Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Outside the walls


Great cities have wisely decreed that their dead shall be carried outside the walls, and not pile up a mass of corruption in the heart of populous life. Every one has his wish for his grave, and many think of honouring a pretty churchyard by reposing in it, as great exiles have refused their bones to their ungrateful country. The noted noble duellist, who chose a lovely spot on the Continent, and desired to be conveyed there after death, was scarce more fanciful (pace, Elia) than the patriarch who would be buried with his fathers, and not in Egypt. And many dwellers in towns look forward to emigrating after death to a country churchyard, under the shadow of the old yew, with all the peace to be derived from quiet associations. What hope of undisturbed repose in the midst of noisy streets, with the press of business around you, and the car of Mammon thundering over your head? instead of this, the dweller in the city is now conveyed to his place without the walls, to a still, orderly cemetery. Not one of the dark, ghostly churchyards of straggling villages; no ghouls haunt here to prey upon the dead, from no dark shadows are stretched white skinny arms to seize the bridle of the belated passenger. Cheerfulness and resignation reign there, and even sorrow goes away comforted. I would devote this paper to record some of these resting-places which I have visited to honour their great dead.

Undoubtedly the first for picturesqueness and interest of association to us is the Protestant cemetery at Rome, where repose Shelley, and Keats, and the only son of Goëthe. All who have read Shelley will remember his description of it in the preface to Adonais. “The romantic and lonely cemetery of the Protestants in that city, under the pyramid of which is the tomb of Cestius, and the massy walls and towers, now mouldering and desolate, which formed the circuit of ancient Rome. The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.” Shelley himself lies close by the wall of the cemetery, in a little recessed nook under a crumbling tower, which you reach by winding walks up a slope, wandering among grassy mounds sweet with flowers and memorial stones. My remembrance of the spot is but faint, yet that tombstone survives.

Keats’ grave is not so romantically situated as Shelley’s. It is in another cemetery, more deserted, wilder looking. It does not bear his name, but only the famous inscription, which would always serve to identify it:—“Here lies one whose name was writ in water;” but the water was frozen while the name was being written. It is written on the ocean, and every wave bears his fame wider and wider, fame more durable than if carved on brass or stone, for water outlives them both. A deep moat runs round the graveyard, and Keats’ tomb is on its very verge. You might fall into it while reading the epitaph, if you wished to add another testimony to his name.

It was on a gloomy day of November fog that I wandered out of Paris to the cemetery of Père la Chaise. Such a day the Parisian assigns to London, and as I stood on the hill among the graves, and looked on the yellow city, seen as Alfieri must have seen it when he called it a sewer, and its streets ditches, it was difficult to think that I saw the sunny, joyous Paris, the capital of Europe, the city of the Boulevards. From the Place de la Bastille to Père la Chaise the road led along a neglected street, ill-paved, lined with stonemasons’ shops, and little magazines of yellow wreaths, ready-made tributes of affection to excuse oblivion. Now that Paris has extended its limits, Père la Chaise is within the walls, but at the time of my visit it was only a step without. You call Pompeii the City of the Dead, but the Parisian cemetery seemed to me more worthy of the title. There stood the concierge at the gate, and under his guidance you threaded your way through streets of high tombs, almost like houses. You see a name written over one, and you are almost tempted to knock and ask if M. de Balzac lives there, and if he is shut up, as during his lifetime, on the composition of one of his immortal works. I have read how he retired to bed at six in the evening, after dinner, rose at midnight, and wrote incessantly till morning, made a slight interruption for breakfast, and resumed the pen, till afternoon called him to a walk before dinner, and dinner returned him to bed. Does he pursue these habits in his residence at Père la Chaise? Or has he furnished his long home in the quaint way he chose to furnish his earthly habitations, writing on the wall the place destined for each valuable article, and omitting meanwhile to make stairs inside the dwelling? I cannot answer these questions. I did not go to Père la Chaise to visit Balzac or Bellini; I went to the grave of Alfred de Musset.

I walked up the central avenue, and saw a weeping willow on my left which indicated to me the tomb. It needed not the fine head, the name, or the titles of his chief works engraved on the pedestal to tell who lay under the shade of his chosen tree.

