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    The Mode in Monuments

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    Chapter 38
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    STRAY THOUGHTS IN HIGHGATE CEMETERY

    On a sharp, sunlight morning, when the white clouds are drifting swiftly
    across the luminous blue sky, there is no finer walk about London than
    the Highgate ridge. One may stay awhile on the Archway looking down upon
    the innumerable roofs of London stretching southward into the haze, and
    shining here and there with the reflection of the rising sun, and then
    wander on along the picturesque road by the college of Saint Aloysius to
    the new Catholic church, and so through the Waterlow Park to the
    cemetery. The Waterlow Park is a pleasant place, full of children and
    aged persons in perambulators during the middle hours of the day, and in
    the summer evening time a haunt of young lovers; but your early wanderer
    finds it solitary save for Vertumnus, who, with L.C.C. on the front of
    him, is putting in crocuses. So we wander down to the little red lodge,
    whence a sinuous road runs to Hampstead, and presently into the close
    groves of monuments that whiten the opposite slope.

    How tightly these white sepulchres are packed here! How different this
    congestion of sorrow from the mossy latitude of God's Acre in the
    country! The dead are crammed together as closely as the living seemed
    in that bird's-eye view from the Archway. There is no ample shadow of
    trees, no tangled corners where mother earth may weave flower garlands
    over her returning children. The monuments positively jostle and elbow
    each other for frontage upon the footways. And they are so rawly clean
    and assertive. Most of them are conspicuously new whitened, with
    freshly-blackened or newly-gilt inscriptions, bare of lichen, moss, or
    mystery, and altogether so restless that it seems to the meditative man
    that the struggle for existence, for mere standing room and a show in
    the world, still rages among the dead. The unstable slope of the hill,
    with its bristling array of obelisks, crosses and urns, craning one
    above another, is as directly opposed to the restfulness of the village
    churchyard with its serene outspreading yews as midday Fleet Street to a
    Sabbath evening amidst the Sussex hills. This cemetery is, indeed, a
    veritable tumult of tombs.

    Another thing that presently comes painfully home to one is the lack of
    individuality among all these dead. Not a necessary lack of
    individuality so much as a deliberate avoidance of it. As one wanders
    along the steep, narrow pathways one is more and more profoundly
    impressed by the wholesale flavour of the mourning, the stereotyping of
    the monuments. The place is too modern for _memento mori_ and the
    hour-glass and the skull. Instead, Slap & Dash, that excellent firm of
    monumental masons, everywhere crave to be remembered. Truly, the firm of
    Slap & Dash have much to answer for among these graves, and they do not
    seem to be ashamed of it.

    From one elevated point in this cemetery one can count more than a
    hundred urns, getting at last weary and confused with the receding
    multitude. The urn is not dissimilar to the domestic mantel ornament,
    and always a stony piece of textile fabric is feigned to be thrown over
    its shoulder. At times it is wreathed in stony flowers. The only variety
    is in the form. Sometimes your urn is broad and squat, a Silenus among
    urns; sometimes fragile and high-shouldered, like a slender old maid;
    here an "out-size" in urns stalwart and strong, and there a dwarf
    peeping quaintly from its wrapping. The obelisks, too, run through a
    long scale of size and refinement. But the curious man finds no hidden
    connection between the carriage of the monument and the character of the
    dead. Messrs. Slap & Dash apparently take the urn or obelisk that comes
    readiest to hand. One wonders dimly why mourners have this overwhelming
    proclivity for Messrs. Slap & Dash and their obelisk and urn.

    The reason why the firm produces these articles may be guessed at. They
    are probably easy to make, and require scarcely any skill. The
    contemplative man has a dim vision of a grimy shed in a back street,
    where a human being passes dismally through life the while he chips out
    an unending succession of these cheap urns and obelisks for his
    employers' retailing. But the question why numberless people will
    profane the memory of their departed by these public advertisements of
    Slap & Dash, and their evil trade, is a more difficult problem. For
    surely nothing could be more unmeaning or more ungainly than the
    monumental urn, unless it be the monumental obelisk. The plain cross, by
    contrast, has the tenderest meaning, and is a simple and fitting
    monument that no repetition can stale.

    The artistic cowardice of the English is perhaps the clue to the
    mystery. Your Englishman is always afraid to commit himself to criticism
    without the refuge of a _tu quoque_. He is covered dead, just as he is
    covered living, with the "correct thing." A respectable stock-in-trade
    is proffered him by the insinuating shopman, to whom it is our custom to
    go. He is told this is selling well, or that is much admired. Heaven
    defend that he should admire on his own account! He orders the stock urn
    or the stock slab because it is large and sufficiently expensive for his
    means and sorrow, and because he knows of nothing better. So we mourn as
    the stonemason decrees, or after the example and pattern of the Smiths
    next door. But some day it will dawn upon us that a little thought and a
    search after beauty are far more becoming than an order and a cheque to
    the nearest advertising tradesman. Or it may be we shall conclude that
    the anonymous peace of a grassy mould is better than his commercial
    brutalities, and so there will be an end of him.

    One may go from end to end of this cemetery and find scarcely anything
    beautiful, appropriate, or tender. A lion, ill done, and yet to some
    degree impressive, lies complacently above a menagerie keeper, and near
    this is a tomb of some imagination, with reliefs of the life of Christ.
    In one place a grotesque horse, with a head disproportionately vast, is
    to be seen. Perhaps among all these monuments the one to Mrs. Blake is
    the most pleasing. It is a simply and quaintly executed kneeling figure,
    with a certain quiet and pathetic reverence of pose that is strangely
    restful against the serried vulgarity around it.

    But the tradesman ghoul will not leave us; he follows us up and down,
    indecently clamouring his name and address, and at last turns our
    meditation to despair. Certain stock devices become as painful as
    popular autotypes. There is the lily broken on its stalk; we meet it
    here on a cross and there on an obelisk, presently on the pedestal of an
    urn. There is the hand pointing upward, here balanced on the top of an
    obelisk and there upon a cross. The white-robed angel, free from the
    remotest shadow of expression, meets us again and again. "All this is
    mine," says the tradesman ghoul. "Behold the names of me--Slap & Dash
    here, the Ugliness Company there, and this the work of the Cheap and
    Elegant Funeral Association. This is where we slew the art of sculpture.
    These are our trophies that sculpture is no more. All this marble might
    have been beautiful, all this sorrow might have been expressive, had it
    not been for us. See, this is our border, No. A 5, and our pedestal No.
    E, and our second quality urn, along of a nice appropriate text--a
    pretty combination and a cheap one. Or we can do it you better in border
    A 3, and pedestal C, and a larger urn or a hangel----"

    The meditative man is seized with a dismal horror, and retreats to the
    gates. Even there a wooden advertisement grins broadly at him in his
    discomfiture, and shouts a name athwart his route. And so down the
    winding road to the valley, and then up Parliament Hill towards
    Hampstead and its breeze-whipped ponds. And the mind of him is full of a
    dim vision of days that have been, when sculptor and stonemason were
    one, when the artist put his work in the porch for all the world to see,
    when people had leisure to think how things should be done and heart to
    do them well, when there was beauty in the business of life and dignity
    in death. And he wonders rather hopelessly if people will ever rise up
    against these damnable tradesmen who ruin our arts, make our lives
    costly and dismal, and advertise, advertise even on our graves.
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