"FAREWELL, deep Valley, with thy one rude House, And its small lot of life-supporting fields, And guardian rocks!--Farewell, attractive seat! To the still influx of the morning light Open, and day's pure cheerfulness, but veiled From human observation, as if yet Primeval forests wrapped thee round with dark Impenetrable shade; once more farewell, Majestic circuit, beautiful abyss, By Nature destined from the birth of things 10 For quietness profound!" Upon the side Of that brown ridge, sole outlet of the vale Which foot of boldest stranger would attempt, Lingering behind my comrades, thus I breathed A parting tribute to a spot that seemed Like the fixed centre of a troubled world. Again I halted with reverted eyes; The chain that would not slacken, was at length Snapt,--and, pursuing leisurely my way, How vain, thought I, is it by change of place 20 To seek that comfort which the mind denies; Yet trial and temptation oft are shunned Wisely; and by such tenure do we hold Frail life's possessions, that even they whose fate Yields no peculiar reason of complaint Might, by the promise that is here, be won To steal from active duties, and embrace Obscurity, and undisturbed repose. --Knowledge, methinks, in these disordered times, Should be allowed a privilege to have 30 Her anchorites, like piety of old; Men, who, from faction sacred, and unstained By war, might, if so minded, turn aside Uncensured, and subsist, a scattered few Living to God and nature, and content With that communion. Consecrated be The spots where such abide! But happier still The Man, whom, furthermore, a hope attends That meditation and research may guide His privacy to principles and powers 40 Discovered or invented; or set forth, Through his acquaintance with the ways of truth, In lucid order; so that, when his course Is run, some faithful eulogist may say, He sought not praise, and praise did overlook His unobtrusive merit; but his life, Sweet to himself, was exercised in good That shall survive his name and memory. Acknowledgments of gratitude sincere Accompanied these musings; fervent thanks 50 For my own peaceful lot and happy choice; A choice that from the passions of the world Withdrew, and fixed me in a still retreat; Sheltered, but not to social duties lost, Secluded, but not buried; and with song Cheering my days, and with industrious thought; With the ever-welcome company of books; With virtuous friendship's soul-sustaining aid, And with the blessings of domestic love. Thus occupied in mind I paced along, 60 Following the rugged road, by sledge or wheel Worn in the moorland, till I overtook My two Associates, in the morning sunshine Halting together on a rocky knoll, Whence the bare road descended rapidly To the green meadows of another vale. Here did our pensive Host put forth his hand In sign of farewell. "Nay," the old Man said, "The fragrant air its coolness still retains; The herds and flocks are yet abroad to crop 70 The dewy grass; you cannot leave us now, We must not part at this inviting hour." He yielded, though reluctant; for his mind Instinctively disposed him to retire To his own covert; as a billow, heaved Upon the beach, rolls back into the sea. --So we descend: and winding round a rock Attain a point that showed the valley--stretched In length before us; and, not distant far, Upon a rising ground a grey church-tower, 80 Whose battlements were screened by tufted trees. And towards a crystal Mere, that lay beyond Among steep hills and woods embosomed, flowed A copious stream with boldly-winding course; Here traceable, there hidden--there again To sight restored, and glittering in the sun. On the stream's bank, and everywhere, appeared Fair dwellings, single, or in social knots; Some scattered o'er the level, others perched On the hill sides, a cheerful quiet scene, 90 Now in its morning purity arrayed. "As 'mid some happy valley of the Alps," Said I, "once happy, ere tyrannic power, Wantonly breaking in upon the Swiss, Destroyed their unoffending commonwealth, A popular equality reigns here, Save for yon stately House beneath whose roof A rural lord might dwell."--"No feudal pomp, Or power," replied the Wanderer, "to that House Belongs, but there in his allotted Home 100 Abides, from year to year, a genuine Priest, The shepherd of his flock; or, as a king Is styled, when most affectionately praised, The father of his people. Such is he; And rich and poor, and young and old, rejoice Under his spiritual sway. He hath vouchsafed To me some portion of a kind regard; And something also of his inner mind Hath he imparted--but I speak of him As he is known to all. The calm delights 110 Of unambitious piety he chose, And learning's solid dignity; though born Of knightly race, nor wanting powerful friends. Hither, in prime of manhood, he withdrew From academic bowers. He loved the spot-- Who does not love his native soil?--he prized The ancient rural character, composed Of simple manners, feelings unsupprest And undisguised, and strong and serious thought A character reflected in himself, 120 With such embellishment as well beseems His rank and sacred function. This deep vale Winds far in reaches hidden from our sight, And one a turreted manorial hall Adorns, in which the good Man's ancestors Have dwelt through ages, Patrons of this Cure. To them, and to his own judicious pains, The Vicar's dwelling, and the whole domain, Owes that presiding aspect which might well Attract your notice; statelier than could else 130 Have been bestowed, through course of common chance, On an unwealthy mountain Benefice." This said, oft pausing, we pursued our way; Nor reached the village-churchyard till the sun Travelling at steadier pace than ours, had risen Above the summits of the highest hills, And round our path darted oppressive beams. As chanced, the portals of the sacred Pile Stood open; and we entered. On my frame, At such transition from the fervid air, 140 A grateful coolness fell, that seemed to strike The heart, in concert with that temperate awe And natural reverence which the place inspired. Not raised in nice proportions was the pile, But large and massy; for duration built; With pillars crowded, and the roof upheld By naked rafters intricately crossed, Like leafless underboughs, in some thick wood, All withered by the depth of shade above. Admonitory texts inscribed the walls, 150 Each, in its ornamental scroll, enclosed; Each also crowned with winged heads--a pair Of rudely-painted Cherubim. The floor Of nave and aisle, in unpretending guise, Was occupied by oaken benches ranged In seemly rows; the chancel only showed Some vain distinctions, marks of earthly state By immemorial privilege allowed; Though with the Encincture's special sanctity But ill according. An heraldic shield, 160 Varying its tincture with the changeful light, Imbued the altar-window; fixed aloft A faded hatchment hung, and one by time Yet undiscoloured. A capacious pew Of sculptured oak stood here, with drapery lined; And marble monuments were here displayed Thronging the walls; and on the floor beneath Sepulchral stones appeared, with emblems graven And foot-worn epitaphs, and some with small And shining effigies of brass inlaid. 170 The tribute by these various records claimed, Duly we paid, each after each, and read The ordinary chronicle of birth, Office, alliance, and promotion--all Ending in dust; of upright magistrates, Grave doctors strenuous for the mother-church, And uncorrupted senators, alike To king and people true. A brazen plate, Not easily deciphered, told of one Whose course of earthly honour was begun 180 In quality of page among the train Of the eighth Henry, when he crossed the seas His royal state to show, and prove his strength In tournament, upon the fields of France. Another tablet registered the death, And praised the gallant bearing, of a Knight Tried in the sea-fights of the second Charles. Near this brave Knight his Father lay entombed; And, to the silent language giving voice, I read,--how in his manhood's earlier day 190 He, 'mid the afflictions of intestine war And rightful government subverted, found One only solace--that he had espoused A virtuous Lady tenderly beloved For her benign perfections; and yet more Endeared to him, for this, that, in her state Of wedlock richly crowned with Heaven's regard, She with a numerous issue filled his house, Who throve, like plants, uninjured by the storm That laid their country waste. No need to speak 200 Of less particular notices assigned To Youth or Maiden gone before their time, And Matrons and unwedded Sisters old; Whose charity and goodness were rehearsed In modest panegyric. "These dim lines, What would they tell?" said I,--but, from the task Of puzzling out that faded narrative, With whisper soft my venerable Friend Called me; and, looking down the darksome aisle, I saw the Tenant of the lonely vale 210 Standing apart; with curved arm reclined On the baptismal font; his pallid face Upturned, as if his mind were rapt, or lost In some abstraction;--gracefully he stood, The semblance bearing of a sculptured form That leans upon a monumental urn In peace, from morn to night, from year to year. Him from that posture did the Sexton rouse; Who entered, humming carelessly a tune, Continuation haply of the notes 220 That had beguiled the work from which he came, With spade and mattock o'er his shoulder hung; To be deposited, for future need, In their appointed place. The pale Recluse Withdrew; and straight we followed,--to a spot Where sun and shade were intermixed; for there A broad oak, stretching forth its leafy arms From an adjoining pasture, overhung Small space of that green churchyard with a light