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in a country church, amid the beautiful serenity of nature, which I experience nowhere else; and if not a more religious, I think I am a better man on Sunday than on any other day 20 of the seven.
During my recent residence in the country I used frequently to attend at the old village church. Its shadowy aisles, its mouldering monuments, its dark oaken panelling, all reverend with the gloom of departed years, seemed to fit it for the haunt 25 of solemn meditation; but being in a wealthy aristocratic neighborhood, the glitter of fashion penetrated even into the sanctuary, and I felt myself continually thrown back upon the world by the frigidity and pomp of the poor worms around me. The only being in the whole congregation who appeared thor- 30 oughly to feel the humble and prostrate piety of a true Christian was a poor decrepit old woman, bending under the weight of years and infirmities. She bore the traces of something better than abject poverty. The lingerings of decent pride were visible in her appearance. Her dress, though humble in 35 the extreme, was scrupulously clean. Some trivial respect, too, had been awarded her, for she did not take her seat among the village poor, but sat alone on the steps of the altar. She seemed to have survived all love, all friendship, all society; and to have nothing left her but the hopes of heaven. When 40 I saw her feebly rising and bending her aged form in prayer; habitually conning her prayer-book, which her palsied hand and failing eyes would not permit her to read, but which she evidently knew by heart; I felt persuaded that the faltering voice of that poor woman arose to heaven far before the re- 45 sponses of the clerk, the swell of the organ, or the chanting of the choir!
I am fond of loitering about country churches, and this was
29. Frigidity (Lat. frigus, cold), coldness.
32. Decrepit (Lat. de, from, and crepāre, to make a noise; whence Lat. decrepitus, without noise. Spoken of old age or old people), worn out, infirm from age.
42. Conning (A.-S. cunnan, to know; ken, to perceive by the sense of sight, observe), studying, poring over.
so delightfully situated, that it frequently attracted me. It stood on a knoll, round which a small stream made a beautiful 50 bend, and then wound its way through a long reach of soft meadow scenery. The church was surrounded by yew-trees which seemed almost coeval with itself. Its tall Gothic spire shot up lightly from among them, with rooks and crows generally wheeling about it. I was seated there one still sunny 55 morning, watching two laborers who were digging a grave. They had chosen one of the most remote and neglected corners of the churchyard; where, from the number of nameless graves around, it would appear that the indigent and friendless were huddled into the earth. I was told that the new-made grave 60 was for the only son of a poor widow. While I was meditating on the distinctions of worldly rank, which extend thus down into the very ust, the toll of the bell announced the pproach of the funeral. They were the obsequies of poverty, with which pride had nothing to do. A coffin of the plainest 65 materials, without pall or other covering, was borne by some of the villagers. The sexton walked before with an air of cold indifference. There were no mock mourners in the trappings of affected woe; but there was one real mourner who feebly tottered after the corpse. It was the aged mother of the 70 deceased, the poor old woman whom I had seen seated on the steps of the altar. She was supported by a humble friend, who was endeavoring to comfort her. A few of the neighboring poor had joined the train, and some children of the village. were running hand in hand, now shouting with unthinking 75 mirth, and now pausing to gaze, with childish curiosity, on the grief of the mourner.
As the funeral train approached the grave, the parson issued
52. Yew-trees, evergreen trees common in nglish churchyards.
53. Coeval (Lat. con, with, and ævum, age), of the same age.
64. Obsequies (Lat. obsequi, to follow), funeral rites. This word is rarely used in the singular number.
68. Mock mourners, etc. Perhaps the author has in mind the English custom of hiring mourners or "mutes" to stand before the house of a dead person, and to precede the bier in a funeral procession.
from the church porch, arrayed in the surplice, with prayerbook in hand, and attended by the clerk. The service, how- 80 ever, was a mere act of charity. The deceased had been destitute, and the survivor was penniless. It was shuffled through, therefore, in form, but coldly and unfeelingly. The well-fed priest moved but a few steps from the church door; his voice could scarcely be heard the grave; and never did s I hear the funeral service that sublime and touching ceremony - turned into such a frigid mummery of words.
I approached the grave. The coffin was placed on the ground. On it were inscribed the name and age of the deceased, "George Somers, aged twenty-six years." The poor 90
mother had been assisted to kneel down at the head of it. Her withered hands were clasped, as if in prayer, but I could perceive by a feeble rocking of the body, and a convulsive motion of the lips, that she was gazing on the last relics of her son with the yearnings of a mother's heart.
