« VorigeDoorgaan »
The simple poor
Still have a sacred prejudice which chimes
Should drop its tranquil, trembling, farewell tear
In Catholic countries and in religious communities, processions for the dead draw often crowds to visit, for a religious purpose, cemeteries, which themselves, when ancient by reason of their porticoes, arcades, and chapels, are visible witnesses of the universality and antiquity of prayer for the dead; since originally, as people met there to perform duties of religion, it was necessary to supply them with shelter from the weather, which was the reason why these oratories and piazzas were erected. At Grandmont supplications of this kind used to be made daily; the first after prime, the second after vespers, the third before complin. To no strange brother arriving was any salutation given until he was led into the cemetery to pray for the dead. We see from the history of Madame de Longueville how the great ladies of France used to make a custom of visiting frequently the tombs of the Carmelite nuns whom they had known. The queen mother, Anne herself, says, "I often go to the tomb of Mother Magdalen, and I never fail to do so on the anniversary of her decease, whatever may be the number of affairs on that day; and I have often conducted to it the king, my son." Wherever the ancient religion has votaries among the population, there are always some kind, constant friends visiting, as it were, the dead. Nature, indeed, herself will sometimes not be outdone in this affection. Where do you hasten, sorrowful sister? The answer may be,
Thither where he lies buried!
That single spot is the whole world to me." Then follow through the hallowed grove, and you will hear perhaps,
"Now speak to me again! We loved so well-
Perhaps we shall catch an echo of that older lamentation,
Gone to his death-bed
All under the willowe tree."
* Mrs. Hemans.
But it is at All Souls that the Catholic part of the inhabitants seem to desert the busy thoroughfares of the living for the calm, silent city of the dead. Then they are invited to do so, and take the funeral path that leads to household graves; for on that day death would have us throng unto her palaces, and court her crowded sepulchres. The dew is still on the grass, the columns and images glitter in the golden light, and
The merry lark has pour'd
His early song against yon breezy sky
Every variety of human class and age is met here-from the prince to the mendicant, from the aged mourning creature shuffling along with ivory-headed wand, to the poor girl who has just put on her stifling widow's weed.
"Yet mournfully surviving all,
A flower upon a ruin's wall,
A friendless thing whose lot is cast,
Sad but unchanged through good and ill,
"And, oh! not wholly lost the heart
The crowd that comes along the road, to use the words of a
the people, is it not to be feared that owing to instructions given by the interested in modern systems and manners rising out of them, Kensal-green and Norwood receive few special visitors who seek communion there with friends departed, each of whom with a double truth may say, in the words of the office, "nec aspiciet me visus hominis?" Many have adopted a new maxim, saying, in reference to them, "De non apparentibus et non existentibus eadem est ratio."
"Les morts durent bien peu: laissons-les sous la pierre !
Moins vite qu'en nos cœurs !"
Their only visitors now seem to be moving shadows on the grass and glossy bees at noon. Alas! alas! the beloved ones are alone, mouldering upon the skirts of human nature-far from the holy mass, far from all little sounds of life. The chapel bell is strange to them, and those whom they once so doated on are distant in a new humanity, which has removed itself from all communion with the dead. Their surviving friend is an honest gentleman, but he is never at leisure to be himself, he has such tides of business : or he is a foe to popery and enslaved by dogmatic formulas, and would deem it superstitious to visit through religion such a place. Though he may hear of well-attested, modern instances like that of Eisengrun, who said he was enjoined by an apparition to go to the Catholic cemetery of Neckarsteinach, and repeat certain words before a certain tomb there-the truth of whose statement was maintained before a judicial court, composed of shrewd, practical men, wholly uninterested, who decided in favour of an impression which seemed to justify what is produced with such effect in some of the most beautiful poems that our literature can boast of he remains obdurate and unbelieving, while only the curious and impertinent now rudely press into the confines of forsaken graves. It would not be so, companion, if the tenderness of English hearts were given by Catholicism a direction, in regard to departed friends, beyond a mere sentimental indulgence, of which instinctively they feel the vanity. Let them only once know that their kindest office is to pray for them, and those who, living, were their garland's chiefest flower, and in their death hath buried their delights, would still be objects of an active as well as tender solicitude. We should then see the busiest men and youths stealing an hour from their drudgery to visit some companion's grave; we should then see not alone some pretty, sad, talking boy, but fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and sweethearts, kneel and gaze upon these tombs, as if" each youth and tender maiden whom they once thought fair, with every friend and fellow-woodlander, passed like a dream before them.” Ποῦ δὲ οἱ καλοί εἰσιν, ἢ αἱ καλαί; asks Menip
pus in the Shades. He was shown Hyacinthus and Narcissus, and Helen and Leda. We, too, remembering those who once lived with us may be moved here to ask the same question, and when shown the spot not to answer cynically, like him, ỏσrā μόνον ὁρῶ, καὶ κρανία, τῶν σαρκῶν γυμνὰ, ὅμοια τὰ πολλά, but to believe that their beauty is now glorified and eternal. It is related of Luca Signorelli, that he had a son killed in Cortona, a youth of singular comeliness in face and person, whom he tenderly loved. In his deep grief, the father caused his child to be stript naked, and with extraordinary constancy of soul, uttering no complaint and shedding no tear, painted his portrait, to the end that he might still have the power of contemplating, by means of the work of his own hands, that which nature had given him, but which an adverse fortune had taken away. Even so would those persons gaze here, painting in their imagination the fair blue eyes, the dark or flaxen curls, the graceful form of those whom they loved dearer than all things else in life. Ah, how many poor lovers would they trace lying side by side perhaps !