And pleasant awning. On the moss-grown wall 230 My ancient Friend and I together took Our seats; and thus the Solitary spake, Standing before us:-- "Did you note the mien Of that self-solaced, easy-hearted churl, Death's hireling, who scoops out his neighbour's grave, Or wraps an old acquaintance up in clay, All unconcerned as he would bind a sheaf, Or plant a tree. And did you hear his voice? I was abruptly summoned by the sound From some affecting images and thoughts, 240 Which then were silent; but crave utterance now. Much," he continued, with dejected look, "Much, yesterday, was said in glowing phrase, Of our sublime dependencies, and hopes For future states of being; and the wings Of speculation, joyfully outspread, Hovered above our destiny on earth: But stoop, and place the prospect of the soul In sober contrast with reality, And man's substantial life. If this mute earth 250 Of what it holds could speak, and every grave Were as a volume, shut, yet capable Of yielding its contents to eye and ear, We should recoil, stricken with sorrow and shame, To see disclosed, by such dread proof, how ill That which is done accords with what is known To reason, and by conscience is enjoined; How idly, how perversely, life's whole course, To this conclusion, deviates from the line, Or of the end stops short, proposed to all 260 At her aspiring outset. Mark the babe Not long accustomed to this breathing world; One that hath barely learned to shape a smile, Though yet irrational of soul, to grasp With tiny finger--to let fall a tear; And, as the heavy cloud of sleep dissolves, To stretch his limbs, bemocking, as might seem, The outward functions of intelligent man; A grave proficient in amusive feats Of puppetry, that from the lap declare 270 His expectations, and announce his claims To that inheritance which millions rue That they were ever born to! In due time A day of solemn ceremonial comes; When they, who for this Minor hold in trust Rights that transcend the loftiest heritage Of mere humanity, present their Charge, For this occasion daintily adorned, At the baptismal font. And when the pure And consecrating element hath cleansed 280 The original stain, the child is there received Into the second ark, Christ's church, with trust That he, from wrath redeemed, therein shall float Over the billows of this troublesome world To the fair land of everlasting life. Corrupt affections, covetous desires, Are all renounced; high as the thought of man Can carry virtue, virtue is professed; A dedication made, a promise given For due provision to control and guide, 290 And unremitting progress to ensure In holiness and truth." "You cannot blame," Here interposing fervently I said, "Rites which attest that Man by nature lies Bedded for good and evil in a gulf Fearfully low; nor will your judgment scorn Those services, whereby attempt is made To lift the creature toward that eminence On which, now fallen, erewhile in majesty He stood; or if not so, whose top serene 300 At least he feels 'tis given him to descry; Not without aspirations, evermore Returning, and injunctions from within Doubt to cast off and weariness; in trust That what the Soul perceives, if glory lost, May be, through pains and persevering hope, Recovered; or, if hitherto unknown, Lies within reach, and one day shall be gained." "I blame them not," he calmly answered--"no; The outward ritual and established forms 310 With which communities of men invest These inward feelings, and the aspiring vows To which the lips give public utterance Are both a natural process; and by me Shall pass uncensured; though the issue prove, Bringing from age to age its own reproach, Incongruous, impotent, and blank.--But, oh! If to be weak is to be wretched--miserable, As the lost Angel by a human voice Hath mournfully pronounced, then, in my mind, 320 Far better not to move at all than move By impulse sent from such illusive power,-- That finds and cannot fasten down; that grasps And is rejoiced, and loses while it grasps; That tempts, emboldens--for a time sustains, And then betrays; accuses and inflicts Remorseless punishment; and so retreads The inevitable circle: better far Than this, to graze the herb in thoughtless peace, By foresight or remembrance, undisturbed! 330 Philosophy! and thou more vaunted name Religion! with thy statelier retinue, Faith, Hope, and Charity--from the visible world Choose for your emblems whatsoe'er ye find Of safest guidance or of firmest trust-- The torch, the star, the anchor; nor except The cross itself, at whose unconscious feet The generations of mankind have knelt Ruefully seized, and shedding bitter tears, And through that conflict seeking rest--of you, 340 High-titled Powers, am I constrained to ask, Here standing, with the unvoyageable sky In faint reflection of infinitude Stretched overhead, and at my pensive feet A subterraneous magazine of bones, In whose dark vaults my own shall soon be laid, Where are your triumphs? your dominion where? And in what age admitted and confirmed? --Not for a happy land do I enquire, Island or grove, that hides a blessed few 350 Who, with obedience willing and sincere, To your serene authorities conform; But whom, I ask, of individual Souls, Have ye withdrawn from passion's crooked ways, Inspired, and thoroughly fortified?--If the heart Could be inspected to its inmost folds By sight undazzled with the glare of praise, Who shall be named--in the resplendent line Of sages, martyrs, confessors--the man Whom the best might of faith, wherever fixed, 360 For one day's little compass, has preserved From painful and discreditable shocks Of contradiction, from some vague desire Culpably cherished, or corrupt relapse To some unsanctioned fear?" "If this be so, And Man," said I, "be in his noblest shape Thus pitiably infirm; then, he who made, And who shall judge the creature, will forgive. --Yet, in its general tenor, your complaint Is all too true; and surely not misplaced: 370 For, from this pregnant spot of ground, such thoughts Rise to the notice of a serious mind By natural exhalation. With the dead In their repose, the living in their mirth, Who can reflect, unmoved, upon the round Of smooth and solemnized complacencies, By which, on Christian lands, from age to age Profession mocks performance. Earth is sick, And Heaven is weary, of the hollow words Which States and Kingdoms utter when they talk 380 Of truth and justice. Turn to private life And social neighbourhood; look we to ourselves; A light of duty shines on every day For all; and yet how few are warmed or cheered! How few who mingle with their fellow-men And still remain self-governed, and apart, Like this our honoured Friend; and thence acquire Right to expect his vigorous decline, That promises to the end a blest old age!" "Yet," with a smile of triumph thus exclaimed 390 The Solitary, "in the life of man, If to the poetry of common speech Faith may be given, we see as in a glass A true reflection of the circling year, With all its seasons. Grant that Spring is there, In spite of many a rough untoward blast, Hopeful and promising with buds and flowers; Yet where is glowing Summer's long rich day, That 'ought' to follow faithfully expressed? And mellow Autumn, charged with bounteous fruit, 400 Where is she imaged? in what favoured clime Her lavish pomp, and ripe magnificence? --Yet, while the better part is missed, the worse In man's autumnal season is set forth With a resemblance not to be denied, And that contents him; bowers that hear no more The voice of gladness, less and less supply Of outward sunshine and internal warmth; And, with this change, sharp air and falling leaves, Foretelling aged Winter's desolate sway. 410 How gay the habitations that bedeck This fertile valley! Not a house but seems To give assurance of content within; Embosomed happiness, and placid love; As if the sunshine of the day were met With answering brightness in the hearts of all Who walk this favoured ground. But chance-regards, And notice forced upon incurious ears; These, if these only, acting in despite Of the encomiums by my Friend pronounced 420 On humble life, forbid the judging mind To trust the smiling aspect of this fair And noiseless commonwealth. The simple race Of mountaineers (by nature's self removed From foul temptations, and by constant care Of a good shepherd tended as themselves Do tend their flocks) partake man's general lot With little mitigation. They escape, Perchance, the heavier woes of guilt; feel not The tedium of fantastic idleness: 430 Yet life, as with the multitude, with them Is fashioned like an ill-constructed tale; That on the outset wastes its gay desires, Its fair adventures, its enlivening hopes, And pleasant interests--for the sequel leaving Old things repeated with diminished grace; And all the laboured novelties at best Imperfect substitutes, whose use and power Evince the want and weakness whence they spring." While in this serious mood we held discourse, 440 The reverend Pastor toward the churchyard gate Approached; and, with a mild respectful air Of native cordiality, our Friend Advanced to greet him. With a gracious mien Was he received, and mutual joy prevailed. Awhile they stood in conference, and I guess That he, who now upon the mossy wall Sate by my side, had vanished, if a wish Could have transferred him to the flying clouds, Or the least penetrable hiding-place 450 In his own valley's rocky guardianship. --For me, I looked upon the pair, well pleased: Nature had framed them both, and both were marked By circumstance, with intermixture fine Of contrast and resemblance. To an oak Hardy and grand, a weather-beaten oak, Fresh in the strength and majesty of age, One might be likened: flourishing appeared, Though somewhat past the fulness of his prime, The other--like a stately sycamore, 460 That spreads, in gentle pomp, its honied shade. A general greeting was exchanged; and soon The Pastor learned that his approach had given A welcome interruption to discourse Grave, and in truth too often sad.