Tuesday, October 13, 2009

To Act Thy Childhood O'er Again

I have only seen three gravestones that did not bear an individual's name (or identifying information). One is in Malden, MA, one is in the collection of the John Stevens Shop in Newport, RI, and one is at Copp's Hill in Boston.
The Copp's Hill stone is pictured above. The Farber Collection also has an excellent photo of this stone, taken before it sustained damage to the face and the right finial. Unfortunately, the carver remains unidentified.

I think it's the same carver. Like the Malden stone, the epitaph begins with a lowercase letter, the inscription is mostly lowercase, and the tall letters have little flourishes on the tops. In addition, the carver uses the antiquated "yt" for "that."

Another cheerful verse from the mystery carver (it's clearer in the Farber photo):

what ist fond Mortel yt thou wouls't Obtain[?]
by Spining out a Painful life of cares
thou lives't to Act thy Childhood or'e again
& nought in tends but greif & seeing years
who leave's this world like me just in my prime
speeds all my business in a little time

In 1803, someone noticed this unusual marker and wrote in to the Boston Weekly-Magazine, which published the letter:
IN the North burying ground of this town, there is a grave Stone, with no name, date or inscription, excepting the following fix lints, which I think worth preferring in your ufeful Repofitory. The Stone appears to be about one hundred years old. Yours, FITZWILLIAM.

Curiously, Mr. Fitzwilliam substituted a new line for line 4 when he transcribed the stone and switched some words in line 3:
What is't fond mortal that thou would'st obtain,
By Spinning out a wretched life of cares,
Is it to act thy childhood o er again,
And cry for cake when thou'rt advanc'd in years ?
Who leaves the world like me, juft in my prime,
Speeds all his business in a little time.

Fitzwilliam's version makes (arguably more) sense, but it is not the verse that survives on the stone.

What is the source of these verses? Were they composed by the mystery carver?

And why carve gravestones without names?


Robert J. said...

It appears there is a stone in the Granary with the same verse. It almost sounds Shakespearean, but a quick search turns up nothing.

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

Here's a reference to this stone in a 19th-century text — it says that the stone is "evidently a foot-stone," but does not say how the author arrived at that conclusion.