many advantages it possessed over the narrow, noisome, and crowded spot which we had an hour before visited. It was still the Land of Death; yet, forming as strong a contrast as there is between the broad burst of sunlight in an open landscape, and the imprisoned rays struggling on the damp floor of a deep dungeon. We entered the grated door on the brow of the hill, through which the refreshing breeze blew, and the sweet sunshine streamed, and threaded our way through the silent catacombs,—the high-piled chambers of the dead. There was nothing to shock our feelings in this solemn scene. Imagination shadowed us for the moment with her huge wings, and we seemed to stand in the cabin of a vast ship that was manned with “ministering angels," all the passengers asleep in their quiet berths, and the Great Captain somewhere above, or at the helm, guiding the silent bark in safety to the shores of eternity. There was not even a feeling of loneliness about this solemn place; the dead that slept there, seemed still to be with us, we were one company—there was no look of solitariness about the spot—the very marble which their names were inscribed, had a white, warm, and sunny appearance; Hope and Faith stood there, like twin sisters, lighting up the darkness of death.

In the open cemetery we seemed to walk through a land lettered with living affections, and strewn over with tokens of existing love. Our sympathies were divided between the mourned and the mourners. Our sorrow was not alone for the dead: Grief stood there, with bowed head, and hair unbound, with Pity kneeling at her feet, and looking up into her pale face, as if entreating of her to remember the living; while Memory, with folded arms, was musing over the flowers that adorned the graves. To those


who, like ourselves, are humble worshippers in the great Temple of Nature, rural cemeteries possess many beauties, which are lost upon such as care not for the lavish hand, that decks this green and flowery world. Such scenes to us are studded “thick as stars," with sweet and sorrowful associations; the very flowers that grow above the graves possess a language which we endeavour to translate ; and we read in them many a fond memorial, and trace many a line of lingering affection, which, beneath a brown and barren mound of earth, would have been for ever buried. The imagination soars into another world, where death becomes immortality, and the shapes it summons up are steeped in the golden shine of an unsetting sun. In a dimly-lighted, air-pent, city churchyard fancy is fettered; for there such images float not, or if they are seen there, they seem to sit with folded wings, weeping beneath the dark shadows of the mouldering walls.

Amid the din and tumult of a populous city, the dead, to us, appear sadly misplaced : we never look upon those unhealthy corners, crowded with graves, without feeling that they have no right to be thrust there: we wish them far removed from those sunless spots, and would like to see something green and beautiful waving above their graves. Their business with this world is at an end, they have finished their long day's work: the roll of chariots, the trampling of horsemen, and the deep-throated utterance of busy life, are ever sending their harsh and grating sounds through the echoing chambers of the dead.

Around a rural cemetery there hangs a silence more befitting the solemnity of death,—the few sounds that fall

upon are neither jarring nor dissonant; there is a lulling murmur in the rustling leaves which adds to the repose that

the ear


reigns around, and we exclaim to ourselves, “ Here, indeed, the dead are at rest!"

Within a breathless, high-walled city churchyard, there is neither peace nor rest; the dead take up their abode there for a brief space of time, and are then removed to make room for new-comers: the grave is converted into a common Lodging-house, where guest succeeds guest, and how and where the last tenants were removed, are truths too revolting for us to record. The grave old solemnity that long reigned over such places is destroyed, and we never see a spade thrust into the soil without feeling that some mute tongue, if it could but speak, would exclaim, “Forbear,” and give utterance to Shakspere's immortal curse. Such places ever wear the same forbidding and monotonous look; the rank grey grass hangs white and withered; the very air seems dying for want of breathing-room; the ground seems to have changed its nature; and there is an appearance of death in the piled-up houses, as if the inhabitants had only come there to die—to sit at their windows begrudging every inch of ground that was occupied by another. Around the cemetery stretches the wide unwalled country, where the eye traces many an old familiar scene, footpaths, and winding roads, which we have often traversed with those who now sleep at our feet; and they live again in our memory, as we call up the past, and cheat ourselves for the time into a forgetfulness of death. There we behold Nature at work; we see the seasons as they change; and many a varied image floats before the mind's eye, like the grey and golden clouds of evening. Summer deepens the delicate green of Spring; Winter treads coldly upon the heels of Autumn; and, whilst we read the lessons which an invisible hand has imprinted upon the landscape, we almost

unconsciously prepare ourselves for a change, as we confess that “Nothing is immortal but immortality.”

Old decayed monuments, which mark the graves of founders and benefactors, are in keeping with our ancient churchyards, as records of charitable bequests, beautifyings, and repairs, which Time has again dilapidated, and bared once more the grey, hard, weather-bleached foundation, as if he scorned the touch of every workman save Ruin. Family vaults ought also to remain undisturbed (when they have received their last occupant), as sacred freeholds of the dead, until every vestige is swept away; the monument crumbled, and the dust of the dead trampled into the common earth of oblivion, by the unborn generations, who could never know that they trod upon human ashes.

We have the authority of Holy Writ for asserting that rural cemeteries date almost as far back as the Deluge; for there it is on record that Abraham purchased of Ephron the Hittite, the field of Machpelah, together with the cave that was therein, and the trees, even those which grew on - the borders round about,” for a possession of a burying place.() Sacred history is silent respecting the spot where Adam and Eve were interred, nor is there any mention made of the burial-places of the elder patriarchs before the Flood; those ancient graves of the early world have been washed away from that great shore, on which ages ago every landmark had crumbled into dust. The sea of time has rolled over and blotted out every trace of the Garden of Eden, that garden in which God walked in “ the cool of the day;" but whither our first parents were driven, or in what place their bones were laid, no one living will ever know. All we can gather is, that they returned unto the “ground

(1) Genesis, chap. xxiii., verse 17.

from whence they came," and thitherward we are all fast hastening

The field of Machpelah, with its solemn cave, must have been a secluded and beautiful spot; for, beside the border of trees which hemmed it “round about," the field itself was interspersed with them, and it might be the more endeared to Abraham as it lay before Mamre; on the very edge of that pastoral plain, and perhaps even within sight of the hallowed tree, under whose green branches he entertained the three angels, when Sarah stood concealed behind the hangings of the tent, and laughed at the conversation of her heavenly guests, as they partook of that primitive repast of bread, milk, and butter, and the choicest calf in the herd. (2) It is no improbable conjecture that, as the princely patriarch sat in the opening of his tent in the “heat of the day,” as was his custom, his eye. might alight upon the field of Machpelah; and struck with its repose and beauty, as the shadows of the trees slept motionless on the edge of the sunshine, he selected it for a family grave, wishing to lay his bones within that land which he knew his "children's children," who would outnumber “the stars of heaven," should on a future day inherit.

Although Jacob died in the land of Egypt with all his children around him, yet on his death-bed he made Joseph swear that he would bury him in the field of Machpelah; " for there," said the dying patriarch, "they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there, they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.(3) More than once does Jacob express a wish to be buried with his fathers; he seems to have a dread and a horror lest his body should be embalmed, or his bones left to moulder in Egypt. He entreats

(2) Genesis, chap. xviii. (3) Genesis, chap. xlix., verse 31.

« ElőzőTovább »