« PreviousContinue »
back, perhaps long before; and was understood to be disproved at that time. According to the systems, however, and calculations of modern philosophy, the sea-coasts all over the globe are in a constant state either of an accression or diminution of waters; and the imagination, in its gloomier moments, may still contemplate the desolation of Venice, approaching or far off.
Still the Venetians compared with most other people are a happy race. The blood runs quicker in their veins. They have more music, more freshness and easiness of life, more cordiality of intercourse. The good-natured philosopher still finds in Venice the greatest mixture of liveliness and sentiment: the restless man of genius, impatient of the contradiction of his young hopes, still finds there something to admire and to love. If the Venetians have been thought of too amorous a disposition, they are acknowledged to be temperate in every other respect, and to make excellent parents and kinsfolk : and it is to be observed that in many of the cities of Italy, the proneness to love has gradually produced a state of opinion on those matters, less severe than in. some other countries; so that they do not violate their consciences so much as might be supposed, and the guilt is of necessity diminished with the sense of it. A late traveller says, that the most striking thing after all in Venice is the extreme kindness and attentiveness of all ranks of people to one another. A young man going by with a burden begs his “ good father” (any given old gentleman) to let him have way; and the good father in as unaffected a tone is happy to make way for his “son.” It may be answered, considering the Venetian character, that this is but patural; and that the old gentleman does not know whom he may be talking to. But these, we conceive, are evidences which the disputatious moralist would do better in letting alone,
THE VAULTS OF ST. MICHAN'S. It is not generally known that the metropolis of Ireland contains a very singular subterraneous curiositya burial-place, which, from the chemical properties of the soil, acts with a certain embalming influence upon the bodies deposited within it. I speak of the vaults beneath St. Michan's church-a scene, where those who have the firuness to go down and look death in the face will find an instructive commentary upon the doctrines of moral humiliation that are periodically preached above. You descend by a few steps into a long and narrow passage that runs across the site of the church; upon each side there are excavated ample recesses, in which the dead are laid. There is nothing offensive in the atmosphere, to deter you from entering. The first thing that strikes you is, to find that decay has been more busy with the tenement than the tenant. In some instances, the coffins have altogether disappeared; in others, the lids or sides have mouldered away, exposing the remains within, still unsubdued by death from their original form. But the great conqueror of flesh and blood, and of human pride, is not to be baffled with impunity. Even his mercy is dreadful. It is a poor privilege to be permitted to hold together for a century or so, until your coffin tumbles in about your ears, and then to reappear half skeleton, half mummy, exposed to the gazes of a generation that can know nothing of your name and character, beyond the prosing tradition of some moralizing sexton. Among these remnants of humanity, for instance, there is the body of a pious gentlewoman, who, while she continued above ground, shunned the eyes of men in the recesses of a convent. But the veil of death has not been respected. She stands the very first on the sexton's list of posthumous rarities, and one of the valuable appendages of his office,she is his buried treasure. Her sapless cheeks yield him a larger rent than some acres of arable land; and what is worse, now that she cannot repel the imputa
tion, he calls her to her face, “the old Nun.” In point of fact, I understand that her age was one hundred and eleven, not including the forty years that have elapsed since her second burial in St. Michan's.
Death, as has often been observed, is a thorough radical, and levels all distinctions. It is so in this place. Beside the nun there sleeps, not a venerable abbess, or timid novice, or meek and holy friar, but an athletic young felon, of the 17th century, who had shed a bro-, ther's blood, and was sentenced for the offence to the close custody of St. Michan's vaults. This was about one hundred and thirty years ago. The offender belonged to a family of some consideration, which accounts for his being found in such respectable society.
The preservative quality of these vaults is various in its operation upon subjects of different ages and constitutions. With regard to the latter, however, it does not appear that persons who had been temperate livers enjoy any peculiar privileges. The departed toper resists decay as sturdily as the ascetic; supplying Captain Morris with another “reason fair to fill his glass again.” But it is ascertained that children are decomposed almost as rapidly here as elsewhere. Of this, a touching illustration occurs in the case of a female who died in child-birth about a century ago, and was de posited in St. Michan's. Her infant was in her armis. The mother is still tolerably perfect; exemplifying by her attitude the parental passion, strong in death ; but the child has long since melted away from her embrace: I inquired her name, and was rather mortified to find that it had not been preserved.
