Monday 20 November 2017

'The one shall be taken...'

This unusual memorial tablet is in the church of St Andrew, Cubley, in Derbyshire. It lists not only those who died in the Great War ('The one shall be taken') but also those who survived ('and the other left'). By my calculation, the dead amount to nearly a quarter of those who fought.
 Cubley was the birthplace of Samuel Johnson's father, Michael. He was, according to Mrs Piozzi, 'a man of still larger size and greater strength than his son' – which is saying something. Samuel 'was reckoned very like him, but did not delight in talking much of his family – "One has (says he) so little pleasure in reciting the anecdotes of beggary!"' Here Johnson is presumably referring to the latter years of his father, when he was indeed poor, but for much of his life Michael Johnson had been a prosperous citizen of Lichfield, serving as Sheriff in the year of Samuel's birth, and later as chief magistrate, and earning widespread renown for his learning. His decline into poverty seems to have been caused by the growing expenses of a family and a falling-off of trade in his bookselling business – and exacerbated by his failure to keep any kind of accounts. 'My father had much vanity,' Johnson recalled, 'which his adversity hindered from being fully exerted.' Oh dear.
 Michael Johnson is memorialised in St Michael, Lichfield, with an epitaph in Latin composed by his illustrious son.

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