1820
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Verses supposed to be written in a Burial-Ground belonging to the Society of Friends.

Poems, by Bernard Barton.

Bernard Barton


Sixteen Spenserians, dated 1819. Responding to Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Bernard Barton explains why the Quakers disallow sepulchral monuments: "The poet's page, indeed, would fain supply | A specious reason for the sculptor's art; | Telling of 'holy texts that teach to die:' | But much I doubt they seldom reach the heart | Of church-yard rovers." This is one of a series of "Quaker" imitations of Gray's poem, though surely the only one written in Spenserian stanzas. The first appears to be John Wagstaffe's An Elegy written in a Quakers' Burial Ground (1764).

Bernard Barton to William Jerdan: "For my own part, I am a fearless and firm believer not only in the refining, humanising, influence of a pure literary taste, of a love for the 'vision and the faculty divine,' but of its perfect compatibility with the letter and the spirit of our code and creed. It has been said of us, that we are the most illiterate sect in the Christian world, that all our conversation of merchandise, &c. I do not see why such things necessarily should be, but I do know that the imputation will not be removed unless we have fair play given us, and we cannot be said to have this unless they, in whose hands is vested the power of dispensing notoriety, you who are the reporters of the literary commonwealth, will have sufficient magnimanity to overlook exterior disadvantages, and bring us forward. To superficial and heartless levity, the very scope afforded to sarcasm and wit by our mere attempts, will always offer an irresistible temptation.... It is not by such 'ultra-Crepidarian critics,' as they have been styled, that the real beauties of our best poets, our Spenser, Shakspeare, Milton, have been rightly felt; nor have these ever been truly susceptible of the emphasised energy of Byron, the simplicity of Wordsworth, the pathos of Campbell, the spirit and gracefulness of Scott, the tenderness of Rogers; if they had, they would take up such a volume with kindlier feelings, and would rather rejoice in seeing Poetry acquire new votaries from a class unjustly supposed insensible to her charms, than ridicule their efforts" 19 March 1820; in Jerdan, Autobiography (1852-53) 3:119-20.

Charles Lamb to Bernard Barton: "I am hardly able to appreciate your volume now. But I liked the Dedication much, and the apology for your bald burying-grounds. To Shelley, but that is not new. To the young Vesper-singer, Great Bealings, Playford, and what not?" 2 July 1825; in Barton, Memoir, Letters, and Poems (1850) 170.

A presentation copy of this volume appears in the catalogue of the 1844 sale of Southey's library; see A. N. L. Munby, Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons (1971-75) 9:91.



What though no sculptur'd monuments around,
With epitaphs engraven, meet me here;
Yet conscious feeling owns, with awe profound,
The habitation of the dead is near:
With reverend feeling, not with childish fear,
I tread the ground which they, when living, trod:
Pondering this truth, to Christians justly dear,
Whose influence lends an interest to the sod
That covers their remains: — The dead still live to God!

Is it not written in the hallow'd page
Of Revelation, God remains to be
The Lord of all, in every clime and age,
Who fear'd and serv'd him living? Did not He,
Who for our sins expir'd upon the tree,
Style him of Abram, Isaac, Jacob, — Lord!
Because they liv'd to Him? Then why should we
(As if we could no fitter meed afford,)
Raise them memorials here? — Their dust shall be restor'd.

Could we conceive Death was indeed the close
Of our existence, Nature might demand
That, where the reliques of our friends repose,
Some record to their memory should stand,
To keep them unforgotten in the land:—
Then, then indeed, urn, tomb, or marble bust,
By sculptor's art elaborately plann'd,
Would seem a debt due to their mouldering dust,
Though time would soon efface the perishable trust.

But, hoping, and believing; yea, through Faith,
Knowing, because His word has told us so,
That Christ, our Captain, triumph'd over Death,
And is the first fruits of the dead below;—
That he has trod for man this path of woe,
Dying, — to rise again! — we would not grace
Death's transitory spell with trophied show;
As if that "shadowy vale" supply'd no trace
To prove the grave is not our final dwelling-place.

The poet's page, indeed, would fain supply
A specious reason for the sculptor's art;
Telling of "holy texts that teach to die:"
But much I doubt they seldom reach the heart
Of church-yard rovers. How should truths impart
Instruction, when engraven upon stone,
If unconfess'd before? The Christian's chart
Records the answer unto Dives known,
Who, for his brethren's sake, pleaded in suppliant tone.

