Posthumous Praise by Anonymous

If posterity were to judge of us on the evidence of our gravestones, it would certainly pronounce this to be an age of affectionate husbands, tender wives, dutiful children, loving parents, and most sincere and disinterested friends: it would conclude, from the testimony of our epitaphs, that we were all either deeply lamented, universally respected, or the most benevolent and amiable of men. We should have the credit of possessing every talent that can adorn humanity, except that of writing good English;—of being excellent painters, architects, statesmen, and philosophers; but, strange to say, most pitiful poetasters. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, is a maxim which no man ventures to offend, either in prose or verse, when composing an epitaph. Many persons who never could obtain a syllable of praise while alive, get very good characters given them after their decease. I always entertained an opinion that Hinks, the attorney, was a low, pettifogging scoundrel, and frequently beat his wife; until one day I discovered, in the course of a stroll round the church-yard, where his remains were deposited, that he was a "tender husband" and "an ornament to his profession." The most impatient patient whose pulse was ever felt by a physician, is described on his tomb-stone as one "who bore afflictions sore," with laudable resignation. The monument-makers, it appears, have always a stock of lettered slabs in their ware-rooms, which, like the skeleton promissory notes sold at the stationers', may be completed at the shortest notice, by filling up the blanks with names and dates. Death's heads have lately been at a discount; but poetical praise on marble is still rather above par; and lines that have been used on more than five hundred occasions, are considered "better than new," on account of their popularity. Hexameters fetch high prices, but Alexandrines are enormous. Those who are desirous of being at once laudatory and economical, are compelled to put the defunct on short commons: in these cases, an hour or so may be advantageously employed in searching for synonyms, and culling the shortest epithets that can be found words of above two syllables being generally at a premium. This is the case, also, it seems, in the newspaper obituaries. Some short time ago, a gentleman called at the office of a popular morning paper, with an advertisement, announcing the death of an old lady, for insertion on the following day. He found the person to whom it was necessary to apply on this occasion, rather more gruff, short, snappish, and disagreeable, if possible, than usual. This "brief-spoken and surly-burly" personage, after glancing for a moment at the slip of paper on which the announcement was written, growled "Seven and sixpence."

"Seven and sixpence!" exclaimed the gentleman:—"how is that? On the last occasion, when I had the melancholy duty to perform of announcing the death of a person in your paper, I paid only seven shillings."

"Seven and sixpence:—if you don't like it, don't leave it," said old Surly-burly. "Well, but allow me to ask, what is the occasion of the difference of price?"

"Why," said Surly-burly, frowning severely, "if I must gratify your curiosity, you've put in 'universally lamented;' and we always charge sixpence extra for 'universally lamented.'"

"Very well," said the gentleman, "there's the money; and allow me to say, that I am quite certain no one will ever go to the additional expense for you."