Knickerbockers' History of New York

“The End of His Days”,
page 10 of 10

It does not give us a very exalted notion of the sincerity or value of these funeral testimonials, or the mental capacity of our ancestors, to read in the newspapers advertisements of printed circulars of praise for the dead, eulogistic in every aspect of the life of the departed, and suitable for various ages and either sex, to be filled in with the name of the deceased, his late residence, and date of death.

Puttenham in the “Arte of English Poesie,” says: “An Epitaph is an inscription such as a man may commodiously write or engrave vpon a tombe in few verses, pithie, quicke, and sententious, for the passer-by to peruse and judge vpon without any long tariaunce.”

There need be no “long tariaunce” for either inquisitive or irreverent search over the tombstones of the Dutch, for the dignified and simple inscriptions are in marked contrast to the stilted affectations, the verbose enumerations, the pompous eulogies, which make many English “graveyard lines” a source of ridicule and a gratification of curiosity. Indeed, the Dutch inscriptions can scarcely be called epitaphs; the name, date of birth and death, are simply prefaced with the ever-recurring Hier rust het lighaam, Here rests the body; Hier leydt het stoffelyk deel, Here lie the earthly remains; or simpler still, Hier leyt begraven, Here lies buried. Sometimes is found the touching Gedachtenis, In remembrance. More impressive still, from its calm repetition on stone after stone, of an undying faith in a future life, are the ever-present words, In den Heere ontslapen, Sleeping in the Lord.

Not only in memory of those dead-and-gone colonists stand these simple Dutch tombstones, but in suggestive remembrance also of a language forever passed away from daily life in this land. The lichened lettering of those unfamiliar words seems in sombre truth the very voice of those honored dead who, in those green Dutch graveyards, in the shadow of the old Dutch churches, in den Heere ontslapen.


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