[BACK]          [Blueprint]         [NEXT]


From A Pennyworth of Queer Epitaphs, [by Rev. David Macrae, Glasgow: Morison Brothers, c. 1897], pp. 3-48.

The Pennyworth Series

By Reverend David Macrae, Scotland.



ONE of the oldest monuments in Europe is to be seen at Luneburg, in Hanover. We have heard of monuments to dogs and horses, but it is doubtful if, except at Luneburg, 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


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 pithily said, that an epitaph should be short enough for everybody to read, simple enough for everybody to understand, and pungent enough for everybody to remember. It has also been said 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 readily realises this ideal, and is at the same time one of the 5 shortest rhyming couplets extant, is the one which looks up from the tombstone of Mr Thorpe, and makes the brief announcement


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 the truth. The satirist who, on walking through a churchyard, and observing the indiscriminate praise bestowed on the dead, wrote over the entrance — 


— 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 — 


— 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.”

At St John’s, Worcester, is a brief but hearty epitaph, which let us hope will not soon be needed for a greater celebrity who is known by the same title: — 

Honest John
’s dead and gone.

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.”

The man who wrote the epitaph,

Here lie several of the Stows,
Particulars the last day will disclose.

must either have been in a hurry, or thought the least said the soonest mended.

Amongst the many curious epitaphs that have been found, there is sometimes a thought that strikes one as singularly quaint and suggestive: — 


Here lies John Hildibrodd,
Have mercy on him, O God,
As he would have if he were God,
And thou wert old John Hildibrodd.

The following is from Wingfield, Suffolk: — 

Pope boldly says (some think the maxim odd)
An honest man’s the noblest work of God;
If Pope’s assertion be from error clear,
The noblest work of God lies buried here.

One of the early astronomers was by profession a clergyman. On one memorable day he was watching for the transit of Venus, when the church bells rang for service, and he had to leave his telescope and go away to attend to his sacred duties. In his diary of observations he referred to this interruption in the words, “Avocatus ad majorem” (called to something higher). When he died, this happy phrase was engraven on his tomb.

There was some knowledge of human nature in the man who prepared this epitaph on a soldier, who had become as good as he was brave: — 

Here lies an old soldier whom all should applaud,
He fought many battles at home and abroad,
But the hottest engagement he ever was in,
Was the battle of self in the conquest of sin.

Carlyle, with his gospel of “know thy work and do it,” would have enjoyed the suggestion of a long, busy, and useful life afforded by a tombstone at Bothwell: — 


Erected by Margaret Scott in memory of her husband,
Robert Stobo, late smith and farrier, Goukthrapple,
who died May
1834, in the 70th year of his age

My sledge and hammer lies declined,
My bellow-pipe has lost its wind;
My forge’s extinct, my fire’s decayed,
And in the dust my vice is laid;
My coal is spent, my iron’s gone,
My nails are drove; MY WORK IS DONE.

Some who meant the inscription to be severely simple succeed, nevertheless, in making it hopelessly confusing. As an exercise in epitaph-exegesis, few tombstones offer better material than one to be found in the Old Howff of Dundee. It reads thus: — 


In memory of James
and another son
who died in Infancy
and 5 other friends
Erected by
James Stewart
Spirit Merchant Dundee
and his spouse
and 3 other children.

The questions that perplex one on reading this are — (1) Did the 5 other friends die, or were they erected by Mr Stewart? (2) Did the spouse and 3 other children die, or did they help Mr Stewart in the erection either of the monument or of the 5 other friends?


Some who prepare epitaphs are fond of figures of speech, without the knack of managing them well. On a grave stone in Maine appears the following inscription: — 

     Our little Jacob has been taken away from this earthly
garden to bloom in a superior flower-pot above.

The following inscription, which I copied from a stone in Kilkeran churchyard, in the outskirts of Campbeltown, Kintyre, amuses one by the variety of expression given to the successive births and deaths. It was erected by a customs’ officer, well known in Campbeltown during his stay for the evangelistic addresses he used to give in the open air: — 

Little Willie, given May 29th, 1855,
          Called home, August 6th.

Little Bobby, sent May 29th 1859,
          Surrendered, November 7th 1865.

Little Mary arrived, August 1st 1862,
          Fetched away, February 26th 1864.

Of such — plants of William and Helen
     Standing — is the kingdom of heaven.


It is evident, from the inscriptions on some old tombstones, that people have sometimes thought the main use of an epitaph to be to explain how 9 the person happened to die. Here, e.g., is John Lamb’s epitaph at Huntingdon: —

On the 29th November,
A confounded piece of timber
Came down, bang slam,
And killed I, John Lamb.

