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ST. MICHAEL'S CHURCHYARD-THE ERECTION OF THE MAUSOLEUM
THE DISINTERMENT OF THE POET'S REMAINS_PARENOLOGICAL
Strolling along Burns Street, I soon arrived at the gate of St. Michael's churchyard, and finding it open passed along the gravelled walk to view the church, a neat structure with a handsome spire some 130 feet high. The churchyard, although barely three acres in extent, is estimated to contain over 3000 monumental stones of one description and another. Many are beautiful specimens of the sculptor's art, and not a few are interesting on account of their antique appearance and inscriptions. Amongst the latter are three weather-worn slabs to the memory of three stubborn Nithsdale Covenanters, who
offered dea rather than submit to the tyranny and injustice so prevalent in their day. All honour to the Dumfries folks for erecting a more enduring memorial to their memory, and also for commemorating the 420 victims of cholera, who perished during its reign in Dumfries in 1832. In meditative mood, I strolled towards the east corner of the churchyard to view the spot that holds the Poet's dust, for
Such graves as his are pilgrim shrines
Shrines to no code or creed confined-
The Meccas of the mind.” At a public meeting held at Dumfries on the 6th of Jany., 1814, it was determined that “a Mausoleum ought to be reared over the grave of Burns.” A committee being formed, subscriptions were solicited, and in a brief space sufficient funds were obtained to carry out the proposition. The foundation stone was laid with masonic honours on the 5th of June, 1815,
and the building completed the year following. The remains of Burns were originally interred in an out-of-the-way place at the north corner of the churchyard which remained undistinguished until his widow covered the grave with a plain slab bearing an unambitious inscription.
The Mausoleum being erected in a conspicuous part of the churchyard, it was decided to exhume the bodies of the Poet and his two sons, and place them in the vault in its interior. For this purpose a company of gentlemen proceeded to the lowly grave “ before the sun had risen, and made so good use of their time that the imposing ceremony was well-nigh completed before the public had time to assemble, or in fact were aware of the important duty in which the others had been engaged. On opening the grave, the coffins of the boys were found in a tolerably entire state, placed in shells, and conveyed to the vault with the greatest care. As a report had been spread that the principal coffin was made of oak, a hope was entertained that it would be possible to transport it from the north to the east corner of St. Michael's without opening it or disturbing the sacred deposit it contained. But this hope proved fallacious.
On testing the coffin, it was found to be composed of the ordinary materials, and ready to yield to the slightest pressure ; and the lid removed, a spectacle was unfolded which, considering the fame of the mighty dead, has rarely been witnessed by a human being. There were the remains of the great poet, to all appearance nearly entire, or retaining various traces of vitality, or rather, exhibiting the features of one who had newly sunk into the sleep of death: the lordly forehead, arched and high, the scalp still covered with hair, and the teeth perfectly firm and white.
The scene was so imposing that most of the men stood bare and uncovered- -as the late Dr. Gregory did at the exhumation of the remains of the illustrious hero of Bannockburn-and at the same time felt their frames thrilling with some undefinable emotion, as they gazed upon the ashes of him whose fame is as wide as the world itself. But the effect was momentary, for when they proceeded to insert a shell or case below the coffin, the head separated from the trunk, and the whole body, with the exception of the bones, crumbled into dust." The remains being carefully placed in a new coffin, it was
deposited in the vault and closed in. This took place on the 19th of September, 1815. Nineteen years afterwards it was again opened to receive the remains of the poet's widow, and on the occasion it was resolved to raise the skull of the bard and submit it to a phrenological examination. The consent of the nearest relative being obtained, a company of gentlemen entered the vault at midnight; but the following by Mr. Archibald Blacklock, surgeon,
the party, will sufficiently describe the proceedings. He says : cranial bones were perfect in every respect, if we except a little erosion of their external table, and firmly held together by their sutures; even the delicate bones of the orbits, with the trifling exception of the os unguis in the left, were sound and uninjured by death and the grave. The superior maxillary bones still retained the four most posterior teeth o each side, including the dentes sapientiae, and all without spot or blemish; the incisores, cuspidati, &c., had in all probability recently dropped from the jaw, for the alveoli were but little decayed. The bones of the face and palate were also sound. Some small portions of black hair, with a very few grey hairs intermixed, were observed while detaching some extraneous matter from the occiput. Indeed, nothing could exceed the high state of preservation in which we found the bones of the cranium, or offer a fairer opportunity of supplying what has so long been desiderated by phrenologists—a correct model of our immortal poet's head; and in order to accomplish this in the most accurate and satisfactory manner, every particle of sand, or other foreign body, was carefully washed off, and the plaster of Paris applied with all the tact and accuracy of an experienced artist. The cast is admirably taken, and cannot fail to prove highly interesting to phrenologists and others. Having completed our intention the skull, securely enclosed in a leaden case, was again committed to the earth precisely where we found it.”
