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REMINISCENCES OF THE PAST
There are many spots in London sacred to the memory of the
departed great. Some of them are out of the way, in quiet nooks, or corners of
old churchyards, where few persons ever go, and others are in renowned places,
where the eyes of the world are sure to see them.
In Westminster Abbey fashion and nobility deign to gaze upon the tombs of philosophers, and poets, and statesmen. But there are places to which few wander, but yet which mark the burial-places of men of genius, of goodness and greatness. There are graves mossed over by gray years, without even a legible tombstone, which are sadly interesting to the lover of truth and religion, and poetry. Everybody can tell where Horace Walpole was buried ; but who can go and stand over Chatterton's grave? He was buried among paupers - while the aristocratic butterfly who saw him perish without remorse, had a tomb like a king.
There is to us a peculiar pleasure in finding out the haunts of the poets of ages ago, and of good men, and resting upon the grass which waves gracefully over their graves. And we are content to take up with a hero whom the world may not have christened as the greatest. There are smaller stars in [-238-] the firmament, which though not so brilliant, are as beautiful as the largest. There were men living a century or two centuries ago, not perhaps the greatest of men, but who were great and good enough to deserve immortality at the hands of the world.
In passing up a street called "City Road," we had often noticed a burial-yard which juts closely upon the street, so that we lingered sometimes to read the inscriptions on the tombstones. We were first attracted toward it by seeing a granite column in memory of "Thomas Hardy," who, a century ago (so says the granite column), was a great radical, and befriended the cause of the people to such an extent that he was thrown into the Tower on a charge of high-treason, where he lay separated from his family for six months, when he had his trial, which resulted in his triumphant acquittal by an honest English jury.
Just opposite this yard there is another, which contains the dust of Wesley, the founder of Wesleyan Methodism. No one who has ever read the life of that truly devoted man can stand over his grave without feeling and thoughtfulness. There is something in every earnest and holy man's life, though only seen through biography, which commands the respect of even the worldling, and no man, however cold, ever bent over Wesley's modest tomb without feeling in his inmost heart a sentiment of veneration for so disinterested and truly pious a character.
The opposite yard is called "Bunhill Fields," and was opened, if we recollect aright, just after the Great Plague which raged so fearfully in London.
One Sunday afternoon, seeing for the first time in all our walks past it, the yard-gate open, we dropped into "Bunhill Fields." A friend was with us, and we turned in at the little gate to decipher the quaint inscriptions upon the timeworn stones.
[-239-] The yard is of considerable extent, and is very thickly strewn with stones. Almost all of them, too, we noticed, were old, some of them extremely old. Upon some the inscriptions were entirely worn away, and not a trace remained to tell the stranger whose ashes were beneath his feet.
We had wandered away from the main path, following a little narrow one strewn with gravel, when a tomb of very ancient appearance arrested our attention. It was in the style of the small, square tombs of the sixteenth century, and the stone was worn away in certain places by the ever-busy fingers of time. There were traces of old inscriptions, but so crumbled away that nothing could be made out of them. Upon one side was the simple inscription
"MR. JOHN BUNYAN,
"AUTHOR OF THE PILGRIMS PROGRESS,
"Obt. 31st August, 1688,
It was what we had come to see - Bunyan's
grave. The simple inscription struck us dumb, for we were standing over the dust
of the author of that wonderful book which has penetrated to all parts of the
world, and whose name is like a saint's in thousands of Christian households.
The despised artisan of London, base-born, lowly every way, and treated with
cruelty, made his name immortal, so that in lands where then nought was heard
but the Indian's wild war-whoop, now millions of Christians pronounce his name
with love and veneration! His earnest, fearless spirit; his pure devotion to
Christ; his endurance of suffering and strong intellect can never be forgotten
so long as religious freedom has worshippers.