--"Is Man A child of hope? Do generations press On generations, without progress made? Halts the individual, ere his hairs be grey, Perforce? Are we a creature in whom good Preponderates, or evil? Doth the will 470 Acknowledge reason's law? A living power Is virtue, or no better than a name, Fleeting as health or beauty, and unsound? So that the only substance which remains, (For thus the tenor of complaint hath run) Among so many shadows, are the pains And penalties of miserable life, Doomed to decay, and then expire in dust! --Our cogitations, this way have been drawn, These are the points," the Wanderer said, "on which 480 Our inquest turns.--Accord, good Sir! the light Of your experience to dispel this gloom: By your persuasive wisdom shall the heart That frets, or languishes, be stilled and cheered." "Our nature," said the Priest, in mild reply, "Angels nay weigh and fathom: they perceive, With undistempered and unclouded spirit, The object as it is; but, for ourselves, That speculative height 'we' may not reach. The good and evil are our own; and we 490 Are that which we would contemplate from far. Knowledge, for us, is difficult to gain-- Is difficult to gain, and hard to keep-- As virtue's self; like virtue is beset With snares; tried, tempted, subject to decay. Love, admiration, fear, desire, and hate, Blind were we without these: through these alone Are capable to notice or discern Or to record; we judge, but cannot be Indifferent judges. 'Spite of proudest boast, 500 Reason, best reason, is to imperfect man An effort only, and a noble aim; A crown, an attribute of sovereign power, Still to be courted--never to be won. --Look forth, or each man dive into himself; What sees he but a creature too perturbed; That is transported to excess; that yearns, Regrets, or trembles, wrongly, or too much; Hopes rashly, in disgust as rash recoils; Battens on spleen, or moulders in despair; 510 Thus comprehension fails, and truth is missed; Thus darkness and delusion round our path Spread, from disease, whose subtle injury lurks Within the very faculty of sight. Yet for the general purposes of faith In Providence, for solace and support, We may not doubt that who can best subject The will to reason's law, can strictliest live And act in that obedience, he shall gain The clearest apprehension of those truths, 520 Which unassisted reason's utmost power Is too infirm to reach. But, waiving this, And our regards confining within bounds Of less exalted consciousness, through which The very multitude are free to range, We safely may affirm that human life Is either fair and tempting, a soft scene Grateful to sight, refreshing to the soul, Or a forbidden tract of cheerless view; Even as the same is looked at, or approached. 530 Thus, when in changeful April fields are white With new-fallen snow, if from the sullen north Your walk conduct you hither, ere the sun Hath gained his noontide height, this churchyard, filled With mounds transversely lying side by side From east to west, before you will appear An unillumined, blank, and dreary plain, With more than wintry cheerlessness and gloom Saddening the heart. Go forward, and look back; Look, from the quarter whence the lord of light, 540 Of life, of love, and gladness doth dispense His beams; which, unexcluded in their fall, Upon the southern side of every grave Have gently exercised a melting power; 'Then' will a vernal prospect greet your eye, All fresh and beautiful, and green and bright, Hopeful and cheerful:--vanished is the pall That overspread and chilled the sacred turf, Vanished or hidden; and the whole domain, To some, too lightly minded, might appear 550 A meadow carpet for the dancing hours. --This contrast, not unsuitable to life, Is to that other state more apposite, Death and its two-fold aspect! wintry--one, Cold, sullen, blank, from hope and joy shut out; The other, which the ray divine hath touched, Replete with vivid promise, bright as spring." "We see, then, as we feel," the Wanderer thus With a complacent animation spake, "And in your judgment, Sir! the mind's repose 560 On evidence is not to be ensured By act of naked reason. Moral truth Is no mechanic structure, built by rule; And which, once built, retains a stedfast shape And undisturbed proportions; but a thing Subject, you deem, to vital accidents; And, like the water-lily, lives and thrives, Whose root is fixed in stable earth, whose head Floats on the tossing waves. With joy sincere I re-salute these sentiments confirmed 570 By your authority. But how acquire The inward principle that gives effect To outward argument; the passive will Meek to admit; the active energy, Strong and unbounded to embrace, and firm To keep and cherish? how shall man unite With self-forgetting tenderness of heart An earth-despising dignity of soul? Wise in that union, and without it blind!" "The way," said I, "to court, if not obtain 580 The ingenuous mind, apt to be set aright; This, in the lonely dell discoursing, you Declared at large; and by what exercise From visible nature, or the inner self Power may be trained, and renovation brought To those who need the gift. But, after all, Is aught so certain as that man is doomed To breathe beneath a vault of ignorance? The natural roof of that dark house in which His soul is pent! How little can be known-- 590 This is the wise man's sigh; how far we err-- This is the good man's not unfrequent pang! And they perhaps err least, the lowly class Whom a benign necessity compels To follow reason's least ambitious course; Such do I mean who, unperplexed by doubt, And unincited by a wish to look Into high objects farther than they may, Pace to and fro, from morn till eventide, The narrow avenue of daily toil 600 For daily bread." "Yes," buoyantly exclaimed The pale Recluse--"praise to the sturdy plough, And patient spade; praise to the simple crook, And ponderous loom--resounding while it holds Body and mind in one captivity; And let the light mechanic tool be hailed With honour; which, encasing by the power Of long companionship, the artist's hand, Cuts off that hand, with all its world of nerves, From a too busy commerce with the heart! 610 --Inglorious implements of craft and toil, Both ye that shape and build, and ye that force, By slow solicitation, earth to yield Her annual bounty, sparingly dealt forth With wise reluctance; you would I extol, Not for gross good alone which ye produce, But for the impertinent and ceaseless strife Of proofs and reasons ye preclude--in those Who to your dull society are born, And with their humble birthright rest content. 620 --Would I had ne'er renounced it!" A slight flush Of moral anger previously had tinged The old Man's cheek; but, at this closing turn Of self-reproach, it passed away. Said he, "That which we feel we utter; as we think So have we argued; reaping for our pains No visible recompense. For our relief You," to the Pastor turning thus he spake, "Have kindly interposed. May I entreat Your further help? The mine of real life 630 Dig for us; and present us, in the shape Of virgin ore, that gold which we, by pains Fruitless as those of aery alchemists, Seek from the torturing crucible. There lies Around us a domain where you have long Watched both the outward course and inner heart: Give us, for our abstractions, solid facts; For our disputes, plain pictures. Say what man He is who cultivates yon hanging field; What qualities of mind she bears, who comes, 640 For morn and evening service, with her pail, To that green pasture; place before our sight The family who dwell within yon house Fenced round with glittering laurel; or in that Below, from which the curling smoke ascends. Or rather, as we stand on holy earth, And have the dead around us, take from them Your instances; for they are both best known, And by frail man most equitably judged. Epitomise the life; pronounce, you can, 650 Authentic epitaphs on some of these Who, from their lowly mansions hither brought, Beneath this turf lie mouldering at our feet: So, by your records, may our doubts be solved; And so, not searching higher we may learn 'To prize the breath we share with human kind; And look upon the dust of man with awe'." The Priest replied--"An office you impose For which peculiar requisites are mine; Yet much, I feel, is wanting--else the task 660 Would be most grateful. True indeed it is That they whom death has hidden from our sight Are worthiest of the mind's regard; with these The future cannot contradict the past: Mortality's last exercise and proof Is undergone; the transit made that shows The very Soul, revealed as she departs. Yet, on your first suggestion, will I give, Ere we descend into these silent vaults, One picture from the living. You behold, 670 High on the breast of yon dark mountain, dark With stony barrenness, a shining speck Bright as a sunbeam sleeping till a shower Brush it away, or cloud pass over it; And such it might be deemed--a sleeping sunbeam; But 'tis a plot of cultivated ground, Cut off, an island in the dusky waste; And that attractive brightness is its own. The lofty site, by nature framed to tempt Amid a wilderness of rocks and stones 680 The tiller's hand, a hermit might have chosen, For opportunity presented, thence Far forth to send his wandering eye o'er land And ocean, and look down