The cast having been transmitted to the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh, Mr Geo. Combe drew up an elaborate paper on the development of the Poet's brain. It concludes with the following remarks: “No phrenologist can look upon this head and consider the circumstances in which Burns was placed without vivid feelings of regret.
Burns must have walked the earth with a consciousness of great superiority over his
associates in the station in which he was placed, of powers calculated for a far higher sphere than that which he was able to reach, and of passions which he could with difficulty restrain and which it was fatal to indulge. If he had been placed from infancy in the higher ranks of life, liberally educated, and employed in pursuits corresponding to his powers, the inferior portion of his nature would have lost its energy, while his better qualities would have assumed a decided and permanent superiority.” Notwithstanding this criticism,
• Burns—though brief the race he ran,
Though rough and dark the path he trod-
The image of his God.
With wounds that only death can heal,
The proud alone can feel —
His independent tongue and pen,
Pride of his fellow-men.
A hate of tyrant and of knave,
Of coward and of slave :
That could not fear and would not bow,
And on his manly brow.” The Mausoleum closely resembles a Grecian temple, being formed of pillars supporting a dome-surmounted cornice. On the whole, the building is graceful and worthy of the object to which it is devoted, but its effect is much marred by the sheets of rough glass necessarily inserted between the pillars to protect the interior from the weather.
While mutely surveying the surroundings, an old man, possessed of much official importance and overwhelming politeness, appeared on the scene, key in hand, and, in response to my desire, opened the door and led the way into “ the lone -the last abode of Burns." Uncovered, I stood on the threshold, and with feelings which cannot be described surveyed the interior. In front was a piece of sculpture repre
senting Burns at the plough and the genius Coila--an ungainly female figure hanging in a ridiculous manner from a slate slab on the back wall—throwing her mantle of inspiration over him. Although the statuary embodies one of the Poet's conceptions it is not of a high class order, and from it I turned to the plain tombstone which marked his first resting place, for to it and other objects the EXHIBITOR drew my attention with a hilarious volubility which ill-accorded with the sanctity of the place.
Beside this relic of domestic affection there are three marble tablets bearing the following inscriptions
“ IN MEMORY OF ROBERT BURNS, WHO DIED 21st July, 1796, IN THE 37TH YEAR OF HIS AGE, AND MAXWELL BURNS, WHO DIED 25TH NOVEMBER, 1799, AGED TWO YEARS AND NINE MONTHS. FRANCIS WALLACE BURNS, WHO DIED JULY, 1803, AGED 14
THE REMAINS OF BURNS REMOVED INTO THE VAULT BELOW, 19TH SEPTEMBER, 1815, AND HIS SONS ALSO. THE REMAINS OF JEAN ARMOUR, RELICT OF THE POET, BORN, 1765 ; DIED, 26TH MARCH, 1834. AND ROBERT, HIS ELDEST SON, WHO DIED 14th May, 1857, AGED 70 YEARS.”
II. “ THIS TABLET IS ERECTED BY LIEUT.-COLONEL NICHOL BURNS, E.I.C.S., TO THE MEMORY OF HIS WIFE, CATHERINE ADELAIDE CRONE, WHO DIED AT CALLUDHEE IN THE EAST INDIES, ON THE 29TH JUNE, 1841. COLONEL WM. NICHOL BURNS, BORN AT ELLISLAND, 9TH APRIL, 1791, DIED AT CHELTENHAM, 21st FEBRUARY, 1872. HIS REMAINS REST IN THE VAULT BENEATH THIS TABLET.'
III. “ This TABLET IS ERECTED BY MAJOR JAMES GLENCAIRN BURNS, E.I.C.S., TO THE MEMORY OF SARAH ROBINSON, HIS WIFE, WHO DIED AT NEEMUCH, East Indies, 7th Nov., 1821, AGED 24.
JEAN ISABELLA, HIS DAUGHTER, DIED AT SEA, 5TH OF JUNE, 1823, AGED 4 YEARS AND 5 MONTHS. ROBERT SHAW, HIS SON, DIED IN NEEMUCH, 11TH EC., 1821, AGED 18 MONTHS. MARY BECKETT, HIS WIFE, DIED AT GRAVESEND, KENT, 13th NOVEMBER, 1844, AGED 52. LIEUT.-Col. JAMES G. BURNS, BORN AT DUMFRIES, 12TH AUGUST, 1794, DIED AT CHELTENHAM, 18TH NOVEMBER, 1865. HIS REMAINS REST IN THE VAULT BENEATH THIS TABLET.”