The following pathetic lines are copied from a tombstone in Connecticut: — 

Here lies, cut down like unripe fruit,
The wife of Deacon Amos Shute,
She died of drinking too much coffee,
Anny dominy eighteen forty.

In a churchyard near Aberdeen is the following: — 

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.

Here is an epitaph of the same type from Cheltenham: — 

Here lies John Adam, who received a thump,
Right on the forehead from the parish pump,
Which gave him the quietus in the end,
Though many doctors did his case attend.

This reminds me of a series of suggested epitaphs which would probably be found applicable in a good number of cases, though cycling and other exercises requiring an easier costume may diminish the list for the last: —



Little boy,
     Pair of skates,
Broken ice,
     Golden gates.


Little girl,
     Box of paints,
Sucked her brush,
     Joined the saints.


Bigger boy.
     Seagull’s nest,
Rumbling rocks,
     Eternal rest.


Bigger girl,
     Healthy bloom,
Belt too tight,
     Early tomb.

The connection between faith and works, and the importance of being practically cautious as well as professedly pious, comes well out in an epitaph from Eastwell Cemetery, Kent: —

Keep the commandments,
Don’t attempt to climb a tree,
     For that’s what caused the death of me.

Miss Frere found in a Jersey cemetery a remarkably brief epitaph, which would be worth 11 volumes to some young ladies if they would lay it to heart. It confines itself to the brief announcement: — 

Died of thin shoes
Jan. 3, 1839.

If candour with regard to one cause of death were as frankly indulged in as in the case of Thomas Merser, it is to be feared that a similar verdict would have to repeat itself pretty often in most kirkyards: — 

Here lies the banes o’ Tammy Merser,
Of tarry woo’ he was a dresser;
He had some fauts and mony merits,
And died o’ drinking ardent spirits.

On the headstones of a hundred years ago there was a ghostly style of admonition, not particularly exhilarating to the reader.

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 12 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: — 

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 his place, in 6 foot in 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 died 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.



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,

The Remains of Henry Corser of this parish of Chirurgeon, who Deceassed 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.

In Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh, the monument of George Heriot, father of “Jingling Geordie,” the 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 Covenanters. 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 to up to the door and cry in at the key-hole — 

“Bloody 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 much more contentment and Irish cheerfulness expressed in the following: — 

     Here 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 (October 24, 1712) gives the following: — 

Here lies the body of Daniel Saul,
Spittal-fields weaver, & that’s all, — 

an epitaph which was 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.

Here lies the Laird of Lundie,
Sic transit gloria mundi.


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.

The following turns the thought of an uprising from doggerel into poetry: — 

It seemeth death to those who dwell below,
     When loved ones leave the earth;
But to the ones who meet them where they go,
     It seems not death but birth.

Whoever prepared the following epitaph, found in West Churchyard, Tranent, must have enjoyed very vivid conceptions of the Resurrection: — 

Trumpets shall sound
     And archangels cry,
“Come forth, Isabel Mitchell,
     And meet Wm. Matheson in the sky.”

In St Giles’s Churchyard, Northampton, is the following: —

Here lies a most dutiful daughter, honest and just,
Awaiting the resurrection in hopes to be one of the first.

Very different was the feeling of the Montgomeryshire 17 man who wrote the following for his own grave: — 

From earth my body first arose,
But here to earth again it goes;
I never desire to have it more,
To plague me as it did before.

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
from wo!
And to bringe there soules to bles
of heven
Saint Peter and Ave with mylde Steven.

In the graveyard at Acton, in Cornwall, there is this inscription, also partly prophetic: — 

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.


At Droitwich there is an epitaph, dated 1701, which is not likely to be much quoted in advertising mineral waters at spas: — 

Here lies I and my three daughters,
Killed by drinking Cheltenham waters:
If we had stuck to Epsom salts,
We shouldn’t have been lying in these here vaults.

Equally hard on the physician is the following: — 

Here lies the corpse of Dr Chard.
Who filled the half of this churchyard.

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 his 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 was 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 20 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. I remember seeing in the fishing village of Anstruther, in Fife, the house of a man who took such delight in shells that he not only had his house walls coated with them, but had a coffin made for himself, all encrusted with shells from the shore, that he might repose in death amongst the shells he loved so much in life. 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 21 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.

In Compton Cemetery, Suffolk, is the following:

Nineteen days this infant
     In this world did stay;
Disliked it, closed its eyes,
     And went away.

It reminds one of Emerson’s lines on his own dead child.

