Thursday, 5 July 2012

Memorial Inscriptions, 1: "Cropt as a blooming flower"

I haven't been posting properly for a while, mostly because I feel like I've run out of things to say, and possibly also that I may have exhausted the interest of my few readers in my limited range of subjects. I was tempted to give up the blog altogether, but since I'm not feeling all that happy with any aspect of my life at present I'm not really thinking rationally; this blog has kept me sane in the past and maybe it will do the same now. So this is just an introduction to say that if you think the following is a weird subject for a post, I don't really care; I need to concentrate on anything that feels even slightly meaningful to me right now.

One of the interests I would never admit to anywhere but here is a fascination with memorial inscriptions on church monuments. When I visit churches I take pictures of the memorials which particularly strike me, but I never feel quite right about posting them - even when they're more than a century old, and thus certainly out of living memory, I feel almost as if it's an intrusion on private grief. But then, they were written to be read - and sometimes when I wander into a deserted church where I'm the first visitor in a week, and see a memorial and think warmly of the person commemorated, I feel like just reading it is a tribute to someone who was very much loved. So I am going to post some of the ones which have most touched or interested me, and I hope you won't think me morbid. And yes, I know these expressions are often conventional and perhaps not always sincere; but I still find them moving.

(Actually, I have previously posted one or two from Kent churches - Elmsted, Chilham and Wye.)

When I looked through my photos of memorials, I realised they fall into distinct categories, so in this post is all tributes to women - the beginning of a series.

The first is from Barsham, Norfolk. The Suckling family resident there were the family of Horatio Nelson's mother, and the church has several monuments to them. This is a husband's tribute to his wife of less than a year, and is, I think, genuinely one of the most beautiful things I've ever read:

'Sacred to the memory of Elizabeth, wife of John Webb Flavell, now Rector of Ridlington in Norfolk, and eldest daughter of Horace Suckling, late Rector of this Parish. She was born September the 18th, 1804, married September the 18th, 1832, and died in child-bed July the 30th, 1833.

This simple Tablet is the last tribute of a Husband's fond affection. Few indeed were the days of their wedded life, yet were they lovely! For in her, to the pure and noble virtues of a heart deeply imbued with true religion, and glowing with benevolence, were united the amiable dispositions and endearing tenderness, which made them days of pleasantness and peace to him. With humble trust he looks forward, in hope that the friendship, thus abruptly severed, will revive again in that better country, where happiness and love know no decay.'

From Waldershare in Kent, a huge family memorial which looks like this:


'To the Memory of Lady Arabella Watson, 6th Daughter of Lewis Earl of Rockingham by Kath[erine] Daughter of Geo[rge] Earl of Feversham. Born 15 March 1693, married 8 July 1714, deceased 6 September 1727,
Leaving a most amiable example of unaffected Piety and Chearfull Innocence, of Benevolence & Complacency of Temper which added peculiar Grace & Lustre to all those virtues & Accomplishments whereby She was Eminently distinguished In every Station & Relation of Life.
Her Son Sir Henry Furnese, Bar[one]t. a youth of Promising hope and Expectation Died on His Travells at Marseilles 17 March 1733 Aged 19 And lies Interred under this Monument.'

'Here also lies deposited, in hope of a blessed Resurrection, the mortal remains of the virtuous and much lamented Lady Anne, daughter of Anthony Balam Esq & Wife of Sir Robert Furnese, Baronet, Whose native good disposition, Religious principles, unaffected Piety, & amiable behaviour, had ye praises of every tongue & were equally engaging & inimitable. Having joyned by her nuptials the two Families before united in a closer Union, she compleated her Parents hopes & her Consort's happiness by ye most endearing Filial duty & conjugal affection.
But by ye too common Fate of ye eminently good being as mature in Virtues as tender in years she was cropt as a blooming flower & leaving Issue one Daughter Anne, exchainged this Life for a better May the 29th 1713. Aged 25.'

