The Old Court Suburb, or Memorials of Kensington, Regal, Critical, and Anecdotical Volume I

Hunt, Leigh

1855

CHAPTER IX.

CHAPTER IX.

 

THE , , aged sixty-four. His mother was a Cowper, and aunt of the poet. He made himself conspicuous in his day, and very unpopular with the religious world, by writing a book called " Thelypthora" (Female Ruin) in which, upon the strength of the

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Mosaic law, he recommended polygamy as a remedy for seduction. His arguments were learned and acute, but accompanied by so much bigotry, that in conjunction with the usual repugnance of the community to touch upon one of the sorest of social questions, they left him at the mercy of opponents who might otherwise have found them very puzzling. The reader may judge the matter for himself from the following anecdote, which Madan relates in his book.

"On conversing," he says, "with a gentleman who is a Jew on this subject, he told me, that some time ago a rich young Jew at Amsterdam seduced a poor Jewess who was a servant-girl. She insisted on his publicly marrying her, which he refused. She complained to the synagogue, who summoned him to appear before them, that

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they might enquire properly into the fact. Finding it true, they sentenced him to marry her publicly. He would not, urging the difference of his rank from hers; but this plea was not allowed; they urged the law of God against him; but he continuing obstinate in his refusal, they excommunicated him. He applied to some of the states of Holland, that they would interfere; but they refused it, saying the synagogue had a right to enforce their own laws. I asked the gentleman with whom I was conversing, what would have been the case, if this young man had been before married to another woman then living. He answered 'just the same; for, by the law of Moses no man can take a virgin, and afterwards abandon her at his pleasure.'"[1] 

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The reader will see the difficulties of the question, and this is not the place for discussing it; though it is impossible for a mind of any reflection not to be crossed with a deep shade of regret at seeing how constantly the far greater questions which involve it, and which Mr. Madan was incompetent even to discuss, are evaded and put off by moral and statistical writers who are otherwise conscientious men.

, the Elder, , aged sixty-one, author of the " Jealous Wife" and other comedies; joint author with Garrick, of the " Clandestine Marriage;" with Bonnell Thornton, of the periodical work, "The Connoisseur;" and translator of Terence's Plays, and Horace's Art of Poetry. An elegant scholar, and lively and amusing, but in no respects a great writer. He comes much nearer to Murphy, than

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to Vanbrugh and Farquhar. He saw pleasantly into the surface of things, but little further.

Dr. Warren, in , aged sixty-six. The elder of two celebrated physicians of that name, father and son. Dr. Warren seems to have been a model of his class. He was no formalist, but impressed and interested his patients with the most sterling qualities, both professional and personal, and had the art (a very great and important art in a physician) of entertaining them, and keeping up their spirits. We have heard it said, on the best of all authorities on such a point-that of an amiable and intelligent woman-that the "finest eyes in the world " were hereditary in the Warrens; so that, under all the circumstances, the reader will not wonder to be told, that Mrs. Inchbald, who was one of

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his patients, was secretly in love with him, and would pace after dark, purely to have the pleasure of seeing the light in his window. A pleasant answer is recorded of him to Lady Spencer. Her Ladyship questioned whether the minds of physicians must not be frequently embittered by the reflection, that a different mode of treatment might have saved the lives of their patients. Dr. Warren thought otherwise. "The balance between satisfaction and remorse, must," he considered, "be greatly in favour of satisfaction," and, as an instance of it, he hoped he should have the pleasure of curing her Ladyship "forty times before he killed her."

James Elphinstone, in , aged eighty-eight; the good Dominie before-mentioned; translator of " Martial." The marble tablet inscribed to his memory, on the outside of

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the eastern wall, was set up by his wife; which reminds us of an omission in our notice of him; to wit, that, after his return from a visit to , when a young man, he never altered his dress. It was a suit of drab colour, with bag-wig and toupee, all made according to the fashion which prevailed at the time. Latterly, however, he more than once offered to make any change in it "which Mrs. Elphinstone might deem proper;" but the good lady's eyes had been so accustomed to see her husband as he was, that she could not bear the thought of beholding him otherwise; or, to use the more emphatic language of one of his pupils (the late Mr. Dallas, the novelist), his virtues and worth had so " sanctified his appearance in her eyes, that she would have thought the alteration a sacrilege." It appears, also, from accounts given us by the same gentleman,

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that the worthy schoolmaster, to his zeal for the purity of the English language, added no less for that of the appearance of the ladies. For Mr. Dallas tells us, that, when any " were in company whose sleeves were at a distance from their elbows, or whose bosoms were at all exposed, he would fidget from place to place, look askance with a slight convulsion of his left eye, and never rest till he approached some of them, and pointing to their arms, would say, 'Oh! yes, indeed, it is very pretty; but it betrays more fashion than modesty,' or some such familiar phrase; after which he became very good-humoured." One fancies good Mrs. Elphinstone bridling up, at these times, in the consciousness of her own well-covered charms; and approving her husband, for thus combining his admiration of ladies' beauties in the abstract,

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with objections to the fair challengers of it in particular.