The tomb bore the imprints of the years which have rolled away since the body of John Bunyan was laid in its final [-240-] resting-place - and what changes and wonders have they witnessed ! Worlds have been peopled, as it were, since then, and light has driven out darkness, and the hideous spirit of Religious Intolerance has grown feeble, and in every year, every month, every day since then John Bunyan has borne his part of the battle for truth and piety. His pages have comforted, strengthened or sustained some desponding heart each hour since then - how wonderful is that immortality which a man creates for himself. How strange that by a heroic act poor man may work on till the earth perishes, while the fingers which once executed it are but dust!
Turning away from the tomb we resumed our wanderings, and soon stood before the grave of Dr. Watts. He was not a great man, not a great poet, but he was a good man, and his simple songs are now sung from Atlantic to Pacific in many homes and churches. As we leaned against his tomb, we had a vivid glimpse of the summer-sabbaths of America; of the simple country-churches, and the songs of village-choirs singing the hymns of Watts. We remembered Longfellow's touching picture of the village blacksmith:
"He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughters voice
Singing in the village-choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.
It sounds to him like her mother's voice
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes."
Those smiling sabbaths !-how beautiful and holy they were! And it is something to the honor of Isaac Watts that his hymns are chanted in so many lands on these holiest of [-241-] all days! And speaking of sabbaths - a sabbath morning in London in the summer time is a beautiful sight! People clad in their best crowd all the streets on their way to church, and the chimes from a thousand bells fill the air with cheerful music. We have sometimes listened, when perhaps a half-dozen miles out of town, to the sabbath-bells, and never in any town or country heard any thing more beautiful. The distance made the music soft, and the variety of sounds, and their cheerful tone, and the sabbath sunlight, made the very air seem joyful. After service, go into the parks, and you find them crowded with men, women and children, especially the latter, who are brought out in great swarms to play upon the grass in the open air. But, to return to Bunhill Fields;- after leaving Bunyan's and Watts' graves, we wandered at leisure over the crowded but quaint grave-yard. Some of the grave-stones were extremely, old-fashioned, and bore the quaintest inscriptions. In one part of the yard the graves were crowded together so closely that there was no space for walking between them, but this was where persons had been buried many years ago. In a part where recent graves had been made we saw some exceedingly beautiful tombs and marbles. There were not many people in the yard, for Bunhill Fields is not an elegant, fashionable burying-ground. In it lie some of the sternest of the old puritans, who had little sympathy for the fashions of this world. Indeed the whole aspect of the yard was gloomy and stern. Not a flower raised its head anywhere to be kissed by the breezes sweeping over the spot. Not a cedar or cypress tree was anywhere to be seen. And they would not be in keeping there. The religion of those grand old puritans was a solemn, almost gloomy thing. Yet was it not superior to the easy, poetical religion of this age?
We made one day a delightful visit to
Stoke Newington, an ancient suburb of London, and saw many things full of
interest. Many years ago Stoke Newington was a very fashionable place for
residence. In Queen Elizabeth's time there was a royal residence in it. We were
shown a delightful walk, lined with ancient oak-trees, which is called
"Queen Elizabeth's walk," because she used often to walk in it with
Lord Leicester. There is a very beautiful villa in it, with a fine park, which
the dissolute George IV. used as a residence for some of his mistresses. But
there are other things in Stoke Newington of far deeper interest than any of
these relics of royalty. There is in it a Friends' Burying-Ground, where lie the
ashes of that pure and simple-hearted man, William Allen, who though simple, yet
consorted with kings. When the Emperor of Russia was in London, he came with
plain William Allen to the Friends' Meeting House in Stoke Newington, and knelt
upon the bare floor of the house of worship, while the honest Quaker prayed for
him as he would do for any other man. We have seen one who witnessed that scene,
and he says it was a thrilling sight. The grave-yard is a quiet spot-the graves
are all grassed over, and are without tombstones. In it lies buried the mother
of Mary Howitt. A few years ago, while in England, we had the happiness of
making her acquaintance, and a more intelligent, happier woman we never met. Her
brow was smiling as that of youth, though she was very old.