upon the works, The habitations, and the ways of men, Himself unseen! But no tradition tells That ever hermit dipped his maple dish In the sweet spring that lurks 'mid yon green fields; And no such visionary views belong To those who occupy and till the ground, 690 High on that mountain where they long have dwelt A wedded pair in childless solitude. A house of stones collected on the spot, By rude hands built, with rocky knolls in front. Backed also by a ledge of rock, whose crest Of birch-trees waves over the chimney top; A rough abode--in colour, shape, and size, Such as in unsafe times of border-war Might have been wished for and contrived, to elude The eye of roving plunderer--for their need 700 Suffices; and unshaken bears the assault Of their most dreaded foe, the strong Southwest In anger blowing from the distant sea. --Alone within her solitary hut; There, or within the compass of her fields, At any moment may the Dame be found, True as the stock-dove to her shallow nest And to the grove that holds it. She beguiles By intermingled work of house and field The summer's day, and winter's; with success 710 Not equal, but sufficient to maintain, Even at the worst, a smooth stream of content, Until the expected hour at which her Mate From the far-distant quarry's vault returns; And by his converse crowns a silent day With evening cheerfulness. In powers of mind, In scale of culture, few among my flock Hold lower rank than this sequestered pair: But true humility descends from heaven; And that best gift of heaven hath fallen on them; 720 Abundant recompense for every want. --Stoop from your height, ye proud, and copy these! Who, in their noiseless dwelling-place, can hear The voice of wisdom whispering scripture texts For the mind's government, or temper's peace; And recommending for their mutual need, Forgiveness, patience, hope, and charity!" "Much was I pleased," the grey-haired Wanderer said, "When to those shining fields our notice first You turned; and yet more pleased have from your lips 730 Gathered this fair report of them who dwell In that retirement; whither, by such course Of evil hap and good as oft awaits A tired way-faring man, once 'I' was brought While traversing alone yon mountain pass. Dark on my road the autumnal evening fell, And night succeeded with unusual gloom, So hazardous that feet and hands became Guides better than mine eyes--until a light High in the gloom appeared, too high, methought, 740 For human habitation; but I longed To reach it, destitute of other hope. I looked with steadiness as sailors look On the north star, or watch-tower's distant lamp, And saw the light--now fixed--and shifting now-- Not like a dancing meteor, but in line Of never-varying motion, to and fro. It is no night-fire of the naked hills, Thought I--some friendly covert must be near. With this persuasion thitherward my steps 750 I turn, and reach at last the guiding light; Joy to myself! but to the heart of her Who there was standing on the open hill, (The same kind Matron whom your tongue hath praised) Alarm and disappointment! The alarm Ceased, when she learned through what mishap I came, And by what help had gained those distant fields. Drawn from her cottage, on that aery height, Bearing a lantern in her hand she stood, Or paced the ground--to guide her Husband home, 760 By that unwearied signal, kenned afar; An anxious duty! which the lofty site, Traversed but by a few irregular paths, Imposes, whensoe'er untoward chance Detains him after his accustomed hour Till night lies black upon the ground. 'But come, Come,' said the Matron, 'to our poor abode; Those dark rocks hide it!' Entering, I beheld A blazing fire--beside a cleanly hearth Sate down; and to her office, with leave asked, 770 The Dame returned. Or ere that glowing pile Of mountain turf required the builder's hand Its wasted splendour to repair, the door Opened, and she re-entered with glad looks, Her Helpmate following. Hospitable fare, Frank conversation, made the evening's treat: Need a bewildered traveller wish for more? But more was given; I studied as we sate By the bright fire, the good Man's form, and face Not less than beautiful; an open brow 780 Of undisturbed humanity; a cheek Suffused with something of a feminine hue; Eyes beaming courtesy and mild regard; But, in the quicker turns of the discourse, Expression slowly varying, that evinced A tardy apprehension. From a fount Lost, thought I, in the obscurities of time, But honoured once, those features and that mien May have descended, though I see them here. In such a man, so gentle and subdued, 790 Withal so graceful in his gentleness, A race illustrious for heroic deeds, Humbled, but not degraded, may expire. This pleasing fancy (cherished and upheld By sundry recollections of such fall From high to low, ascent from low to high, As books record, and even the careless mind Cannot but notice among men and things) Went with me to the place of my repose. Roused by the crowing cock at dawn of day, 800 I yet had risen too late to interchange A morning salutation with my Host, Gone forth already to the far-off seat Of his day's work. 'Three dark mid-winter months 'Pass,' said the Matron 'and I never see, 'Save when the sabbath brings its kind release, 'My Helpmate's face by light of day. He quits 'His door in darkness, nor till dusk returns. 'And, through Heaven's blessing, thus we gain the bread 'For which we pray; and for the wants provide 810 'Of sickness, accident, and helpless age. 'Companions have I many; many friends, 'Dependants, comforters--my wheel, my fire, 'All day the house-clock ticking in mine ear, 'The cackling hen, the tender chicken brood, 'And the wild birds that gather round my porch. 'This honest sheep-dog's countenance I read; 'With him can talk; nor blush to waste a word 'On creatures less intelligent and shrewd. 'And if the blustering wind that drives the clouds 820 'Care not for me, he lingers round my door, 'And makes me pastime when our tempers suit;-- 'But, above all, my thoughts are my support, 'My comfort:--would that they were oftener fixed 'On what, for guidance in the way that leads 'To heaven, I know, by my Redeemer taught.' The Matron ended--nor could I forbear To exclaim--'O happy! yielding to the law Of these privations, richer in the main!-- While thankless thousands are opprest and clogged 830 By ease and leisure; by the very wealth And pride of opportunity made poor; While tens of thousands falter in their path, And sink, through utter want of cheering light; For you the hours of labour do not flag; For you each evening hath its shining star, And every sabbath-day its golden sun.'" "Yes!" said the Solitary with a smile That seemed to break from an expanding heart, "The untutored bird may found, and so construct, 840 And with such soft materials line, her nest Fixed in the centre of a prickly brake, That the thorns wound her not; they only guard, Powers not unjustly likened to those gifts Of happy instinct which the woodland bird Shares with her species, nature's grace sometimes Upon the individual doth confer, Among her higher creatures born and trained To use of reason. And, I own that, tired Of the ostentatious world--a swelling stage 850 With empty actions and vain passions stuffed, And from the private struggles of mankind Hoping far less than I could wish to hope, Far less than once I trusted and believed-- I love to hear of those, who, not contending Nor summoned to contend for virtue's prize, Miss not the humbler good at which they aim, Blest with a kindly faculty to blunt The edge of adverse circumstance, and turn Into their contraries the petty plagues 860 And hindrances with which they stand beset. In early youth, among my native hills, I knew a Scottish Peasant who possessed A few small crofts of stone-encumbered ground; Masses of every shape and size, that lay Scattered about under the mouldering walls Of a rough precipice; and some, apart, In quarters unobnoxious to such chance, As if the moon had showered them down in spite. But he repined not. Though the plough was scared 870 By these obstructions, 'round the shady stones 'A fertilising moisture,' said the Swain, 'Gathers, and is preserved; and feeding dews 'And damps, through all the droughty summer day 'From out their substance issuing, maintain 'Herbage that never fails; no grass springs up 'So green, so fresh, so plentiful, as mine!' But thinly sown these natures; rare, at least, The mutual aptitude of seed and soil That yields such kindly product. He, whose bed 880 Perhaps yon loose sods cover, the poor Pensioner Brought yesterday from our sequestered dell Here to lie down in lasting quiet, he, If living now, could otherwise report Of rustic loneliness: that grey-haired Orphan-- So call him, for humanity to him No parent was--feelingly could have told, In life, in death, what solitude can breed Of selfishness, and cruelty, and vice; Or, if it breed not, hath not power to cure. 890 --But your compliance, Sir! with our request My words too long have hindered." Undeterred, Perhaps incited rather, by these shocks, In no ungracious opposition, given To the confiding spirit of his own Experienced faith, the reverend Pastor said, Around him looking; "Where shall I begin? Who shall be first selected from my flock Gathered together in their peaceful fold?" He paused--and having lifted up his eyes 900 To the pure heaven, he cast them down again Upon the earth beneath his feet; and spake:-- "To a mysteriously-united pair This place is consecrate; to Death and Life, And to the best affections that proceed From their conjunction; consecrate to faith In him who bled for man upon the cross; Hallowed to