The 1850 Thomas Shivers monument in Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offers a good example of mid-nineteenth century Gothic revival architecture. While there were many styles available to monument builders, the Gothic appealed to those who sought to emphasize a specifically Christian look as opposed to styles derived from Egyptian, Classical, or Islamic revivals.
Marble, in its last decades of predominance before granite began to systematically replace it, has been employed in the upper parts of the monument; unfortunately, it is of a type that has been attacked severely by the elements. My work here is to get the inscriptions down before they become illegible.
A TRIBUTE OF AFFECTION
TO A BELOVED HUSBAND
BORN IN SOUTH CAROLINA
NOV. XVI MDCCLXX,
DIED IN PHILADELPHIA
JUNE VIII MDCCCL.
A VOICE FROM HEAVEN WHISPERS
DRY THY TEARS; THE PURE IN HEART
SHALL MEET AGAIN.
The verses at the bottom are from the Reunion in Heaven of abolitionist William Leggett (1801-39). The poem was published posthumously in the 19 May 1841 edition of Signal of Liberty, an anti-slavery paper published in Ann Arbor, Michigan (figure 3).
If the poem was published elsewhere, I’ve not yet found it; but I doubt that Philadelphia burghers took the Signal of Liberty. How, then, did these verses end up on Shivers’ monument? From the poem? Educated people did in fact read poetry and commit it to memory then; even my grandmother, who was born in the wilds of North Dakota half a century after Shivers died, had much nineteenth-century poetry in her head (especially Tennyson). The subject matter of the poem was much on the mind of the mid-Victorians, as Drew Gilpin Faust shows in another context in This Republic of Suffering; we might well imagine the poem being snipped out of a paper and saved.
But I think it more likely that Shivers’ commemorator took the verses already excerpted from one of the numerous pamphlets published by undertakers with suitable verse for tombstones. As I have written elsewhere, just because an epigram is a cliché doesn’t mean it wasn’t heartfelt.