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.
Symbols, in monumental sculpture, if happily conceived and well executed, are always gratifying. The rareness of success shows the difficulty of the undertaking. On the other hand, in no department of art, perhaps, is failure so glaring or so shocking. It is painful to be forced to smile at objects which are designed, and which ought to compose and to elevate our thoughts. Let the man who contemplates such a work, remember that he is about to invite scrutiny, and to challenge criticism. Let it be well considered, lest, peradventure, he record some expensive folly, in a material whose durability would then be its greatest objection. Such a work should call into requisition the choicest talent and the highest skill. Genius and piety should furnish the design; judgment and taste should superintend the task.
"On a point of this nature, our suggestions must, of necessity, be general. Not a few derive their symbolism from the ancients. The lachrymatory, the mutilated column, the inverted torch, are very frequent. To be classic is the highest ambition of some. With them, appropriateness and consistency are matters of small importance. Were there no other objection to the class of objects in question, it would, in my mind, be sufficient, that imitation and repetition are fatal to sentiment, and nullify, if they do not reverse, the intended effect. Let it also be considered that these symbols are pagan, not only in origin, but in purport. They are the mute language of a grief, to which consolation was unknown - the sad hieroglyphics of despair. They say nothing of faith, or hope, or immortality, or heaven. What have Christians to do with such emblems?
"One other kind of mortuary memorial asks our attention, and it is the highest of all. I refer to personal representations in the form of statues and reliefs. These may be copies from nature, or ideal forms; they may be human, angelic, or allegorical They all belong to the province of sculpture, and many of her best triumphs have been won on this field. Would that it were far more common to resort to this mode of adorning the tomb and commemorating the dead.
"To those who have the desire and the means of securing these most beautiful and expressive of all memorials, our advice is summed up in a word: employ the sculptor. The term is sufficiently definite, and certainly does not include all who have learned to chip and hew in stone. Here, as in poetry, to fall short of excellence, is to be nothing, or worse. When commissions in sculpture shall be confined to able and educated artists, we shall, at least, be spared some gross absurdities. Cherubs, with babies in their arms,- will no longer be seen in downward flight; and marble seraphs will cease to weep, and break their harps, because a mortal has exchanged the woes of earth for heavenly bliss".
The danger incurred by copying other monuments, is set forth in the following passages: -
"In naming examples with commendation, let it not be imagined that we advise any to copy them. To this, there are weighty objections. Towards the sculptor or the architect who conceived the beautiful design, such a course is meanly piratical. It invades also the rights of the proprietor, who has paid liberally that he might have something peculiar and unique.
"A copy made by common workmen (and no others will attempt the wrong) is rarely successful. Often it is only a caricature. To copy is slavish, as well as mean. It discourages originality, and creates that monotony which is a positive vice in the province of taste. If you see a design which you like, apply to the artist who produced it. If he deserve the name, he will give you, not a repetition of his own idea; but another conception, perhaps a happier one. Surely this is far more honorable than the course of those who employ mere artisans to 6teal the property of genius".
Enough has been said, perhaps, to convey leading ideas on this interesting topic, and though the subject is by no means exhausted, we shall not detain the reader much further than to remark, that simply to designate the boundaries of lots by stones, six or eight inches high, at each corner, with the name or initials of the owner, so that the grass may be mowed uniformly, may be sufficient where a hedge is not desired; to plant no large trees in small lots; to avoid straggling shrubbery, or anything that throws up suckers; to eschew poor iron railings or tawdry monuments; in short, to improve durably rather than superficially, for the present.
There is a subject connected with the interment of the dead, in this country, which it will be proper only to allude to in a journal like the present. It is one to which our advancing civilization and increasing population will; ere long, command attention. We mean, the right of control over the remains of deceased persons. It has been generally conceded, that it exists in the nearest relative, and to that individual it is supposed the power attaches of giving an order for removal from one spot to another. We know of no law in practice which says how this shall be regulated; the practice, in fact, is loose in the extreme. Almost any individual, in our great city, may go to the Board of Health, and receive a "permit" to remove the body of any other person from one grave to another, or from one cemetery to another, and the nearest relative may never hear of the circumstance. It is true, cases where improper motives may exist for. such improper interference are rare, but still, they may and do occur.
The Board of Health, itself irresponsible, gives very little attention, if any, to the matter; the permission is granted as a matter of course, without due inquiry, and the deed is done without any official having had the slightest evidence of the nearness of relationship, or of the right to interfere. At least, such was the loose system when the writer was formerly a member of the Board.
In Europe, especially in France, every check is placed upon irregular action in this matter. Offices exist to which application must be made before any person can take an initiatory step in such a proceeding, and any one attempting such an act is dealt with as a felon. It appears to us, that no removal should be allowed without minute scrutiny as to the right to the possession of the deceased, and that wise legislation must sooner or later be introduced among us to insure the proper respect for the cherished remains of mortality. The first steps have been taken for this purpose, by the formation of rural cemeteries; it would be completed by attention to the point we have indicated.
With these remarks we conclude our own experiences, for the present, with the single additional suggestion, that whatever the improvements may consist in, high keeping is one of the most essential parts of the management of rural cemeteries. The roads and walks must be regularly and carefully attended to; the grass should be cut early and frequently; weeds and brambles of all kinds should be exterminated as soon as they appear, never being allowed, on any account, to scatter their seeds. Iron railings must be regularly painted with good materials, if they are desired to bo even temporarily what they were designed to be. It should be the duty of the Superintendent, or an assistant, to pace every walk daily, with a basket, to pick up the loose papers which visitors, and children especially, are so apt to unroll from their eating stores, and throw carelessly about; to trim off a dead limb or branch whenever it appears, and generally to exercise those duties which a good eye for all that is neat so readily learns to understand; without this care, the visitor and lot-holder will often have their feelings pained; with it, and with attention to what we have already enforced, a rural cemetery serves more to console the bereaved than volumes of poetry, or cold dissertations on the duty of resignation.