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FOLLOWING THE CORPSE TO THE GRAVE,
CARRYING EVERGREENS ON THAT OCCASION IN THE HAND,
TOGETHER WITH THE USE OF PSALMODY.
BOURNE tells uso that the heathens followed the corpse to the
grave, because it presented to them what would shortly follow, how they themselves should be so carried out to be deposited in the grave.3
In Articles to be enquired of within the Archdeaconry of Yorke, by the Churchwardens and Sworne Men, 163—, 4to., I find the following: “ Whether at the death of any there be praying for the dead at crosses, or places where crosses hare been, in the way to the church."
Misson, in lus Travels in England, translated by Ozell, p. 90, speaking of funerals, says: “ They let the body lye three or four days, as well to give the dead person an opportunity of coming to life again, if his soul has not quite left his body, as to prepare mourning, and the ceremonies of the funeral. They send the beadle with a list of such friends and relations as they have a mind to invite; and sometimes they have printed tickets, which they leave at their houses. A little before the company is set in order for the march, they lay the body into the coffin, upon two stools, in a room, where all that please may go and see it; then they take off the top of the coffin, and remove from off the face a little square piece of fannel, made on purpose to cover it, and not fastened to anything. Being ready to move, one or more beadles march first, each carrying a long staff, at the end of which is a great apple, or knob of silver. The body comes just after the minister or ministers, attended by the clerk. The relations in close mourning, and all the guests, two and two, make up the rest of the procession."
' Graves were anciently called pyttes. See Strutt's Manners and Customs, iii. 172.
? Antiquitates Vulgares, chap. iii.
3“ Præcedenti pompa funebri, vivi sequuntur, tanquam haud multo post morituri.” Alex. ab Alexand. iii. 67. Polyd. Verg. lib. vi. c. 10, p. 405. So, in Langley's Translation of Polydore Vergil, fol. 128, we read : “ In burials the old rite was that the ded corpse was borne afore, and the people folowed after, as one should saie we shall dye and folowe after hym, as their laste wordes to the coarse did pretende. For thei used to saie, when it was buried, on this wise, Farewell, wee come after thee, and of the folowyng of the multitude thei were called exequies.”
Macaulay, in his History of Claybrook, 1791, p. 131, observes: “At the funeral of a yeoman, or farmer, the clergyman generally leads the van in the procession, in his canonical habiliments; and the relations follow the corpse, two and two, of each sex, in the order of proximity, linked in each other's arms. At the funeral of a young man it is customary to have six young women, clad in white, as pall-bearers; and the same number of young men, with white gloves and hat-bands, at the funeral of a young woman. But these usages are not so universally prevalent as they were in the days of our fathers.”
Gough, in the introduction to his second volume of Sepulchral Monuments, p. 204, says: “In Flintshire it is customary to say the Lord's prayer on bringing the corpse out of the house.” At South Shields, co. Durham, the bidders, i. e, the inviters to a funeral, never use the rapper of the door when they go about, but always knock with a key, which they carry with them for that purpose. I know not whether this custom be retained anywhere else.
The following form of inviting to burials by the public bellman of the town is still, or was very lately, in use at Hexham, in the county of Northumberland : “ Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. Joseph Dixon is departed, son of Christopher Dixon was. Their company is desired tomorrow at five o'clock, and at six he is to be bu-ri-ed. For him and all faithful people give God most hearty thanks.”
Grose says : “ If you meet a funeral procession, or one passes by you, always take off your hat: this keeps all evil spirits attending the body in good humour."
In Dunbar's Will of Maister Andro Kennedy, a profligate student, are some curious, if not profane parodies on the then funeral rites :
“ In die meæ sepulturæ,
I will have nane but onr awn gang,
Bearand ane barrel on a stang.
Sicut egomet solebam,
Potum meum cum fletu miscebam.
I will no preistis for to sing,
Dies illæ dies iræ,'
Sicut semper solet fieri;
Et unum alewisp ante me,
Quatuor lagenas cervisiæ.
In modum crucis, juxta me,
Te terra plasmasti me.” There is a most concise epitaph on a stone that covers the body of one of the fellows of St. John's Coilege, Oxford, in the ante-chapel there. It is “Præivit,” he is gone before.