"If Moses and the Prophets speak unheard,
Neither would they believe if spoke the dead."
Then how should those, by whom unmov'd the word
Of greater far than such, has oft' been read,
By random texts, thus "strewn around," be led
Aright to live, or die? And how much less
Can false and foolish tributes, idly spread,
In mockery of truth and tenderness,
Awaken solemn thoughts, or holy themes impress?

And, therefore, would I never wish to see
Tombstone, or epitaph obtruded here.
All has been done, requir'd by decency,
When the unprison'd spirit sought its sphere:
The lifeless body, stretch'd upon the bier
With due solemnity, was laid in earth;
And Friendship's parting sigh, Affection's tear,
Claim'd by pure love, and deeply cherish'd worth,
Might rise or fall uncheck'd, as sorrow gave them birth.

There wanted not the pall, or nodding plume,
The white-rob'd priest, the stated form of prayer;
There needed not the livery'd garb of gloom,
That grief, or carelessness, alike might wear;
'Twas felt that such things "had no business there."
Instead of these, a silent pause, to tell
What language could not; or, unconn'd by care
Of rhetoric's rules, from faltering lips there fell
Some truths to mourners dear, in memory long to dwell.

Then came the painful close — delay'd as long
As well might be for silent sorrow's sake;
Hallow'd by love, which never seems so strong,
As when its dearest ties are doom'd to break.
One farewell glance there yet remain'd to take:
Scarce could the tearful eye fulfil its trust,
When, leaning o'er the grave, with thoughts awake
To joys departed, the heart felt it must
Assent unto the truth which tells us — we are dust!

The scene is past! — and what of added good
The dead to honour, or to soothe the living,
Could then have mingled with the spirit's mood,
From all the empty show of man's contriving?
What worthier of memory's cherish'd hiving
With miser care? In hours of such distress
Deep, deep into itself the heart is diving;
Ay! into depths which reason must confess,
At least mine owns them so, awful and fathomless!

Oh! 'tis not in the bitterness of grief
Bereavement brings with it, the anguish'd mind
Can find in funeral mummeries relief.
What matters, to the mourner left behind,
The outward "pomp of circumstance," assign'd
To such a sacrifice? What monument
Is wanted, where affection has enshrin'd
The memory of the dead? Grief must have spent
Itself, before one thought to such poor themes is lent.

And, when it hath so spent itself, does it
Need other pile than what itself can build?
O no! — it has an epitaph unwrit,
Yet graven deeper far than the most skill'd
Of artists' tool can reach: — the full heart thrill'd,
While that inscription was recording there;
And, till his earthly course shall be fulfill'd,
That tablet, indestructible, must bear
The mourner's woe, in lines Death can alone outwear.

Then, be our burial-grounds, as should become
A simple, but a not unfeeling race:
Let them appear, to outward semblance, dumb,
As best befits the quiet dwelling-place
Appointed for the prisoners of Grace,
Who wait the promise by the Gospel given,—
When the last trump shall sound, — the trembling base
Of tombs, of temples, pyramids be riven,
And all the dead arise before the hosts of Heaven!

Oh! in that awful hour, of what avail
Unto the "spiritual body," will be found
The costliest canopy, or proudest tale
Recorded on it? — what avail the bound
Of holy, or unconsecrated ground?
As freely will the unencumber'd sod
Be cleft asunder at that trumpet's sound,
As Royalty's magnificent abode:
As pure its inmate rise, and stand before his God.

Then THOU, lamented and beloved Friend!
Not friend alone, but more than such to me;
Whose blameless life, and peaceful, hopeful end,
Endear, alike, thy cherish'd memory;
Thine will a joyful resurrection be!
Thy works, before-hand, unto judgment gone,
The second death shall have no power o'er thee:
On thee, redeem'd by his beloved Son,
Thy FATHER then shall smile, and greet thee with "WELL DONE!"

Could I but hope a lot so blest as thine
Awaited me, no happier would I crave:
That hope should then forbid me to repine
That Heaven so soon resum'd the gift it gave;
That hope should teach me every ill to brave;—
Should whisper, 'mid the tempest's loudest tone,
Thy spirit walk'd with me life's stormiest wave:
And lead me, when Time's fleeting span was flown,
Calmly to share thy couch, which needs no graven stone.

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