Figure 1. Jacob monument. Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY. Photo: author.

Charles D. Jacob (1838-1898) was mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, for four terms. At his death, his commemorators wanted to express that he had been a good man, and for that reason they missed him terribly. They placed over his grave an 1891 bust (figure 2) sculpted by George Julian Zolnay (figure 1). Upon the face of the plinth they also carved some adapted Byronic verse from the 1810s:

HE KEPT
THE WHITENESS
OF HIS SOUL
AND THUS MEN
O’ER HIM WEEP

The verses come from Byron‘s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, in a section concerning the grave of a heroically dead soldier:

Brief, brave, and glorious was his young career,–

His mourners were two hosts, his friends and foes;

And fitly may the stranger lingering here

Pray for his gallant spirit’s bright repose;

For he was freedom’s champion, one of those,

The few in number who had not o’erstept

The charter to chastise which she bestows

On such as wield her weapons; he had kept

The whiteness of his soul, and thus men o’er him wept.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto III, Stanza LVII.

Byron’s metaphor depends upon the mixing of subtractive colors to find a moral description of the soul of the deceased. Here, white, the absence of color, denotes unmixed purity of motive and action. Think of a soul tinged green with envy and yellow with cowardice, for example. Of course colors have other significations in other times and places, and the subtractive color metaphor is not universal.

Figure 2. George Julian Zolnay, bust of Charles D. Jacob (1891, cast 1903). Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, KY. Photo: author.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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