But I was chiefly affected by the relics of two persons, of whom the world has unfortunately heard too much : the ill-fated brothers, John and Henry Sheares • I had been told that they were here ; and the moment the light of the taper fell upon the spot they occupy, I quickly recognized them by one or two circumstances that forcibly recalled the close of their career-the headless trunks, and the remains of the coarse, unadorned, penal shells, to which it seemed necessary to public
justice that they should be consigned. Henry's head was lying by his brother's side: John's had not been completely detached by the blow of the executioner; one of the ligaments of the neck still connects it with the body. I knew nothing of those victims of ill-timed enthusiasm, except from historical report; but the companion of my visit to their grave had been their contemporary and friend, and he paid their memories the tribute of some tears, which, even at this distance of time, it would not be prudent to shed in a less privileged place. He lingered long beside them, and seemed to find a sad gratification in relating several particulars connected with their fates. Many of the anecdotes that he mentioned have been already published; two or three, that interested me, I had not heard before. “It was not to be expected," he said, “that such a man as John Sheares could have escaped the destiny that befell him. His doom was fixed several years before his death. His passion for freedom, as he understood it, was incurable; for it was consecrated by its association with another passion, to which every thing seemed justifiable. You have heard of the once celebrated Mademoiselle Theronane. John Sheares was in Paris at the commencement of the Revolution, and was introduced to her. She was an extraordinary creature; wild, imperious, and fantastic in her patriotic paroxysms; but in her natural intervals, a beautiful and fascinating woman. He became deeply enamoured of her, and not the less so for the political enthusiasm that would have repelled another. I have heard that he assisted, in the uniform of the national guard, at the storming of the Bastile, and that he encountered the peril, as a means of recommending himself to the object of his admiration. She returned that sentiment, but she would not listen to his suit; when he tendered a proposal of marriage, she produced a pistol, and threatened to lay him dead if he renewed the subject. This I had from himself. But her rigour did not extinguish his passion. He returned to Ireland, full of her image, and, I suspect, not with'out a hope that the success of the fatal enterprise in
which he embarked might procure him, at a future day, a more favourable hearing ; but of this and all his other hopes, you see' (pointing to his remains) “ the lamentable issue.” I asked whether his mistress had heard his fate, and how she bore it? My friend replied, " When I was at Paris during the short peace of Amiens, I asked the same question, but I met with no one that had personally known her. She was then living; in a condition, however, to which death would have been preferable. She was in a miserable state of insanity, and confined in a public institution.” “ John Sheares," he continued, “ Aung himself into the revolutionary cause, from principle and temperament; but Henry wanted the energy of a conspirator ; of this he was forewarned by an incident that I know to have occurred. Shortly after he had taken the oath of an United Irishman (it was towards the close of the year 1797), he was present at the election for the city of Dublin : a riot took place at the hustings, the military interfered, and the people fed in confusion. A tradesman, who resided in the vicinity, hearing the shouts, hastily moved to the spot to inquire the cause. The first person he met was Henry Sheares, pallid, trembling, and almost gasping for breath. He asked what had happened? Sheares, with looks and tones importing extraordinary perturbation, implored him, if he valued his life, to turn back. It was with some difficulty that the interrogator could obtain an intelligible account of the cause and extent of the danger. As soon as he had ascertained the fact, he fixed his eye on Sheares, and said : - Mr. Sheares, I know more of some matters than you may be aware of; take a friend's advice, and have no more to do with politics : you have not nerves, sir, for the business you have engaged in.' But the infatuation of the times, and the influence of his brother's character and example, prevailed. When the catastrophe came, John felt, when too late, that he should have offered the same advice. This reflection imbittered his last moments. It also called forth some generous traits that deserve to be remembered. His appeal to the