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IN KEEPING WITH MODERN VIEWS: PUBLISHING EPITAPHS IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY PAUL VJTA Morningside College In his Complete Descriptive Guide to Abney Park Cemetery, published in 1869, die Reverend Thomas Barker stated his "conviction that the sooner some change is made in die character of our tombstones die better": They are very ugly in appearance, and what is written on them is most commonly, on some other ground, objectionable. I should like to place in die office of every stone mason a book of epitaphs in keeping witii modern views of thought and feeling. I am shocked at the nauseous nonsense, die doggerel rhymes one sees in die churchyards and cemeteries of tiiis Christian country. (74) Barker's sentiments were not isolated. Concerned churchmen and secular writers alike voiced similar calls for greater attention to die monuments and die epitaphs within the churches and churchyards of England, and the publication of hundreds of epitaph collections and anthologies responded to such appeals. What resulted were not only guides for stone masons, but a proliferation of literature on epitaphs of all kinds, from collections of gravestone humor to exhaustive compilations of the inscriptions from entire parish churchyards, tombstone by tombstone. A sampling of diese anthologies provides several important insights into how die Victorians regarded epitaphs and commemoration. The transformation of the churchyard, die "laborer's only library," into a book signaled a change in how epitaphs were encountered, experienced, read. The printed page substituted for, even at times supplanted, die commemorative function of epitaphs, and, in time, the epitaph in print unattached to die tomb, became a literary curiosity in circulation, rather than an identifying and descriptive inscription on a Victorian Review 25.1 (Summer 1999) PAULVITA15 particular monument. Furthermore, these collections codified and prescribed what made for good epigraphy, enforcing propriety and imposing limits on the epitaph's range of expression. With commemoration available to more people dian ever before in British history, diese collections emphasized tiiat mottoes on monuments — as well as prose eulogies or sentimental verses — were vulgar, even unchristian. While preserving die vanities of die tomb, as well as die "nauseous nonsense" and "doggerel rhymes" that Barker bemoaned, epitaph antiiologists struggled to rescue God's Acre from secularization and to curb an assertive, middle-class monument-mania. Anthologizing epitaphs was by no means a Victorian invention, but most collections published before die nineteenth century were compiled to preserve historical record. The first book-length epitaph anthology was John Weever's Ancient Funeral! Monuments within the United Monarchie of Great Britaine, Ireland, and the Island adiacent. . . , published in 1633. Weever's text set die precedent for die anthologies that followed, and by die eighteenth century, diere appeared a steady line of volumes devoted solely to die transcription of epitaphs: John Le Neve's Monumento Anglicana (published in 1719); WiUiam Toldervey's Select Epitaphs (published in 1754), Thomas Webb's New Select Collection of Epitaphs (published in 1775) and Thomas Caldwell's Select Collection of Ancient and Modern Epitaphs and Inscriptions (two editions, published in 1796 and 1802). These collections, modeled after Weever's, were compiled to "preserve memory from oblivion," to record die information inscribed on die tombs in England's churches and churchyards. In addition and response to Weever, county and parish historians recorded die epitaphs of eminent persons verbatim; these too were published — in limited editions — and most devoted a section to die description of notable monuments as well as full citation of the epitaphs of parish worthies. Like Weever, die compilers of die more general collections figured themselves as antiquarians and historians. They prefaced dieir transcriptions witii essays surveying die history of burial customs from antiquity to the present analyzing die permutations of epigraphy in England, and setting forth rules to which epitaph writers should conform. The later authors invoked dieir predecessors, claiming to expand die scholarship of epitaphs, though some did little more dian reproduce previously published inscriptions. These texts strove for die typographical accuracy of each epitaph; diey supplemented certain epitaphs with historical notes, identified die church or churchyard in which die monument stood, and, at times, described the sculptural or architectural details of die tomb. While epitaphs commemorating obscure persons did appear in...


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