February 28, 2010

Albert Pike's instructions

Albert Pike has many distinctions — a lawyer, Confederate officer, Freemason, and writer. Despite his birth in Boston, Pike is irrevocably associated with the South, having ultimately settled in Arkansas. His first collection of poetry was published in 1834, earning him a fair amount of attention as an up-and-comer, though he never carried on as a poet. In 1842, Edgar Poe lamented this, and noted that he had "unquestionably {sic} merit, and that of a high order... He is the most classic of our poets in the best sense of the term." Poe published one of Pike's poems, "Autumn," in Graham's Magazine. It concludes:

Day draweth to its close — night cometh on —
  Death standeth dimly on Life's western verge,
Casting his shadow o'er the startled sun —
  A deeper gloom, that seemeth to emerge
  From gloomy night — and bending forth, to urge
His eyeless steeds, fleet as the tempest's blast:
  And hear we not eternity's dim surge
Thundering anear? At the dread sound aghast,
Time hurries headlong, pale with frantic terror, past.

At the end of his life, Pike was focused less on poetics and more on practical concerns. On February 28, 1891, he wrote instructions for his impending death. Matter-of-factly, he wrote, "These are my wishes and directions in regard to the disposition of my body after death:"

I forbid any autopsy or dissection of my body to gratify curiosity, or for the benefit of science, or for any other reason. If I die in or near Washington, let my body be placed in no casket, but in a plain coffin, covered with black cloth, and taken in the evening of the day, to the Cathedral-room of the Scottish Rite, or a church, without any procession, parade or music. At midnight let the funeral offices of the Kadosh be performed there over my body and none other either then or afterwards; and, on the next morning early, let it be taken by nine or twelve brethren of the Scottish Rite to Baltimore or Philadelphia, and cremated without any ceremony other than the word "Good-bye!"

Pike asked for his ashes to be spread around the roots of two acacia trees, and demanded that no eulogy be offered. On his gravestone, if one was made, he asked for only his name, his birth and death dates, and the words Laborum Ejus Superstites Sunt Fructus Vixit. He died one month and four days after writing this document...

...And his careful instructions were not followed. More on that in April.

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