But we shall forget the place of which we are talking; though, indeed, to speak of such deceased people as the Elphinstones, is the next thing to looking at children playing over their graves. Their smiles excuse one's own.

The ensuing record on a stone in the church-yard recalls all our gravity:

Caroline Nelson Bianchi, Died June 28,

1807

, aged 5. Also,

France

sco Bianchi, Di Cremona, died 27th Nov.,

1810

, aged 59.

We mention both these names, for the affecting reason, that they record a father who died broken-hearted for the loss of his child. He was a distinguished musical

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composer, and wrote operas that were favourites with the Bantis and Billingtons of his day. It hardly need be added that he was a most amiable and benevolent man. What a death he must have died! Three years of wasting sorrow! Yet death thus loses its sting; and in the last moments there is the blissful hope of rejoining the object of affection. Those are great payments of their kind; great privileges; unable as the sufferer must be, till sure of dying, to rejoice in their possession.

Elizabeth Inchbald, before mentioned, . She lies at the western extremity of the church-yard, close to a son of Canning, the verses on whose tomb-stone by his father have little merit beyond that of conventional elegance. They are not unaffecting; for if nature speaks at all, she must speak to some purpose, whatever be

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her language; but, compared with it in other respects, the plain prose tribute to Mrs. Inchbald is characteristic of the prevailing difference in the minds of the two parties-that to the woman being truth itself, while the statesman's is truth after a fashion; and the fashion addresses itself to one's attention as much as the truth.

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF ELIZABETH INCHBALD, WHOSE WRITINGS WILL BE CHERISHED, WHILE TRUTH, SIMPLICITY, AND FEELING COMMAND PUBLIC ADMIRATION; AND WHOSE RETIRED AND EXEMPLARY LIFE CLOSED AS IT EXISTED, IN ACTS OF CHARITY AND BENEVOLENCE.

"Existed" is hardly the right word. It should have been "was passed," or something of that kind. But it is intelligible,

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and was true. We take the opportunity of observing, in addition to our previous notice of this lady, that although we have spoken but of the latest and profoundest of her two novels, the " Simple Story," the other, "Nature and Art," is also full of genius, and would alone have rendered the steps of her pilgrimage in this life worthy the tracing. It is one of the earliest works of fiction in this country, that sounded in the ears of the prosperous the great modern note of Justice to All. No reader, of the least reflection, can forget the impression made on him by the trial of the poor girl, whose crime was owing to the very judge on the bench that sentences her to death.

Reginald Spofforth, the glee-composer, in , aged 37. There is a tablet to his memory on the left-hand side on

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the outer wall of the church, close by the principal entrance. Bacon has compared the fragrance of flowers out of doors to the coming and going of the warbling of music. The crescendos and diminuendos in Spofforth's beautiful composition, " Health to my dear," always remind us of that charming simile. Musicians, for the most part, are not as long-lived as painters, or even as poets, though the latter are so excitable a race. The reason is not, perhaps, so much that the musical art is of the more sensuous nature, as that musicians, owing to the demands of their profession, continue all their lives to go more into company, and to keep late hours. The painter (barring corporate jealousies) can live as quiet as a hermit; and the poet, from the habit of seeing so much in everything that he looks upon, makes a

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refuge for himself against vicissitude out of his books and his fireside.

James Mill, in June, , aged sixty-two; the historian of British ;-distinguished father of an illustrious son. He has a tablet on one of the pillars in the church. Mr. Mill persuaded himself, that a man who had never been in , and who knew none of its languages, was better qualified to write a history of that country, than one who had. The consequence of this paradox was, that after his death, the bookseller found it necessary to employ one of the persons thus described as less competent, for the purpose of correcting the mistakes of his predecessor. Nevertheless, Mr. Mill's history was a work so remarkable for its ability, that although he had found great fault with the East India Company, they, much to the credit of their feelings,

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or their policy, appointed him to a considerable office in their establishment. Would to Heaven they had empowered him to give the unfortunate millions under their government fewer reasons to curse their officers in general, and a little more salt to their rice.

, the younger, in October, , aged seventy-four; a more amusing, though not so judicious a dramatist as his father. His excellence lay in farce. His greatest defect was in sentiment; for which he substituted noise or common-place. In the decline of life, he attained to a very unlucky piece of prosperity. He was appointed Dramatic Censor; that is to say, reviser, under government, of plays offered to managers for performance; and in the exercise of this office, with a ludicrous and unblushing severity, he struck out of the

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pieces submitted to him the least oath or adjuration, with which his own plays had been plentifully garnished.