Perchance not he but nature ailed,
The world and not the infant failed;
Awhile his beauty their beauty tried,
They could not feed him, and he died,
And wandered backward as in scorn,
Waiting on Æon to be born.


It is trying, however, to have problems suggested like this, from the epitaph of a youth: — 

Too bad for Heaven, too good for Hell,
So where he’s gone I cannot tell.

Almost as perplexing is the problem suggested on an infant’s tombstone at Lowestoft: —

Since I was so quickly done for,
I wonder what I was begun for.

I was sometimes amused and often saddened, in America, to find how much the almighty dollar pervaded men’s thoughts and influenced their views and estimates of things. If I asked about any church, I was sure to be told how many thousand dollars it cost, and how much was paid for the quartette choir. If I enquired about any man, I was pretty sure to be told how many dollars he was worth. But this epitaph on a baby is, I should think, unique even in America.

Beneath this stone our baby lies,
     He neither cries nor hollers;
He lived just one-and-twenty days,
     And cost us forty dollars.

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
whose absolute contempt of Riches
& inimitable performance on
the Violin
made him the admiration of all
who knew him.

Over the body of a lady in Devon is the following summary of her claims to distinction.

She was great niece to Burke,
Commonly called the Sublime;
She was bland, and deeply religious;
Also she painted in water-colours,
And sent several pictures to the Exhibition.

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 hopes of a blessed immortality at the early age of 21 years, 7 months. Reader, go thou and do likewise.

Mr Ford, in his “Thistledown,” gives the following: — 

Thomas Tyre, pedlar, died on the 2nd day of January, 1795, and was buried in the graveyard of West Kilbride, where his monument, with the following descriptive lines, may any time be seen. He was over 72 years of age.


Here lye the banes of Thomas Tyre,
Wha lang had drudg’d through dub and mire,
In carrying bundles and sic like,
His task performing wi’ small fyke.
To deal his snuff Tam aye was free,
And served his friends for little fee.
His life obscure was naething new,
Yet we must own his faults were few,
Although at Yule he sip’d a drap,
And in the kirk whiles took a nap;
True to his word in every case,
Tam scorned to cheat for lucre base.
Now he is gone to taste the fare,
Which one but honest men will share.

The following epitaph was suggested for the tomb of the late Lord Westbury: — 

Richard Baron Westbury
Lord High Chancellor of England.

He was an eminent Christian,
An energetic and merciful statesman,
And still more eminent and merciful Judge.
During his three years’ tenure of office
He abolished the ancient method of conveying land,
The time-honoured institution of the Insolvent’s Court,
The Eternity of Punishment,
Towards the close of his earthly career,
He dismissed Hell with costs;
And took away from the orthodox members of the
Church of England,
Their last hope of everlasting damnation.


The following is the epitaph on a gravedigger in Peterborough Cathedral: —

You see old Scarlett’s picture stand on hie,
But at your feet here doth his body lye;
His gravestone doth his age and death-time show,
His office by these tokens you may know.
Second to none for strength and sturdie limb,
A scare-babe mighty voice with visage grim.
Two Queens he did inter this place within.
What he for others did, for him the same was done.

Few people would be disposed to challenge comparison of virtues as boldly as “Jocky Bell o’ Brackenbrow”: —

I, Jocky Bell o’ Brackenbrow, lyes under this stane,
Five of my awn sons laid it on my wame;
I liv’d aw my deyes, but sturt or strife
Was man o’ my meat, and master o’ my wife;
If you’ve done better in your time than I did in mine,
Take the stane aff my wame, and lay it on thine.

The following is from an old tombstone in Skye: — 

Here lies the bones
O’ Tonald Jones,
The wale o’ men
For eating scones.
Eating scones
And drinking yill,
Till his last moans
He took his fill.

This summary of “Tonald’s” life-work reminds one of the reply made by a German to a lady who 26 inquired of him as to the character and abilities of a friend’s husband, who had recently died in Dresden. The German took time to reflect, and then replied, ‘He vos a good schmoker.”

Where there are few virtues to celebrate, there are sometimes circumstances sufficiently curious to fill the gap. As in Penryn: — 

Here lies William Smith,
     And what is somewhat rarish,
He was born, bred, and hanged
     In this here parish.

Quotations from Scripture are very appropriate for tombstones, but care needs to be taken in their adjustment. A missionary in India was shot by his chokedar. On his tombstone was inscribed the following: —

Here lies the body of the Rev. T. Henry, M.A., who long laboured as a Christian missionary amongst the Rajputs. He was shot by his chokedar. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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

In memory of
J O H N    S M I T H
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

The epitaph

Under this moss,
Lies John Ross,
Kicked by a hoss,

is from a grave in Jersey.

