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Wave the censer to the skies,
Low before the altar bend ;
Veiled in hallowed smoke ascend.
Pours the festive tide along;
Maidens swell the breeze with song.
High the Temple rears its head,
Bright as in it's noblest days,
With the teeming voice of praise.
Salem sits in majesty;
The vision fades; no more we try
THE ESSAYIST. No. 3.
ON ENGLISH STYLE. During the last century, many learned and highly-talented men have enriched and embellished our literature with beautiful and clever productions, both in prose and verse. Many have gained by their compositions a never-fading renown for themselves, and have also raised our national character for the fine arts to a very high station among the enlightened nations of the world. Some have become great favorites, and their works have met with well-merited success, not only from their own countryinen, but from foreigners also; so much so, that they have been translated into several different languages.
But however successfully those authors have written, however eminent their writings are for depth of understanding, liveliness of imagination, beauty of expression, delicacy of taste, elegance of composition, or for any other prominent or distinguishing characteristic,-yet it is to be lamented that scarcely one can be truly said to have written in a pure and unadulterated style of English. Supposing that it gave an additional grace and elegance to their pieces, and seeing how prevalent the custom had become in the fashionable world, many authors have corrupted the natural simplicity and peculiar beanties of our language, by the introduction of foreign idioms; and the contagion has spread itself so widely, and is so deeply rooted, that it is to be feared there is very little prospect of its being easily or speedily eradicated.
The writings of some certainly do infinite honour both to their country and themselves, and have attained a rank and reputation in the list of standard works which they will never lose. And yet they are so deeply infected with this distemper, that, were it not for the numerous beautiful and striking ideas and passages they contain, they would be absolutely intolerable.
And this taste has rather increased than diminished of late years ; and it has been greatly accelerated by the almost univeral love of that kind of light reading which fascinates for the while, but leaves no lasting impression after it. Some writers, indeed, have acquired this style and taste for composition by an early study of, or strong partiality for, some foreign language, and by a great neglect or conteinpt of their own. But only serves to show that those persons were totally ignorant of its many beauties and advantages; for our language may, in the hands of a clever and chaste writer, be shown to be as capable of bearing the different stamps of passion, elegance, and sublimity as any other language, whether ancient or modern, the Greek and German alone excepted. These writers may enjoy the credit of having imparted a superior polish to our language, -of having extirpated all low and inelegant terms and phrases, -of having introduced a grace and refinement it did not before possess; but these polishing touches and elegant emendations (as they are termed) have only vitiated our tastes, and greatly deteriorated the foundation of pure and genuine literature. We have gradually and imperceptibly imbibed from them a fastidiousness and formality of speech which is quite disgusting. They have fostered in us a spirit of coldness and affectation in our conversation ; in short, they have debased our language, destroyed its beauty and freedom, and brought it into derision and contempt.
There is another great and material fault, common both to prose and to poetry, into which authors are very apt to fall; and it is one which at the same time entirely spoils the effect of the piece, and gives it an air of pomposity and ridiculousness ;—it is the use of what Horace names ambitiosa ornamenta.” No doubt, when authors make use of these high-flown terins, they imagine they are writing something very grand and sublime, but in reality they are but furnishing matter for ridicule against themselves. Whenever we find an author constantly given to this bombastic style of writing, we may be assured that he does not possess a truly classical or poetical taste; we may instantly perceive that what he has written has not flowed readily and smoothly from the quick workings of a lively imagination, but has been produced with a great degree of study and effort. This is the kind of style that Horace mentions as being particularly disagreeable to all lovers and admirers of elegant composition; and he advises all writers to be very careful in guarding against it. Milton says, that “ Poetry is simple, sensuous, and passionate.” The same definition may perhaps be pretty nearly applied to Prose
also; and if all writers had carefully studied and adhered to these rules, we should not then have the pain and mortification of seeing our language deteriorated and our literature disgraced. England would then indeed have reason to be proud of the race of authors she had produced.
The sole, and at the same time most effectual, method of giving a check to this style, which is daily gaining ground, and of preserving our language free from the innovations and additions which are continually being made in it, to its great detriment, is to make some alteration in the present mode of education.
We are generally made to commence the study of some foreign language, before we thoroughly understand the nature and principles of our own. Now, if youth were carefully instructed and strictly grounded in the rudiments of their national tongue, and after they have gained a perfect knowledge and comprehension of its different qualities, they were introduced to the study of other useful languages, which generally form a part of education in our land, it would be the means of improving and refining their ideas, and of giving an elegant finish to their style, which it most probably would not otherwise acquire.
ANCIENT RURAL CUSTOMS.
THERE are few subjects more interesting than the investigation of ancient customs; for in them is often, in a great measure, impressed the character and feelings of those who institute and observe them. But more especially rural customs have a peculiar interest, as there is often a simplicity and feeling in them very nearly applied to poetry. For poetry is not confined to the highly polished mind; it often exists--or at least, the feelings which produce it exist—if not with so great refinement, yet with equal vigour, in the breast of the simple and apparently uncultivated peasant.
