Queer Epitaphs, pp.93-116.

[Book of Blunders Contents]

ONE of the oddest monuments in Europe is to be seen at Luneberg, in Hanover. We have heard of monuments to dogs and horses, but it is doubtful if, except at Luneberg, a monument has ever been erected to the memory of a pig. There, in the Hotel de Ville, the eye of the visitor is attracted by a slab of black marble, bearing the following inscription in letters of gold:- 

Passer-by, contemplate here the mortal remains of 

THE PIG, 

which acquired for itself imperishable glory, by the discovery 

of the Salt Springs of Luneberg

Turning, however, to the monuments of a higher (if sometimes less useful) creation, and specially to their inscriptions, it has been said wisely, that an epitaph should be short enough for everybody to read, simple enough for everybody to understand, and pungent enough for everybody to remember. Also, that it should be written in the vernacular, to be intelligible to natives; and in Latin, that it may be intelligible to foreigners and future ages. 

Perhaps the epitaph that most nearly realises this ideal, and is at the same time one of the shortest rhyming couplets extant, is the one which looks up from the tombstone of Mr Thorpe, and makes the brief announcement, 

THORPE’S 

CORPSE. 

It may surely be said of this, if it can be said of any epitaph, that it is short enough for everybody to read, simple enough for everybody to understand, pungent enough for everybody to remember, while it may be said to be English and Latin in one. 

It has another conspicuous merit; it tells nothing but truth. The satirist who, on walking through a churchyard, and observing the indiscriminate praise bestowed on the dead, wrote over the entrance – 

   “HERE LIE THE DEAD AND HERE THE LIVING lie.” – 

would have made an exception to the latter clause in favour of “Thorpe’s Corpse.” 

In St. Giles’s Church in Shrewsbury, on the tomb of John Whitfield, surgeon, is the inscription – 

COMPOSITA SOLVANTUR, 

– the very essence, or rather quaint-essence of Medical brevity. 

Not less true, let us hope, than concise, is the epitaph written for himself by Gustavus III. of Sweden:- 

TANDEM FELIX – “Happy at last.” 

Next to the brief formula under which Mr Thorpe reposes, perhaps the neatest and briefest elegy that could be inscribed on a tombstone, and the one which, though not applicable to cases like that of the penitent thief, would be truest of the greatest number, is that well-known epigram:- 

QUALIS VITA, 

FINIS ITA. 

As he lived, so he died. 

Safe enough, though far from exhilarating to the reader, is the ghostly style of admonition and warning so common on the headstones of last century. It is of these that the gentle and sensitive “Elia” speaks in his “New Year’s Eve:” – 

   “Out upon thee, thou foul, ugly phantom Death! In no way can I be brought to digest thee, thou thin, melancholy Privation… Those antidotes prescribed against the fear of thee are altogether frigid and insulting like thyself. For what satisfaction hath a man that he shall lie down with kings and emperors in death, who, in his lifetime, never greatly coveted the society of such bedfellows? … More than all I abhor those impertinent familiarities inscribed upon your ordinary tombstone. Every dead man must take upon himself to be lecturing me with his odious truism that such as he is, I must shortly be.” 

Here is an inscription of the kind referred to, from a churchyard near Hastings. The spelling agrees with the Sussex pronunciation:- 

HERE LYETH THE BODY OF JOSEPH DAIN, 

WHO DIED MAY 26, 1751. 

Good peppell all, as you pass by, 

I pray you on me cast an eye; 

For as you am so wounce was I, 

And as I am so must you be. 

Therefore prepare to follow me. 

The following, in the church at Croyland, introduces a few facts and a little philosophy, but ends with the inevitable memento:- 

   Beneath  this place, in 6 foot length, against ye clark’s pew, lyeth the body of Mr Abm Baly. He dyed ye 3d of Jan., 1704. Also ye body of Mary his wid. She dyed ye 21st May, 1705. Also 2 children of ye said Abm and Mary, which dyed in their enfantry. 

Man’s life is like untoe a winter’s daye, 

Some brake ther faste and so depart away; 

Others sta dinner – then depart full fed. 

The longest age but supps, and goes to bed. 

O Reader, then behold and see 

As we are now, so must ye bee. 

1706.

The next is more conspicuous for its conciseness than for elegance:- 

“Him as was, is gone from we, 

So we as is must go to he.” 

