Mather and Story agree on one thing: the living should learn from the dead.
Let the Dead Person in the Coffin, become a Lively Teacher unto us: their Death, a Lively Sermon unto us. When we see the Sleep of Death upon one of our Acquaintance, let it Awaken in us, many Pertinent Meditation.Story:
Our Cemeteries rightly selected, and properly arranged, may be made subservient to some of the highest purposes of religion and human duty. They may preach lessons, to which none may refuse to listen, and which all, that live, must hear. Truths may there be felt and taught in the silence of our own meditations, more persuasive, and more enduring, than ever flowed from human lips. The grave hath a voice of eloquence, nay, of superhuman eloquence . . .Yet, despite some superficial similarities, Mather and Story actually have very different views on how the living should relate to the dead. Mather places the living in close proximity to "the Dead Body" and emphasizes feelings of abject humility. He deems four meditations most appropriate for funerals:
- "The Frailty of Dying Man; and Frail Mans Tendency to Death"
- "The Certainty, the Speediness, and for ought we can foretell, the Suddenness of our own Death"
- "The Compassion of God, in Sparing of us, when Death has had a Commission to fall upon others"
- "The Insignificancy of all Worldly Satisfactions, unto a man that must Leave the World"
Story hears a voice, but it's saying something very different:
As we sit down by their graves, we seem to hear the tones of their affection, whispering in our ears. We listen to the voice of their wisdom, speaking in the depths of our souls. We shed our tears, but they are no longer the burning tears of agony. They relieve our drooping spirits and come no longer over us with a deathly faintness. We return to the world, and we feel ourselves purer, and better, and wiser, from this communion with the dead.Someone coming from one of Mather's funerals might feel many things, but not comfort. Mather's funeral lesson is that man is vulnerable and wretched. Story leaves the grave feeling strong and uplifted.
Mather's "voice" is purely metaphorical, but I'm not sure Story's actually is. Or even if his is — he "seems to hear" — the seeds of spiritualism are present in the rural cemetery movement's embrace of an immediate, mystical connection with the dead.
Mather does allow that mourners may learn a "Lesson of Goodness or Wisdom" by remembering the life of an exemplary Christian and "send[ing] up our secret wishes to Heaven, Lord, Help me to do so too!" But this is very different from Story's immediate connection with the dead. In Mather's thinking, the dead body is an object of meditation, an aid to remembrance, and an inspiration for prayer. For Story, the body is not particularly important, but the setting of the grave is crucial for establishing an immediate connection with the dead. In the former case, the dead person humbles the living and brings him crawling to God. In the latter, the dead person's spirit strengthens the living, and I can't quite see where God fits in at all.