Page images
PDF
EPUB

court in behalf of his brother, as given in the report of the trial, is a model of natural pathos ; but I know of nothing more pathetic in conduct than a previous scene, which Curran once described to me as he had witnessed it. When Curran once visited them in prison, to receive instructions for their defence, John Sheares rushed forward, and embracing his knees, implored him to intercede for Henry: for himself he offered to plead guilty; to die at an hour's notice; to reveal all that they knew, with the exception of names; to do any thing that wight be fairly required of him, provided the government would consent to spare his brother."

The preserving power of the vaults of St. Michan's was long ascribed, by popular superstition, to the peculiar holiness of the ground; but modern philosophy has unwrought the miracle, by explaining, on chemical principles, the cause of the phenomenon. “Water is a sore decayer of your vile dead body.” The walls and soil of these vaults abound with carbonate of lime and argillaceous earth-acompound that absorbs the moisture which is necessary to the putrefactive process. In all weathers the place is perfectly free from damp. The consequence is, that animal matter exposed to such an atmosphere, though it undergoes important chemical changes, and soon ceases to be strictly flesh, yet retains for a length of time its external proportions. I had occasion to observe a circumstance that proves the uncommon dryness of the air. One of the recesses, which is fastened up, is the burial-place of a noble family. On looking through a grating of the door, we saw two or three coronets glittering from the remote extremity of the cell, as brightly as if they had been polished up the day before. The attendant assured us that it was more than a year since any one had entered the place. He inserted a taper within the grating to give us a fuller view, when his statement was corroborated by the appearance of an ample canopy of cobweb extending from wall to wall of this chamber of death, and which it must have cost the artificers many a weary

day and night to weave. A curtain of the same sepulchral gauze overhung the spot where the Shearses rest. I had seen the catacombs of Paris ; but I was more interested, and made to feel more for others and myself, in the vaults of St. Michan's. In the catacombs, the eye or the heart finds nothing individual to rest upon ; your sympathy is dispersed over myriads of anonymous skulls and thigh-bones, and these fantastically arranged into melo-dramatic combinations, as if the Graces have any business under ground; and after Death has picked us to the bone, our skeletons must be broken up, and shuffled into attitudes conforming to the immutable principles of Parisian taste. I could never heave a sigh while promenading between those neatly trimmed hedgerows of human bones : I thought of and pitied the workmen more than the materials. But at St. Michan's I felt that I was really in a sepulchre, and surrounded by the dead. The very absence of neatness in their distribution, and of respectful observance towards them, was a source of instructive reflection, by forewarning me of my cessation of personal importance when I shall cease to breathe. Every kick the sexton gave a chance skull or two that stopped the way had its moral : it was as good as the festive usage in old Egypt, of handing round an image of death from guest to guest, to the words of . . “ Drink and be merry, for such you shall be.” In the absence of such a custom now, I know of nothing more calculated to bring down the pride of any one that piques himself too much upon his flesh and blood than an occasional conversation in a churchyard with a sexton or grave-digger on the subject of their trade. It is very well as long as a man has a certain allowance of mind and muscles at his disposal, and can strut, and talk, and look big, and hum fragments of bravuras, and be seen now and then in a tandem, and resort to the other methods of commanding some deference to his personal identity; but when once this important personage becomes motionless, cold, and

