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In Poems, by Thomas Stanley, 1651, p. 54, The Exequies, we read :
“ Yet strew
Or growth from such unhappy earth.” In the Marrow of Complements, 1655, p. 150, is "A May. den's Song for her dead Lover,” in which cypress and yew are particularly mentioned as funeral plants :!
“Come you whose loves are dead,
And whilst I sing
Weepe and wring
Bind with cypresse, and sad ewe,
For him that was of men most true.
And on his grave
Let him have
Let him have faire flowers enough,
I “ Hædera quoque, vel laurus, et hujusmodi, quæ semper servant virorem, in sarcophago corpori substernuntur; ad significandum quod, si moriuntur in Christo, vivere non desinent.” In some places, he says that coals, holy water, and frankincense are put into the grave. i Carbones in testimonium quod terra illa ad communes usus amplius redigi non potest. Plus enim durat carbo sub terra quam aliud.” The holy water was to drive away the devils; the frankincense to counteract the ill smells of the body. Durandi Rationale, lib. vii. cap. 35, 38. In the old play of the Fatall Dowry, 1632, act ii. sc. 1, are some curious thoughts on this subject, spoken at the funeral of a marshal in the army, who died in debt, on account of which the corpse was arrested :
“What weepe ye, souldiers ?
The jaylors and the creditors do weepe;
Herbs and flowers appear to have been sometimes used at funerals with the same intention as evergreens. In the account of the funeral expenses of Sir John Rudstone, Mayor of London, 1531, I find the following article: “For yerbys at the bewryal £0 1 0." See Strutt's Manners and Customs, iii. 170. So in a song in Wit's Interpreter, we read :
“Shrouded she is from top to toe
Instead of bays and rosemary.” In Griffith’s Bethel, or a Forme for Families, 1634, p. 261, speaking of a woman's attire, the author says : “By her habit you may give a neere guesse at her heart. If (like a coffin) shee be crowned with garlands, and stuck with gay and gaudy flowers, it is certaine there is somewhat dead within.” Sir Thomas Browne, in his Urne Burial, p. 56, says, that “in strewing their tombs, the Romans affected the rose, the Greeks amaranthus and myrtle.”
In the Life of Henrietta Maria, 1669, p. 3, we read : “On the 25th of June, 1610, she was carried with her brother to perform the ceremony of casting holy water on the corpse of her dead father (Henry the Fourth of France), who was buried the 28th following."
[It would appear from the ballad of Sarah Wilson, that it was sometimes the custom for the female attendants at the funeral of an unmarried woman to be dressed in white:
"Six pretty maids, pray let me have,
To bear me to the silent grave;
To bear me to the shades below."]
To the remarks which have been already made on evergreens used at funerals may be added, that the planting of yew-trees in churchyards seems to derive its origin from ancient funeral rites ; in which, Sir Thomas Browne conjectures, from its perpetual verdure, it was used as an emblem of the Resurrection. He observes farther that the Christian custom
of decking the coffin with bay'is a most elegant emblem. It is said that this tree, when seemingly dead, will revive from the root, and its dry leaves resume their wonted verdure.
The yew is called by Shakespeare, in his Richard the Second, the double fatal yew, because the leaves of the yew are poison, and the wood is employed for instruments of death. On this Steevens observes, that “ from some of the ancient statutes it appears that every Englishman, while archery was practised, was obliged to keep in his house either a bow of yew or some other wood. It should seem, therefore, that yews were not only planted in churchyards to defend the churches from the wind, but on account of their use in making bows; while by the benefit of being secured in inclosed places, their poisonous quality was kept from doing mischief to cattle.”
Barrington, in his Observations on the Statutes, p. 191, calls the statute here quoted below,' the last statute of the reign of Edw. I., and observes on the passage, “that trees in a churchyard were often planted to skreen the church from the wind: that low as churches were built at this time, the thick foliage of the yew answered this purpose better than any other tree. I have been informed, accordingly, that the yew-trees in the churchyard of Gyflin, near Conway, having been lately felled, the roof of the church hath suffered excessively.” The same writer, ibid. p. 424, on a regulation in the fourth chapter of the statute made at Westminster, 1482,
1 In Magna Carta, &c., 1566, Secunda Pars veterum Statutorum, I find the statute, “ Ne rector prosternet arbores in cemiterio : Quoniam inter rectores ecclesiarum et suos parochianos super arboribus crescentibus in cemiterio altercationes oriri sepius intelleximus, utrisque ad se pertinere contendentibus : hujusmodi altercationis dubium declarare juris scripti potius quam statuti juris estimamus. Nam cum cemiterium maxime dedicatum solum sit ecclesie, et quicquid plantatur solo, cedat; sequitur necessarie arbores ipsos debere inter facultates ecclesiasticas numerari, de quibus laicis nulla est attributa facultas disponendi : sed sicut sacra Scriptura testatur, solis sacerdotibus dispositis cura indiscussa a Deo commissa decet: verum arbores ipse propter ventorum impetus ne ecclesiis noceant, SEPE plantantur. Prohibemus, ne ecclesiarum rectores ipsas presumant prose terucre indistincte, nisi cum cancellus erclesie necessaria indigeat refectione. Nic in alios usus aliqualiter convertantur, preterquam si navis ecclesie indiguerit similiter rerectione : et rectores parochianis indigentibus eis caritative de arboris ipsis duxerint largiendis, quod ficri non precipimus, s'd cum factum fuerit, commendamus."
