Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ON THE CHOICE OF A BURIAL PLACE.

“ The House appointed for all living.”

Job.

MODERNS dedicate all their thoughts to the precarious abode from which they are liable to be ejected by the grim summoner Death, without a moment's notice to quit, while they are comparatively indifferent to that final resting-place which they may continue to occupy even unto the sounding of the last trump. The ancient Egyptians, on the other hand, have not constructed a single dwelling-house which has endured to our present times, while we are continually discovering not only individual tombs of incredible elaboration, but whole subterranean cities of the dead. Though we may smile at that vanity which, converting bodies into mummies, valuable for their bitumens and gums, entailed the destruction it meant to avert, we cannot withhold our respect from their funeral orations, one of which has been preserved entire by Porphyry. “When,” says he, “they embalm their deceased nobles, they privately take out the entrails to be deposited in an ark or chest, which they hold up to the sun, and invoke that luminary, one of the Libitinarii making a prayer for the deceased, which Euphantus has translated out of the Egyptian language. O Lord, the Sun, and all the Gods who give life to men, receive me, and admit me into the society of the immortal ones ; for as long as I resided

[ocr errors]

in this world I religiously worshipped the God whom my parents showed me, and have always honoured those who begat my body; nor have I killed any man, nor have I defrauded any of what has been committed to my trust, nor have I done any, thing which is inexpiable. Indeed, whilst I was alive, if I have sinned either by eating or drinking any thing which was not lawful, not through myself have I șinned, but through these,' (showing the ark and chest where the entrails were.). And having thus spoken, he casts it into the river, but the rest of the body he embalms as pure.”

Bating the latter doctrine, which savours somewhat of materialism, it must be confessed that this oration is strikingly sane and rational when compared with the general extravagance of their religious Creed. Their posthumous trial, too, of which so many representations are seen in hieroglyphics, by whose verdict the body of the wicked might be denied the rites of sepulturean apprehension which, according to Diodorus Siculus, éven kept their Kings in awe, was a salutary institution which might be beneficially revived, if it were likely to operate on the Sovereigns at the next Congress of the Holy Alliance. In those barbarous ages we cannot marvel that the body of the deceased might be legally detained for debt; that the Greeks, who put money into the mouths of their dead for the ferryman Charon, and a cake of flour and honey into their hands to propitiate Cerberus, should have retained the same custom, is nothing wonderful; and indeed it is upon record that Cimon was obliged to

purchase from the creditors the body of his father, the celebrated Miltiades -but that we, a Christian and enlightened people, should adopt this barbarism, and refuse so natural a right as that of sepulture for an offence so venial and conventional as that of debt, is indeed a somewhat startling inconsistency. It is currently believed that a Spanish ambassador of former days still lies in his coffin upon the marble floor of Westminster Hall, towards whom the common duties of religion and humanity have been unfulfilled, because he was found wanting towards society in the more important considerations of certain pounds, shillings, and pence!

In one respect, at all events, we have higher religious notions and a more exalted philosophy than our ancestors-we seek the preservation of the soul, not that of the body, Reason herself assuring us that it is a fond and foolish yearning to take heed for the worthless tegument, when the immortal spirit it enshrined has fled. Reason is a stout theorist, but very often a sorry practitioner: so we talk, but so we do not act. We cannot so easily forget this companion of our earthly pilgrimage_this sharer of our joys and sorrows-this body corporate, which constitutes our sole notion of identity and self. Few of us make a will without directing the place and manner of our interment: we conceive that we are gratifying those who have died before us by lavishing funeral honours upon their remains; we talk of the consolation of being laid with them in the tomb, of being gathered to our fathers, and of being rejoined by the children who

are to follow us.

All this appears ridiculous when applied to inanimate matter ; but we talk of death with the feelings of life, of another world with the inalienable affections of this. Montaigne says that the mind must be screwed to a high pitch to make it sensible of its own decay; how must it then be wound up to make it comprehend its own dissolution! Sense cannot understand its own insensibility, nor can consciousness conceive of its own unconsciousness; for we can no more project our understandings forward into our posthumous state, than we can cast them backwards into that which was ante-natal. Before the vital spark is extinct we throw its light into the grave; the only way in which it may consistently be said that even in our ashes live their wonted fires.”

How can we conceive of ourselves as inanimate, when it is much more difficult than is generally imagined to believe in the insensibility of external matter, to which we are perpetually attempting to impart our own sensitiveness. The child scolds, caresses, and reasons with its doll as if it were a rational being, occasionally beating the stool over which it has stumbled, and the floor upon which it has fallen, as if they were endued with feeling. “Men are but children of a larger growth :” Xerxes flogged and threw chains upon the sea, for wrecking his vessels ; the poor Indian, whose untutored mind “ sees God in clouds, and hears him in the wind,” considers the elements as the living ministers of his will; the Pagans in their beautiful mythology animated universal nature, vivifying the valleys, mountains, seas, rivers and trees, and bestowing

upon every spot, not otherwise appropriated, its local genius; Roman Catholics address their vows to statues, pictures, and relics, as the sensible representatives of an invisible prototype ; poets of all countries and persuasions personify and apostrophise the external features of nature; and there is hardly a man in existence who has not vented his spleen upon some portion of offending matter as if it were sensible to his resentment, or soliloquised it in his happier moods as if it could sympathise with his complacency.

As many countries do not afford wood enough for their combustion, it is to be presumed that nature meant our bodies for interment; and yet that method of mouldering back into our constituent elements is loathsome and revolting to every sense of man. The ancient practice of cremation was more delicate, and fraught with more grateful associations : that portion of us which fire could consume ascended in the form of smoke to heaven ; our less perishable remains, gathered from the funeral pyre, or preserved by the incombustible asbestos, were deposited in elegant vases and urns, to be consigned to the tomb, or sometimes enshrined among the domestic deities of the paternal dwelling. Cyrus, however, forbade this disposal of his body, or any other monument to be erected to his memory, thinking that this beautiful earth, with its majestic trees, delicious fruits, nodding flowers, and glorious overhanging firmament, formed a more magnificent tomb than any that the power of man could devise or execute. Cæsar and Alexander seem to have had no monuments; the sarcophagus

« AnteriorContinuar »