Essay on Epitaphs (The Friend)


by William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850)

The essay in which Wordsworth uttered the Romantic Biographer’s credo: that commemoration is ‘truth hallowed by love’, truth ‘of the highest order’, even if it glosses over imperfections.

In this, and in his analysis of gravestone compositions (tone? choice of narrative voice? awareness of audience?), the poet speaks authoritatively as poet. Where he tries logical ‘inferences’, however, such as his denial of any tension between memorials seeking worldly remembrance (whether stones or books) and faith in an afterlife, he is less convincing. Digressions on children, on classical roadside burials, and on town versus country churchyards add lightness to grey stone.

Related recommendations: Dr Johnson’s ‘Dissertation on the Epitaphs written by Pope’ (1767) and Sir Thomas Browne’s ‘Urne Buriall’ (1658)

Origin: Britain

Themes: How to Age and/or Die

Genres: Critical, Familiar or Personal, Spiritual or Philosophical Meditation

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