Monday 19 April 2010

An Epitaph

I was walking through my parish churchyard earlier today, enjoying the greening trees and the drifts of violets (and the cuckoo flowers are out now). It's pleasingly semi-wild - controlled with a light touch - and at its best in spring before the taller plants get going. In my boyhood it was a whole lot wilder, in parts almost as overgrown as the old Highgate cemetery used to be - which was fine by us boys, of course, as it was a splendid place for exploring, climbing trees, bird's nesting and generally larking about. The churchyard was then dominated by huge elms, long gone now, but there are still impressive oaks and beeches, and chestnut trees both horse and sweet. The graves are mostly marked by plain headstones, and there are some that go back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The best of them - for its words - carries a sweet and eloquent epitaph which amounts to a touching character study in a few lines. This one has been saved and mounted on the south wall of the church, where the lettering is becoming less and less legible but can still be made out. Today I thought I would transcribe it and pass it on. Under a skull carved in village baroque style, the stone carries these words:

TOM HUMPHRYS lies here, by grim Death beguil'd,
Who never did harm to Man, Woman or Child.
And since without foe none yet e'er was known,
Poor TOM was nobody's foe - but his own.
Lay light on him Earth, for none wou'd than he
(Tho' heavy his Bulk) trip it lighter on thee.

Died September 4th 1742.

Rather wonderful, isn't it? You can almost see him...


  1. that's lovely nige. Im picturing Tom as a bon viveur in the Nicholas Soames mould

  2. A Gentle Giant.

  3. Nicholas Soames always makes me think of that old blues: "you got the right key, baby, but babe you got the wrong key-hole".

  4. Yes indeed - I believe one of Soames's seductees remarked that the experience was like having a large wardrobe fall on top of her, with the key in the lock.

  5. From Tombstones boot hill cemetery...

    Here lays Butch.

    We planted him raw.

    He was quick on the trigger

    But slow on the draw.

    Could also have applied to old Soamesy.

  6. Soames was the plunderer Nige. Pray, who was the plunderee?
    I'd heard it before, but I'm still wiping the tears away. Thanks for making my morning

  7. Heh heh, that is a corker.

  8. I'm afraid I can't find who it was Mahlerman - I imagine if you'd had sex with Soames you'd most definitely want to remain anonymous... Anyway I visualise Tom Humphrys as a much more genial - and graceful - figure than old Bunter Soames.

  9. It was his first wife, shortly after he had left her for a new, younger model.

  10. Would that make the lady in question the wardrobe mistress?

  11. That was some revenge she had there. He'll never escape that comparison.