Friday, 1 June 2012

Graveyard at Princeton (1862)

But it was of the dead, not the living, that I was about to speak. Nearly opposite the college Campus we find Witherspoon Street, named after that brave and good man who was president of the college in the days of the Revolution, and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Following this street a short distance, we come to the city of the dead. It is situated on an eminence, commanding a fine view of the surrounding country, embracing the village of Kingston, the distant spires of Trenton, and the blue range of hills beyond which roll the dark waters of the Atlantic. In natural advantages it can not compare with some of our modern cemeteries, but the historic interest which attaches to it more than compensates for the lack of picturesque effect.

The first spot to which the visitor is directed, is the inclosure containing the graves of the presidents of Princeton College. They are all of the old-fashioned style of 'table tombs,' now so seldom constructed; a flat slab, stretched on four walls of solid masonry, covering the whole grave. It was on such a tombstone that, in the old Greyfriars churchyard in Edinburgh, the solemn League and Covenant, from which resulted events so important to Scotland, was signed. No 'storied urn or animated bust' records the virtues of these venerable men,—not even marble in its simplest form has been used to mark their resting-place. The slabs are of coarse, grey stone, with long inscriptions in Latin occupying their entire surface. Many of them, especially that of the pious and renowned Jonathan Edwards, who left his New England home only to find a grave in New Jersey, having died a month after his removal to Princeton, have been most shamefully mutilated by relic-hunters and curiosity-mongers; innumerable pieces having been chipped off the edges of the slabs, until even the inscriptions have been encroached upon. To prevent, if possible, further mutilation, the following unique and elaborate, but eloquent notice, enclosed in an iron frame, has been placed over the graves of these reverend fathers. It was written by Professor, now Dr. Giger, of the college.

Keep your sacrilegious hands off these venerable stones! Parian marble, wrought with consummate skill, could not replace them. Connected with these homely monuments are historical associations that ought not to be forgotten. The scarcity of better materials, the rudeness of monumental sculpture, the poverty of the country, the early struggles and pecuniary embarrassments of the colony, at the period when these monuments were erected, as well as the self-denial and hardships and labors of the distinguished men who gave fame and usefulness to Nassau Hall, are indicated by these rough stones. Nothing modern, nothing polished or magnificent, could suggest the early history of New Jersey. Spare what remains of these broken memorials. Thoughtless young man! why do you break and deface these old monuments? A few fragments carried in your pocket, or placed in your cabinet, will not impart to you the activity and energy of Burr, or the profound and logical intellect of Edwards, or the eloquence of Davies, or the piety and triumphant death of Finley, or the poetical wisdom, the power of governing and inspiring youth, the love of knowledge, and the stern, unflinching patriotism of Witherspoon. If you admire and reverence the character of these great and good men, read their works imitate their example; and forbear, we be[seech you, to add to the shameful mutilation of the frail memorials intended to protect their bones from insult.
But there is a strange and startling incongruity observable in this enclosure. At the foot of the grave where rest the remains of the venerable Aaron Burr, first president of the College of New Jersey, stands a tall white marble monument of modern form and appearance, so utterly out of keeping with the rest of the tombs, that the visitor at once turns to it, and is none the less startled to find that it marks the last resting-place of that other Aaron Burr, the traitor, the duellist, the libertine, whose remains, brought hither in the night, were surreptitiously buried at the feet of his venerated father, and this monument placed over them, years afterwards, in the same manner. And for his father's sake, there they were suffered to remain. 'After life's fitful fever he sleeps well,' in the midst of these old grey stones, and surrounded by the honored dead. The monument bears no record, except his name, the dates of his birth and death, and the statement that he was Vice-President of the United States from 1801 to 1805. It is as if it said,—

'No further seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode.'

Not a quarter of a mile from where his dust thus reposes, there sleeps, in a neglected grave in a small grove of trees behind the college, one of his hapless victims, a young lady of Philadelphia, who died, as the mouldering headstone, half sunken in the turf, informs us, 'at the early age of twenty-two.'

