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LETTERS

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LETTER I.

ON CERTAIN FUNERAL CEREMONIES.

THE

He advice you wish me to give, my dear friend, in a certain quarter, would be useless. I have long lost all influence there, if I ever had any. Counsel from me to avoid exposure to the pestilence, would rather induce your kinsman to encounter it, and run the chance of the contingency, to prove me wrong. I believe, however, that your fears are needless, and you may safely calm your solicitude: Were it otherwise, I could hardly partake of it. I am glad that your own experience and feelings, make you think death such a misfortune for others : for myself, I think it far from being the worst thing that can happen to us, and there are situations in which, though it would not be justifiable to seek it, 'tis not worth the trouble to avoid it. I have felt many moments when

it appeared a desirable alternative.--I rejoice that you have not found life, to borrow the exasperated expressions of Helen M'Gregor, “ the same weary and wasting burden that it is to me ;-that it is to every noble and generous mind.” But I have so much reason to regard its loss with indifference, that I can but faintly participate in your apprehensions. To say the truth, I am at times seriously tired of this chrysalis state of existence, and feel a wish to be trying my wings in a different region. You know that I am not sullen, nor careless of your anxieties? but if my views are gloomy, are not your fears unfounded ;-or if not unfounded, are they not exaggerated ? This is a subject that will bear the support of poetry: let me recall a passage that you are well acquainted with.

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-Reason thus with life :-
If I do lose e, I do lose a thing
That none but fools would reck ;-a breath thou art,
Servile to all tbe skyey influences,
That do this habitation, where thou keep'st,
Hourly afflict. Merely thou art death's fool;
For him thou labour'st by thy flight to shun,
And yet runn’st tow'rd him still :- Thou art not noble ;
For all the accommodations that thou bear'st
Are nurs’d by baseness :- Thou’rt by no means valiant ;
For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork
Of a poor worm. Thy best of rest is sleep,
And that thou oft provok'st, yet grossly fear'st
Thy death, wbich is no more. Thou'rt not thyself:
For thou exist'st on many a thousand grains,
That issue out of dust :-Happy thou art pot;
For what thou hast not, still thou striv'st to get,

And what thou hast, forgetost :- Thou art not certain ;
For thy complexion shifts to strange effects,
After the moon.

If thou art rich, thou'rt poor ;
For like an ass whose back with ingots bows,
Thou bear'st thy heavy riches but a journey,
And death unloadeth thee. Friends thou hast none :
For thy own bowels, which do call thee sire,
The mere effusion of thy proper loins,
Do curse the gout, serpigo, and the rheum,
For ending thee no sooner.

Thou hast nor youth nor age,
But as it were an after-dinner's sleep,
Dreaming on both : for pall'd, thy blessed youth
Becomes as aged—and doth beg the alms
Of palsied Eld: and when thou’rt old and rich,
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty,
To make thy riches pleasant :-What's yet in this
That bears the name of life ? yet in this life
Lie hid more thousand deaths ; yet death we fear,
That makes these odds all even.

Yet I do not wish to bring you to my conclusions; and if these arguments have an influence that way, you know where to find in the same admirable drama,* the opposite side of the question, stated even more eloquently, and with an effect that will make you

shudder. You will do me the justice to acknowledge that, whatever may be the course of my reflections, I do not often talk or write in the strain I have here been led into; but it may be a fit occasion, after this introduction, to make some remarks, which I once promis

* Measure for Measure.

ed you, on the subject of funerals, as they are practised in the eastern states. The traits of peculiarity which distinguish them are all derived, like many other things in our habits and customs, from the practice of the forefathers, and are considerably tinctured with that stoical spirit, which the circumstances they were placed in, and the austere principles of their religion, combined to produce.

In that lot which is common to all, it might have been supposed, that some similarity of practice would have taken place. Yet the manner of disposing of the body after death, is almost as various as are the causes which produce it. The Hebrews gathered the bodies of their friends to the bones of their fathers, in caves.

The Egyptians embalmed the frail tenement, which becomes so ignoble the moment the ethereal spirit has fled, and thus handed down to posterity their hideous mummies; the Greeks buried or burned their dead indiscriminately; among the Romans, the bodies of the great were always burned. Some savage nations expose their dead on scaffolds, to be devoured by birds ; others commit them to the current of some sacred stream, to be consumed by fishes. The first Christians adopted the practice of burying, which was partly induced by some points of religious belief, and confirmed by the gradual introduction of many superstitious practices, till this method every were accompanied their religion.

The Romans erected their mausolea on the sides of their highways, or at the entrance of their country

seats. Now and then an individual, in modern times, recurs to the practice of antiquity. The late Duke of Oldenburgh, the most virtuous and estimable prince of his time, built, by the side of the public burying ground of his little capital, a tomb with the form of a small Grecian temple, in the simplest Doric style, and in the purest taste; in this were to be deposited the urns containing the ashes of his family, whose bodies were burnt in a small building adjoining. The Marquis of Stafford has placed opposite the entrance of his residence in Staffordshire, a stately tomb for his family. But the common custom of the Christian world, is the literal fulfilment of the precept, “ dust to dust ;” and the place of deposite is either within the walls of the church, or the surrounding cemetery that is consecrated with it. In this country alone,* is there any deviation from this solemn, affecting, yet often noxious usage. It is solemn to place the remains of our friends within that sacred temple, which is dedicated to God; it is affecting to offer our devotions, surrounded by the graves of those we have loved ; but in great cities, it becomes as noxious to the living as it is useless to the dead, and a wise police has gradually prohibited it in most countries, or at least diminished the evil, by reserving such sepulture for those of high distinction.

* The deputies who were sent to this couotry from Pernambuco, in its recent ree volt, made a visit to Boston, and nothing appeared to strike them with more surprise, than the seeing some burying grounds in the country, unprotected by, and out of sight of, any church.

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