Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

else of the buried person, but that he was born upon one day and died upon another; two circumstances that are common to all mankind. I could not but look upon those registers of existence, whether of brass or marble, as a kind of satire upon the departed persons, who had left no other memorial of themselves, than that they were born, and that they died.

Upon my going into the church, I entertained myself with the digging of a grave; and saw, in every shovelful of it that was thrown up, the fragment of a bone or skull intermixed with a kind of fresh mouldering earth, that, some time or other, had a place in the composition of a human body. Upon this I began to consider with myself, what innumerable multitudes of people lay confused together, under the pavement of that ancient cathedral; how men and women, friends and enemies, priests and soldiers, monks and prebendaries, were crumbled among one another, and blended together in the same common mass ; how beauty, strength, and youth, with old age, weakness and deformity, lay undistinguished, in the same promiscuous heap of matter.

After having thus surveyed this great magazine of mortality, as it were, in the lump, I examined it more particularly by the accounts which I found on several of the monuments, which are raised in every quarter of that ancient fabric. Some of them are covered with such extravagant epitaphs, that, if it were possible for the dead person to be acquainted with them, he would blush at the praise which his friends have bestowed upon him. There are others so excessively modest, that they deliver the character of the person departed in Greek or Hebrew, and, by that means, are not understood once in a twelvemonth. In the poetical quarter, I found there were poets who had no monuments, and monuments which had no poets. I observed, indeed, that the present war had filled the church with many of those uninhabited monuments, which had been erected to the memory of persons, whose bodies were perhaps buried in the plains of Blenheim, or in the bosom of the ocean.

I could not but be very much delighted with several modern epitaphs, which are written with great elegance of expression and justness of thought, and which, therefore, do honour to the living as well as to the dead. As a foreigner is very apt to conceive an idea of the ignorance or po

[ocr errors]

liteness of a nation, from the turn of their public monuments, and inscriptions, they should be submitted to the perusal of men of learning and genius, before they are put into execution. Sir Cloudsly Shovel's monument has very often given me great offence. Instead of the brave rough English admiral, which was the distinguishing character of that plain gallant man, he is represented, on his tomb, by the figure of a beau, dressed in a long periwig, and reposing himself upon velvet cushions, under a canopy of state. The inscription is answerable to the monument; for, instead of celebrating the many remarkable actions he had performed in the service of his country, it acquaints us only with the manner of his death, in which it was impossible for him to reap any honour.–The Dutch, whom we are apt to despise for want of genius, show an infinitely greater taste in their buildings and works of this nature, than we meet with in those of our own country, The monuments of their admirals, which have been erected at the public expense, represent them like themselves, and are adorned with rostral crowns and nåval ornaments, with beautiful festoons of seaweed, shells, and coral.

I know that entertainments of this nature are apt to raise dark and dismal thoughts in timorous minds and gloomy imaginations ; but, for my own part, though I am always serious, I do not know what it is to be melancholy; and can, therefore, take a view of nature in her deep and solemn scenes, with the same pleasure as in her

and delightful ones. By this means, I can improve myself with objects which others consider with terror.--When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow. When I see kings lying by those who deposed them; when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes ; I reflect, with sorrow and astonishment, on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the severai dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great day, when we shall all of us be cotemporaries, and make our appearance together.

most gay

III. - The Character of Mary, Queen of Scots. TO all the charms of beauty, and the utmost elegance of external form, Mary added those . accomplishments which render their impression irresistible. Polite, affable, insinuating, sprighily, and capable of speaking and of writing with equal ease and dignity. Sudden, however, and violent in all her attachments, because her heart was warm and unsuspicious. Impatient of contradiction, because she had been accustomed, from her infancy, to be treated as a queen. No stranger, on some occasions, to dissimulation, which, in that perfidious court, where she received her education, was reckoned among the necessary arts of government. Not insensible to flattery, nor unconscious of that pleasure with which almost every woman beholds the influence of her own beauty. Formed with the qualities that we love, not with the talents that we admire, she was an agreeable woman, rather than an illustrious queen.