, aged three years and eight months; and Thomas Foxcroft Charnley, , aged twenty-one years. We know not who the Charnleys were; but we notice them, because their grave, the only one in the churchyard so distinguished, is adorned with flowers. A printed tablet requests people not to pluck the flowers, and the request appears to be attended to. Human kind are disposed to be reasonable and feeling, if reasonable appeal is made to them, and a chord in the heart is touched. The public cemeteries, which we have imitated from the French, appear to have brought back among us this inclination to put flowers on graves. The custom has prevailed more or less in almost

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all parts of the world, according as nations and religions have been kindly. It is the Puritans who would seem to have done it away in England and . Wales, we believe, is the only part of the island in which it has never been discontinued. The custom is surely good and desirable. It does not follow that those who are slow to resume it must be unfeeling, any more than that those who are quick to do so, must of necessity be otherwise. A variety of thoughts on the subject of death itself may produce different impressions in this respect on different minds; but, generally speaking, evidence is in favour of the flowers. You are sure that those who put them, think of the dead somehow. Whatever motives may be mixed up with it, the respectful attention solicited towards the departed is unequivocal; and this circumstance is

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pleasing to the living, and may benefit their dispositions. They think that their own memories may probably be cherished in like manner; and thoughtfulness is awakened in them, towards living as well as dead. It is the peculiar privilege, too, of flowers, to befit every place in which they appear, and to contribute to it its best associations. We had almost said, they are incapable of being put to unworthy use. The contradiction would look simply monstrous, and the flowers be pitied for the insult. No butcher would think of putting them in a slaughter-house; unless, indeed, they could overpower its odour. No inquisitor (we beg the butcher's pardon for naming two such persons together) was ever cruel or impudent enough to wreathe flowers about a rack. Flowers, besides being beautiful themselves, are suggestive of every

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other kind of beauty; of gentleness, of youthfulness, of hope. They are evidences of Nature's good-nature; proofs manifest that she means us well, and more than well; that she loves to give us the beautiful in addition to the useful. They neutralize bad with good; beautify good itself; make life livelier; human bloom more blooming; and anticipate the spring of Heaven over the winter of the grave. Their very frailty, and the shortness of their lives, please us, because of this their indestructible association with beauty; for while they make us regret our own like transitory existence, they soothe us with a consciousness, however dim, of our power to perceive beauty; therefore of our link with something divine and deathless, and of our right to hope that immortal thoughts will have immortal realization. And it is for all these reasons

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that flowers on graves are beautiful, and that we hope to see them prosper accordingly.

But we have two more reasons for noticing the particular grave before us. One is, that when we saw it for the first time, a dog came nestling against it, as if with affection; taking up his bed (in which we left him,) as though he had again settled himself beside a master. The other, that while again looking at the grave, and thinking how becomingly the flowers were attended to, being as fresh as when we saw them before, a voice behind us said gently: "Those are my dear children." It was the mother. She had seen us, perhaps, looking longer than was customary, and thus been induced to speak. We violate no delicacy in mentioning the circumstance. Records on tombstones are introducers of the living to the dead; makers

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of mortal acquaintances; and "one touch of nature," in making the " whole world kin," gives them the right of speaking like kindred, to, and of, one another. We expressed to the good parent our pleasure at seeing the flowers so well kept, and for so long a time. She said they would be so as long as she lived.

It is impossible not to respect and sympathize with feelings like these. We should say, nevertheless (and as questions of this kind are of general interest, we address the remark to all loving survivors,) that although a life-long observance of such attentions could do anything but dishonour to living or dead, the discontinuance of it, after a certain lapse of time, could not, of necessity, be a reproach to either; for the practice concerns the feelings of the one still more than the memory of the other; and in

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cases where it might keep open the wounds of remembrance too long and too sorely, no loving persons, while alive, could wish that their survivors should take such pains to hinder themselves from being relieved. It is natural for some time, often for too long a time, to associate with the idea of the departed, the bodies in which they lived, and in which we loved them. Few of us can so spiritualize their new condition all at once, as to visit them in thought no where but in another world. We have been too much accustomed to them bodily, in this. In fact, they are still bodily with us; still in our world, if not on it; and for a time, we must reconcile that thought to ourselves as well as we can; warm it with our tears; put it on an equality with us, by means of our very sorrow, from which, whatsoever its other disadvantages, it is now exempt; give

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it earthly privileges of some kind, whether of flowers, or other fondness.

Nothing but urn-burial could help us better; could shorten the sense of the interval between one world and the other; between the corporeal and the spiritual condition; and to the practice of urn-burial, the nations must surely return. Population will render it unavoidable. But in the meantime, we must gradually let our thoughts of the body decay, even as the body itself decays; must consent to part with it, and become wholly spiritual, wholly sensible that its best affections were things of the mind and heart; and that as those, while in this world, could triumph over thoughts of death, so they are now ascertaining why they were enabled to do so, in another.

Let flowers, therefore, be put awhile on graves, and contend with the idea of death.

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Let them contend with it, if we please, as long as we live, provided our own lives cannot in the nature of things be long; in which case, we are, in a manner, making our own mortal bed with those of the departed, and preparing to sleep sweetly together till the great morning. But under other circumstances, let us learn to be content that the flowers die, and that our companions have gone away; for go we shall ourselves; and it is fit that we believe them gone into the only state, in which they cannot perish.

 
 
Footnotes:

[1] Vol. II., p. 336.