In Stoke Newington there is one street, on which are houses, in which Dr. Watts, Daniel Defoe, the author of "Robinson Crusoe," and Mrs. Barbauld lived ! The very house in which Defoe lived was pointed out to us, and we could not help stopping awhile before it to think of the olden [-243-] time. There is a Common, east of the house, on which he used to love to walk in pleasant weather. The house is old and crumbling, yet it is still inhabited and finely furnished. The outside of some of the most aristocratic buildings in London are exceedingly plain, and this old building is occupied by a person of wealth and taste. To wander through its rooms and think of the time when Defoe sat over his desk in one of them, writing his story which will live as long as the world, to the delight of the young, was to us a choice pleasure. It almost seemed as if the man "Friday" lurked somewhere behind some of the great window-curtains, and as if relics of the wonderful spot where Crusoe was so long a "monarch of all he surveyed," must be hid somewhere in the recesses of the old building!
The house in which Mrs. Barbauld lived is not far from Defoe's, and like it, is very old. The house in which Dr. Watts lived is in pretty much the same condition. There is an old building in Stoke Newington which used, many years ago, to be a chapel, and in it Dr. Watts used to preach. It has not been used for many years for public worship, but recently a religious society, while refitting their ordinary place of worship, used the old building, though it is little better than a ruin, for a few Sabbaths. We improved the occasion, and attended meeting there one day. The old pews and the pulpit were gone, but we could see the place where the pulpit used to stand, and the old walls were the very same which had for many a year, looked kindly down upon Isaac Watts! Our thoughts, we fear, were not with the preacher while we were in the old building, but "far away," among the scenes of years ago.
There is a beautiful cemetery in Stoke Newington, and it was given to the inhabitants by Lady Abney, who was a sincere friend to Dr. Watts. There is in it a pretty little church, where funeral services are performed by all denom-[-244-]inations of Christians. Lady Abney was very liberal in her religious views, and the cemetery is, with its church, open to all alike, and though its grounds were never consecrated, yet many rigid churchmen have been buried in it. There is no quieter burial spot within a dozen miles of London in any direction, and there are cedars of Lebanon in it, wide lawns, and beautiful flowers. There is an old clergyman in the church, who is always ready to officiate for a small fee on funeral occasions. He is over eighty years old, his hair is like the snow, and he is a fit companion to such a solemn place.
One shining evening, with a female friend we visited the cemetery, and stopped in the little Gothic chapel to talk with the venerable clergyman. The tears actually sprung over his eyelids when we said that we came from America. "Ah!" said he, "I have two fine boys there!" Almost every family among the poor respectable classes in England, has some member, or relation in America. The old man asked a thousand questions about the wonderful far land of liberty in the west, which we were glad to answer.
We wandered over the lonely, yet lovely cemetery, stopping here and there to read the inscriptions on the grave-stones.
"Here," said our companion, as we stopped before a beautiful tablet under the branches of a tree, "here, a few years ago, was buried a pretty, prattling girl whom I knew, and loved, and who often used to come and play among the flowers on our lawn. One day, very suddenly, she died of a heart-disease. The suddenness of the stroke almost killed her father and mother. Her portrait was taken after death, and when she was arranged for the artist, I came in and looked at her. Never saw I so touching a sight She was dressed as if alive, and was half reclining upon a sofa in the drawing-room. Her cheeks were like the rose-leaves, and if her eyes bad not been closed I should have believed her alive. The southern windows were thrown open - it was a June morn-[-245-]ing - and the odor of flowers came in with the songs of the birds. Her mother entered the room - the sight was too much for her, and she fainted. The fair girl was buried in this sweet spot, but will never be forgotten by those who knew her.
In one part of the Cemetery we noticed a fine monument to Dr. Watts, but the most interesting spot is away to the north-eastern corner, where a small plot of ground is fenced off from the rest. On it there is a large and venerable oak, and that was the favorite place of retirement of Dr. Watts, when he was alive. A small tablet bears an inscription to that effect. It formerly was a part of the park belonging to Lady Abney, and as Dr. Watts was her guest for a long time, he selected the shade of this old tree as his favorite place of resort. Many a time has the good man rested upon the grass beneath its branches, and perhaps composed there some of those songs which are now sung in all Christian lands.