revelation; and no less To reason's mandates: and the hopes divine Of pure imagination;--above all, 910 To charity, and love, that have provided, Within these precincts, a capacious bed And receptacle, open to the good And evil, to the just and the unjust; In which they find an equal resting-place: Even as the multitude of kindred brooks And streams, whose murmur fills this hollow vale, Whether their course be turbulent or smooth, Their waters clear or sullied, all are lost Within the bosom of yon crystal Lake, 920 And end their journey in the same repose! And blest are they who sleep; and we that know, While in a spot like this we breathe and walk, That all beneath us by the wings are covered Of motherly humanity, outspread And gathering all within their tender shade, Though loth and slow to come! A battlefield, In stillness left when slaughter is no more, With this compared, makes a strange spectacle! A dismal prospect yields the wild shore strewn 930 With wrecks, and trod by feet of young and old Wandering about in miserable search Of friends or kindred, whom the angry sea Restores not to their prayer! Ah! who would think That all the scattered subjects which compose Earth's melancholy vision through the space Of all her climes--these wretched, these depraved, To virtue lost, insensible of peace, From the delights of charity cut off, To pity dead, the oppressor and the opprest; 940 Tyrants who utter the destroying word, And slaves who will consent to be destroyed-- Were of one species with the sheltered few, Who, with a dutiful and tender hand, Lodged, in a dear appropriated spot, This file of infants; some that never breathed The vital air; others, which, though allowed That privilege, did yet expire too soon, Or with too brief a warning, to admit Administration of the holy rite 950 That lovingly consigns the babe to the arms Of Jesus, and his everlasting care. These that in trembling hope are laid apart; And the besprinkled nursling, unrequired Till he begins to smile upon the breast That feeds him; and the tottering little-one Taken from air and sunshine when the rose Of infancy first blooms upon his cheek; The thinking, thoughtless, school-boy; the bold youth Of soul impetuous, and the bashful maid 960 Smitten while all the promises of life Are opening round her; those of middle age, Cast down while confident in strength they stand, Like pillars fixed more firmly, as might seem, And more secure, by very weight of all That, for support, rests on them; the decayed And burthensome; and lastly, that poor few Whose light of reason is with age extinct; The hopeful and the hopeless, first and last, The earliest summoned and the longest spared-- 970 Are here deposited, with tribute paid Various, but unto each some tribute paid; As if, amid these peaceful hills and groves, Society were touched with kind concern, And gentle 'Nature grieved, that one should die;' Or, if the change demanded no regret, Observed the liberating stroke--and blessed. And whence that tribute? wherefore these regards? Not from the naked 'Heart' alone of Man (Though claiming high distinction upon earth 980 As the sole spring and fountain-head of tears, His own peculiar utterance for distress Or gladness)--No," the philosophic Priest Continued, "'tis not in the vital seat Of feeling to produce them, without aid From the pure soul, the soul sublime and pure; With her two faculties of eye and ear, The one by which a creature, whom his sins Have rendered prone, can upward look to heaven; The other that empowers him to perceive 990 The voice of Deity, on height and plain, Whispering those truths in stillness, which the WORD, To the four quarters of the winds, proclaims. Not without such assistance could the use Of these benign observances prevail: Thus are they born, thus fostered, thus maintained; And by the care prospective of our wise Forefathers, who, to guard against the shocks The fluctuation and decay of things, Embodied and established these high truths 1000 In solemn institutions:--men convinced That life is love and immortality, The being one, and one the element. There lies the channel, and original bed, From the beginning, hollowed out and scooped For Man's affections--else betrayed and lost And swallowed up 'mid deserts infinite! This is the genuine course, the aim, and end Of prescient reason; all conclusions else Are abject, vain, presumptuous, and perverse. 1010 The faith partaking of those holy times, Life, I repeat, is energy of love Divine or human; exercised in pain, In strife, and tribulation; and ordained, If so approved and sanctified, to pass, Through shades and silent rest, to endless joy." NOTES 646 'Or rather, as we stand on holy earth, And have the dead around us.' Leo. You, Sir, could help me to the history Of half these graves? Priest. For eight-score winters past, With what I've witnessed, and with what I've heard Perhaps I might; . . . . . By turning o'er these hillocks one by one, We two could travel, Sir, through a strange round; Yet all in the broad highway of the world. 'See the Brothers'. 975 'And suffering Nature grieved that one should die.' "Southey's Retrospect." 978 'And whence that tribute? wherefore these regards?' The sentiments and opinions here uttered are in unison with those expressed in the following Essay upon Epitaphs, which was furnished by me for Mr. Coleridge's periodical work, "The Friend"; and as they are dictated by a spirit congenial to that which pervades this and the two succeeding books, the sympathising reader will not be displeased to see the Essay here annexed. _____________ ESSAY UPON EPITAPHS IT needs scarcely be said, that an Epitaph presupposes a Monument, upon which it is to be engraven. Almost all Nations have wished that certain external signs should point out the places where their dead are interred. Among savage tribes unacquainted with letters this has mostly been done either by rude stones placed near the graves, or by mounds of earth raised over them. This custom proceeded obviously from a twofold desire: first to guard the remains of the deceased from irreverent approach or from savage violation: and secondly to preserve their memory. "Never any," says Camden, "neglected burial but some savage nations; as the Bactrians, which cast their dead to the dogs; some varlet philosophers, as Diogenes, who desired to be devoured of fishes; some dissolute courtiers, as Maecenas, who was wont to say, Non tumulum curo; sepelit natura relictos. 'I'm careless of a grave:--Nature her dead will save.'" As soon as nations had learned the use of letters, epitaphs were inscribed upon these monuments; in order that their intention might be more surely and adequately fulfilled. I have derived monuments and epitaphs from two sources of feeling, but these do in fact resolve themselves into one. The invention of epitaphs, Weever, in his Discourse of Funeral Monuments, says rightly, "proceeded from the presage or fore-feeling of immortality, implanted in all men naturally, and is referred to the scholars of Linus the Theban poet, who flourished about the year of the world two thousand seven hundred; who first bewailed this Linus their Master, when he was slain, in doleful verses, then called of him Oelina, afterwards Epitaphia, for that they were first sung at burials, after engraved upon the sepulchres." And, verily, without the consciousness of a principle of immortality in the human soul, Man could never have had awakened in him the desire to live in the remembrance of his fellows: mere love, or the yearning of kind towards kind, could not have produced it. The dog or horse perishes in the field, or in the stall, by the side of his companions, and is incapable of anticipating the sorrow with which his surrounding associates shall bemoan his death, or pine for his loss; he cannot pre- conceive this regret, he can form no thought of it; and therefore cannot possibly have a desire to leave such regret or remembrance behind him. Add to the principle of love which exists in the inferior animals, the faculty of reason which exists in Man alone; will the conjunction of these account for the desire? Doubtless it is a necessary consequence of this conjunction; yet not, I think, as a direct result, but only to be come at through an intermediate thought, viz. that of an intimation or assurance within us, that some part of our nature is imperishable. At least the precedence, in order of birth, of one feeling to the other, is unquestionable. If we look back upon the days of childhood, we shall find that the time is not in remembrance when, with respect to our own individual Being, the mind was without this assurance; whereas, the wish to be remembered by our friends or kindred after death, or even in absence, is, as we shall discover, a sensation that does not form itself till the 'social' feelings have been developed, and the Reason has connected itself with a wide range of objects. Forlorn, and cut off from communication with the best part of his nature, must that man be, who should derive the sense of immortality, as it exists in the mind of a child, from the same unthinking gaiety or liveliness of animal spirits with which the lamb in the meadow or any other irrational creature is endowed; who should ascribe it, in short, to blank ignorance in the child; to an inability arising from the imperfect state of his faculties to come, in any point of his being, into contact with a notion of death; or to an unreflecting acquiescence in what has been instilled into him! Has such an unfolder of the mysteries of nature, though he may have forgotten his former self, ever noticed the early, obstinate, and unappeasable inquisitiveness