Friday, December 23, 2011

Church memorials and spelling

click photos to enlarge
"Lexicographer: a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words", definition from "A Dictionary of the English Language" (1755) by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), English writer, poet, editor and lexicographer

English church memorials of the late sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries are very distinctive. They typically feature a debased classical style with the elements handled rather clumsily, large and small scale figure sculpture, heraldic devices, a descriptive text and striking paintwork.

Today's photograph shows all of these things. It can be found in the church of St Nicholas in King's Lynn, Norfolk and is one of several excellent examples of the type adorning its walls. The memorial commemorates Thomas Snelling who died in 1623. He is shown devoutly kneeling before a bible opposite his wife. Below are smaller representations of his children - a very common feature of such memorials. Corinthian columns frame the main figures, a broken segmental pediment tops the piece and at the bottom is a winged cherub's head and classical scrolls. An interesting feature is the crowned, winged skull in the top panel, presumably a reminder of the inevitable triumph of death. However, on this particular memorial it was the dedicatory panel that interested me. At the time I took the shot I'd recently been reading about the genesis of Samuel Johnson's "A Dictionary of the English Language" (1755), and the wayward spelling of the text on this piece clearly signals the need that his work was designed, in part, to address.

The second photograph is a detail from the first that shows the panel enlarged. It makes an interesting read, not only for the way it eulogises and describes the deceased (it is much less effusive than usual), also for the verse that constitutes the bottom half, but especially for that whimsical spelling and the fact that the punctuation comprises a single colon (used to abbreviate Matthew to Matt:) and one full stop. For anyone unused to reading such things it may help to know that J and Y being substituted with I, V instead of U, abbreviations such as YE (THE), W with smaller TH meaning WITH, W with smaller CH meaning WHICH, and the shortened form of ANNO DOMINI were common on such memorials and elsewhere, serving to reduce the amount of text and often to make  the line of writing fit in the allotted space.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 65mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/60
ISO: 800
Exposure Compensation:  -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On