“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.


Another runs thus: — 

Here I lie bereft of breath,
Because a cough
Carried me off;
Then a coffin
They carried me off in.

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 year God did lift her,
And here she lies wha deil daurs 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 lies the remains of THOMAS WOODHEN
Most amiable of husbands, most excellent of men, — 

and has the following footnote appended: — 

N.B.  — For “Woodhen” please read “Woodcock.”

With some such epitaph-writers the one eternal necessity seems to be rhyme.

Underneath this ancient yew
Lie the remains of Jonathan Blue,
His name was Black, but that wouldn’t do.

The following epitaph, also in the inevitable 29 rhyme, would have been more impressive for most people if expressed in Gaelic: — 

John Macpherson
Was a remarkable person.
He stood six feet, two,
Without his shoe,
And he was slew
At Waterloo.

The following rhyme, and the copiousness of the details 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 Craudley 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;
Lie to most mortals to his practice he was a slave
He catched the small-pox and died — and lies here in his


The next is in 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 noteworthy for its rhyme that for its alliteration and involution: —

To labour born I bore, and by that form
I bore to earth, to earth I straight was borne.

Some epitaphs are severely cynical. Here is a specimen from Lambeth: — 

Death takes the good — 
     Too good on earth to stay;
And leaves the bad — 
     Too bad to take away.

It is an odd idea in a man to prepay a slight through the epitaph on his own tomb. Yet this was done by the French satirist Piron, who, having 31 been refused admission into the French academy, left instruction in his will that the following lines should be engraven on his monument.

“Ci-git PIRON que ne 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 infrequently 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 her 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 earthly stage, alas! is hurled;
Death took him off, — him 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, reposes under the following inscription: — 

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.

No one can complain of flattery in the epitaph on John Racket in the graveyard at Woodton: — 

          Here lies John Racket
          In his wooden jacket,
He kept neither horses nor mules;
          He lived like a hog,
          He died like a dog,
And left all his money to fools.

In the following inscription, taken from a stone in Hertford Cemetery, the living seems to be cracking jokes with the dead: — 



“Grieve not for me, my husband dear,
  I am not dead, but sleeping here;
  With patience wait, prepare to die,
  And in a short time you’ll come to I.”


“I am not grieved, my dearest life;
  Sleep on; I’ve 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 one side of the Atlantic. Here is one from Texas: — 

Here lies my poor wife,
     A sad slattern 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.

The cynic who inscribed on his wife’s tombstone

Tears cannot restore her — therefore I weep,

must have had a hard time of it at home. But the epitaph afforded to the wife no opportunity of reply.

This, from Ockham, Surrey, is much pleasanter: — 

Here lies the wife of Roger Martin;
She was a good wife to Roger, that’s sartin.


A more neatly expressed compliment to the memory of a dead wife is found in these lines copied from a gravestone in Meigle: — 

She was — but words are wanting,
     To say what.
Think what a wife should be — 
     She was that.

This also is good: — 

Underneath this stone doth lie
As much beauty as could die.
Which, while it lived, did vigour give
To as much virtue as could live.

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

Here rests a fine women 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.

In Worcester Churchyard is the following: — 

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.

Here is the epitaph on Mr John Berry: — 

How now? who’s buried here?
John Berry. — Is it the younger?
No, it is the Elder Berry.
An Elder Berry buried, surely must
Rather spring up and live than turn to dust.
Oh! may our Berry, whom stern Death hath slain,
Be only buried to rise up again.

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

“Here I am, taken from life”

—  is the epitaph on a photographer.


Here is another over the grave of Stephen Little, a Suffolk musician: — 

Stephen and Time are now both even.
Stephen beat time; now Time’s beat Stephen.

Amongst Douglas Jerrold’s puns, none was wittier and at the same time more touching and more poetic, in the deepest sense, than his epitaph on Charles Knight, the publisher: —


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!

An eccentric character named John So, a native of Inverkip, bequeathed his property to a friend, on the condition that he would get engraved on his tombstone the following epitaph written by himself: — 

Here lies John So,
So So did he so,
So did he live,
So did he die,
So So did he so,
So let him lye.

Here is the epitaph on the tombstone of William Stone: — 

Jerusalem’s curse is not fulfilled in me,
For here a stone upon a Stone you see.


Here is another inscribed on the memorial stone over the body of a sailor named Underwood who was drowned: — 

Here, under earth, lies Underwood,
Who perished under water.

Bishop Warburton copied the following from a tombstone in Northumberland: — 

Here lies, to parents, friends, and country dear,
A youth who scarce had seen his 17th year;
But in that time so much good sense had shewn,
That death mistook 17 for 71.