of children upon the subject of origination? This single fact proves outwardly the monstrousness of those suppositions: for, if we had no direct external testimony that the minds of very young children meditate feelingly upon death and immortality, these inquiries, which we all know they are perpetually making concerning the 'whence', do necessarily include correspondent habits of interrogation concerning the 'whither'. Origin and tendency are notions inseparably co-relative. Never did a child stand by the side of a running stream, pondering within himself what power was the feeder of the perpetual current, from what never-wearied sources the body of water was supplied, but he must have been inevitably propelled to follow this question by another: "Towards what abyss is it in progress? what receptacle can contain the mighty influx?" And the spirit of the answer must have been, though the word might be sea or ocean, accompanied perhaps with an image gathered from a map, or from the real object in nature--these might have been the 'letter', but the 'spirit' of the answer must have been 'as' inevitably,--a receptacle without bounds or dimensions;--nothing less than infinity. We may, then, be justified in asserting, that the sense of immortality, if not a co-existent and twin birth with Reason, is among the earliest of her offspring: and we may further assert, that from these conjoined, and under their countenance, the human affections are gradually formed and opened out. This is not the place to enter into the recesses of these investigations; but the subject requires me here to make a plain avowal, that, for my own part, it is to me inconceivable, that the sympathies of love towards each other, which grow with our growth, could ever attain any new strength, or even preserve the old, after we had received from the outward senses the impression of death, and were in the habit of having that impression daily renewed and its accompanying feeling brought home to ourselves, and to those we love; if the same were not counteracted by those communications with our internal Being, which are anterior to all these experiences, and with which revelation coincides, and has through that coincidence alone (for otherwise it could not possess it) a power to affect us. I confess, with me the conviction is absolute that, if the impression and sense of death were not thus counterbalanced, such a hollowness would pervade the whole system of things, such a want of correspondence and consistency, a disproportion so astounding betwixt means and ends, that there could be no repose, no joy. Were we to grow up unfostered by this genial warmth, a frost would chill the spirit, so penetrating and powerful that there could be no motions of the life of love; and infinitely less could we have any wish to be remembered after we had passed away from a world in which each man had moved about like a shadow.--If, then, in a creature endowed with the faculties of foresight and reason, the social affections could not have unfolded themselves uncountenanced by the faith that Man is an immortal being, and if, consequently, neither could the individual dying have had a desire to survive in the remembrance of his fellows, nor on their side could they have felt a wish to preserve for future times vestiges of the departed; it follows, as a final inference, that without the belief in immortality, wherein these several desires originate, neither monuments nor epitaphs, in affectionate or laudatory commemoration of the deceased, could have existed in the world. Simonides, it is related, upon landing in a strange country, found the corse of an unknown person lying by the seaside; he buried it, and was honoured throughout Greece for the piety of that act. Another ancient Philosopher, chancing to fix his eyes upon a dead body, regarded the same with slight, if not with contempt, saying, "See the shell of the flown bird!" But it is not to be supposed that the moral and tender-hearted Simonides was incapable of the lofty movements of thought to which that other Sage gave way at the moment while his soul was intent only upon the indestructible being; nor, on the other hand, that he, in whose sight a lifeless human body was of no more value than the worthless shell from which the living fowl had departed, would not, in a different mood of mind, have been affected by those earthly considerations which had incited the philosophic Poet to the performance of that pious duty. And with regard to this latter we may be assured that, if he had been destitute of the capability of communing with the more exalted thoughts that appertain to human nature, he would have cared no more for the corse of the stranger than for the dead body of a seal or porpoise which might have been cast up by the waves. We respect the corporeal frame of Man, not merely because it is the habitation of a rational, but of an immortal Soul. Each of these Sages was in sympathy with the best feelings of our nature; feelings which, though they seem opposite to each other, have another and a finer connection than that of contrast.--It is a connection formed through the subtle progress by which, both in the natural and the moral world, qualities pass insensibly into their contraries, and things revolve upon each other. As, in sailing upon the orb of this planet, a voyage towards the regions where the sun sets conducts gradually to the quarter where we have been accustomed to behold it come forth at its rising; and, in like manner, a voyage towards the east, the birth-place in our imagination of the morning, leads finally to the quarter where the sun is last seen when he departs from our eyes; so the contemplative Soul, travelling in the direction of mortality, advances to the country of everlasting life; and, in like manner, may she continue to explore those cheerful tracts till she is brought back, for her advantage and benefit, to the land of transitory things--of sorrow and of tears. On a midway point, therefore, which commands the thoughts and feelings of the two Sages whom we have represented in contrast, does the Author of that species of composition, the laws of which it is our present purpose to explain, take his stand. Accordingly, recurring to the twofold desire of guarding the remains of the deceased and preserving their memory, it may be said that a sepulchral monument is a tribute to a man as a human being; and that an epitaph (in the ordinary meaning attached to the word) includes this general feeling and something more; and is a record to preserve the memory of the dead, as a tribute due to his individual worth, for a satisfaction to the sorrowing hearts of the survivors, and for the common benefit of the living: which record is to be accomplished, not in a general manner, but, where it can, in 'close connection with the bodily remains of the deceased': and these, it may be added, among the modern nations of Europe, are deposited within, or contiguous to, their places of worship. In ancient times, as is well known, it was the custom to bury the dead beyond the walls of towns and cities; and among the Greeks and Romans they were frequently interred by the waysides. I could here pause with pleasure, and invite the Reader to indulge with me in contemplation of the advantages which must have attended such a practice. We might ruminate upon the beauty which the monuments, thus placed, must have borrowed from the surrounding images of nature--from the trees, the wild flowers, from a stream running perhaps within sight or hearing, from the beaten road stretching its weary length hard by. Many tender similitudes must these objects have presented to the mind of the traveller leaning upon one of the tombs, or reposing in the coolness of its shade, whether he had halted from weariness or in compliance with the invitation, "Pause, Traveller!" so often found upon the monuments. And to its epitaph also must have been supplied strong appeals to visible appearances or immediate impressions, lively and affecting analogies of life as a journey-- death as a sleep overcoming the tired wayfarer--of misfortune as a storm that falls suddenly upon him--of beauty as a flower that passeth away, or of innocent pleasure as one that may be gathered- -of virtue that standeth firm as a rock against the beating waves- -of hope "undermined insensibly like the poplar by the side of the river that has fed it," or blasted in a moment like a pine-tree by the stroke of lightning upon the mountain-top--of admonitions and heart-stirring remembrances, like a refreshing breeze that comes without warning, or the taste of the waters of an unexpected fountain. These and similar suggestions must have given, formerly, to the language of the senseless stone a voice enforced and endeared by the benignity of that nature with which it was in unison.