Simply and Plainly

‘I might say much on the commodities that death can sell a man, but briefly, death is a friend of ours, and he who is not ready to entertain him, is not at home.’

Francis Bacon, An Essay on Death.

‘The whole life here at the front is permeated with a sublime solemnity. Death is a daily companion who hallows everything. One no longer receives him with pomp or lamentation. One treats his majesty simply and plainly. He is like many people whom one loves even though one respects and fears them.’

Rudolf Fischer, philosophy student, killed in action in 1914, from German Students’ War Letters, collected by Phillipp Witkop.


Entombed in the Urns and Sepulchres of Mortality

‘I have laboured to make a covenant with myself that affection may not press upon judgement; for, I suppose, there is no man that hath any apprehension of gentry or nobleness but his affection stands the continuance of so noble a name and home and would take hold of a twig or twine-thread to uphold it. And yet Time hath his revolutions; there must be a period and an end to all temporal things, finis rerum, an end of names and dignities and whatsoever is terrene; and why not of De Vere? – for where is Bohun? Where is Mowbray? Where is Mortimer? Nay, what is more and most of all where Plantagenet? They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality. Yet let the name of De Vere stand as long as it pleaseth God.’

Ranulph Crewe, quoted in The Lives of the Chief Justices of England from the Norman Conquest to the Death of Lord Tenterden, John Campbell.

‘And therefore restless inquietude for the diuturnity of our memories unto present considerations, seems a vanity almost out of date, and superanuated piece of folly. We cannot hope to live so long in our names, as some have done in their persons, one face of Janus holds no proportion unto the other. ‘Tis too late to be ambitious. The great mutations of the world are acted, or time may be too short for our designs. To extend our memories by monuments, whose death we daily pray for, and whose duration we cannot hope, without injury to our expectations, in the advent of the last day, were a contradiction to our beliefs. We whose generations are ordained in this setting part of time, are providentially taken off from such imaginations. And being necessitated to eye the remaining particle of futurity, are naturally constituted unto thoughts of the next world, and cannot excusably decline the consideration of that duration, which maketh pyramids pillars of snow, and all that’s past a moment.

Circles and right lines limit and close all bodies, and the mortal right-lined circle, must conclude and shut up all. There is no antidote against the opium of time, which temporally considereth all things; our fathers find their graves in our short memories, and sadly tell us how we may be buried in our survivors. Grave-stones tell truth scarce forty years: generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oaks. To be read by bare inscriptions like many in Gruter, to hope for eternity by ænigmaticall epithetes, or first letters of our names, to be studied by antiquaries, who we were, and have new names given us like many of the mummies, are cold consolations unto the students of perpetuity, even by everlasting languages.

To be content that times to come should only know there was such a man, not caring whether they knew more of him, was a frigid ambition in Cardan: disparaging his horoscopal inclination and judgement of himself, who cares to subsist like Hippocrates Patients, or Achilles horses in Homer, under naked nominations, without deserts and noble acts, which are the balsame of our memories, the Entelecchia and soul of our subsistences. To be nameless in worthy deeds exceeds an infamous history. The Canaanitish woman lives more happily without a name, then Herodias with one. And who had not rather have been the good thief, then Pilate?

But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity. Who can but pity the founder of the pyramids? Herostratus lives that burnt the Temple of Diana, he is almost lost that built it; Time hath spared the epitaph of Adrians horse, confounded that of himself. In vain we compute our felicities by the advantage of our good names, since bad have equall durations; and Thersites is like to live as long as Agamenon. Who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot, then any that stand remembered in the known account of time? Without the favour of the everlasting register the first man had been as unknown as the last, and Methuselahs long life had been his only chronicle.’

Sir Thomas Browne, Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or A Brief Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns Lately Found in N O R F O L K.


Grass of levity,

Span in brevity,

flowers’ felicity,

fire of misery

Wind’s stability

Is mortality.

Inscription in St Mary Magdalene Church, Milk Street, London, c. 1609.

Man is a glas; life is

A water that’s weakly

walled about; sinne bring

es death; death breakes

the glas; so runnes

the water out


Inscription in Osmington Church, Dorset, c. 1609.

This wretched life, the trust and confidence

of whose continuance maketh us bold to sin

Thou perceivest well by experience

Since that hour in which it did begin

It holdeth course and shall not lin

But fast in runneth on and passen shall

As doth a dream, or shadow on the wall.

Thomas More.