The vivacity of her spirit, not sufficiently tempered with sound judgment, and the warmth of her heart, which was not at all times under the restraint of discretion, betrayed her both into errors and into crimes. To say that she was always unfortunate, will not account for that long and almost uninterrupted succession of calamities which befell her; we must likewise add, that she was often imprudent. Her passion for Darnly was rash, youthful, and excessive. And though the sudden transition to the opposite extreme, was the natural effect of her ill requited love, and of his ingratitude, insolence, and brutality; yet neither these, nor Bothwell's artful address and important services, can justify her attachment to that nobleman. Even the manners of the age, licentious as they were, are no apology for this unhappy passion; nor can they induce us to look on that tragical and infamous scene which followed upon it, with less abhorrence. Humanity will draw a veil over this part of her character, which it cannot approve, and may, perhaps, prompt some to impute her actions to her situation, more than to her disposition ; and to lament the unhappiness of the former, rather than to accuse the perverseness of the latter. Mary's sufferings exceed, both in degree and in duration, those tragical distresses which fancy has feigned, to excite sorrow and commiseration; and while we survey them, we are apt altogether to forget her frailties; we think of her faults with less indignation, and approve of our

tears, as if they were shed for a person who had attained much nearer to pure virtue.

With regard to the queen's person, a circumstance not to be omitted in writing the history of a female reign, all cotemporary authors agree, in ascribing to Mary the utmost beauty of countenance, and elegance of shape, of which the human form is capable. Her hair was black, though, according to the fashion of that age, she frequently wore borrowed locks, and of different colours. Her eyes were a dark gray, her complexion was exquisitely fine, and her hands and arms remarkably delicate, both as to shape and colour. Her stature was of a height that rose to the majestic. She danced, she walked, and rode, with equal grace. Her taste for music was just ; and she both sung and played upon the lute with uncommon skill. Towards the end of her life, she began to grow fat; and her long confinement, and the coldness of the houses in which she was imprisoned, brought on a rheumatism, which deprived her of the use of her limbs.

No man, says Brantome, ever beheld her person without admiration and love, or will read her history without sorrow.

IV.-Character of Queen Elizabeth. THERE are few personages, in history, who have been more exposed to the calumny of enemies, and the adulation of friends, than Queen Elizabeth ; and yet there scarce is any, whose reputation has been more certainly determined, by the unanimous consent of posterity. The unusual length of her administration, and the strong features of her character, were able to overcome all prejudices; and obli

, ging her detractors to abate much of their inyectives, and, her admirers somewhat of their panegyric, have, at last, in spite of political factions, and what is more, of religious animosities, produced a uniform judgment with regard to her conduct. Her vigour, her constancy, her magnanimity, her penetration, vigilance, and address, are allowed to merit the highest praises ; and appear not to have been surpassed by any person who ever filled a throne ; a conduct less rigorous, less imperious, more sincere, more indulgent to her people, would have been requisite to form a perfect character. By the force of her mind, she controlled all her more active and stronger qualities, and prevented them from running into excess. Her heroism was exempted from all temerity, her frugality from avarice, her friendship from par

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

tiality, her enterprise from turbulency and a vain ambition; sheguarded not herself with equal care or equal success from lesser infirmities-the rivalship of beauty, the desire of admiration, the jealousy of love, and the sallies of anger.

Her singular talents for government were founded equally on her temper and on her capacity. Endowed with a great command over herself, she soon obtained an uncontrolled ascendancy over the people; and, while she merited all their esteem by her- real virtues, she also engaged their affection, by her pretended ones. Few sovereigns of Eng. land succeeded to the throne in more difficult circumstances, and none ever conducted the government with such uniform success and felicity. Though unacquainted with the practice of toleration, the true secret for managing religious factions, she preserved her people, by her superior prudence, from those confusions in which theological controversy had involved all the neighbouring nations, and though her enemies were the most powerful princes of Europe, the most active, the most enterprising, the least scrupulous, she was able, by her vigour, to make deep impressions on their state; her own greatness meanwhile remaining untouched and unimpaired.

The wise ministers and brave warriors who flourished during her reign, share the praise of her success; but, instead of lessening the applause due to her; they make great addition to it. They owed, all of them, their advancement to her choice; they were supported by her constancy; and, with all their ability, they were never able to acquire an undue ascendancy over her. In her family, in her court, in her kingdom, she remained equally mistress. The force of her tender passions was great over her, but the force of her mind was still superior; and the combat which her victory visibly cost her, serves only to display the firmness of her resolution, and the loftiness of her ambitious sentiments.

The fame of this princess, though it has surmounted the prejudices both of faction and of bigotry, yet lies still exposed to another prejudice, which is more durable, because more natural; and which, according to the different views in which we survey her, is capable either of exalting beyond measure, or diminishing the lusire of her character. This prejudice is founded on the consideration of her sex. When we contemplate her as a woman, we are apt to be struck with the highest admiration of her qualities, and extensive

« ZurückWeiter »