--We, in modern times, have lost much of these advantages; and they are but in a small degree counterbalanced to the inhabitants of large towns and cities by the custom of depositing the dead within, or contiguous to, their places of worship; however splendid or imposing may be the appearance of those edifices, or however interesting or salutary the recollections associated with them. Even were it not true that tombs lose their monitory virtue when thus obtruded upon the notice of men occupied with the cares of the world, and too often sullied and defiled by those cares, yet still, when death is in our thoughts, nothing can make amends for the want of the soothing influences of nature, and for the absence of those types of renovation and decay which the fields and woods offer to the notice of the serious and contemplative mind. To feel the force of this sentiment, let a man only compare in imagination the unsightly manner in which our monuments are crowded together in the busy, noisy, unclean, and almost grassless churchyard of a large town, with the still seclusion of a Turkish cemetery, in some remote place, and yet further sanctified by the grove of cypress in which it is embosomed. Thoughts in the same temper as these have already been expressed with true sensibility by an ingenuous Poet of the present day. The subject of his poem is "All Saints Church, Derby:" he has been deploring the forbidding and unseemly appearance of its burial-ground, and uttering a wish that in past times the practice had been adopted of interring the inhabitants of large towns in the country;-- Then in some rural, calm, sequestered spot Where healing Nature her benignant look Ne'er changes, save at that lorn season, when, With tresses drooping o'er her sable stole, She yearly mourns the mortal doom of man, Her noblest work, (so Israel's virgins erst, With annual moan upon the mountains wept Their fairest gone,) there in that rural scene, So placid, so congenial to the wish The Christian feels, of peaceful rest within The silent grave, I would have stayed: * * * * * --wandered forth, where the cold dew of heaven Lay on the humbler graves around, what time The pale moon gazed upon the turfy mounds, Pensive, as though like me, in lonely muse, 'Twere brooding on the dead inhumed beneath. There while with him, the holy man of Uz, O'er human destiny I sympathised, Counting the long, long periods prophecy Decrees to roll, ere the great day arrives Of resurrection, oft the blue-eyed Spring Had met me with her blossoms, as the Dove, Of old, returned with olive leaf, to cheer The Patriarch mourning o'er a world destroyed: And I would bless her visit; for to me 'Tis sweet to trace the consonance that links As one, the works of Nature and the word Of God.-- JOHN EDWARDS. A village churchyard, lying as it does in the lap of nature, may indeed be most favourably contrasted with that of a town of crowded population; and sepulture therein combines many of the best tendencies which belong to the mode practised by the Ancients with others peculiar to itself. The sensations of pious cheerfulness, which attend the celebration of the sabbath-day in rural places, are profitably chastised by the sight of the graves of kindred and friends, gathered together in that general home towards which the thoughtful yet happy spectators themselves are journeying. Hence a parish church, in the stillness of the country, is a visible centre of a community of the living and the dead; a point to which are habitually referred the nearest concerns of both. As, then, both in cities and in villages, the dead are deposited in close connection with our places of worship, with us the composition of an epitaph naturally turns, still more than among the nations of antiquity, upon the most serious and solemn affections of the human mind; upon departed worth--upon personal or social sorrow and admiration--upon religion, individual and social--upon time, and upon eternity. Accordingly, it suffices, in ordinary cases, to secure a composition of this kind from censure, that it contain nothing that shall shock or be inconsistent with this spirit. But, to entitle an epitaph to praise, more than this is necessary. It ought to contain some thought or feeling belonging to the mortal or immortal part of our nature touchingly expressed; and if that be done, however general or even trite the sentiment may be, every man of pure mind will read the words with pleasure and gratitude. A husband bewails a wife; a parent breathes a sigh of disappointed hope over a lost child; a son utters a sentiment of filial reverence for a departed father or mother; a friend perhaps inscribes an encomium recording the companionable qualities, or the solid virtues, of the tenant of the grave, whose departure has left a sadness upon his memory. This and a pious admonition to the living, and a humble expression of Christian confidence in immortality, is the language of a thousand churchyards; and it does not often happen that anything, in a greater degree discriminate or appropriate to the dead or to the living, is to be found in them. This want of discrimination has been ascribed by Dr. Johnson, in his Essay upon the epitaphs of Pope, to two causes: first, the scantiness of the objects of human praise; and, secondly, the want of variety in the characters of men; or, to use his own words, "to the fact, that the greater part of mankind have no character at all." Such language may be holden without blame among the generalities of common conversation; but does not become a critic and a moralist speaking seriously upon a serious subject. The objects of admiration in human nature are not scanty, but abundant: and every man has a character of his own to the eye that has skill to perceive it. The real cause of the acknowledged want of discrimination in sepulchral memorials is this: That to analyse the characters of others, especially of those whom we love, is not a common or natural employment of men at any time. We are not anxious unerringly to understand the constitution of the minds of those who have soothed, who have cheered, who have supported us; with whom we have been long and daily pleased or delighted. The affections are their own justification. The light of love in our hearts is a satisfactory evidence that there is a body of worth in the minds of our friends or kindred, whence that light has proceeded. We shrink from the thought of placing their merits and defects to be weighed against each other in the nice balance of pure intellect; nor do we find much temptation to detect the shades by which a good quality or virtue is discriminated in them from an excellence known by the same general name as it exists in the mind of another; and least of all do we incline to these refinements when under the pressure of sorrow, admiration, or regret, or when actuated by any of those feelings which incite men to prolong the memory of their friends and kindred by records placed in the bosom of the all-uniting and equalising receptacle of the dead. The first requisite, then, in an Epitaph is, that it should speak, in a tone which shall sink into the heart, the general language of humanity as connected with the subject of death--the source from which an epitaph proceeds--of death, and of life. To be born and to die are the two points in which all men feel themselves to be in absolute coincidence. This general language may be uttered so strikingly as to entitle an epitaph to high praise; yet it cannot lay claim to the highest unless other excellences be superadded. Passing through all intermediate steps, we will attempt to determine at once what these excellences are, and wherein consists the perfection of this species of composition.--It will be found to lie in a due proportion of the common or universal feeling of humanity to sensations excited by a distinct and clear conception, conveyed to the reader's mind, of the individual whose death is deplored and whose memory is to be preserved; at least of his character as, after death, it appeared to those who loved him and lament his loss. The general sympathy ought to be quickened, provoked, and diversified, by particular thoughts, actions, images,--circumstances of age, occupation, manner of life, prosperity which the deceased had known, or adversity to which he had been subject; and these ought to be bound together and solemnised into one harmony by the general sympathy. The two powers should temper, restrain, and exalt each other. The reader ought to know who and what the man was whom he is called upon to think of with interest. A distinct conception should be given (implicitly where it can, rather than explicitly) of the individual lamented.--But the writer of an epitaph is not an anatomist, who dissects the internal frame of the mind; he is not even a painter, who executes a portrait at leisure and in entire tranquillity: his delineation, we must remember, is performed by the side of the grave; and, what is more, the grave of one whom he loves and admires. What purity and brightness is that virtue clothed in, the image of which must no longer bless our living eyes! The character of a deceased friend or beloved kinsman is not seen--no, nor ought to be seen--otherwise than as a tree through a tender haze or a luminous mist, that spiritualises and beautifies it; that takes away, indeed, but only to the end that the parts which are not abstracted may appear more dignified and lovely; may impress and affect the more. Shall we say, then, that this is not truth, not a faithful image; and that, accordingly, the purposes of commemoration cannot be answered?