The following is from St Julian’s Church, Shrewsbury:- 

   The Remains of Henry Corser of this parish of Chirurgeon, who Deceased April 11, 1691, and Anne his wife, who followed him the next day after – 

We man and wife, 

Conjoyned for Life, 

Fetched our last Breath 

So near, that Death, 

Who part us would, 

Yet hardly could. 

Wedded againe, 

In bed of dust, 

Here we remaine, 

Till rise we must, 

A double prize this grave doth finde, 

If you are wise keep it in minde. 

Gough, in his “Sepulchral Monuments,” gives the following from the Church of St Peter, at St Alban’s, date, 1420:- 

“In the yere of Christ on thousand 

and four hundred ful trew with 

four and sixteene 

I Richard Skipwith gentylman 

in birth late fellow of New June, 

In my age twenti on my sowl 

partyd from the body in August 

the 16th day 

And now I ly her abyding 

God’s mercy under this ston 

in clay. 

Desyring yow that this sal see 

unto the Meyden pray for mee 

That bare both God and Man, 

Like as ye wold that other 

for ye shold 

When ye ne may nor can.” 

In Greyfriar’s Churchyard, Edinburgh, of which an interesting account was recently published, the monument of George Heriot, father of “Gingling Geordie,” that favourite of James the Sixth, and founder of Heriot’s Hospital, bears a long and compendious inscription in Latin, of which the following is a metrical translation:- 

“Passenger, who art wise, hence know whence you are, 

What you are, what you are to be, 

Life, gate of death; Death, gate of life to me, 

Sole death of death gives life eternally. 

Therefore, whoever breath draws from the air, 

While live thou mayst, thyself for death prepare.” 

In the same churchyard stands the famous monument to the martyrs, and a mausoleum erected to the memory of Sir George Mackenzie, who, as King’s Advocate during the reigns of Charles II. and James II., prosecuted the Coventanters. This monument, it is said, used to be regarded with superstitious dread by the good people of Edinburgh, as it was believed that the spirit of the dead man could get no rest in its gloomy cell. The boy used to consider himself very brave who could go up to the door and cry in at the key-hole – 

“Bluidy Mackenzie, come out if ye daur, 

Lift the sneck and draw the bar.” 

Another and (to the passer-by) less doleful kind of epitaph, is that in which the dead man, speaking through his tombstone, confines his observations to himself – 

Here lies W. W., 

Who will no more trouble you, trouble you.” 

With what a mournful backward look at us poor “W.W.” seems to canter away to the Eternal Silences. 

This bachelor’s epitaph from Saddleworth is still more doleful:- 

“At threescore winters’ end I died, 

A cheerless being, sole and sad, 

The nuptial knot I never tied, 

And wish my father never had.” 

There is more contentment expressed in the following:- 

I lays 

Paddy O’Blase 

My body quite at its aises, 

With the tip of my nose 

And the points of my toes 

Turned up to the roots of the daisies.” 

No “R.I.P.” needed there. The Spectator (Oct. 24, 1712), gives the following:- 

“Here lies the body of Daniel Saul, 

Spittal-fields weaver – & that’s all,” 

copied from a slab in St Dunstan’s Churchyard. 

Hic jacet Johannes Aberdonensis

Who built the churchyard dyke at his own expenses,” – 

is the inscription on a slab in Cullen Churchyard, Banffshire, where the generous Aberdonian rests in peace behind the shelter of his own dyke. 

On another slab is engraved the following verse:- 

“Here lies interred a man o’ micht, 

His name was Malcolm Downie, 

He lost his life ae market nicht 

By fa’in aff his pownie.” 

A still greater triumph in rhyme is the epitaph on Robert Trollope, architect of the Exchange and Town Court, Newcastle, of whose body, soul, and life-work it disposes summarily in the following fashion:- 

Here lies Robert Trollope 

Who made yon stones roll up. 

When death took his soul up 

His body filled this hole up.” 

Blomfield, in his “History of Norfolk,” gives the following from Holm Church in that county, date, A.D., 1404:- 

“Henry Nottingham and his 

wyff lyn here 

That mayden this church, 

stepull and quere, 

Two vestments and bellez 

they made also, 

Christ them save therefore 

fro wo! 

And to bring ther soules to bles 

of heven 

Saint Peter and Ave with mylde Steven.” 

