This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
One of the strongest desires of man is that of expressing himself to his fellows, and asserting bis own individuality. The ways in which, by expressing his individuality, one sways the sentiments, and brightens or glooms the happiness of others, are more numerous than we are apt to suppose. The men who write books, make speeches, and occupy pulpits, are not the only men who express themselves to their times and their neighborhoods forcibly and influentially. Every one who mixes with his fellows in the affairs of life is a responsible source of influence. He makes a constant expression of himself by his walk and work, his conversation and example. This be does as really as though be issued a daily newspaper, or preached a weekly sermon. The very dress in which he appears among men may intimate the possession of praiseworthy qualities, or may placard and parade subtlest weaknesses that he would fain conceal even from himself. We also express ourselves tangibly and legibly in our religious and political associations; in our homes, gardens, and farms.
The house one owns and occupies, more especially if it be a house in the country, will betray to passers-by something of his personal tastes, habits, and attributes.
These different modes of self-expression, in which written or spoken language is replaced by emphatic symbols, belong peculiarly to the living. Yet our self-expression may continue, with more or less of emphasis, even after we have gone to our last slumber. "We are hot condemned to die like the brute, making no sign, remembered in no epitaph. It is our privilege to speak from our graves, and with this privilege comes the inquiry, what expression we shall choose for ourselves in bur place of burial, in the memorials that tell where our dust reposes, in the surroundings and decorations of the spot. What shall be the lessons taught by the grave-ground we expect to occupy, and which, by a serious forethought that betokens a man's innate longing for a glorified reunion of soul and body, we select, embellish, and consecrate, in anticipation of death? Shall the last earthly self-expression we are allowed to make be one of gloom, negligence, and despair, or of hope, cheerful resignation, and pious embellishment?
I. In the expression we should choose to embody in our places of sepulchre, ideas of permanence, sacredness, and security, must be allowed to be of the first importance. Interments in the heart of a thronged and garish city, or in a spot through which a thoroughfare is likely to be opened, violate one of the finest, deepest instincts of our nature. The inscription on Shakspeare's monument.
Blest be the man that spares these stones, And curst be he that moves my bones," may not fully sort with our conception of posthumous urbanity, but it enunciates a feeling native to human hearts. Every stone in the colossal pyramids built by the toil of centuries and the wealth of empires for the sepulchres of Egyptian kings, proclaims the soul's desire, not more of immortality than of an undisturbed repose for its mortal tabernacle. We desire that the house of clay, tenanted by us for a few short years, and associated with oar spiritual struggles and aspirations, should moulder away in silence and inviolate security. What we desire for ourselves we also desire for our kindred, our neighbors, for all, indeed, who share in our mortality and our hopes of a better life. We sympathize with the heroism of Antigone in the Attic play, although our sympathy descends to her from the vantage-ground of a Christian faith, when she declares that she would count it glorious to die in the act of performing burial rites for her outlawed brother, and that she will rescue his body from dishonor in spite of a tyrant's edict and armed opposition.
We shudder at the desecration of crowded cemeteries in our large cities when ruthless mammon breaks down moss-covered headstones, invades the sanctity of family vaults, shovels out the relics of whole generations, and lays open streets, or sells building-lots, where the hush of the sepulchre ought to have been perpetual.
It is pleasant to know that in so many of our States the desire for permanent burial places is respected by law. In the State of New York the property of cemetery associations is exempt from all public taxes and assessments. It is not liable to be sold on execution, or for the payment of debts due from individual proprietors. After the title of a plat has been transferred to an individual, and an interment made therein, the plat becomes his inalienable property, descending to his heirs and their heirs forever, or so long as they choose to retain it.
In this age of sudden changes, revolutions, and runnings to and fro, when household altars are set up to-day and deserted to-morrow, when a church is consecrated this year for sacred worship; and next year sold for a theatre or a barn; when even religious principles are pulled up every now and then, "as children pull up the shrubs they have planted, to see if they have taken root," it is pleasant to be permitted to organize cemeteries that carry the elements of permanency.
Nature consents to co-operate with us in doing deathless honor to the dead. In one of his prophetic odes, the poet Horace boasts that he has wrought out for himself by his verse-craft a monument more lasting than brass - Quod non imber edax, non Aqnilo impotent Possit diruere, ant innumerabilis Annorum series, et fnga temporum.
It were not extravagant, and would savor less of vanity, for those who secure plats in a rural cemetery to indulge in anticipations equally confident, though with a chastening of melancholy, and to foresee in the trees which they there plant a memorial of respect for the dead, an expression of elevated character, and a pledge of their grateful remembrance in the remote future, which the driving storm shall rather feed than waste, which the fierce winter's rocking winds shall nurse into more stalwart grandeur, which shall gain something of beauty and venerable strength from each revolving year. Non omnes moriemur. Even in our bodies we shall not utterly perish, so long as "The oak Shall send abroad his roots and pierce our mould," so long as " The yew-tree graspeth at the stones That name the underlying dead".