--It 'is' truth, and of the highest order; for, though doubtless things are not apparent which did exist; yet, the object being looked at through this medium, parts and proportions are brought into distinct view which before had been only imperfectly or unconsciously seen: it is truth hallowed by love--the joint offspring of the worth of the dead and the affections of the living! This may easily be brought to the test. Let one, whose eyes have been sharpened by personal hostility to discover what was amiss in the character of a good man, hear the tidings of his death, and what a change is wrought in a moment! Enmity melts away; and, as it disappears, unsightliness, disproportion, and deformity, vanish; and, through the influence of commiseration, a harmony of love and beauty succeeds. Bring such a man to the tombstone on which shall be inscribed an epitaph on his adversary, composed in the spirit which we have recommended. Would he turn from it as from an idle tale? No;--the thoughtful look, the sigh, and perhaps the involuntary tear, would testify that it had a sane, a generous, and good meaning; and that on the writer's mind had remained an impression which was a true abstract of the character of the deceased; that his gifts and graces were remembered in the simplicity in which they ought to be remembered. The composition and quality of the mind of a virtuous man, contemplated by the side of the grave where his body is mouldering, ought to appear, and be felt as something midway between what he was on earth walking about with his living frailties, and what he may be presumed to be as a Spirit in heaven. It suffices, therefore, that the trunk and the main branches of the worth of the deceased be boldly and unaffectedly represented. Any further detail, minutely and scrupulously pursued, especially if this be done with laborious and antithetic discriminations, must inevitably frustrate its own purpose; forcing the passing Spectator to this conclusion,--either that the dead did not possess the merits ascribed to him, or that they who have raised a monument to his memory, and must therefore be supposed to have been closely connected with him, were incapable of perceiving those merits; or at least during the act of composition had lost sight of them; for, the understanding having been so busy in its petty occupation, how could the heart of the mourner be other than cold? and in either of these cases, whether the fault be on the part of the buried person or the survivors, the memorial is unaffecting and profitless. Much better is it to fall short in discrimination than to pursue it too far, or to labour it unfeelingly. For in no place are we so much disposed to dwell upon those points of nature and condition wherein all men resemble each other, as in the temple where the universal Father is worshipped, or by the side of the grave which gathers all human Beings to itself, and "equalises the lofty and the low." We suffer and we weep with the same heart; we love and are anxious for one another in one spirit; our hopes look to the same quarter; and the virtues by which we are all to be furthered and supported, as patience, meekness, good-will, justice, temperance, and temperate desires, are in an equal degree the concern of us all. Let an Epitaph, then, contain at least these acknowledgments to our common nature; nor let the sense of their importance be sacrificed to a balance of opposite qualities or minute distinctions in individual character; which if they do not (as will for the most part be the case), when examined, resolve themselves into a trick of words, will, even when they are true and just, for the most part be grievously out of place; for, as it is probable that few only have explored these intricacies of human nature, so can the tracing of them be interesting only to a few. But an epitaph is not a proud writing shut up for the studious: it is exposed to all--to the wise and the most ignorant; it is condescending, perspicuous, and lovingly solicits regard; its story and admonitions are brief, that the thoughtless, the busy, and indolent, may not be deterred, nor the impatient tired: the stooping old man cons the engraven record like a second horn- book;--the child is proud that he can read it;--and the stranger is introduced through its mediation to the company of a friend: it is concerning all, and for all:--in the churchyard it is open to the day; the sun looks down upon the stone, and the rains of heaven beat against it. Yet, though the writer who would excite sympathy is bound in this case, more than in any other, to give proof that he himself has been moved, it is to be remembered that to raise a monument is a sober and a reflective act; that the inscription which it bears is intended to be permanent, and for universal perusal; and that, for this reason, the thoughts and feelings expressed should be permanent also--liberated from that weakness and anguish of sorrow which is in nature transitory, and which with instinctive decency retires from notice. The passions should be subdued, the emotions controlled; strong, indeed, but nothing ungovernable or wholly involuntary. Seemliness requires this, and truth requires it also: for how can the narrator otherwise be trusted? Moreover, a grave is a tranquillising object: resignation in course of time springs up from it as naturally as the wild flowers, besprinkling the turf with which it may be covered, or gathering round the monument by which it is defended. The very form and substance of the monument which has received the inscription, and the appearance of the letters, testifying with what a slow and laborious hand they must have been engraven, might seem to reproach the author who had given way upon this occasion to transports of mind, or to quick turns of conflicting passion; though the same might constitute the life and beauty of a funeral oration or elegiac poem. These sensations and judgments, acted upon perhaps unconsciously, have been one of the main causes why epitaphs so often personate the deceased, and represent him as speaking from his own tomb-stone. The departed Mortal is introduced telling you himself that his pains are gone; that a state of rest is come; and he conjures you to weep for him no longer. He admonishes with the voice of one experienced in the vanity of those affections which are confined to earthly objects, and gives a verdict like a superior Being, performing the office of a judge, who has no temptations to mislead him, and whose decision cannot but be dispassionate. Thus is death disarmed of its sting, and affliction unsubstantialised. By this tender fiction, the survivors bind themselves to a sedater sorrow, and employ the intervention of the imagination in order that the reason may speak her own language earlier than she would otherwise have been enabled to do. This shadowy interposition also harmoniously unites the two worlds of the living and the dead by their appropriate affections. And it may be observed that here we have an additional proof of the propriety with which sepulchral inscriptions were referred to the consciousness of immortality as their primal source. I do not speak with a wish to recommend that an epitaph should be cast in this mould preferably to the still more common one, in which what is said comes from the survivors directly; but rather to point out how natural those feelings are which have induced men, in all states and ranks of society, so frequently to adopt this mode. And this I have done chiefly in order that the laws which ought to govern the composition of the other may be better understood. This latter mode, namely, that in which the survivors speak in their own persons, seems to me upon the whole greatly preferable, as it admits a wider range of notices; and, above all, because, excluding the fiction which is the groundwork of the other, it rests upon a more solid basis. Enough has been said to convey our notion of a perfect epitaph; but it must be borne in mind that one is meant which will best answer the 'general' ends of that species of composition. According to the course pointed out, the worth of private life, through all varieties of situation and character, will be most honourably and profitably preserved in memory. Nor would the model recommended less suit public men in all instances, save of those persons who by the greatness of their services in the employments of peace or war, or by the surpassing excellence of their works in art, literature, or science, have made themselves not only universally known, but have filled the heart of their country with everlasting gratitude. Yet I must here pause to correct myself. In describing the general tenor of thought which epitaphs ought to hold, I have omitted to say, that if it be the 'actions' of a man, or even some 'one' conspicuous or beneficial act of local or general utility, which have distinguished him, and excited a desire that he should be remembered, then, of course, ought the attention to be directed chiefly to those actions or that act: and such sentiments dwelt upon as naturally arise out of them or it. Having made this necessary distinction, I proceed.--The mighty benefactors of mankind, as they are not only known by the immediate survivors, but will continue to be known familiarly to latest posterity, do not stand in need of biographic sketches in such a place; nor of delineations of character to individualise them. This is already done by their Works, in the memories of men. Their naked names, and a grand comprehensive sentiment of civic gratitude, patriotic love, or human admiration--or the utterance of some elementary principle most essential in the constitution of true virtue--or a declaration touching that pious humility and self-abasement, which are ever most profound as minds are most susceptible of genuine exaltation--or an intuition, communicated in adequate words, of the sublimity of intellectual power;--these are the only tribute which can here be paid--the only offering that upon such an altar would not be unworthy. "What needs my Shakspeare for his honoured bones The labour of an age in piled stones, Or that his hallowed reliques should be hid Under a star-ypointing pyramid? Dear Son of Memory, great Heir of Fame, What need'st thou such weak witness of thy name? Thou in our wonder and astonishment Hast built thyself a livelong monument, And so sepulchred, in such pomp dost lie, That kings for such a tomb would wish to die."
Wordsworth, William. 1888. Complete Poetical Works.