Lady Abney caused the spot to be railed off from the rest of the grounds after his death. The path to the spot is well worn by the feet of those who admire the goodness and piety of Dr. Watts.
England above all other lands, is celebrated for the respect which she pays to her distinguished dead. The country churches and church-yards of England are the most beautiful in the world, and the influence of such places is chastening to the soul, in this harsh world of ours.
HAMPSTEAD AND HIGHGATE.
As we have before remarked, there are in
London many places where lie the ashes of distinguished men and women of
centuries gone. Some of these places are in out-of-the-way nooks and corners,
where the great world never comes-for much places we always cherished a
fondness. Not always to [-246-] St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey, where the
bones of great men repose in grandeur, was it our pleasure to wander to gather
reminiscences of the past, but to quieter places, to neglected spots.
In the village of Hampstead, a suburb of London on the west, Joanna Baillie, the distinguished authoress, used to live. She died, as the reader well knows, during the winter of last year; and it seemed to the literary world, that when she died, the link which connected them with the past generation of poets and authors was broken. She was a favorite with Sir Walter Scott, and the "Great Unknown" used always to visit her in her quiet home at Hampstead when he was in London. She was the companion of many of those bright and glorious geniuses which the world worships now - now that they are gone beyond the reach of the envy and hatred of their generation.
One day we wandered over the pretty village of Hampstead, and from the summit of Hampstead Heath, had a splendid view of Windsor Castle, distant nearly twenty miles. The village is on an eminence which overlooks London, and is an exceedingly healthy situation for a residence. After wandering over the Heath, and village, at last we entered the village grave yard, and almost the first grave we saw was that of Joanna Baillie. It half seemed to us that she selected the spot before her death, for it is as sweet and beautiful a place as even a poet would wish to be buried in. The grave is where all London lies beneath it. The blue hills of Surrey rise beyond the tall dome of St. Paul's ; the great town lies open as on a map far below, while the noisy hum of traffic swells upward on the breezes which hasten over the great town. A more beautiful burial-spot we never saw, though the cemetery is often surpassed, taken as a whole; and it is fit that a poetess should be buried in such a place.
Not far from Hampstead is Highgate Cemetery, and we [-247-] walked over to it. It is by far-in our opinion- is most beautiful cemetery in the region of London, though it is not equal to Mount Auburn and Greenwood in America, or P?re le Chaise in France. Yet it is situate on an eminence - on the south-eastern slope of a beautiful hill, looking down upon the busy metropolis, and is a quiet and retired place. We saw many beautiful and even magnificent tombs in the cemetery, and among others one that saddened us, for it was the grave of a countryman, who had died far, far away from his native land. We remembered our own feelings when on the same foreign shore, we lay, as many thought, upon our last couch.
A short distance from the cemetery we entered upon one of the sweetest English lanes that ever we saw. Perhaps a kind of beauty was added to it from the fact that it used once to be the favorite walk of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. For, many years since, Keats and Shelley used to walk in it, and Byron too, and Coleridge. Leigh Hunt, if we mistake not, first met Keats in this lane, and speaks of it in some of his writings.
One day in June - on a morning full of sunshine and songs - Shelley, who was full of strange fancies, as he was walking with a companion on the brow of this beautiful eminence of Highgate, stopped and gazed for a long time upon the lovely scene spread out before him, until he at last burst into tears, exclaiming, "I have seen this all before! In the past - in some previous existence-where? where?"
Who has not, on some peculiar occasion or moment in his life, felt the same? Felt that the then present moment, with all its adjuncts of circumstance and place, had been lived somewhere by himself before? To Shelley, the feeling, which was probably an illusion of the brain, was like a revelation of something beyond the common sight of men, an insight into the mysterious past, and he felt awed, surprised, affected to [-248-] tears with the thought that previous to his present existence he had seen with the same soul, that glorious landscape.
