Name Dropping

HT to Ken Jennings’ blog for the details on this story:

Romantic-era poet John Keats is buried next to Percy Shelley at the Protestant Ceremony in Rome. On the other side of Shelley is Edward Trelawney, an author who directed in his will that his body be returned to Rome and he be buried next to Shelley, with whom he had spent time in Rome sixty years earlier when Shelley met an untimely end.

Ken Jennings speculates that is Shelley had known Trelawney was coming, he would have directed his epitaph to read “I’m with stupid,” (with an arrow pointed correctly, incidentally).

Worse is the grave on the other side of John Keats. Joseph Severn, a painter, had traveled with Keats to Rome when Keats was sick with tuberculosis. Severn remained by his side for three months, until Keats finally succumbed. Severn became famous in literary circles as “the person who took care of John Keats,” publishing drawings and sketches of Keats and those who came to see him. During this time he also met and drew sketches of Shelley and Trelawney.

Severn’s built his 58-year artistic career on these three months. For the rest of his life, other people would want to talk about Keats, and Severn was more than happy to oblige. His pride of association was so strong that his son Arthur’s christening became a major social event. Major, that is, at least I the mind of Joseph Severn.

Sadly, Arthur died in one of the first known cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 1871. Severn wanted Arthur to be remembered, so he had his son buried between the adjoining plots he had acquired for himself and John Keats.

So how do you properly remember somebody who was famous for being the infant son of somebody who was famous for being a famous person’s best friend? Name dropping, of course. The inscription Severn ordered for Arthur includes his name, Joseph’s name (in larger script, of course), and the line, “The poet Wordsworth was present at his baptism.”

What Edward Severn wanted the world to remember about his beloved son was what famous person came to his christening.

This may be all you need to know about Severn. He bought the stone and plot for Keats, and an adjoining one for himself. Keats’ name appears on Severn’s tombstone, but not on his own.

Pride of association is both sad and dehumanizing. If the entirety of your worth is summed up by the accomplishments of people you know and your social standing relative to other people, you have completely missed out on your own value to God and your own responsibilities to the world around you.


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