In the graveyard at Acton, in Cornwall, there is this inscription:- 

“Here lies entombed one Roger Morton, 

Whose sudden death was early brought on; 

Trying one day his corn to mow off, 

The razor slipped and cut his toe off.

The toe, or rather what it grew to, 

An inflammation quickly flew to; 

The parts they took to mortifying, 

And poor dear Roger took to dying.” 

The following will be less gratifying to the medical adviser if he still lives:- 

“Here I lie with my three daughters, 

All along of drinking the Cheltenham waters; 

Had we stayed at home and kept to Epsom salts, 

We should not have been lying in these here vaults.” 

On the grave of John Fish lies a large slab with the lines:- 

“Here lies John Fish, 

Who did earnestly wish 

The baits of old Satan to shun, 

And if that he should 

Be caught in the mud 

To the knot of Salvation to run, 

And when drawn by death’s hook 

From this turbulent brook, 

The scene of his sorrow and strife, 

That he might not be crammed 

On the coals with the damned, 

But swim in the waters of life.” 

In Kent, there is still shown the tomb of an eccentric miller, who, in the year 1815, died and left handsome legacies to his executors, on condition that they should bury him under his mill, and engrave on his tombstone the following epitaph of his own composition:- 

“Underneath this ancient mill 

Lies the body of poor Will; 

Odd he lived and odd he died, 

And at his funeral nobody cried; 

Where he’s gone and how he fares, 

Nobody knows and nobody cares.” 

But how to make the best of both worlds, and how to bear in mind the hopes of the living as well as the virtues of the dead, was better understood by the author of an inscription in the cemetery of Upton-on-Severn, who ought to have been a Yankee. Here it is – 

“Beneath this stone, in hopes of Zion, 

Doth lie the landlord of ‘The Lion;’ 

His son keeps on the business still, 

Resigned unto the Heavenly will.” 

Akin to this is the following announcement made in the obituary list of an American paper:- 

   “Died, on the 11th inst., at his shop, No. 20 Greenwich Street, Mr Edward Jones, much respected by all who knew and dealt with him. As a man, he was amiable; as a master, upright and moderate. His virtues were beyond all price, and his beaver hats were only three dollars each. He has left a widow to deplore the loss, and a large stock to be sold cheap for the benefit of his family. He was snatched to the other world in the prime of life, just as he had concluded an extensive purchase of felt, which he got so cheap that his widow can supply hats at more reasonable rates than any house in the city. His disconsolate family will carry on business with punctuality.” 

In a book called “Modern Eccentrics, some curious instances are given of persons not only preparing their own epitaphs, but even providing their own coffins, and erecting their own tombstones. One case is that of Mr John Guy, who died at Primrose Cottage, High Wycombe, Bucks, in 1837. Mr Guy was possessed of considerable property, and was a native of Gloucestershire. His grave and coffin were made under his directions more than a twelvemonth previous to his death. He wrote the inscriptions, he gave the orders for his funeral, and wrapped in separate pieces of paper five shillings for each of the bearers. The coffin was very neatly made, and looked more like a piece of cabinet-work for a drawing-room than a receptacle for the dead. Another strange case was that of Dr Fidge, a physician of the old school, who in early days had accompanied the Duke of Clarence, when a midshipman, as a medical student. The Doctor possessed a favourite boat, and upon his retirement from Portsmouth Dockyard, where he held an appointment, he had this boat converted into a coffin, with the sternpiece fixed at its head. This coffin he kept under his bed for many years. Job Orton, of the Bell Inn, Kidderminster, had his tombstone, with an epitaphic couplet, erected in the churchyard; and his coffin was used by him for a wine-bin until required for another purpose. 

Still more curious was the case of Dr John Gardner, “the worm doctor,” originally of Long Acre, who erected his tomb and wrote the inscription thereon some years before his death. Finding his practice declining from the impression that he was dead, he dexterously caused the word intended to be interpolated, and the inscription for a long time afterwards ran as follows:- 

“Dr John Gardner’s (intended) last and best bedroom.” 

In Grantham Churchyard is to be found the following:- 

“John Palfreyman, who is buried here, 

Was aged four-and-twenty year;; 

And near this place his mother lies, 

Likewise his father when he dies.” 

At Llanymynech, in Montgomeryshire:- 

“Here lies John Thomas, 

And his three children dear; 

Two are buried at Oswestry, 

And one here.” 