Coleridge often came with some pleasant book to pass away the hours among beautiful things - to Highgate Hill. and the region of the Cemetery.
There is an old church, right in the heart of London, which we visited one day, where repose the ashes of John Milton, the sublime author of Paradise Lost. It is called C ripplegate Church. As we stood within its ancient walls, with the light coming in beautifully and solemnly through the painted windows, we thought of the time when the remains of the great poet were interred there - when he was alive and composing that poetry which has made his name immortal. The old clerk of the place showed us in the Book of Registry, the entry of Milton's name. It read as follows:
In these brief words the death of one of the world's greatest men was recorded. It was simply " John Milton;" he died of "consumption;" and he was a "gentleman." Not a single word about his greatness and glory - as if he had been a common man of the world. Some admirer has placed in the church a small marble statue of the poet, and that is all.
We occasionally met with people in London circles, who were once intimately connected with those whose names are held in great esteem and reverence in America. Through a singular blunder we first met the daughter of the celebrated divine, Dr. Adam Clarke, and subsequently made her acquaintance. We also had the extreme pleasure of a visit at the house of the only surviving daughter of the distinguished. Robert Hall. She lives on the Surrey side of the Thames, has a beautiful home, and is a remarkable woman. In London society one continually meets with people who are as it [-249-] were the connecting links between this and the past age. There are those who were intimate with Byron, and Scott, and Shelley, when they were alive; those who knew Campbell, L. E. L., and other persons of genius now deceased ; and to hear such men converse on the merits of the great ones gone to their final sleep, knowing them once as they did intimately, was to us a luxury and a privilege.
While we are writing of men of past ages,
the reader will excuse us if we indulge in a few thoughts upon that most un.
fortunate of the English poets - Thomas Chatterton. Four months of his
life were spent in London, and those his most eventful ones, for they were his
last. Who has not wept over the history of those four sad months - months of
desertion, disappointment, madness, and death? We have walked the very streets
he used to walk; gazed at the building in which was once his little garret-room
where he died - and if we refresh the reader's memory with some of the incidents
of his melancholy history, we are sanguine of pardon.
He was born a century ago in the town of Bristol, England. His ancestors for many generations had been keepers of the St. Mary Redcliffe church, in that town - a church still noted for its extreme beauty. His father died before "the wondrous boy" was born, but his mother resided near the church, and his young brain was filled with her wild legends and marvellous stories concerning it. When very small he used to get the keeper's leave, and ramble over it for hours together, among its solemn aisles, and ancient, dingy cloisters.
When five years of age he was sent to school, but was pronounced by the master to be an incorrigible dunce. Not long after this, he accidentally met an old French book, filled with pictures which fostered his love for antique things, which had [-250-] been kindled in his lonely wanderings through Redcliffe Church. At eight he became a member of the Bristol Bluecote School, and was an astonishing devourer of books. He abstracted time from his sleeping hours to gratify this passion, and was severely whipped for it in several instances. When he was ten years old he became reserved and melancholy, frequently breaking out into fits of weeping. His ambition to be great, famous, and gifted, was intense. He spent his holidays invariably in an old and desolate cloister of the church, and his frequent visits attracted attention. It was noticed that he always carried with him pen, ink, and paper, ochre and charcoal-dust. The room was visited once during his absence, and nothing discovered save an old chest. If they had raised the lid of the chest, the secret would have been discovered. As it was, his friends made up their minds that he was fitting himself to join a roving band of gipsies, then in the vicinity of Bristol. But here he came regularly to complete his mysterious work. When he was twelve years old, he amazed an inhabitant of Bristol by discovering in the old chest of the cloister, the man's pedigree, with coats of arms painted on parchments. He traced his descent back to the great Earl of Northumberland, and the man received these indubitable proofs of his noble extraction with joy. He did not suppose a mere boy capable of such splendid forgeries.
A literary gentleman was just then writing a work upon Bristol, and Chatterton hearing that he lacked information of the early history of the town, again discovered in his old chest its full history, illustrated with small maps, and sketches of the streets and churches, by one Canynge! This forgery must have required great skill.
