The Church Porch. 1320 A.D.
The Church Porch. 1320 A.D.

Some time ago there was a demand that Byron should be re-interred in Westminster Abbey. The Dean found himself unable to comply with it, and there followed a good deal of acrimonious dispute. On the one hand it was urged that some of his opinions made him an unsuitable tenant of a tomb in a sacred building (the fact that he lies in one now was overlooked), and that others made him no candidate for a "National Pantheon." On the other hand it was argued that, although a sinner (like the rest of us), he was naturally religious, was always subject to the reproaches of conscience, and proved by his noble death the Love than which there is none greater. What did not occur to anybody, apparently, was the question whether or not, even when the Dean is willing, we are right in always asking that the illustrious dead should be buried in that one crowded fane in London. If men are Londoners, well enough. I am referring to those who are not Londoners born, and do not die there.

In my opinion this tendency (a quite modern thing) to insist that the tombs and epitaphs of all the eminent dead should be huddled together in one Metropolitan place is merely one symptom of modern megalomania. It is especially stupid of us to want all the poets to be huddled together in Poets Corner, in a kind of marble anthology. Swinburne lies at Bonchurch, near the cliffs and the sea of his youth; there would have been some point in burying him at Putney; interment at Westminster would have meant nothing, except that he was considered a good enough poet to be buried at Westminster. Shakespeare lies at Stratford, where he was born and died; within hearing of his rustics and the Forest of Arden. He would have preferred it thus, even if the choice had been presented to him. But it is not only a matter of suitability; it is also a matter, to use a dull term, of social advantage. Stratford and Warwickshire would be less interesting places had Shakespeare been abducted from them. The tombs of poets should be scattered, as the pictures of painters should be scatteied, in the localities most intimately associated with them. Up to a point the National Mausoleum may be worth having; certainly the National Gallery is necessary. But it would be an impoverished country if every good picture were in Trafalgar Square, and it would be a richer country if a representative collection of Constables could be found at Flatford, and an isolated group of Reynoldses in Devonshire. The Franz Halses, encountered alone in Haarlem, where he lived and painted, are a greater delight than they would be with everything else at Amsterdam; and Haarlem is a finer town for them. So Hucknall Torkard gains by being the last home of its one great son, far more than the Abbey could gain by one more bust; and the presence of these mortal remains enriches, as it were, the air of a county. Byron lies where he should he, with long generations of his ancestors in the place that he knew as home. He might well, we know, have written a jocular canto about the Abbey; but never about Newstead or that country churchyard or that country church to which, after all his fevers and warfare, he returned at last, to take that rest that was his ultimate desire.

Editor of "The  London Mercury."