18 May 2012

Hic Jacet

Today's post on Stephen Pentz's blog, First Known When Lost, deals with epitaphs. It brought to mind a passage from one of my favourite books, namely George Gissing's The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft (London: Constable, 1903), pp. 183-4:
I always turn out of my way to walk through a country churchyard; these rural resting-places are as attractive to me as a town cemetery is repugnant. I read the names upon the stones, and find a deep solace in thinking that for all these the fret and the fear of life are over. There comes to me no touch of sadness; whether it be a little child or an aged man, I have the same sense of happy accomplishment; the end having come, and with it the eternal peace, what matter if it came late or soon? There is no such gratulation as Hic jacet. There is no such dignity as that of death.  In the path trodden by the noblest of mankind these have followed; that which of all who live is the utmost thing demanded, these have achieved. I cannot sorrow for them, but the thought of their vanished life moves me to a brotherly tenderness. The dead, amid this leafy silence, seem to whisper encouragement to him whose fate yet lingers: As we are, so shalt thou be; and behold our quiet!
What would I choose to have carved on my headstone? I've always admired the sentiment and brevity of NFFNSNC, short for non fui, fui, non sum, non curo ("I was not, I was, I am not, I do not mind"). Or perhaps...

As for last words, I look to Paul Léautaud.