And what was more marvellous still, he put his little fingers down into the old chest, and drew forth poetry of exquisite beauty, purporting to have been written seven centuries before, and principally by one Thomas Rowley, a monk, who [-251-] wrought, according to this young lad's discovery, tragedies, epics, and interludes in delicious profusion. These poems were at once pronounced by the great men of the day to be of rare beauty, and the old monk took his place among the English poets.
How strange that these men did not suspect the brilliant deception practised upon them - and yet how much more strange that so young a brain should possess the genius to write poetry that should reflect honor and fame upon a fictitious personage.
Disguising himself, he wrote to Horace Walpole of London, then at the head of the literary world, mentioned his discoveries, and sent a specimen of the poetry. Walpole, supposing him to be some distinguished antiquarian, wrote back as to an equal, and praised the poetry as containing the proofs of great genius.
Now, Chatterton thought it time to make a bold stroke. So he borrowed a few guineas and came to London - happy for him if he had ever stayed away! He came, however, and avowed the truth - the drawings, the parchments, the histories, and the poetry, were all the work of a boy of sixteen! The literary coxcomb, Lord Walpole, had been deceived by a mere boy. How easily he might have protected him and led him on, step by step, to one of the highest pinnacle of Fame! But no. When he saw that a mere boy had wrought these things, instead of wondering at his genius, he was enraged at his deception. He tore up the poor boy's letters, amid advised him to go home and mind his business. But the boy-poet was too proud for that, and as he loved his mother and could not bear to pain her, he wrote her pleasant letters about the honors that were showered upon him, when in fact he was starving. He lived a while with a plasterer in Shoreditch, but the poor man could ill afford to harbor the melancholy poet. Next he removed to a kind-hearted milli-[-252-]ner's, in Brook-street, Holborn, where ?he stayed until his death. The building is now occupied by one Steffanoni, as a furniture warehouse, and we visited it one day. Here he lived many weeks on the borders of starvation, for he only hired the garret-room of the milliner, and got his meals where and how he could. Here in the depths of his despair he wrote the hymn which has caused tears of joy to flow from many eyes as being the type of his better spirit. Would that he could always have preserved the beautiful faith embodied in the last verse
"The gloomy mantle of the night,
Which on toy sinking spirit steals,
Will vanish at the morning light,
Which God, my East, my Sun, reveals!"
Alas! not one of all the great ones who had praised the poetry of the supposed monk offered help. What should he do? Live a few miserable months, haunted by dire images, and comforted daily with an unsatisfied hunger - or die? The rich crowded past him, selfish and sordid - they whose names are now in oblivion - and there was no bright hope to cheer his soul. The night gathered about his young heart, his brain grew wild, and in a paroxysm of despair he committed suicide. He wrote his own epitaph as follows
"TO THE MEMORY OF
"Reader, judge not; if thou art a Christian believe that he shall be judged by a superior power; to that Power is he alone now answerable."
He was buried among the paupers of Shoe
Lane. As we stood over the supposed spot of his grave, now a marketplace, we
thought of the day, long ago, when his poor corpse [-253-] was borne thither to be
cast into a pauper grave-yard, never to be recovered again - and then of
the present fame of that young genius! Hardly any great author has existed since
then who has not written of the "wondrous boy Chatterton!" Neglected
as he was by his own age, the succeeding one has put his name among the stars!
While we write, a fragment of that very chest, from which his slight fingers drew such poetry and parchments, lies upon our desk. Perhaps those fingers have often rested upon it, while his heart was throbbing with ambitious hope! If he could only have known that a century from then, a mere fragment of his old Canynge chest would be worshipped as a precious relic of him, how his young heart would have leaped! But his story tells us a useful truth; that genius, sooner or later, must and will have its reward.
