EVERY man should leave a monument behind in the recollection of his life by his neighbors. There's something very much amiss about a man who is not missed when he dies. A good character is the best tombstone. Those why loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots are withered; Carve your name on hearts and not on marble. So live towards others that they will keep your; memory green when the grass grows on your grave. Let us hope there will be something better to be said about us than of the man whose epitaph is:
"Here lies a man who did no good, And if he'd lived he never would; Where he's gone, and how he fares, Nobody knows and nobody cares."
May our friends never remember us as; great gormandizers of meat and drink, like this glutton over whose grave is written:
"Gentle reader, gentle reader, Look on the spot where I do lie, I always a very good feeder, But now the worms do feed on I."
As much as that might be said of a prize; pig or a fat bullock if it died of disease. Some men are nothing better than walking bee barrels while they live; when death staves in the cask, they deserve to rot out of notice.
However, a plain-speaking tombstone better than downright lying. To put flattery a grave is like pouring melted butter down a stone sink. What queer tastes those must have; who puff up the departed as if they wanted to blow the trumpet of the dead before the last angel makes his appearance! Here's an apple out of their basket:
"Here lies the body of Martha Gwyn, who was so very pure within; She cracked the outer shell of sin, And hatched herself a cherubim."
Where do they bury the bad people? Everywhere in our churchyard, they seem all to have been the best of folks, a regular nest of saints. Some of them were so precious good, it is no wonder they died: they were too fine to live in such a wicked world as this. Better give bread to the poor than stones to the dead. Better kind words to the living than fine speeches over the grave. Some of the lavish stuff on monuments is enough to make a dead man blush.
What heaps of marble are stuck over many people's tombs, half enough to build a house with! What a lift they will have at the resurrection! It makes me feel as if I could not get my breath to think of all those stones being: heaped on my bones - not that there's any fear of it. Let the earth which I have tuned over so often lie light upon my corpse when it is turned over me. Let John Ploughman be buried somewhere under the boughs of a spreading beech with a green grass mound above him, out of which primroses and daisies peep in their season - a quiet shady spot where the leaves fall, and the robins play, and the dewdrops gleam in the sunshine. Let fee wind blow fresh and free over my grave, and if there must be aid line about me, let it be:
HERE LIES THE BODY OF JOHN PLOUGHMAN WAITING FOR THE APPEARING OF HIS LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.
I've often heard tell of patience on a monument, but I have never seen it sitting there when I have gone through churchyards. I have a good many times seen stupidity on a monument, and I have wondered why the parson, or the churchwarden, or the deacon, or whoever else has the ruling of things let people cut such rubbish on the stones. Why, a Glostershire man told me that at Dymock graveyard there's a writing like this:
"Two sweeter babes you ne'er did see - Than God's grace gave to we; But they were taken with ague fits, And here they lie as dead as nits.
I've read pretty near enough silly things myself in our Surrey burying grounds to fill a book. Better leave the grave alone than set up a monument to your own ignorance.
Of all places for jokes and fun, the strangest are tombstones. Yet many a time grave stones have had such oddities carved upon them that one is led to surmise that the nearer the church, the further from common decency. This is a cruel verse, but I dare say a true one:
"Here lies, returned to clay, Miss Arabella Young, Who on the first day of May - Began to hold her tongue."
This is not much better:
Upjohn Adams lies here, of the parish of Southwell, A carrier who carried his can to his mouth well; He carried so much, and he carried so fast, He could carry no more, so was carried at last; For the liquor he drunk was too much for the one, He could not carry off, so he's now carrion."
Why could not these people poke their fun somewhere else? A man's wit must be nearly dead when he can find no place for it but the grave. The body of the most ragged beggar is too sacred a thing to crack jokes upon. What an odd fish must Roger Martin have been, who lived in Walworth, and put on his wife's tomb:
"Here lies the wife of Roger Martin, She was a good wife to Roger - that's sartin."
And whoever was the foolish creature at Ockham, one of the prettiest spots in these parts, who wrote these outrageous lines?
"The Lord saw good, I was topping off wood, And down fell from the tree; I met with a check, And I broke my blessed neck, And so death topped off me."
There, that's enough, and quite as good as a feast. Here's proof positive that some fools are left alive to write on the monuments of those who are buried. Well may there be ghosts about. No wonder the sleepers get out of bed when they are so badly tucked in. I say let us have a law to let nobody put nonsense over the dead unless he likes to take out a certificate to be an ass, just like the license to shoot partridges and pheasants. At the same time, let all puffery be saved for dressmakers' shops, quack doctors, and none be allowed at grave. I say as our minister does:
Let no proud stone with sculptured virtues rise, To mark the spot wherein a sinner lies, Or if some boast must deck the sinner's grave, Boast of His love who died lost man to save.
One more Surrey rhyme, and John Ploughman leaves the churchyard to go about work and turn up other sods. It is at Saviours, Southwark, and is, I think a rare good one.
"Like to the damask rose you see, Or like the blossom on the tree, Or like the dainty flower of May, Or like the sun of the day, Or like the sun, or like the shade, Or like the gourd which Jonah had; Even so is man, Whose thread is spun, Draw out, and cut, and so is done: The rose withers, the blossom blasteth, The flower fades, the morning hasteth, The sun sets, the shadow flies, The gourd consumes, and man he dies."