The poet of the generation in France, a truer poet in the thinking of most judges than Lamartine or Hugo, he might be called the Tennyson of France; though the sudden early appreciation that greeted his promise, the unquestioning fame that was extended to his manhood, differ from the treatment accorded to Tennyson, and formed a very different character. It is not every one who has the patience to persevere, as he did, through poverty and neglect in a vocation often ungrateful in the doubts it suggests, and in the mental tortures it occasions.

After Paris, Vienna. But in some points Vienna is the first of capitals. What other town in Europe is so favoured in its situation? The proverbial philosopher remarks on the wonderful foresight of nature in placing great rivers by great cities; but how seldom has she displayed the additional foresight of planting beautiful scenery around great cities; mountains like the Leopoldsberg and Kahlenberg,—valleys like those of Mödling and Baden? Her scenery is not of artificial construction, like the Bois de Boulogne: and natural as are her beauties is the heart of music in the people. Mr. Chorley complains that “the graves of the great men of South German music are neglected. The burying-places of Glück and Mozart are imperfectly known.” Too true as regards Mozart, not true as regards Glück; he is buried in the Matzleindorfer churchyard, outside the gate of Vienna by the railway station, and a fine slab of red stone upright above his grave records him to have been a “right German man.” His widow erected the gravestone to the Ritter Glück, as he is called even now on German play-bills. I, who write this, heard an opera of his last night, and thought I could trace his manly simplicity in every note of it. The same graveyard holds the bones of Salieri, Glück’s pupil, the successful rival of Mozart when both were alive, the composer of Beaumarchais’ opera, Tanare. That is all we know of him now, and his revived gravestone tells nothing more. For Mozart himself you look in vain. Dying as he had lived, poor, and leaving a widow who married again, he was interred it is scarcely known where, without an inscription. Beethoven is more fortunate. He rests in the pretty little churchyard of the village of Währing, his tomb marked by an obelisk bearing a lyre, and surrounded by acacias. This is the best kept and prettiest of Viennese resting-places. Pleasant, on a warm sunny day, to wander among its lilac trees, with their hanging branches of odour, shading the neat, flower-decked graves. Schubert, the composer of so many well-known songs, is buried not far from Beethoven, with a fine bronze bust on his monument.

One more German musician, though he died in London, lies buried at Dresden, where he was born, and in whose neighbourhood he composed his greatest works, Carl Maria von Weber, of the Freischütz and Oberon. They show the small country house, some three or four miles out of Dresden, where the first of these operas was composed. I believe the labour of writing the second, coupled with the fatigue of temporary management of the opera, and of learning English, killed Weber at the age of thirty-six. An enemy of Meyerbeer had a theory that the composer of the “Huguenots” killed off his rivals unless they consented to be silent, accounting thus for Weber’s death, and Rossini’s retirement. Germans who cannot learn English say that language killed Weber. But we need only look at the ages of musicians to see the real cause. Mozart, Bellini, Pergolese, Weber—all died before forty. The man who showed me Weber’s grave, which is in a suburban churchyard, told me he had known the composer, and that he was a small man.

The graves of Goëthe and Schiller I have already described in Once a Week.[1] Let me make one exception from the title of this article, to describe a grave within the walls, yet as far removed from the bustle of life as those without. Thorwaldsen lies in the centre of the quadrangle of the museum of his own labours at Copenhagen, a tombstone slightly raised from the ground, planted with herbs and flowers. No noise breaks his repose, save the light footfall of some visitor on the asphalt. Around, in wide halls and cabinets, are ranged the productions that have made him the first of modern sculptors, from the glorious young life of his Grecian mythology to the settled calm repose of his Christ and the Apostles. A more appropriate tomb could hardly be found for one whose life was art, than to lie among his offspring. Can a man give a better account of his life than by pointing to his labours? They are connected with him now after his death, as he was with them in his life, and from the first work of manhood to the unfinished idea of age, you may trace him as it were through life to the tomb. He rests from his labours, and his works follow him.

E. Wilberforce.