Preparations were made to deposit the coffin in the earth. There was that bustling stir which breaks so harshly on the feelings of grief and affection; directions given in the cold tones of business; the striking of spades into sand and gravel; which, at the grave of those we love, is, of all sounds, the 100 most withering. The bustle around seemed to waken the mother from a wretched reverie. She raised her glazed eyes, and looked about with a faint wildness. As the men approached with cords to lower the coffin into the grave, she wrung her hands, and broke into an agony of grief. The poor woman who attended her took her by the arm, endeavoring to raise her from the earth, and to whisper something like consolation: "Nay, now, nay, now - don't take it so sorely to heart." She could only shake her head and wring her hands, as one not to be comforted.
As they lowered the body into the earth, the creaking of the
87. Mummery (a mummer is originally a masker), a hypocritical disguise or parade.
102. Reverie. See note on reveries, page 3.
cords seemed to agonize her; but when, on some accidental obstruction, there was a justling of the coffin, all the tenderness of the mother burst forth; as if any harm could come to him who was far beyond the reach of worldly suffering. my heart swelled into throat my eyes filled with tears - I felt as if I were acting a barbarous part in standing by and gazing idly on this scene of maternal anguish. I wandered to another part of the churchyard, where I remained until the funeral train had dispersed.
I could see no more
When I saw the mother slowly and painfully quitting the grave, leaving behind her the remains of all that was dear to her on earth, and returning to silence and destitution, my heart ached for her. What, thought I, are the distresses of the rich? they have friends to soothe pleasures to beguile - a world to 125 divert and dissipate their griefs. What are the sorrows of the young? Their growing minds soon close above the wound their elastic spirits soon rise beneath the pressure their green and ductile affections soon twine round new objects. But the sorrows of the poor, who have no outward appliances to soothe 130
- the sorrows of the aged, with whom life at best is but a wintry day, and who can look for no after-growth of joy — the sorrows of a widow, aged, solitary, destitute, mourning over an only son, the last solace of her years, these are indeed sorrows which make us feel the impotency of consolation.
It was some time before I left the churchyard. On my way homeward I met with the woman who had acted as comforter: she was just returning from accompanying the mother to her lonely habitation, and I drew from her some particulars connected with the affecting scene I had witnessed.
129. Ductile (Lat. ducere, to lead), easy to be led, pliant. The affections are like shoots or tendrils of a vine.
The parents of the deceased had resided in the village from childhood. They had inhabited one of the neatest cottages, and by various rural occupations, and the assistance of a small garden, had supported themselves creditably and comfortably, and led a happy and blameless life. They had one son, who had grown 145
up to be the staff and pride of their age. "O, sir!" said the good woman," he was such a comely lad, so sweet-tempered, so kind to every one around him, so dutiful to his parents! It did one's heart good to see him of a Sunday, dressed out in his best, so tall, so straight, so cheery, supporting his old mother 150 to church, for she was always fonder of leaning on George's arm than on her good-man's; and, poor soul, she might well be proud of him, for a finer lad there was not in the country round."
Unfortunately, the son was tempted, during a year of scarcity 155 and agricultural hardship, to enter into the service of one of the small craft that plied on a neighboring river. He had not been long in this employ when he was entrapped by a press-gang, and carried off to sea. His parents received tidings of his seizure, but beyond that they could learn nothing. It was the loss of 100 their main prop. The father, who was already infirm, grew heartless and melancholy, and sunk into his grave. The widow, left lonely in her age and feebleness, could no longer support herself, and came upon the parish. Still there was a kind feeling toward her throughout the village, and a certain respect as being 165 one of the oldest inhabitants. As no one applied for the cottage in which she had passed so many happy days, she was permitted to remain in it, where she lived solitary and almost helpless. The few wants of nature were chiefly supplied from the scanty productions of her little garden, which the neighbors would 170 now and then cultivate for her. It was but a few days before the time at which these circumstances were told me, that she was gathering some vegetables for her repast, when she heard the cottage door which faced the garden suddenly opened. A
152. Good-man, " a familiar yet respectful appellation of a husband." 157. Small craft, small vessels of various kinds; as sloops, schooners, etc. 158. Press-gang, a detachment of seamen under the command of an officer, who had power in time of war to seize men and force them to enter the British naval service.
164. Came upon the parish, became dependent upon public charity. To go on the parish in England is to become chargeable, as a pauper, to the parochial poor-rate.