“ God made the country, and man made the town," says one of our most rural poets; and we might therefore expect the case to be as we find it, that
Amidst the crowd, the hum, the shock of men," where we are constantly reminded of man, and man only, the mind contracts a matter-of-fact and worldly cast. But in the midst of God's own beautiful works, that heart must be hard indeed which does not receive some sostening and refining influence. Thus it is that in all ages the shepherd and the simple peasant have been the poet's theme; and although their mode of life has been exalted into a sort of Elysium which can never exist on earth, yet that very exaggeration shows how much truth there is in the subject itself.
We merely propose in this paper to touch upon a few of the simple customs in which this character is reflected, and which have fallen under our own observation. They now possess a still deeper interest, from the evident fact that the time will soon arrive when they will be ranked among the things that were. This stern age of action and innovation has already driven them to obscurity and retirement.
It is in funeral rites that many of the most remarkable customs are observed, such a great and solemn event naturally affecting the mind deeply, and producing those feelings which seek to express themselves in the various simple ceremonies which long usage has established. A custom which in a remarkable manner testifies the tenacity with which an observance, once established, may be handed on from generation to generation almost for ever, must have been noticed by most people : I mean the practice which I believe extends over the greater part of England, of the relations of the deceased throwing a few handfuls of earth on the coffin immediately after it is lowered into the grave. Although this is now continued for no definite reason except, perhaps, that each is unwilling to be the first to neglect a long-established custom, it seems evidently to be a remains of the wide-spread and deeply-rooted superstition among the ancient heathen world, that all the unfortunate wretches on whose bodies at least three handfuls of earth had not been sprinkled, would be excluded from the happy regions of Elysium, and condemned to wander in dreary restlessness for a hundred years.*
In Wales, I think, funerals are conducted with more solemnity than in any other party of the country, and the attendance is always large, even when the deceased is of the very poorest rank of life. They have several customs peculiar to themselves. At the conclusion of that part of the service which is read in the church, every person present, beginning with the nearest relation, goes up to the altar and presents the clergy-. man with a piece of money. This “ offering” as it is called, often amounts to a large sum. It is said that it was originally intended in Popish times to defray the expenses for masses for the deceased : whether this be a true explanation or not I cannot say. In Wales the beautiful and poetic custom of planting flowers and evergreens op the graves still lingers. It is a pleasing idea, and very ancient. Strutt speaks of it as early as the times of the Anglo-Saxons; and indeed this too may be traced to the Greeks and Romans, who adorned both the corpse and the funeral urn with garlands of various flowers. It is certainly much more forcibly appropriate as a Christian custom, for Christianity has well nigh robbed the grim tyrant of his terrors, and we may now look upon death with calmer gaze than the firmest Roman Stoic, with all his boasted philosophy, could ever assume.
In a little village of the county of Derby,-Hathersage, garlands of white roses are carried at the funeral of young unmarried women, and are hung in the church ;-melancholy memento of the uncertainty
* This superstition is exhibited in a strong light in the Ode of Horace which ends
Quanquam festinas, non longa est mora, licebit, “ Injecto ter pulvere curras.'
of our quickly-fading life, and of the early decay of her they commemorate !*
At Tissington, another village of the same county, a very curious custom prevails : on a certain day in the year, the wells, five in number, are adorned with rustic skill, with every description of flowers woven into various patterns. In the morning, portions of the Liturgy are read at each well by the clergyman, and the rest of the day is spent in rural amusements. This may perhaps have originated in some Heathen custom, many of which, it is notorious that the Romish Church introduced with little alteration. Would that none were less innocent than this!
The last custom we shall advert to is the extremely picturesque scene of rush-bearing. We are not aware that this now exists any where but in a few retired villages of Westmoreland. It was a festival to celebrate the changing of the rushes in churches,t at a time when mats and carpets, and such luxuries, were unheard of and uncalled for; and dry rushes strewed over the flagged floor formed a pretty good substitute, for our ancestors were not so fastidious as their more polished descendants. The rush-carts, which formerly made an essential part of the scene, are now discarded, as there is no use for them; and at Ambleside, where it is kept up with most spirit, it consists of a procession of young women and school children dressed in white, who assemble at the market-cross, and walk with inusic to the church, carrying garlands on long poles. The most beautiful of these and there is much emulation in them) are left in the church. The next Sunday, after service, they carry out the garlands, and walk in procession to the market-cross again, where they sing a hymn and then disperse.
THE COUNTRY CORPORATION;
(Continued.) To understand aright the state of things at the time the Charter was granted, our readers must be informed that the public business of the town had hitherto been always carried on by certain of the county magistrates, who twice a week held their court in the large room of the Market-house. There were annually two constables chosen from among the most respectable of the householders, who, with the assistance of a dozen specials, managed very effectually to preserve the peace of the town. It may well be supposed that these ancient authorities were not particularly gratified by seeing a new charter smuggled in upon them, and that by means altogether contrary to the spirit and provisions of the law made and provided for such occasions. The opinion of counsel was taken; and every means adopted for resisting the innovation.
* This custom has been beautifully noticed by Washington Irving.
+ Rushes still cover the floor of the church of Grassmere village, situated on the beautiful lake of the same name.