Remarkable in some instances is the manner in which tombstones describe the virtues of the deceased. In his “Life of Johnson,” Boswell gives the following epitaph from the porch of Wolverhampton Church:- 

“Near this place lies 

CHARLES CLAUDIUS PHILLIPS 

whose absolute contempt of Riches 

& inimitable performance on the Violin 

made him the admiration of all who knew him.” 

Still more remarkable, but evidently in want of a little punctuation and general “redding up,” is the epitaph scrawled on a head-board in East Tennessee:- 

“HERE LIES H——— A——— , born May 10, 1830; died 

June 4, 1851. 

   She lived a life of virtue and died of cholera morbus caused by eating green fruit in the full hope of a blessed immortality at the early age of 21 years, 7 months. Reader, go thou and do likewise.” 

The following is quoted from a head-board in the Sparta Diggings, California:- 

In memory of 

JOHN SMITH 

who met wierlent death near this spot, 

18 hundred and 40 too. 

He was shot by his own pistil 

a old-fashioned brass-barril 

And of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Next to Scripture, it seems as if rhyme had the most quieting influence over the departed. “Thorpe’s body” might rise, but “Thorpe’s corpse” is felt to be laid at rest. It seems, at any rate, to be a great additional recommendation to some people that an epitaph rhymes. 

“Here lies 

ELIZABETH WISE. 

She died of thunder sent from heaven, 

Seventy hundred and seventy-seven.” 

And again:- 

“J. P. P. 

Provost of Dundee 

Hallelujah 

Hallelujee.” 

   “Here I lies, killed by the excise,” 

is the epitaph on the tombstone of a notorious smuggler. 

   “Here I lays, killed by a chaise,” 

is an inscription in Frodsham cemetery over a departed hostler. Another runs:- 

“Here lie I 

Jonathan Fry 

Killed by a sky- 

Rocket in my eye.” 

The following was copied from a tombstone in the “East Neuk o’ Fife,” – Crail, I think:- 

“Here lies my guid and gracious Auntie 

Wham death has packed in his portmanty; 

Three score and ten years God did gift her, 

And here she lies wha deil daus lift her.” 

The difficulty of getting a name worked into rhyme has sometimes driven the monumental poet to desperate expedients. 

The following is from a Cheshire churchyard:- 

“Here lie the remains of THOMAS WOODHEN 

Most amiable of husbands, most excellent of men,” – 

and has the following foot note appended:- 

N.B. – For ‘Woodhen‘ please read ‘Woodcock.’ ” 

This reminds one of the wind up of little Pet Majorie’s sonnet – 

“His nose’s cast is of the Roman, 

He is a very pretty woman; 

(I could not get a rhyme for Roman, 

So was obliged to call him ‘woman.’)” 

The rhyme, and the copiousness of the detail in the following, are more conspicuous than the rhythm. It is copied from a slab in Rudgwick Church, Sussex; date 1708:- 

“Without this wall 

Lyeth the body of Crandley Dr Edw. Haines, 

For to maintain his family spared no pains 

To ride and to run, and to give reliefe 

To those which were in pain and griefe. 

Who the 30th April entered Death’s strait gate, 

From the birth of our Saviour 1708; 

And about the age of 33, 

And had his father’s virtues in every degree. 

And left behind him, when he left this life, 

Two likely sons and a loving wife, 

And about 36 weeks after 

His wife and relick was brot to bed with a daughter. 

Which 3 we desire may live 

Not to beg, but to give. 

His eldest son Edw. was then 6 years and 10 months old, 

And John about 3 – both duffer and bold. 

Amongst all the doctors, tho’ there were many, 

He is as much missed as any; 

Like to most mortals to his practice he was a slave 

He catched the small-pox and died – and lies here in his grave.” 

The next is in a different style: 

“Cambridge bred me, 

My cousin wed me, 

Study taught me, 

Living sought me, 

Learning wrought me, 

Kendal caught me, 

Labour pressed me, 

Sickness distressed me, 

Death oppressed me, 

And grave possessed me. 

God first gave me, 

Christ did save me, 

Earth did crave me, 

And Heaven would have me.” 

Lady Dorothy Bellingham’s epitaph is less note-worthy for its rhyme than for its alliteration and involution:- 

“To labour born I bore, and by that form 

I bore to earth, to earth I straight was borne.” 

