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theatrical artifice to produce an effect upon the beholder. Here was a type of the beginning and the end of human pomp and 305 power; here it was literally but a step from the throne to the sepulchre. Would not one think that these incongruous* mementos had been gathered together as a lesson to living greatness—to show it, even in the moment of its proudest exaltation, the neglect and dishonor to which it must soon arrive; how soon 310 that crown which encircles its brow must pass away, and it must lie down in the dust and disgraces of the tomb, and be trampled upon by the feet of the meanest of the multitude ? For, strange to tell, even the grave is here no longer a sanctuary.* There is a shocking levity* in some natures, which leads them to sport 315 with awful and hallowed things ; and there are base minds which delight to revenge on the illustrious dead the abject homage and grovelling servility which they pay to the living. The coffin of Edward the Confessor has been broken open, and his remains despoiled of their funereal ornaments; the sceptre has been 320 stolen from the hand of the imperious Elizabeth, and the effigy of Henry the Fifth lies headless. Not a royal monument but bears some proof how false and fugitive is the homage of mankind. Some are plundered, some mutilated ; some covered with ribaldry* and insult—all more or less outraged and dis- 325 honored !
22. The last beams of day were now faintly streaming through the painted windows in the high vaults above me; the lower parts of the abbey were already wrapped in the obscurity of twilight. The chapel and aisles grew darker and darker. The 330 effigies of the kings faded into shadows; the marble figures of the monuments assumed strange shapes in the uncertain light; the evening breeze crept through the aisles like the cold breath of the grave; and even the distant footfall of a verger, traversing the Poets' Corner, had something strange and dreary in its sound. 335 I slowly retraced my morning's walk, and as I passed out at the portal of the cloisters, the door, closing with a jarring noise behind me, filled the whole building with echoes.
23. I endeavored to form some arrangement in my mind of the
See Addison's paper, page 142, line 95, and
321, 322. effigy ... headless.
objects I had been contemplating, but found they were already 340 fallen into indistinctness and confusion. Names, inscriptions, trophies, had all become confounded in my recollection, though I had scarcely taken my foot from off the threshold. What, thought I, is this vast assemblage of sepulchres but a treasury of humiliation, a huge pile of reiterated homilies* on the empti-345 ness of renown and the certainty of oblivion! It is, indeed, the empire of Death his great shadowy palace, where he sits in state, mocking at the relics of human glory, and spreading dust and forgetfulness on the monuments of princes. How idle a boast, after all, is the immortality of a name! Time is ever si-350 lently turning over his pages; we are too much engrossed by the story of the present to think of the characters and anecdotes that gave interest to the past; and each age is a volume thrown aside to be speedily forgotten. The idol of to-day pushes the hero of yesterday out of our recollection ; and will, in turn, be 355 supplanted by his successor of to-morrow. “Our fathers," says Sir Thomas Browne, "find their graves in our short memories, and sadly tell us how we may be buried in our survivors." History fades into fable ; fact becomes clouded with doubt and controversy; the inscription moulders from the tablet; the statue 360 falls from the pedestal. Columns, arches, pyramids—what are they but heaps of sand, and their epitaphs but characters written in the dust? What is the security of a tomb, or the perpetuity of an embalmment ? The remains of Alexander the Great have been scattered to the winds, and his empty sarcophagus is now 365 the mere curiosity of a museum. “The Egyptian mummies,
357. Sir Thomas Browne (born 1605; 1 366, 367. Egyptian.. . consumeth. Mum.
knighted by Charles II. 1672 ; mies (dead bodies embalmed) died 1682), a physician and were, during the Middle Ages, eminent writer (principal works much used in medicine, on acReligio Medici, Vulgar or Com
count of the aromatic substances mon Errors, and the treatise on they contained. “The virtues Urn Burial).
of mummy seem to have been 364. Alexander the Great. See Dryden's chiefly imaginary, and even the
Alexander's Feast, page 103, and traffic fraudulent." - NARES : note.
which Cambyses or time hath spared, avarice now consumeth; Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams.”
24. What, then, is to insure this pile which now towers above me from sharing the fate of mightier mausoleums? The time 370 must come when its gilded vaults, which now spring so loftily, shall lie in rubbish beneath the feet; when, instead of the sound of melody and praise, the wind shall whistle through the broken arches, and the owl hoot from the shattered tower—when the garish sunbeam shall break into these gloomy mansions of death, 375 and the ivy twine round the fallen column, and the foxglove hang its blossoms about the nameless urn, as if in mockery of the dead. Thus man passes away; his name perishes from record and recollection; his history is as a tale that is told, and his very monument becomes a ruin !
367. Camby'ses, son of Darius, and 368. Mizraim (the native name of Egypt)
King of Persia (reigned B.C. = any King of Egypt--a signi529-522). He conquered Egypt; fication intended also by Phahence the force of “spared,” | raoh (a general name, like
CHARACTERIZATION BY LESLIE STEPHEN.' 1. One may fancy that if De Quincey's language were emptied of all meaning whatever, the mere sound of the words would move us, as the lovely word Mesopotamia moved Whitefield's hearers.
* From Hours in a Library, by Leslie Stephen.
The sentences are so delicately balanced, and so skilfully constructed, that his finer passages fix themselves in the memory without the aid of metre. Humbler writers are content if they can get through a single phrase without producing a decided jar. They aim at keeping up a steady jog-trot, which shall not give actual pain to the jaws of the readers. Even our great writers generally settle down to a stately but monotonous gait, after the fashion of Johnson or Gibbon, or are content with adopting a style as transparent and inconspicuous as possible. Language, according to the common phrase, is the dress of thought; and that dress is the best, according to modern canons of taste, which attracts least attention from its wearer.
2. De Quincey scorns this sneaking maxim of prudence, and boldly challenges our admiration by appearing in the richest coloring that can be got out of the dictionary. His language deserves a commendation sometimes bestowed by ladies upon rich garments, that it is capable of standing up by itself. The form is so admirable that, for purposes of criticism, we must consider it as something apart from the substance. The most exquisite passages in De Quincey's writings are all more or less attempts to carry out the idea expressed in the title of the dream fugue. They are intended to be musical compositions, in which words have to play the part of notes. They are impassioned, not in the sense of expressing any definite sentiment, but because, from the structure and combination of the sentences, they harmonize with certain phases of emotion. It is in the success with which he produces such effects as these that De Quincey may fairly claim to be almost, if not quite, unrivalled in our language.
3. It would be difficult or impossible, and certainly it would be superfluous, to define with any precision the peculiar flavor of De Quincey's style. The chemistry of critics has not yet succeeded in resolving any such product into its constituent elements; nor, if it could, should we be much nearer to understanding their effect in combination.
4. A few specimens would do more than any description; and De Quincey is too well known to justify quotation. It may be enough to notice that most of his brilliant performances are variations on the same theme. He appeals to our terror of the infinite, to the shrinking of the human mind before astronomical