Christians, says Bourne, observe the custom of following the corpse to the grave, because this form of procession is an emblem of our dying shortly after our friend. In like manner, the carrying in our hands of ivy, sprigs of laurel, rosemary, or other evergreens, is an emblem of the soul's immortality. So Gay :
** To shew their love, the neighbours far and near
Followed, with wistful look, the damsel's bier :
While dismally the parson walk'd before." Many instances of the use of rosemary at funerals are to be collected from old writers. In Cartwright's Ordinary, act v. sc. 1, we read :
“ If there be
To smell.at as they walk along the streets.” In the second part of Dekker's Honest Whore, 1630, is the following passage : • My winding-sheete was taken out of lavender to be stucke with rosemary." In Shirley's Wedding, 1633, scene “ A table set forth with two tapers ; servants placing ewe, bayes, and rosemary, &c. Enter Beauford.
I A common hymn at funerals.
“ Beau. Are these the herbs you strow at funerals ?
Servt. Yes, sir.
ha ye not art enough
But they present that best when they are wither'd."
, from the 30th April to May 7th, 1619, that “at the funeral of Robert Lockier (who was shot for mutiny April 27th or 28th preceding, the manner of whose funeral was most remarkable, considering the person to be in no higher quality than a private trooper, for the late king had not half so many to attend his corpse), the corpse was adorned with bundles of rosemary on each side; one half of each was stained in blood, and the sword of the deceased with them.” Misson, in his Travels, in continuation of a passage already quoted, says, p. 91, “when the funeral procession is ready to set out, they nail up the coffin, and a servant presents the company with sprigs of rosemary: every one takes a sprig, and carries it in his hand till the body is put into the grave, at which time they all throw in their sprigs after it.” In Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress, at the prostitute's funeral there are sprigs of rosemary.
The Romans and other heathens, upon this occasion, made use of cypress, which, being once cut, will never flourish nor grow again, as an emblem of their dying for ever :' but instead of that, the ancient Christians used the things before mentioned, and deposited them under the corpse in the grave, to signify that they who die in Christ, do not cease to live; for though, as to the body, they die to the world, yet, as to their souls, they live and revive to God.
1 The reader conversant in the classics will call to mind here the beau. tiful thought in the idyllium on Bion, by Moschus, iij. 1, 100; though the fine spirit of it will evaporate when we apply it to the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. The antithesis will be destroyed. We quote from the translation by Fawkes :
“ Alas! the meanest flowers which gardens yield,
The vilest weeds that flourish in the field,
The cypress, however, appears to have been retained to later times. Coles, in his Introduction to the Knowledge of Plants, p. 64, says: “Cypresse garlands are of great account at funeralls amongst the gentiler sort, but rosemary and bayes are used by the commons both at funeralls and weddings. They are all plants which fade not a good while after they are gathered, and used (as I conceive) to intimate unto us that the remembrance of the present solemnity might not dye presently, but be kept in minde for many yeares.” The line,
“And cypress which doth biers adorn,” is cited in Poole's English Parnassus, v. Witch : and Spenser mentions
" The aspin, good for staves, the cypress funerall.” Dekker, in his Wonderfull Yeare, 1603, describes a charnelhouse pavement, " instead of greene rushes, strewde with blasted rosemary, wither'd hyacinthes, fatall cipresse, and ewe, thickly mingled with beapes of dead men's bones.” He says,
Rosemary, which had wont to be sold for twelve pence an armefull, went now” (on account of the plague) "at six shillings a handfull.” To what has been already said on the subject of rosemary at funerals, may be added that in the British Apollo, 1708, i. No. 73 ; one asks, “Whence proceeds that so constant formality of persons bearing a sprig of rosemary in their hand, when accompanying the obsequies of a deceased person ?” And is answered: A. "That custom ('tis like) had its rise from a notion of an alexipharmick, or preservative virtue, in that herb, against pestilential distempers : whence the smelling thereto at funerals was probably thought a powerful defence against the morbid effluvias of the corpse. Nor is it for the same reason less customary to burn rosemary in the chambers of the sick, than frankincense, whose odour is not much different from the former, which gave the Greeks occasion to call rosemary Λιβανωτές & Λιβανος. Thus.” Ibid. No. 2, Quarterly Paper. To a query why among the ancients yew and cypress were given at funerals, it is answered: “We suppose that, as yew and cypress are always green, the ancients made use of them at burials, as an emblem of the immortality of the deceased through their virtues or good works.”