I haven’t been reading graveyard headstones very much. English weather makes mould, lichen and ivy overgrow graveyards quickly and within a few years, headstones are impossible to read. England is a jungle – a cold and drizzly jungle.
But we were in Huntingdon the other day, and noticed a very military-looking church, surrounded by the usual headstones, smack in the middle of the downtown market area. In fact, it looks more like a castle than a church.
And leaning up against its back wall, was this tombstone. I could read it! It’s a headstone for Thomas Jetherell, who died June 22, 1774, and it tells a whole story. Thomas was a malster and corn merchant.
What the heck is a malster? Well duh, I found out that a malster makes malt: “Malting is the controlled germination of cereals, followed by a termination of this natural process by the application of heat. Further heat is then applied to ‘kiln’ the grain and produce the required flavour and colour.”
For beer! Thomas made beer!
“This monument erected to the memory of Thomas Jetherell,
late of this town, Malster and Corn Merchant
Who died the 22nd day of June 1774.
He was an example of piety during his life
and of honesty at his death.
And tho a bankruptcy brought his character for a while under a cloud,
his religion inspired him with sentiments, at last,
To dissipate it by bequeathing all his after-acquisitions,
which were considerable, to his Creditors:
To whom his conscience only could determine them due
That, if he scandalized the world by some miscarriages;
He hath instructed it by repairing them to the utmost of his power
Who chose rather to leave his relations in want
Than transmit to them a patrimony of malediction
And give them an example of equity rather than the fruit of injustice.
Go thou and do likewise.”
This headstone has got to be unique in the entire world, because surely it is the only time in history that a man went broke making alcohol. Thomas’ beer must have been truly terrible. What my husband would call “weasel-piss.”
But Thomas apparently repented of whatever it was he did, became an example of piety and honesty, fought his way back from bankruptcy, and started making money again. A lot of money. “Considerable after-acquisitions,” you might even say.
And even though he was no longer under any legal obligation to do so (after having gone through the bankruptcy procedures), he made arrangements to pay back all his creditors upon his death. They must have been truly grateful – and surprised.
The very last sentence on the headstone is “Go thou and do likewise,” a direct quote from the Bible (Luke 10:37), the story of The Good Samaritan. This would have been familiar to everyone reading it, and it’s a short form for saying that Thomas Jetherell was like the Good Neighbour, the one who had mercy on the poor and downtrodden.
Which might be a bit much – from the point of view of his relations anyway, who were cut out of the will without a penny and left “in want.” All they got out of Thomas at the end was “an example of equity.” Who knows? Maybe they would have preferred just a little “fruit of injustice” – just enough to live on, anyways.
Just a hunch, but I think it was the paid-off creditors who arranged for this headstone, and not the poor relations.
Just a hunch.