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HE churchyard at Eton is a triangular piece
of ground, converging into a sharp remote angle, bordered on one side by the Long Walk, and screened from it by heavy iron railings. On the second side it is skirted and overlooked by tall irregular houses, and on the third side by the deep buttressed recesses of the chapel, venerable with ivy and mouldering grey stone.
It is a strangely quiet place in the midst of bustling life; the grumbling of waggons in the road, the hoarse calling of the jackdaws, awkwardly fluttering about old red-tiled roofs, the cracked clanging of the college clock, the voices of boys from the street, fall faintly on the ear: besides, it has all the beauty of a deserted place, for it is many years since it has been used for a burialground : the grass is long and rank, the cypresses and yews grow luxuriantly out of unknown vaults, and push through broken rails; the gravestones slant and crumble; moss grows into the letters of forgotten names, and creepers embrace and
embower monumental urns; here and there are heaps of old carven, crumbling stones; on early summer mornings a resident thrush stirs the silence with flute-notes marvellously clear; and on winter evenings when wet, boisterous winds roll steadily up, and the tall chapel windows flame, the organ's voice is blown about the winding overgrown paths, and the memorials of the dead.
Just inside the gate, visible from the road among the dark evergreens, stands a tall, conspicuous altar-tomb, conspicuous more for the miserable way in which a stately monument has been handled, than for its present glories. It has been patched and slobbered up with grey stucco; and the inscription scratched on the surface is three-quarters obliterated. Let into the sides are the grey stone panels of the older tomb, sculptured with quaint emblems of life and death, a mattock and an uncouth heap of bones, an hourglass and a skull, a pot of roses and lily-flowerssuch is the monument of one of Eton's gentlest servants and sons. "I ordain," runs the quaint conclusion of his will, "that at the time of the next evensong after my departure (if conveniently it may be), my body be laid in the church-yard of the town of Eton (if I chance to die there), as near as may be [a strangely pathetic touch of love from the childless philosopher, the friend of courtiers and divines], to the body of my little
godson, Jack Dickenson the elder; and this to be done in plain and simple manner, without any sermon or ringing the bell, or calling the people together; without any unseasonable commessation or compotation, or other solemnity on such occasions usual ; for as in my life I have done the church no service, so I will not that in my death the church do me any honour."
And the prophecy is fulfilled to the letter; in such a tomb he rests; and by a strange irony of fate, the pompous title claiming so universal and perennial a fame--the "ever-memorable "-is the only single fact which is commonly mentioned about him he has even been identified with Sir Matthew Hale of just memory.
John Hales was neither an Etonian nor a Kingsman: he was of a Somersetshire family; and was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he spent no less than six years before taking his degree (in 1603), from the age of thirteen to the age of nineteen.
The Warden of Merton at that time was Sir Henry Savile, Queen Elizabeth's Greek tutor, supposed the most learned savant of the time, founder of the Savilian professorships for astronomy and geometry, a severe, clear-headed student. It is recorded of him that he had a great dislike for brilliant instinctive abilities, and only respected the slow cumulative processes. "Give me the plodding student,” he said : "if
I would look for wits, I would go to Newgate : there be the wits." He was not popular among the rising young men in consequence; John Earle, the author of the Microcosmography, that delightful gallery of characters that puts Theophrastus into the shade, was the only man he ever admitted, on his reputation as a wit, into the sacred society of Merton, For such intellects as he desired, he made search in a way that was then described as “hedge-beating."
Savile was attracted by Hales; he found in him a mind which, young as it was, showed signs of profundity.
Savile's choice is a great testimony to the depth of Hales' attainments; for his later reputation was acquired more by his grace and originality of mind than for his breadth of learning. Savile was then at work on his Chrysostom, printed privately at Eton in the grave collegiate house in Weston's Yard, now the most inconvenient residence of the Præcentor. Hales became a congenial fellow-labourer, and in 1613 was moved to a fellowship at Eton, of which College Savile had for seventeen years been Provost.
A Fellow of Eton is now a synonym for a menber of the Governing Body, that is to say, a gentleman in some public position, who is willing to give up a fraction of his time to the occasional consideration and summary settlement of large educational problems. Twenty years ago a Fellowship
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meant a handsome competence, light residence, a venerable house, and a good living in the country. In Hales's time it meant a few decent rooms, a small dividend, home-made bread and beer at stated times, a constant attendance at the church service, and the sustaining society of some six or seven earnest like-minded men, grave students, at least under Savile,-mostly celibates. To such the life was dignified and attractive. Early rising, and a light breakfast. A long, studious morning, with Matins, an afternoon dinner, a quiet talk round the huge fire, or a stroll in the stately college garden with perhaps some few promising boys from the school-then merely an adjunct of the more reverend college, not an absorbing centre of life—more quiet work and early to bed. Busy, congenial monotony! There is no secret like that for a happy life!
After three years, this was broken into by a piece ofvivid experience-Hales accompanied Sir Dudley Carleton, Ambassador to Holland, as his chaplain, and was despatched by him in 1618 to the Synod of Dort.
It must be clearly borne in mind that theological and religious problems then possessed a general interest for the civilised world, and for Englishmen in particular, which it cannot be pretended that they possess now. Political gossip has taken the place of theological discussion. Then, contemporary writers thought fit to lament the time