It is an odd idea in a man to repay a slight through the epitaph on his own tomb. Yet this was done by the French satirist Piron, who, having been refused admission int the French Academy, left instructions in his will that the following lines should be engraven on his monument:- 

“Ci-git PIRON que fut rien, 

Pas même Académicien.” 

Here lies Piron, who was nothing – not even an Academician

If monuments are not places on which to record vindictiveness, still less are they places on which to inscribe jokes. Yet the thing is not unfrequently done. 

“Here lies Mistress Margt. Squeer; 

She would if she could, but she couldn’t stop here. 

Two bad legs and a baddish cough: 

It was the legs that carried she off.” 

On another old lady’s tomb in the churchyard of Neston St Nicholas, is the couplet – 

Here lies a certain Elizabeth Mann, 

Who lived an old Maid and died an old Mann

Foote, the celebrated comedian, takes his turn, and has the following couplet:- 

“Foote from his early stage, alas! is hurled; 

Death took him off, who took off the world.” 

Briefer and neater was the epitaph on Mr Burbridge the tragedian:- 

Exit Burbridge

The following is from the tombstone of Mistress Dorothy Peg:- 

“Here lies Dame Dorothy Peg, 

Who never had issue except in her leg, 

So great was her art, so deep was her cunning, 

That while one leg stood the other kept running.” 

On Mr Sparges, the miser, this biting epitaph was written:- 

Here lieth Father Sparges 

Who died to save charges.” 

Martha Dias, Shropshire, England, judging from her epitaph, had a character by no means enviable:- 

“Here lieth the body of Martha Dias, 

Always noisy, not very pious, 

Who lived to the age of three score and ten, 

And gave to worms what she refused to men.” 

The living seems to be cracking jokes with the dead in the following inscription taken from a stone in Hertford Cemetery:- 

WOMAN. 

“Grieve not for me, my husband dear, 

I am not dear, but sleeping here; 

With patience wait, prepare to die, 

And in a short time you’ll come to I.”

MAN. 

“I am not grieved, my dearest life; 

Sleep on; I have got another wife, 

Therefore I cannot come to thee, 

For I must go and live with she.” 

Some men must be, or must be supposed to be, very glad to get rid of their wives, if we are to judge from the number of epitaphs conveying this sentiment. In a country churchyard in the West of England we have the following trite but significant lines:- 

“My wife’s dead, 

There let her lie, 

She is at rest, 

And so am I.” 

From a churchyard in Devon:- 

“Charity, wife of Gideon Bligh, 

Underneath this stone doth lie, 

Nought was she e’er known to do 

That her husband told her to.” 

In a Yorkshire churchyard are these lines:- 

“Here lies my poor wife, without bed or blanket, 

But dead as a door nail – God be thankit.” 

These outbursts of ungallant indignation against scolding wives are not confined to the English shore. We find them beyond the Atlantic. Here is one from Texas:- 

“Here lies my poor wife, 

A sad slatern and shrew, 

If I said I regretted her 

I should lie too.” 

Another at Burlington, Massachusetts, runs thus:- 

“Sacred to the memory of Anthony Drake, 

Who died for peace and quietness’ sake, 

His wife was constantly scolding and scoffing, 

So he sought repose in a twelve dollar coffin.” 

In Ellon churchyard:- 

“Here lies my wife in earthly mould, 

Who when she lived did nought but scold. 

Peace! wake her not for now she’s still; 

She had, but now I have my will.” 

This, from Ockham Surrey, is much pleasanter:- 

“Here lies the wife of Roger Martin; 

She was a good wife to Roger, that’s sartin.” 

Occasionally the husband comes in for his share of the obloquy. The following is from a tombstone in Surrey:- 

“Here rests a fine woman which was sent from above 

To teach virtues and graces to men; 

But God, when He saw her in very bad hands, 

Recalled her to heaven again.” 

Again, we find in Worcester churchyard:- 

“Martha and I together lived 

Just two years and a half; 

She went first and I followed after – 

The cow before the calf.” 

In one of the cemeteries in Paris is to be seen the following quaint but more pleasing epitaph on husband and wife:- 

“I am anxiously expecting you. – A.D. 1827 

Here I am. – A.D. 1867.” 

The good woman had taken forty years to make up her mind to follow. 

The following is from Kincardineshire:- 

“Wha is’t lies here?” 

