Henrietta Wriothesley on a disservice to the dead Who's Buried Where in England, Douglas Greenwood, Constable £12.99 THIS IS A CURIOUS book. Its author's intentions are made clear by the title: it is a list of who's buried where in England — note, not Wales and not Scotland. Unfortunately, it offers more than it need, and in consequence provides less than it should. A typical entry consists of one or two lines identifying the location of the grave, followed by a half-page potted biography of the person buried in it. Now, if I don't know the salient facts of a dead person's life already, it is not very likely that I will care two hoots about where he is buried. A typical entry begins thus: "Barbellion, W N P, Bruce Frederick Cummings (1889-1919) St Mary's churchyard, Basing, near Basingstoke. An author whose name is probably unknown to all but a handful of presentday readers..." and so on, for 22 lines. No doubt the members of that handful will be making it hotfoot to Basing; but why should the rest of us be interested? If Mr Greenwood wants to start a Barbellion Rehabilitation Society, this book is not the place to do it.
In any case, if I wanted potted biographies, I am not sure that Mr Greenwood is the man I want to provide them. His judgements are erratic: of James McNeill Whistler he says that "of his oil paintings, the principles (sic) are Sarasate, Lady Archibald Campbell, and The Little Rose of Lyme Regis" — no mention of the Portrait of My Mother, surely one of the most famous pictures in the world, nor of Old Battersea Bridge, and no mention, incidentally, of The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.
Nor is Mr Greenwood reliable about facts: the Christian names of Lord Mountbatten, universally remembered as "Lord Louis", are given as "Francis Albert Victor Nicholas"; there is a reference to the Poet Laureate "Clarence Day Lewis"; the Italian city of Lucca is spelt "Lucia"; and Montague John Druitt, old Wykehamist and putative Jack the Ripper, is called "John Montague Druitt". (Incidentally, the Duke of Clarence and Avondale, whose beautiful recumbent effigy dominates the Albert Memorial Chapel at Windsor Castle and who was very definitely not Jack the Ripper, is not included in the book.) I spotted these mistakes in a preliminary two-hours' trawl through the book. If I cannot rely upon Mr. Greenwood to be right about the few things I know about, how can I trust him to be right about the many things I don't know about?
He is generous with information when he might be sparing, and sparing when he should be generous. Take St. Paul's: John Donne is in; Nelson is in, but the fact that his voluptuous sarcophagus was originally intended to hold the corpse of Cardinal Wolsey is not mentioned; Wren is in, but his remarkable epitaph SI MONVMENTVM REQVIRIS, CIRCVMSPICE is ignored. The tomb of David Ricardo, economist, is illustrated, and described as "large and intriguing"; it appears to consist of three nude male figures round a Corinthian column, but no explanation is given: I think we should be told.
Illustrations are of two sorts: portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, which are interesting and attractive, but hardly relevant; and photographs of graves by the author, which seldom rise above the level of snapshots. His picture of the Victorian memorial brass to Jane Austen is a mere collection of black and white smudges — he should learn that the only way to illustrate brasses is by rubbing — and he ignores the fact that her original ledgerstone makes no mention of her work as a writer.
So far so bad, but these mistakes are nothing compared with the complete craziness of the book's arrangement. It begins quite sensibly with a chapter of "Sovereigns", arranged chronologically from Arthur (!) to George VI, including Lady Jane Grey and Oliver and Richard Cromwell. Then comes a mixed bag of "Royal Consorts and Nobles", including some consorts, arranged alphabetically from Albert the Good to the Duchess of Windsor, but not including Queen Charlotte, Queen Alexandra or Queen Mary; one royal mistress, but not Mrs Fitzher bert, Mrs Jordan, Mrs Keppel or Mrs Langtry; one favourite, Piers Gaveston; and one (only) bastard — Monmouth.
From this point on, the book becomes virtually unusable. There are two possible ways to arrange such a work: one is topographically, by county or region: "We're in Yorkshire today; whose grave shall we go and look at?" The other, and probably more convenient, is a strict alphabetical order, so that you can instantly find the name you want. Neither of these have occurred to Mr. Greenwood; instead, the names are divided into categories, allocated by his own surreal imagination: "Statesmen, Politicians and Warriors", "Churchmen, Philosophers, Lawyers and Scholars", and so on, ending bizarrely with 'Explorers, Sportsmen, Reformers, Outlaws, Heroines, Criminals and Miscellaneous", with the result that Florence Nightingale rubs shoulders with Robin Hood, Brian (not Jacob) Epstein, Bertram Mills, Pocohontas, Mne Tussaud and DickTurpin. In this chapter there is a eulogist biography (presumably ordered ready-made from Harrods) of "Dodi" Fayed, a person of absolutely no interest except for the circumstances of his death.
It is impossible to guess where, in his arbitrary cate. gories, Mr Greetwood will place a particula name. Sir Nicholas Bacon s included among "Churchmen, Philosophers, Lawyers and Scholars"; , his son Francis is neither there, nor among Statesmen,. Politician and Wariors" (and remember, he was Lord Chancellor of England)but among "Authors, Playwrights and. Poets"; no mention is made of the loony theory that he wrote Shakespeae' s plays, but it is surely the only reason for placing him where he is. John Keble is here,arnong the "Churchmen", bit neither Pusey nor Newman is included, nor Manning, nor Wiseman, nor anyother postEmancipation cartinal. THERE IS A topographical index, but it contains no page numbers o, having. discovered that tiere is an interesting grave nearby, youhave to look up tie name in the main index, Tinted in miniscule type. I rust record_ that the book vas first published in 1982 ;since then it has had two revis,d editions and two reprints, sphere must be some people vie:, find it useful. For myself" am only sorry that so much nergy and so much enthusiasm should go to waste fox vvant of method.