"Such thousands of shut eyes in order placed;
Such ranges of white feet, and patient lips
All pale-for here death each blossom nips.
They'd mark their brows and foreheads; see their hair
And each one's gentle wrists with reverence
Put crosswise to its heart."
This visiting of places where some of the departed may be even hovering near, has a natural attraction, and seems justified by the sense of the people still acquiescing in the ancient opinion that the souls of men, on being disengaged from the bodies, passing into a middle state, which implies, perhaps, not a place, but a condition of desiring, longing, asking, and praying, may not be far removed from the earth, which they can revisit, drawn by affection and the memory of the past. Popular and philosophic views seem to agree in favouring the opinion that as even here our spirits are where our thoughts and affections are, so may be our souls after leaving the body, as the old Greek says, though without meriting his ridicule, ἐκείνων μεμνημένοι τῶν ἄνω, since, as he represents them saying of themselves, kai áπoðaνόντες ἔτι μέμνηνται καὶ περιέχονται τῶν ἄνω. Who can disprove that the dead may sometimes also break through the boundaries that hem in the ethereal crowds; and, as if by trespass, in single instances infringe upon the ground of common corporeal life? In all ages of the world it has been thought that they retain their personality, their human form, and their interest in those who had been dear to them on earth, that they mourn over duties neglected and errors committed; and that they some
times seek through the instrumentality of the living to repair injuries. But, as a modern author says, "What is in some countries generally called the religious world, is so engrossed by its struggles for power and money, or by its sectarian disputes and enmities, and so narrowed and circumscribed by what it deems dogmatic orthodoxies, that it has neither inclination nor liberty to turn back or look around, and endeavour to gather up from past records and present observation, such hints as are now and again dropt in our path to give us an intimation of what the truth may be." Central principles, then, have this immense attraction, that they sanction what mankind has always believed, and is still inclined to believe, on this head, and that they keep alive, at least by a yearly commemoration, the recollection of our deceased friends. Catholics have the day of All Souls-to the dead they believe devoutly, and to the living they visibly perceive, affording an immense consolation. Then upon
"A dreary morning they take this way
Into the breezy clouds, to weep and pray."
The path is still as the grave; men can recollect themselves, recollect the dead, and feel that eternity is not a dream. Then they go about the cemeteries, where lamps lend light to grubs and eyeless skulls, like that torch which burned in the Capels' monument. Then are some seen to open these dead men's tombs-these houses that last till doomsday; to enter past the iron door, and to kneel down in prayer. Thus they are familiarized with death; the place no longer yielding terror, though full of vaults and ancient receptacles, where, for these many hundred years perhaps, the bones of all their buried ancestors are packed. There are flowers, and crosses, and holy pictures, amidst forefathers' joints and by the side of some great kinsman's bone, perhaps laid bare by dirty shovels; and though the memory of some be green, yet so far doth discretion fight with nature, that we with wisest sorrow think on him, together with ourselves; and thus with their veiled lids sons seek for noble fathers, friends for companions, the betrothed for lovers, in the dust, having that within which passeth show-an understanding schooled-no peevish opposition; but a heart loving heaven, loving the dead, loving nature, loving all, and therefore unconsciously forethoughtful of itself.
But let us walk on
"The dead are in their silent graves,
And the dew is cold above,
And the living weep and sigh,
Over dust that once was love *."