tongue-tied, and unable to remonstrate, is seized by the undertaker,--and, as the Irish phrase is, “is put to bed with a shovel," --farewell human respect! “Out of sight, out of mind." His epitaph, if he has left assets to buy one, may for a while keep up a little bustle about his name; but a short dialogue with a sexton of after-times, over the scattered fragments of his existence, will afford a pretty accurate ineasure of the degree of real insignificance into which he has subsided. This is mortifying, but it is among the sources of our highest interests. Certainly it is only natural that we should look to some future compensation for our minds, in return for the many insults their old companions are sure to suffer when they are not by to protect them : it were an intolerable prospect otherwise. To-day, to be active, happy, and ambitious, conscious of being “made for the contemplation of heaven and all noble objects ;” and to-morrow, to be flung as useless lumber into a hole, and, in process of time, to be buffeted by grave-diggers, and shovelled up to make way for new comers, without a friendly moralizer to pronounce an “ Alas, poor Yorick !" over our chopfallen crania; or perhaps, (what is still more humiliating in a posthuinous point of view), to be purloined by resurrection men, and hung up in dissecting-rooms as models of osteology for the instruction of surgeons'mates ;-the thoughts of all this would gall, as well it might, our vanity to the quick, were it not that. Religion, assured of a retribution, can smile at these indignities, and discover, in every rude cuff that may be given to our dishonoured bones, a farther argument for the immortality of the soul.

New Monthly Magazine,

THE LAST MOMENTS OF DISTINGUISHED

CHARACTERS. Addison, upon being given over by his physicians, sent for a young dissolute nobleman to witness his dissolution; when he entered the chamber, Addison, who was extremely feeble, and whose life hung quivering on his lips, observed a profound silence. The youth, after a long and awful pause, at length said in low and tremulous accents, “ Sir, you desired to see me; signify your commands, and be assured they shall be executed with religious fidelity.” Addison took him by the hand, and with his expiring breath replied, “ Observe with what tranquillity a Christian can die."

ROUSSEAU, feeling himself about to expire, desired his attendants to place him before his chamber window, that he might once more look upon the flowers, and bid adieu to nature, which had ever afforded him so much delight.

EPAMINONDAS, “first and best of men,” received his mortal wound at the battle of Mantinea. In the agonies of dissolution he was solicitous only for his military glory, and the success of his countrymen. “Is my shield safe? -Are the Thebans victors ?” were questions that he repeated with the utmost anxiety. His shield was brought to him, and he was at the same time informed that the Spartans were defeated. A glow of brightness suffused itself over his countenance, even in the moment of death. In the midst of the general affliction, one of his most intimate friends exclaimed, “ Oh Epaminondas! you are dying, and we shall lose you entirely, without a hope remaining of seeing you revive in your offspring ; you leave us no children behind you.” • You are mistaken," replied Epaminondas calmly; “I shall leave behind me two immortal daughters-the victory of Leuctra, and that of Mantinea.” He then commanded the javelin, which was rankling in his side, to be extracted, knowing that it would occasion his immediate death, and gently expired in the arms of his surrounding friends. ;

Roscommon, at the moment he expired, with a peculiar energy of voice, uttered two lines of his own version of “ Dies Iræ."

Waller repeated some lines from Virgil in his last moments.

CHAUCER,“ upon his dethe-bede, lying in his grete anguysse,” (to use his own remarkable words) composed a balade or moral ode, and thus bade farewell to the vanity of human wishes.

CORNELIUS DE WIT, who, as Hume says, “ had bravely served his country in war, and who had been invested with the highest dignities," fell a sacrifice to popular prejudice. He was delivered into the hands of the executioner, and while suffering the severest tortures, repeated the 3d ode of the 3d book of Horace. " Justum, et tenacem propositi virum,” &c.

Of him that's steadfast to his trust,

Firm in resolve, th' unshaken soul,
No civic rage commanding what's unjust;

No tyrant's threatful frown can e'er control. METASTASIO, after having received the sacrament, broke out with all the enthusiasm of religion and poetry into the following stanzas :

T'offro il tuo proprio figlio,

Che già d'amore in pegno
Racchinso in picciol segno

Si volle a noi donar.
A lui rivolgi it ciglio,
Guardo chi t'offro, e poi,
Lasci, Signor, se veroi,

Lascia di perdonar. The philosophical departure of SOCRATES is well known.

Lucan, when the monster Nero ordered his veins to be opened, died while reciting some lines from his own Pharsalia, in which he had described a dying wounded soldier.

The Spectator has translated the sonnet which the famous Des BARREUX composed in bis parting moments.

« PreviousContinue »