that the price of a yew bow is not to exceed 38. 4d., observes : “I should imagine that the planting yews in churchyards, being places fenced from cattle, arose, at least in many instances, from an attention to the material from which the best bows are made ; nor do we hear of such trees being planted in the churchyards of other parts of Europe.” It appears by 4 Hen. V. chap. 3, that the wood of which the best arrows were made was the asp. There is a statute so late as the 8th of Queen Elizabeth, which relates to bowyers, each of whom is always to have in his house fifty bows made of elm, witch, hazel, or ash. (Chap. x. sect. 7.)?
In the Gent. Mag. for Dec. 1779, xlix. 578, a writer mentions the two reasons already assigned for the planting of yew-trees in churchyards; but he considers the slow growth of these trees as an objection to the idea of their protecting the church from storms; and the rarity of their occurrence (it being very uncommon to meet with more than one or two in the same place) an indication that they could not have been much cultivated for the purposes of archery. He adds, “I cannot find any statute or proclamation that directs the cultivation of the yew-tree in any place whatever.” By different extracts from our old statutes, he continues : “It appears that we depended principally upon imported bow-staves for our best bows; which one would think needed not to have been the case, if our churchyards had been well stocked with yew-trees. The English yew, moreover, was of an inferior goodness ;" and that our brave countrymen were forced to hare recourse to foreign materials, appears from the following prices settled in an Act of Bowvers, 8 Eliz. : “Bows meet for men's shooting, being outlandish yew of the best sort, not over the price of 6s. 8d.; bows meet for men's shooting, of the second sort, 3s. 4d.; bows for men, of a coarser sort, called livery bows, 28. ; bows being English yew, 28. Gerard mentions their growing in churchyards where they have been
1 Drayton, who is so accurate with regard to British antiquities, informs us, Polyolbion, 26, that the best bows were made of Spanish yew :
“ All made of Spanish yew, their bows are wondrous strong." By 5 Edw. IV. ch. 4 (Irish Statutes), every Englishman is obliged to have “ a bow in his house of his own length, either of yew, wych, hazel, ash, or awburn," probably alder.
planted. Evelyn only says that the propagation of them has been forborne since the use of bows has been laid aside." The hypothesis of this writer is, that those venerable yer trees that are still to be seen in some of our churchyards Tere planted for no other purpose but that of furnishing palms for Palm Sunday, which he thinks were no other but the branches of yew-trees. He adds, “ that they actually were made this use of is extremely probable, from those in the churchyards in East Kent (where there are some very large and old) being to this day universally called palms."
Another writer in the Gent. Mag. for Feb. 1780, Dr. Pegge. 1. 74, thinks the yew-tree too much of a funeral nature to be made a substitute for the joyful palm. It is also a tree of baleful influence, whence Statius terms it
He conjectures that some of the yew-trees in our churchyards are as old as the Norman conquest, and were planted with others “for the purpose of protecting the fabric of the church from storms;" but that when the statute of 35 Edw. I. A.D. 1307, began to operate, whereby leave was given to fell trees in churchyards for building and repairs, these would be the only trees left standing, being unfit for the uses prescribed, and afterwards, as an evergreen, be thought an emblem of the resurrection, and even require some degree of regard and veneration. The first-quoted correspondent, ibid. p. 129, answers the above of Pegge, and by reasoning and facts refutes the idea of its baleful influence, and as to its funeral nature observes : “When sprigs of yew-tree, as well as of other evergreens, have been used in our funeral ceremonies, it has not been like the cypress of old, emblematical of the total extinc tion of the deceased, but, as is universally allowed, of his resurrection,-an idea that, instead of being fraught with grief and despair, is, of all others, the most consolatory to the heart of man. So that there seems no reason why this tree, being sometimes used at funerals, should stamp such a lugubrious mark upon it as to render it unsuitable to more joyful occasions. Ivy and bay, that used to adorn the brows of poets and conquerors, have not on that account been thought by the Christians of all ages incompatible with funeral solemnities."