“Piper Jock. You needna’ speer.” 

“O, lad, is that you?” 

“Ay, but I’m deid noo.” 

“Rise Jock, and gies a tune.” 

“Ah! man, I canna win.” 

Punning on the dead man’s name is a favourite device with some. A butcher, whose name was Lamb, has the following over his grave:- 

“Beneath this stone lies Lamb asleep, 

Who died a lamb and lived a sheep. 

Many a lamb and sheep he slaughtered, 

But butcher death the scene has altered.” 

The witty and learned devine, Dr Thomas Fuller, ordered to be inscribed on his tombstone the two words, “Fuller’s Earth.” 

On the gravestone of Mr Aire, in St Giles’s, Cripplegate, is the inscription:- 

“Methinks this was a wondrous death 

That Aire should die for want of breath!” 

That over the grave of Sir John Strange, the eminent barrister, was doubtless prompted by rivalry, and has a keen point:- 

“Here lies an honest lawyer – that’s Strange.” 

On a stone in St John’s Churchyard, Chester, the following occurs:- 

   “Underneath lie the mortal remains of J. Jones, captain of the Brig Ann, who departed this life Dec. 24, 1811, aged 48 years:- 

The Boreas blasts and Neptune’s waves 

Have tost me to and fro, 

In spite of both, by God’s decrees, 

I harbour here below, 

Where I do now at anchor lie 

With many of our Fleet, 

Yet once again I must set sail 

Our Saviour Christ to meet.” 

The quaint humour of Benjamin Franklin expressed itself in the following lines, prepared for his monumental slab:- 

The body 

of 

Benjamin Franklin, 

printer, 

like the cover of an old book, 

its contents torn out, 

and stripped of its lettering and gilding, 

lies here, food for worms; 

yet the work itself 

shall not be lost; 

for it will (as he believed) 

appear once more 

in a new 

and more beautiful edition, 

corrected and amended 

by 

the Author. 

In a somewhat similar strain is the following epitaph on a watchmaker:- 

“Here lies, in a horizontal position, the outside case of 

P——— M———, watchmaker, 

whose abilities in that line were an honour to his profession: 

Integrity was the main-spring, and prudence the regulator of all the actions of his life; 

Humane, generous, and liberal, his hand never slept till he had relieved distress; 

So nicely regulated were his motions, that he never went wrong, 

Except when set a-going by people who did not know his key. 

Even then, he was easily set right again. 

He departed this life, wound-up, in hopes of being taken in hand by his Maker, 

And of being thoroughly cleaned, repaired and set a-going in the world to come.” 

A curious story is told of the widow of a celebrated manufacturer of fireworks. When about to erect a monument to her husband’s memory, she visited two or three cemeteries to choose a style and get some ideas for an inscription. One epitaph, over the grave of an eminent composer, delighted her beyond measure. It ran thus:- 

“He has gone to the only place 

Where his own works are excelled.” 

She was so charmed with this sentiment that she adopted it. Accordingly, on her husband’s monument the following inscription appeared in due time:- 

Erected by his Spouse, 

to the Memory of 

A———B———

Manufacturer of Fireworks. 

———

He has gone to the only place 

Where his own works are excelled. 

Soem epitaphs, however, are designedly more candid than complimentary:- 

“Here lies the body of P. M. Haskell, 

He lived a knave and died a rascal” – 

must have been written by some one not troubled with the “Nil nisi bonum* complaint. 

A gifted poet perpetrated the following epitaph on the notorious Floyd:- 

Floyd has died and few have sobb’d, 

Since, had he lived, all had been robb’d; 

He’s paid Dame Nature’s debt, ‘tis said 

The only one he ever paid. 

Some doubt that he resign’d his breath, 

But vow he’s cheated even death. 

If he is buried, then, ye dead, beware, 

Look to your swaddlings, of your shrouds take care. 

Lest Floyd should to your coffins make his way, 

And steal your linen from your mould’ring clay.” 

The famous Greek scholar Porson wrote the following epitaph on a Fellow of his own College:- 

“Here lies a Doctor of Divinity, 

Who was a Fellow, too, of Trinity, 

He knew as much about Divinity 

As other Fellows do of Trinity.” 

