Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pere-Lachaise described by John Adolphus, 1820

[Emily Henderson, Recollections of the Public Career and Private We of the Late John Adolphus, London, 1871, pp. 118-119]

"We all went this morning to the Cimetiere of Pere la Chaise, the celebrated burial ground, where everything ancient and modern that can be laid hands on is brought together for a. show. The ground is said to contain 80 acres, and is on the ascent of a hill, so that tombs above tombs rise in ranks, and as they are mostly planted with firs, shrubs, and flowers, the effect of these mixed with mausoleums, columns, and -other memorials of death, is exceedingly pretty; and if the sole business of those who inter the dead is to make their burial place look pretty, and to allure people to it as a gazing place, the French have indeed succeeded to a miracle.

"When I walk through the aisles of Westminster Abbey, of St. Paul's, of Canterbury, and other cathedrals and ancient churches, and see the structures raised in honour of the illustrious dead; when I read their histories, recorded in an imperishable language, and see their effigies sculptured in an attitude of devotion, or surrounded by some of the host of heaven, my heart warms with the recollection of their famous acts, and melts in sympathy with those pious friends who, in commemorating their worth, have not forgotten to express the hope of their everlasting welfare in a better world. Even when in a more humble churchyard I perceive the frail memorials raised by unlettered humanity, the rhyme uncouth, the 'shapeless sculpture,' and the' many a holy text,' are so apposite to the situation that I feel as a son towards the aged 'forefathers of the hamlet,' and as a brother or parent toward the young. They are buried as a family; the almost universal description is 'of this parish,' and they all profess the hope of meeting again in a joyful resurrection. But in this strange raree-show of death the tomb of Abelard greets you here, those of Boileau, Moliere, and Racine there. Here a warrior who fought at Fontenoy, and continued fighting till 1793; there an insignificant tomb, guarded with heavy chains, denotes the resting place of a shopkeeper who died worth a great deal of money. All these concur in a general contempt of religion, for not one in a hundred condescends to say 'resurgam,' but as many as have any wit or fancy try to surprise you into a stare, or tickle you into a laugh. A lady inscribes on a tomb, 'To my best friend, my husband.' Another,' Alexander to his mother.' Alexander! What Alexander-the Great? the Coppersmith? or who? Find it out, says the tombstone. Another commemorates, ' Zenobia and Zoe.' 'Pray, sir,' said I to a French artisan, who had asked me a question about the inscription, 'were these young ladies your daughters or mine?' The man stared as if struck with a new idea. ' Why to be sure,' he said, ' they ought to have put their nom de fami1le.'

"Many of the tombs are very pretty, and some yet unfinished seemed well suited to their purpose, and to promise long duration, but the general air of the place was to me heathenish or worse. I could not help thinking that if Gobet could again be Bishop of Paris, and Hebert, Chaumette, and the rest of the Cordeliers again succeed in abolishing the belief in God, the proprietors of this cemetery would have little to do beside inscribing on the portal, ' Death is an eternal sleep,' to bring it quite to the level of the day.

"Paris is seen to great advantage from Pere la Chaise, but no distant view of it affords much pleasure. From this spot its white walls, standing in an arid plain, form a continuation of the burying-place, and so require little aid of fancy to blend the mansions of the living with the receptacles of the dead.

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