England: 1876 (ca.). 4to. Notebook ruled in plummet, containing 79 pp. of very neat written text (the remaining pages blank). Laid in are 4 additional leaves with 7 epitaphs written by other hands (see below). Bound and/or sold by by Abraham Johnson, Stationer, Hull: original flexible black roan, comb-marbled endpapers, marbled edges (extremities worn, internally excellent). Very good. Item #3856
PURE ENGLISH ANTIQUARIANISM: A VICTORIAN MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION OF MORE THAN 100 EPITAPHS FROM ALL OVER THE UNITED KINGDOM AND IRELAND. Included are transcriptions of obscure epitaphs from tiny village cemeteries and remote areas, many of which do not appear in published sources.
The epitaphs are highly eclectic; whereas only small percentage are assigned to named persons, all are localized with the names of specific parishes, villages, towns or cities from where they were collected. Some epitaphs are dated, the earliest being 1598 (Spencer's tomb in Westminster), the latest 1875-1876 (Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire).
Indeed, portions of the manuscript were almost compiled "in the field" and not merely copied from published collections of facetious ephitaphs that were enormously popular in the 19th century among antiquarians and "common readers" alike. For instance, following the nine sequential examples recorded at Cleethorpes cited above, there are eleven at Edington, Wilts; eight at Spital Cemetery, Aberdeen; eleven at Old Houff, Dundee; and six at the Constitution Burying Ground, Dundee (which was destroyed in 1963 and replaced with a multi-storey carpark, the bodies having been re-interred within the common ground in the Eastern Cemetery).
The present MS was written on laid paper watermarked "J. Allen & Sons Superfine 1873." It is possible that the text was "crowd-sourced." Laid in are 4 sheets of different types of paper, on which were written 7 epitaphs by different hands. One of the sheets records an epitaph dated 1877.
The collection ranges from the poignant ("Her life was short, her death severe") to charmingly "everydays epitaph" such as the following examples selected by us (almost) at random:
"My name it was Nathaniel Frier
I loved and laughed but now I'm here.
Such as I am - such you must be
Then make your grave & follow me..."
-- Elshaw, Northants.
"Here lies John Higley, whose Father & Mother were doomed on their passage from America. Had both lived they would have been buried here."
-- Belturbet, Ireland.
"Neath this stone Jack Webber lies,
Rich as Croesus, as Solomon wise.
He lived a Fool and died the same.
Happy are they who live & die like him."
-- Steepleton (about four miles from Blandford, Dorset. NB: this same epitaph was copied by George Parker and published in the Hampshire Antiquary and Naturalist, 1891, vol. I, p. 23, but with significant variants in the text. Which one is correct?)
"My wife she's dead & here she lies
There's nobody laughs and nobody cries.
Where she's gone and how she fares
Nobody knows and nobody cares."
"Sacred to the memory of Miss Martha Gwynn,
Who was so very pure within,
She burst the outer shell of sin,
And hatched herself a cherubim."
-- St. Albans, Herts.
"Shall wee all die?
Wee shall die all.
All die shall wee?
Die all wee shall."
-- Gunwallow, near Helston, Cornwall (population in 2011, including the parish of Berepper: 219).
"Stranger! pass on nor idly waste your time
On bad biography nor bitter rhyme
For what I am this cumberous clay ensures
But what I was is no affair of yours."