On the tomb of the pompous author of the “History of Music” is the brief but suggestive inscription:- 

Here lies Sir John Hawkins

Without his shoes or his stawkings

John Calf, thrice Mayor of Cork, was a man of untoward disposition, and is said to have had the smallest soul of any man in Ireland. A monument erected to his memory bore this inscription:- 

“Here lies 

JOHN CALF, 

Thrice Mayor of Cork – Honor, honor, honor” 

He was not suffered, however, to lie under his honours without their being disputed, for a wag wrote under the inscription these lines:- 

“O, cruel death, more subtle than the fox, 

That would not let this Calf become an ox, 

That with his fellows he might browse among the thorns, 

And write his epitaph – Horns, horns, horns.” 

but nothing, in this way, equals the epitaph which Burns prepared for Andrew Turner:- 

“In seventeen hunder an’ 49 

Satan took stuff to mak’ a swine, 

And cuist it in a corner; 

But wilily he changed his plan, 

And shaped it something like a man, 

And ca’ed it Andrew Turner.” 

Much more legitimate, as a subject for joking, was the interment of the Marquis of Anglesea’s leg, shot off in the battle of Waterloo. The epitaph upon it was composed by the Right Hon. George Canning, but was worthy of Tom Hood, and will bear repeating:- 

EPITAPH ON A LEG. 

Here rests – and let no saucy knave 

Presume to sneer or laugh, 

To learn that mould’ring in this grave 

There lies – a British calf!

For he who writes these lines is sure 

That those who read the whole, 

Will find that laugh was premature, 

For here too lies a sole.

And here five little ones repose, 

Twin born with other five; 

Unheeded by their brother toes, 

Who all are now alive.

A leg and foot, to speak more plain, 

Lie here of one commanding; 

Who. though he might his wits retain, 

Lost half his understanding.

And when the guns, with thunder bright, 

Poured bullets thick as hail, 

Could only in this way be taught 

To give the foe leg bail;

And now in England, just as gay 

As in the battle brave, 

Goes to the rout, the ball, the play, 

With one leg in the grave!

Fortune in vain has showed her spite, 

For he will still be found, 

Should England’s sons engage in fight, 

Resolved to stand his ground.

But Fortune’s pardon I must beg, 

She meant not to disarm; 

And when she lopp’d the hero’s leg 

She did not seek his harm –

She but indulged a harmless whim; 

Since he could walk with one, 

She saw two legs were lost on him 

Who never meant to run

In the matter of monuments and epitaphs there are fashions, as in all things else; and the popular tasks in these days runs in the direction of elegance in the stone, and brevity and simplicity in the inscription. On many even of the most expensive tombstones nothing appears now but the name and date. When the silent inhabitant below was known to but a handful of friends and relations, the shortest inscription suffices, as it does also in case of those who are known to all. How fine was that answer of the Spanish prince when asked what inscription should be carved upon the tomb of Christopher Columbus, –  

   “Write his name,” 

he said. 

If anything could be better than the simple name, it would be a word touching the root of the man’s work or life, as in that exquisite inscription to Copernicus in St Anne’s Church at Cracow:- 

STA, SOL, NE MOVEARE – 

“He commanded the sun to stand still.” 

How fine also is that inscription on the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren in the great Cathedral which he had built:- 

Si monumentum requiris, circumspice! 

“If you want to see his monument, look around.” 

On the gravestone of poor Hood, in Kensal Green Cemetery, there were written the simple but eloquent words – 

He wrote ‘THE SONG OF A SHIRT.’ ” 

If such epitaphs were written, and truthfully written, on all gravestones, summing up in one line the character, or life-work of the man that lies below, what strange records we should find! How many an imposing monument would have its fulsome inscription wiped out, and this entered instead: 

   “He gave bigger dinner parties than Smith;” 

or 

   “This man gave his wife splendour, but broke her heart;” 

or this, 

   “He ground down the poor, that he might make the fortune which is now carrying his son to the dogs.” 

On the other hand, on how many unknown and neglected graves there would shine forth these words – 

   “He made the widow’s heart sing for joy.” 

   “This poor woman did what she could.” 

   “They gave of their abundance, but she all that she had.” 

   “This poor man denied himself, to save a weak brother.” 

reader, if your life and its purpose were summed up in as few words, what do you think would the words be?

*  From the phrase “de mortuis nihil nisi bonum,” or, “say nothing but good of the dead.” 

One thought on “Queer Epitaphs, pp.93-116.

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