Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Surviving 105

On Sunday, as I was coming back from completing the 105 mile 'Circuit of the Cotswolds' Ride (I was rider 396) http://www.circuitofthecotswolds.org/2006/results.php
I called in at Brightwell Baldwin church in Oxfordshire to pay my respects to 105 year old Stephen Rumbold. If you heave aside a vast doormat in the Church porch, and dust a bit, there's his grave slab, with its splendidly confrontational quatrain:

"He liv'd one hundred and five
Sanguine and strong
An hundred to five
You do not live so long."

He lived from February 1582 to March 4th 1687: from before the Armada, almost to the Glorious Revolution, through the reigns of the later Elizabeth, James I, Charles I, the Commonwealth, Charles II, and on into the reign of James II.

There is apparently a Rumbold's Lane and a Rumbold's Copse locally. We are currently living through the last years of those exceptionally long-lived people who fought in World War One. These occasional centenarians really do seem to last into an eighth age of man, and were (and are) made much of, and rightly. Of course, early tombstones, with their regular 'hodie mihi, cras tibi' and 'such as I am, so will you be' mottoes did confront the reader uncompromisingly with mortality. But I have never seen was as cheerfully challenging as this, with old Stephen laying the odds just outside the church door. I do not know, but I'd guess that the gravestone which uses its inscription to remind the reader that he or she must die was a type which disappeared after World War One. Utterly unthinkable now, where prompting such thoughts has become bad taste. I like to think that the unknown verse-writer captured Stephen Rumbold's 'sanguine' character, maybe even one of his own jokes.

Brightwell Baldwin does well for inscriptions. Inside, now safe on the wall, is what might be the earliest recorded memorial brass in English: 1371, for John the Smith:
'Man com & se how schel alle ded li; wen yolk comes bad & bare
Noth have wen we away fare; All ye wermes yt ve for care;
Bot yt we do for god yr luf haue nothyng yare; hundyr
yis grave lys John ye Smith god yif his soule hewn grit.'

('Man come and see how shall all dead lie, when [youth? folk?] comes bad and bare
We have nothing when we go away, only the worms care for us.
Except what we [have done] for God's love, we have nothing ready [provided]; Under
this grave lies John the Smith God give his soul great heaven').

The idea here is that John Smith survived the Black Death, and bought up ownerless lands, became prosperous, and finally wanted a vernacular inscription - Latin had probably died in the parish with the priest. Blogger has put my blurry picture at the top of this post, my camera could not cope any better than that. As a final monument, in you lift the carpet in the aisle, there's one of the Cottesmore brasses, commemorating Chief Justice John Cottesmore, Amice his wife, and their eighteen children, five boys and thirteen girls.

History, human history accumulating in yet another 'accoutred frowsty barn'! (http://www.artofeurope.com/larkin/lar5.htm)

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