There are few visitors in London who go to
see the tomb of the great Nelson - England's naval hero. His monument may be
seen any day in the great Cathedral of St. Paul's - under the loftiest dome in
England. But his tomb it is difficult to see, for it is beneath the stone floor,
in the dark crypt of St. Paul's. We visited the spot one chilly winter's day,
descending by a door in the nave, at the southern transept. Our guide was an old
man, whose hair clustered in gray curls about his forehead, for he had seen many
winters. He carried a lantern in his right hand, and led the way for us. We
first visited the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren, the great architect of St.
Paul's, and many other famous buildings in London. It is situated nearly under
the altar of the former Cathedral The subterranean apartment was dark and
gloomy, and the rays of the lantern only "made the darkness visible."
Not far from the tomb of the great architect, are the remains of [-254-] Bishop
Newton. Next to these are those of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the painter, and
Benjamin West of Pennsylvania. A feeling strange and powerful came over us as we
stood there amid the gloom, with our feet upon the dust of Reynolds and West.
The two countries - England amid America - were represented in that solemn place
of distinguished dead. With the sight of Reynolds' tomb came thoughts of his
companions - of sturdy, cross Sam Johnson, and fawning Boswell, and splendid
Edmund Burke, and poor but glorious "Goldy" - the world's Oliver
The dingy, dreary old place was well calculated to excite one's imagination, and we could see them plainly as living. In a strange corner of the place we saw some decayed effigies in stone. One was of Dr. Donne in his shroud; another of Lord Chancellor Hatton, and still another of Sir William Cockayne.
But now our old guide led us to Nelson's tomb, saying,
"Here lies the greatest of them all!"
It is immediately under the great dome of St. Paul's, and is shut out from the rest of the crypt by iron palisades Eight stone pillars surround the spot, giving to it the appearance of a small temple. The tomb is in the centre. The sarcophagus is of very ancient date, for Cardinal Wolsey ages ago designed it for his own use, but after his fall it was seized by King Henry, and kept at Windsor until the time of George III., who gave it for the body of Nelson. But Nelson was never placed in it. Upon this tomb lies the costly sarcophagus with Nelson's coronet upon it. This struck us with surprise - for what use can be an empty sarcophagus laid upon the tomb of any man ? From historical associations and intrinsic gorgeousness it is of great value, but is a singular decoration to be placed upon a man's grave.
There was an air of awful gloom over and around the spot - we could have seen nothing but for the guide's lantern.
[-255-] The old man seemed lost in thought, and was not garrulous as guides usually are.
"And this is Nelson's tomb!" said we aloud.
"Yes," replied the guide, "but you should have seen his funeral."
"Did you see it?" we asked.
"Yes - and a great sight it was."
We begged him to tell us about it.
"The hearse," said he, "was decorated with models of the Victory - above was a canopy with six black plumes, and a coronet in the centre supported by four columns. The car was drawn by six splendid horses, each being led. The Prince of Wales followed it, and the Dukes of York, Clarence, Kent, Cumberland, Sussex and Cambridge. There were also there many of the noble men who fought his battles with him. Hardy seamen wept like children. The great Cathedral was lit up by torches and lamps, as all the sunlight was purposely excluded. Seats were fitted lip to accommodate thousands.
You should have seen them when all were congregated - for never will this old Cathedral show such another sight! One hundred and thirty lamps were suspended from the great dome above, and the effect was imposing. The music was solemn and grand, and by invisible machinery a bier was raised from the vault below to the aperture under the dome, and upon it the coffin was placed. Sailors folded up the flags of the Victory and laid them in the grave. The noble sea-veterans were determined to secure something as a remembrance of their great commander, and each tore off a piece of these flags. The great concourse of people lingered around the spot when the ceremonies were over, as if they could not bear to leave.
We asked the old man if the masses out of doors manifested any sorrow.
"Yes - all London was in gloom. Sailors everywhere felt [-256-] that they had lost their brightest ornament. The shops were all closed for the day in the business streets.
We again stood before the tombs of Reynolds and West. The old guide manifested no interest in them. And so it is generally - the heroes of war are loved and worshipped by the masses. Nelson in the eyes of the old man, was his country's saviour. But to us, Reynolds with his brush and canvass was greater than Nelson upon his Victory!
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