The next point of interest is the spot where seven or eight elegant shafts of white marble, erected by their class-mates, mark the graves of students who have died during their collegiate course. They are all remarkable for the beauty and chaste simplicity of their design, and the appropriateness of their inscriptions. No historic interest attaches to them; no well-earned fame gilds them with a halo of glory; but a feeling touching and sad creeps over the heart as we read on the tomb the name of each sleeper's distant home, and think of the poor young man dying in the midst of strangers, while doubtless

'There was weeping far away,
And gentle eyes, for him,
With watching many an anxious day,
Were sorrowful and dim.'

Passing on, we reach the graves of the three Alexanders, father and two sons, whose writings are dear to so many Christian hearts. Side by side they repose, under three slabs of pure white marble, inscribed with appropriate epitaphs. That of the father, Archibald Alexander, for fifty years professor in the Theological Seminary, is a simple, unadorned record of his personal history; that of the younger brother, Joseph Addison, who was a man of immense learning, able to read, write, and converse in sixteen languages, tells us that 'his great talents and vast learning were entirely devoted to the exposition and elucidation of the Word of God;' but to New Yorkers that of the elder brother, Dr. James W. Alexander, is fraught with the greatest interest, from his having so lately occupied a prominent place among the first divines and scholars of our country. It runs thus:


A man of God, thoroughly furnished unto all good works; a learned, elegant, and accomplished scholar; a faithful, affectionate, and beloved pastor; an able, eloquent, and successful preacher; professor of mathematics in the College of New Jersey; professor of ecclesiastical history in Princeton Theological Seminary; pastor of the Presbyterian Church, corner of Fifth Avenue and Nineteenth Street, New York. Throughout his life and labors, he illustrated those gifts and graces that exalt humanity and adorn the church of God.

Scattered about the graveyard are many monuments, attractive and interesting from their artistic beauty alone. One of the most chaste and elegant designs I have ever seen is the tomb erected by a gentleman of Philadelphia, to the memory of his wife, son, and daughter, who perished in the burning of the 'Henry Clay' on the Hudson River. It is in the form of a casket, of white marble, beautifully carved and of graceful form, elevated on a pedestal of polished stone, of a blueish tint. On one end of the casket are inscribed the words

on the other end,

while one side bears the appropriate text of Scripture:—

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee;
and the other the comforting words:—

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
Under a drooping cypress tree, half hidden amid its dark green foliage, is a monument of white marble, in the form of a Greek cross, low but massive, on which there is no epitaph or inscription whatever; but on the little foot-stone beyond it are the simple words:—

Died 1851,
Aged 18.

Numerous 'broken rosebuds' mark the graves of children, and the device is so often repeated as to become tiresome; but on one handsome monument is carved a wreath of flowers, from which a rose has apparently dropped, and fallen on the pedestal,—a beautiful illustration of the loss the family circle had sustained in the death of her who rests below. Another child-grave, the tombstone a small upright slab surmounted by a wreath of flowers, bears the touching inscription:—

Our only Son,
John Agur E——.
Aged 2 years.

Many graves here, as elsewhere, are adorned with examples of 'graveyard poetry;' but most of it is of that humble character which is illustrated by the following:—

'Farewell, beloved wife: I must go
And leave you in this world of woe.
A few short years, then we shall meet
Together at our Saviour's feet.'

One more epitaph, before we leave this interesting and time-honored place of graves. It is from a plain horizontal slab, not far from the entrance; and is, to our thinking, one of the most beautiful and touching monumental inscriptions ever penned.

Sarah B——,
Wife of the Rev. C—— K——.
A humble worshiper of Christ, she lived in love and died in faith. Truthful woman, delightful companion, ardent friend, devoted wife, self-sacrificing mother, we lay you gently here, our best beloved, to gather strength and beauty for the coming of the Lord.

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