This family grouping is from Christchurch Priory in Dorset, where it takes prominent place near the choir. It's a monument to Harriet, Viscountess Fitzharris, wife of James Harris, who died in 1815 aged 32. The most touching thing about this memorial is the record of her words as she was dying:

'Gifted by nature with uncommon beauty of person and countenance, possessing manners equally dignified and engaging, she never allowed herself to be influenced by the flatteries and allurements of the world, but enjoyed with rational cheerfulness those hours which she could spare from the performance of her domestic duties. The care and education of her children were her darling objects, on them she equally bestowed the vigilant fondness of a mother, and the successful efforts of a well cultivated mind : while all who shared her love and attachment experienced in the various relations of a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend, unceasing proofs of the amiable and endearing qualities of her disposition. So deeply impressed with the feelings and confidance of a true Christian was this pious and excellent woman : so fully prepared was she at all times for another world, that the sudden and unexpected approach of death could not disturb the sweet serenity of her mind, nor did one repining word escape her thro' fourteen days of acute suffering, but awaiting her end with the utmost composure and resignation, she calmly gave up her soul into the hands of her Creator, quitting all she loved with these words, "I have had my full share of happiness in this world." Her remains lie interred in the cathedral church of Salisbury, but her afflicted husband has raised this marble to her memory, persuaded that where she was best known there would her many virtues longest live in the recollection of her friends and neighbours.'

This is also from Christchurch:

Lavinia Oake
died of a Decline at the Hot-wells near Bristol
1st July 1804, in the 23rd Year of her Age,
A Christian
who, tho' worn down by Afflictions bore them patiently,
in the steadfast Hope of rising incorruptible to that happy Region which the Gospel so clearly points out
in sacred Memory of whose unassuming worth, unaffected Piety and generous affection; this humble Monument is gratefully inscribed by her intended Husband.

With Prospects bright I woo'd the lovely Maid,
The Scene soon darken'd and her Health declin'd,
Her vestal Ashes near this Urn are laid:
But where's her Soul - ? at rest no doubt - resign'd -
The Clouds disperse! new rays of Hope are given,
And her blest Shade I hope to meet in Heaven.

And from Dorchester Abbey:

If thou hast a Heart fam'd for Tenderness and Pity, Contemplate this Spot:
In which are deposited the Remains of a Young Lady, whose artless Beauty, innocence of Mind, and gentle Manners, once obtain'd her the Love and Esteem of all who knew her. But when Nerves were too delicately spun to bear the rude Shakes and Jostlings which we meet with in this transitory World, Nature gave way. She sunk and died a Martyr to Excessive Sensibility.
Mrs Sarah Fletcher
Wife of Captain Fletcher, departed this Life at the Village of Clifton, on the 7 of June 1799. In the 29 Year of her Age.
May her Soul meet that Peace in Heaven which this Earth denied her.

To end on a happier note: I've realised that what I love about these memorials, poignant though they are, is how attractive the qualities are which they ascribe to those commemorated. 'Endearing tenderness', 'generous affection', 'unaffected piety', 'cheerful innocence', 'the sweet serenity of her mind', 'the amiable and endearing qualities of her disposition'. How I wish I could be like this - and be loved for it as these women were!


Katie said...

I'm terrible at commenting, but wanted to say that I discovered your blog a few weeks ago and have returned several times to peruse your tags and archives. Your blog is compelling not just because the subject matter is so interesting but also because your love for what you write about shows through so clearly. You've certainly not exhausted my interest, and I so appreciate the knowledge you share here.

Issai said...

What Katie said.

Clerk of Oxford said...

Thank you both, very much.

Kindred Spirit said...

Please allow me to echo the sentiments of the above readers, dear Clerk. Yours is one of my favorite blogs, and I am sorry that I have been remiss in telling you so sooner. Please keep writing: we are reading what you post, even if we don't say it very often.

Clerk of Oxford said...

Thanks, Kindred Spirit - that means a lot, especially coming from the author of such a wonderful blog as yours.

Heliopause said...

And I'm adding my voice also, to say that I've just found your blog and think it's extraordinarily beautiful and valuable. I've bookmarked it, of course, and hope very, very much that it will be here for me to read for a logn time yet.

(I had to try three times to enter this -- the "words" are very hard to read.)

Clerk of Oxford said...

Thank you - I do hope you'll keep reading. (Sorry about the words - I don't control those, but they are an annoyance!)