Page images
[merged small][merged small][graphic]

That England is behind other countries in regard to its records of Monumental Inscriptions, is an accusation and reproach not altogether devoid of truth. To the Greeks and Romans we are indebted for the most extensive collections of Epitaphs ; Italy, France, and Germany can also produce their vast collections, which have proved serviceable as examples for composition. Weever, after Camden the most ancient labourer in this field of inquiry in our own country to any considerable extent, has produced no successor of any importance (with the exception of John Le Neve). Weever's

See the works of Gruter, Grævius, Reinesius, Muratori, Mazocbius. ? Monumenta Anglicana, London, 1719; 5 vols. 8vo. The first volume

work is held in much estimation, and no extended collection of English epitaphs since his time has been or can be made without reference to his pages. He wrote in the reign of Charles I., and his book is dated from his “ house in Clerkenwell Close, this 28th day of May, 1631.” It has for its title “ Ancient Funerall Monuments within the United Monarchie of Great Britaine, Ireland, &c.” The accuracy, however, of his transcriptions may in some instances be questioned; but allowance must be made, as considerable difficulty is often attendant upon this task.

The importance of monuments and inscriptions in the illustration of local history cannot be too strongly maintained ; but for these, how many persons and events worthy of remembrance would have remained unknown, and how many testimonials of affectionate regard and filial gratitude neglected ? Nam multos veterum, velut inglorios et ignobiles, oblivio obruet. By epitaphial records the antiquary, the historian, and the biographer obtain legitimate sources of inquiry, and are enabled to do justice to the memory of many deserving individuals, whose laudable conduct and advancement of public and private benefit might otherwise be forgotten. Again, how frequent has been the complaint of writers of the illegible, ill-preserved or altogether annihilated inscriptions upon monumental tombs, the possession of which might have served to solve a doubt or dispel a mystery. Yet no fixed method has hitherto been adopted to secure so desirable a result. Much benefit, I am disposed to believe, would arise from the establishment of a Public Register of Inscriptions. They ought not to be left to the chance of lasting record by the hands of the local historian or topographer. Many embraces Epitaphs of those who died from 1600 to 1649 inclusive; the second, from 1650 to 1679; the third, from 1680 to 1699; the fourth, from 1700 to 1715; and the fifth, forming a supplementary volume as well as one of continuation, from 1650 to 1718.

Tacitus de Vita Agricola, cap. 46. Oblivion has cast over the memory of many who are gone before us, the veil of ignoble and inglorious obscurity.

? Mi Lethieullier, an active Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, had a correspondence with Bishop Lyttelton on the subject of making a collection of Monumental and other Inscriptions in this country, as worthy the attention of British Antiquaries. He proposed that it should be made after the plan adopted by Gruter in his Inscriptiones Antiquæ totius Orbis Romani, Amst. 1707, 4 vols. folio. The substance of Mr. L.'s remarks are to be found in Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments (vol. ii., p. ccxxxiii.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

circumstances have contributed to render our literature in this department defective. Our church books contain no records of this description, and the political, civil, and religious disturbances with which this kingdom has been in various times affected bare tended to the destruction and removal of a very large portion of the most interesting monuments of this description. The suppression of the monasteries, and the subsequent iconoclastic rage of the Puritans, also greatly contributed to the removal of monumental tombs, brasses, and inscriptions, containing the memorials of those who had distinguished themselves in the page of history, subjects for the pen of the historian and panegyrist, and giving employment to the artizans of their time. But, prior even to this latter period, and following immediately upon the suppression of the monasteries, the desolation produced by the destruction of splendid tombs during the reigns of Henry VIII. and Edward VI. was exceedingly great, and continued even during the early part of that of Queen Elizabeth. To such an extent was the spoliation carried, that, in the second year of her reign, this sovereign issued a " Proclamation against breaking or defacing of Monuments of antiquitie, being set up in Churches, or other Publick Places, for Memory, and not for Superstition,” and another, in the fourteenth year of her reign, was issued, charging the Justices of her Assize “to provide some remedy both for the punishment of offenders, and the reformation of such practices." The great neglect of monuments, when disturbed or removed by the general repair of churches, is exceedingly to be lamented. No register is to be found of innumerable examples, which are known to have been formerly in the churches of this country. No traces whatever of many of them are now to be found. In looking to the history of Epitaphial writings, we find that in this country, in early times, inscriptions were prohibited to be engraven on any tombs but those belonging to persons distinguished either by their high position as governors of the kingdom, or as military commanders, or remarkable for their wisdom or virtues. In this et seq.), and I believe are nowhere else to be seen. The proposition to the Society of Antiquaries failed to produce any result.

Sir Thomas Browne (Hydriotaphia, cap. 3, vol. iii. p. 474, Wilkin's edition) also laments that “Gentile inscriptions precisely

delivered the extent of men's lives, seldom the manner of their deaths, which history itself so often leaves obscure in the records of memorable persons."

respect we seem to have followed the practice of the Lacedemonians, who allowed the honour of epitaphs only to those men who died bravely in battle, and to those women who were distinguished by their chastity. Hence arose the veneration with which those monuments were viewed, and the solicitude entertained to protect them from injury. They were esteemed sacred, and any violence offered to them was punishable by banishment, condemnation to the mines, or even the loss of members, according to the extent and nature of the offence, regard being also paid to the rank of the deceased to whom the tomb appertained. In our country the law offers protection to these memorials, the builders of monuments having their remedy at common law for any injury that may wantonly be done to them, and the heir of the deceased can institute a prosecution against such offences. Great distinctions were formerly maintained in regard to the burial of persons of rank and those of a meaner condition in life. These were carried so far as to cause a difference even in the mode of conveying the bodies of men and women to the grave ; the former being taken on the shoulders of the attendants, whilst the latter were carried at the arms' end, to signify that being inferior in their lifetime, they should not be made or treated as equal upon their decease. Weever says this distinction only ceased upon women renouncing the world and entering the monastic life, by which they obtained such an increase of esteem in the world, that they were regarded as of equal honour with the male sex.

The love and respect entertained towards relatives and friends were early manifested by the erection of tombs or monuments. As these, however, only in a general manner gave evidence of the estimation in which eminence was regarded, inscriptions followed to mark out and hand down to posterity the particulars relating to the high qualities of the deceased, and the claim their memories had to be held in remembrance.

To make acquaintance with those who have lived before us, to examine into their manners, their habits, their peculiarities, to investigate their history, trace the progress of the arts, and exhibit the origin of their several inventions, are not among the least interesting of the objects pursued by the antiquary.

i Funeral Monuments, p. 12.

« PreviousContinue »