; and if this could not be done without great difficulty, because of the multitude of bodies which had recently been deposited there, the church itself was then to be unchurched, and turned into a polyandrium or cemetery, and the altars removed, and set up in some other place, where the sacrifice might be religiously offered to God. It appears, however, from this synod, that the clergy had established for themselves a privilege of lying in the church, for it is the burial of laymen, there which is prohibited. In the year 900, the Emperor had repealed all former laws upon this subject : burial within the cities was then expressly permitted, and graves in the churches were soon allowed to all persons who could pay for them, though the saints made one effort to keep that ground for themselves. A son of Earl Harold was deposited in the church where St. Dunstạn was laid, and the boy had been anointed as a catechumen before his death. The saint, who it seems stood upon his punctilios as pertinaciously when dead as he did when he was alive, made his appearance twice to complain that he could not rest in his grave, because of the stench of the young pagan: but other saints acquiesced in this breach of their privileges. From that time, the manifold evils of this senseless custom have been repeatedly exposed : it continues to prevail nevertheless, and will continue till the inconvenience of it becomes so great as to render an effectual change necessary.

In some countries, this preference for lying under cover of the church is carried to such an excess, that churchyards are not in use; and when the vaults are full, they are emptied in a manner shocking to humanity, though quick lime is, in many places, thrown upon the bodies to hasten their decomposition. Labat describes a funeral at which he was present in Tivoli:-coffins were seldom used there, because room for them could not be afforded! and when the vault was opened to receive the corpse

of

a woman, the body of a man was exposed, lying upon others, so closely packed that the uppermost completely filled the grave, and was in contact with the stone when it was in its place. The becamorto and his assistants deliberated whether they should close up that vault and open another ; but they knew that every receptacle was equally full, an unusual mortality having prevailed that season;-they therefore made room by actual pressure, though such poisonous exhalations were disengaged by the operation, that even these incarnate ghowls themselves were compelled to rush out of the church, and let the insupportable odour diffuse itself, before they could replace the stone. It is true, that nothing so indecent as this has happened or could be suffered in England; yet in large towns, and more especially in the metropolis, it has become more difficult to find room for the dead than for the living. The Commissioners for the Improvements in Westminster reported to Parliament in 1814, that St. Margaret's churchyard could not, consistently with the health of the neighbourhood, be used much longer as a burying ground, ‘for that it was with the greatest difficulty a vacant place could at any time be found for strangers; the family graves generally would not admit of more than one interment; and many of them were then too full, for the reception of any men ber of the family to which they belonged.' There are many churchyards in which the soil has been raised several feet above the level of the adjoining street, by the continual accumulation of mortal matter; and there are others, in which the ground is actually probed with a borer before a grave is opened! In these things the most barbarous savages might reasonably be shocked at our barbarity. Many tons of human bones every year are sent from London to the north,* where they are crushed in mills contrived for the purpose, and used as manure. Yet with all this clearance the number of the dead increases in such frightful disproportion to the space which we allot for them, that the question has been started whether a sexton may not refuse to admit iron coffins into a burial place, because by this means, the deceased take a fee-simple in the ground which was only granted for a term of years! The patentee accordingly assures the public that, “he has taken Dr. Jenner's opinion (of Doctors Commons) upon the point, which is that no legal objection can be made to the interment of dead bodies on account of the materials whereof the coffins in which they are deposited may be composed." A curious expedient has been found at Shields and Sunderland: the ships which return to those ports in ballast were at a loss where to discharge it, and had of late years been compelled to pay for the use of the ground on which they threw it out: the burial grounds were full; it was recollected that the ballast would be useful there, and accordingly it has been laid upon one layer of dead to such a depth, that graves for a second tier are now dug in the new soil.

Fifty years ago a French writer said that the expenses of inter* The eagerness of English agriculturists to obtain this manure (human bones). and the cupidity of foreigners in supplying it, is such as to induce the latter to rob the tombs of their forefathers. Bones of all descriptions are imported, and pieces of halfdecayed coffin attire are found among them.'-Letter from G esby in Lincolnshire.

ment

ment in London were greatly increased by the necessity of digging the graves deep, for the sake of security from the surgeons. Ames the antiquary, from some such feeling, was deposited in the churchyard of St. George's in the East, in what is called virgin earth, at the depth of eight feet, and in a stone coffin. A fatal accident occurred at Clerkenwell a few years ago in digging a grave to a greater depth than this; the sides fell in, and buried the labourer. Yet there has existed a prejudice against new churchyards! No person was interred in the cemetery of St. George's, Queen Square, till the ground was broken för Mr. Nelson, the well known religious writer: his character for piety reconciled others to the spot. People like to be buried in company, and in good company. The dissenters talk of the funeral honours of Bunhill Fields, which are their Campo Santo. Messrs. Bogue and Bennet call it, that first of repositories of the dead in Christ, which will at the resurrection of the just give up so many bodies of the saints to be made like to the glorious body of the Redeemer.' John Bunyan was buried there; and so numerous,' says the Barrister, have been and still are, the dying requests of his idolaters to be buried as near as possible to the place of his interment, that it is not now possible to obtain a grave near him, the whole surrounding earth being entirely preoccupied by dead bodies to a very considerable distance.'

The excellent Evelyn regretted greatly that after the fire of London advantage had not been taken of that calamity to rid the city of its burial places, and establish a necropolis without the walls. 'I yet cannot but deplore,' says he in his Silva,' that when that spacious area was so long a rasa tabula, the churchyards had not been banished to the north walls of the city, where a grated inclosure of competent breadth for a mile in length might have served for an universal cemetery to all the parishes, distinguished by the like separations, and with ample walks of trees, the walks adorned with monuments, inscriptions and titles, apt for contemplation and memory of the defunct, and that wise and excellent law of the Twelve Tables restored and renewed.' Such a funeral grove, with proper regulations and careful keeping, would have been an ornament and an honour to the metropolis, and might at this time have been as characteristic of the English as the Catacombs at Paris are of the French.

Wretchedly as London is provided with cemeteries, Paris was in a much worse state before its quarries were converted into receptacles for the remains of the dead. For many centuries that great city had only one churchyard, that of St. Innocent's, originally a piece of the royal domains lying without the walls, and given by one of the first French kings as a burial place to the citizens, in an age when interments within the city were forbidden. Philip

Augustus

« PreviousContinue »