The following epitaph is like a laugh out of a sarcophagus: — 


What! kill a partridge in the month of May,
Not quite sportsman-like, eh, Death, eh?

The epitaph 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.

Another lawyer, whether honest or not, must have had a hard time of it if he prepared for his own gravestone the following lines: — 

Shed not a tear for Simon Ruggle,
For life to him was a constant struggle;
He preferred the tomb and death’s dark gate
To managing mortgaged real estate.


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.

Captain Hill sleeps under an epitaph equally professional, but expressed in more complimentary language than Captain Jones could with good taste have used speaking of himself: — 

At anchor now in Death’s dark road,
     Rides honest Captain Hill,
Who served his King and feared his God,
     With upright heart and will.
In social life sincere and just,
     To vice of no kind given;
So that his better part, we trust,
     Hath made the Port of Heaven.

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


The body
Benjamin Franklin,
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
the Author.

Here is another on a printer buried in Bury St Edmunds: — 

Like a worn-out type he is returned to the founder, in hopes of being re-cast in a better and more perfect mould.

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 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 stopt till he
had relieved distress;
So nicely regulated were his motions, that he never went
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 42 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.

The following is a copy of an epitaph on an old tombstone at Logiepert, in the neighbourhood of Montrose: —

Here lies the Smith — to wit — Tam Gouk,
     His Faither and his Mither,
Wi’ Tam, and Jock and Joan, and Noll,
     And a’ the Gouks thegither.
When on the yird Tam and his wife
     Greed desparate ill wi’ ither,
But noo, without e’en din or strife,
     They tak’ their nap thegither.

Some epitaphs 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: —  43

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 is 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. At first, his monument erected to his memory bore this inscription: — 

Here lies
Thrice Mayor of Cork — Honor, honor, honor.


He was not suffered, however, to lie long 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 fellow he might browse among the thorns,
And write his epitaph — Horns, horns, horns.

But nothing, in this way, equals the lines which Burns wrote about Andrew Turner, and which have practically become his epitaph: —

In seventeen hunder an’ forty-nine
Satin 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 worth of Tom Hood, and will bear repeating: — 

Here rests — and let no saucy knave
     Presume to sneer or laugh,
To learn that mould’ring in his 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;
Uneeded 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 Britain’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 one of Max Adeler’s amusing sketches, he tells about a newspaper editor who, finding how anxious people were to have obituary notices of their friends, and especially to have memorial verses, engaged a versifier to provide this material, and suggested that he might weave into his lines any items of information that might be interesting or useful to the surviving friends. The editor had to leave home for a few days, just when the obituary poet was installed. On his return, he was startled to find that there was an angry crowd round the office, and several bereaved relatives in quest of his blood for verses that had appeared in connection with obituary advertisements they had sent to the paper. One indignant man of the name of MGlue wanted to know what the editor meant by having his deceased brother referred to in this style: — 

The death-angle smote Alexander MGlue,
     And gave him protracted repose;
He wore a checked shirt and a number nine shoe,
     And he had a pink wart on his nose.
No doubt he is happier dwelling in space,
     Over there on the evergreen shore,
His friends are informed that his funeral takes place
     Precisely at quarter past four.

In the matter of monuments and epitaphs there are fashions, as in all things else; and the popular taste in these days runs in the direction of elegance 47 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 the 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 Ann’s Church at Cracow: — 

“He commanded the sun to stand still.”

Akin to this was Pope’s epitaph on Sir Isaac Newton: —

Nature and Nature’s law lay hid in night,
God said, “Let Newton be,” and all was light.

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

Si monumentum requiris, circumspice!
“If you want to see his monument, look around.”

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



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 to sing for joy.” “This unknown woman did what she could.” “They gave of their abundance, but she all that she had.” “This man, in his own humble sphere, tried to do his duty.” “This man’s thought was for the good of others.”

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


Elf.Ed. Notes

*  There happens to be only four typographical errors in this text, which have been corrected (see the source code). Also, there are what appears to be typographical mistakes to us today, but are not. The absence of a period after “Mr” instead of “Mr.”, and “Dr” instead of “Dr.”, was normal and accepted usage in those days. This is very common in Italian texts still, according to Bill Thayer, who surely knows. It also occurs in older French texts. The other accepted pseudo-blunder found here is the typographical format of leaving a space before some contractions, e.g. ’ll and the use of an apostrophe, e. g., “MDougall”, instead of a superscript, or small “c” for Scottish names beginning with “Mc.”


[BACK]          [Blueprint]         [NEXT]