Epilogue & Epitaphs

(c) 2004 Bright iDear
In the Newburyport Public Library Children's Room, youth of all ages can read a big book entitled "The Bartlet Mall Through the Eyes of the Kelley School First Graders" ~ a Sense of Place project completed by Mrs. Johnson's class in June of 2004. The last page of that book depicts the Old Hill Burying Ground adjacent to Bartlet Mall --- and makes mention of Newburyport's eccentric 18th century merchant adventurer Lord Timothy Dexter, whose final resting place is at the mount of the hill overlooking the Mall's common grounds surrounding Frog Pond. The children's comments read:

"The Old Burying Hill is a graveyard. Lord Timothy Dexter had a fake funeral. He is the silliest person buried there."

Which instantly made one of the Knowing Ones think of Ralph Waldo Emerson's advice on Life and living: Be silly. Be honest. Be kind. For indeed, these were three simple dictates which guided Lord Tim.

[Taking note that Dexter ~ the eccentric 18th century Newburyport merchant adventurer ~ lived a full generation before Emerson's time, of course.
Howbeit, the Knowing Ones (including Oliver Wendell Holmes) know very well that Dexter was the intrepid forerunner of the Transcendental Movement ~ in which Emerson and other free thinkers were to tread a full generation later, beginning in the 1830s.]


But just who is this man and myth known as Lord Timothy Dexter ~ who unabashedly promoted himself as the "gratest felosofer in the West"? Just who drafted that strange, oft daft, oft profound piece of work commonly called "Pickle" ~ an odd opus still in print ~ with his original spelling, spilling his enigmatic "thorts" onto the page to enlighten and delight many generations of the Knowing Ones?

[Here sits Lord Tim in the form of Amesbury High School history teacher and Newburyport native Paul "Jance" Jancewicz ~ who appears quite bemused at the children's observations of the historical character he portrays. (Read more about this perfect casting at the link within.)]

(c) 2004 Bright iDear
The Knowing Ones ~ who ask good questions then question the answer ~ would ask: Would Lord Timothy Dexter himself be pleased with the children's impressions inscribed in their "big book"?

In his anthology on Life and living,
"A Pickle for the Knowing Ones ~ Or Plain Truths in a Homespun Dress" ~ a 24-page collection of his missives first published in late May 1802 ~ Dexter rationalized that "the 'sole' is the thinking part." Some forty years later, Emerson rationed that "the man is half himself the other half is his expression" ...

That said, what would Dexter think of our interpretation (and interpolation) of his "littel book" ~ his "thinking part"?
What of our overall impressions of both halves of his being ~ "boddey & sole"? That is ~ how he is (and has been) cast in historical (and fictionalized) accounts ... and ultimately how his life is now cast in stone?
On Dexter's white marble gravestone, the worn epitaph reads simply:

In Memory of
died October 23
A. D. 1806
Ætatis 60

He gave liberal Donations
In the support of the Gospel
For the benefit of the Poor
And for other benevolent purposes

(c) 2002 Bright iDear

So there lies Mr. Timothy Dexter. At the end of his corporeal life, the stone cutter did not append the epithet "Lord" to his name ~ or lend an interesting epigram to the face of the marble stationed over his remains ~ instead carving the blanket blank verse.1 Apparently, no poet laureate conceived an inspiring verse to mark the grave ~ to frame Dexter's sometimes extraordinary, sometimes ordinary existence in rhyme or reason.2

And yet the printed word proved a sharper rasp than the gravecutter's tool. For as the reader will observe with review of Dexter's obituary published in the Newburyport Herald (link within) ~ the embittered individual who penned that account was far more cutting and impassioned in his grave remarks ~ casting stones and aspersions with an acrimonious and sanctimonious final assessment. Compare, if you will, this obiter's bitter forgone conclusions to a more contemporary (and less contemptuous) version ~ the latter, a belated post posthumously postulated by today's generations of the Knowing Ones to remark this, the 200-year milestone of Lord Timothy Dexter's passing (link within).

And evermore ~ having extended a solicitation for more edifying epitaphs for Lord Timothy Dexter's marker ~ a selection appears in print below. Recitations of these and other elegies are planned for an "epiphany" at Dexter's gravesite with the epitome of Lord Tim himself. Come to know more about the pageant held during Yankee Homecoming's Olde Fashioned Sunday, July 30, 2006 beginning at 11AM by visiting www.YankeeHomecoming.com. Seek and Ye Shall Find.

Inspired by the children's caption in the "The Barlet Mall in the Eyes of the Kelley School First Graders":

Here lies Lord Timothy Dexter.
He is the silliest person buried here.

Here lies one
Lord Timothy Dexter
Philosopher or fool?
Was he King
Or courtly Jester?
Or wittingly the dual?

Now bereft
Of form, what's left
But thoughts he nearly imparted
Then left to you
to "poussel" through
Until joining the dearly departed


I lie here though be there
Thus be everywhere
Corporeal once and Spirit hence
Yet evermore aware

You who now are thus endowed
With mortal form or less
The thinking part
Both "sole" and heart
Eternally express.

Dexter's epigram seeded in "Pickle":

"The 'sole' is the thinking part."

The children partaking in Dexter's mock "mock funeral" phrased it best ~ explaining the "Circle of Life" to "mourners" when handing out token rings ~ in their words:

There is no beginning or end
To Lord Timothy Dexter.

So be this Man
Whose thread was spun
By Dexterous hand
Now sewn, is done.

In homespun dress
He seamed his piece
Then put to rest
This short term lease

On life ~ But much
He fashioned here
Be livery such
To ever wear.

Here lies Lord Timothy Dexter ~
As one of the Knowing Ones ~
First in the East, First in the West
And the "Gratest Felosofer" in the World

The "felosofer's stone":

Since a great philosopher once said,
"I think therefore I exist,"
More clever,
This "gratest felosofer" bid,
"Provoke thought and I m'self will persist

Inspired by "My Fig" by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1920) ~ whose childhood home was on Ring's Island:

His candle burned at both ends;
And did not last the night;
But to his foes and to his friends ---
It cast a lasting light!

In another leaf is the vein inspired by another great Bard's work, "Merchant of Venice":

How far that little candle throws his beams ...
When the moon shone we did not see the candle.
So doth the greater glory dim the less.

Earthly traveler, abiding raveler
Of being's mystery.
For lifelong bliss, know you this,
Before you follow me:

Fulfilling needs with earthly deeds,
Muse not with sinking heart
That die you must, for know and trust:
"The 'sole' is the thinking part."

And now laid down, beneath the ground
Where passers-by have come
As I'd long known and now have found,
The journey's just begun.

Go, Traveler,
About your journey,
For this earth-bound chapter
Is but the preamble.


1 In the Newburyport public library's archive room the kind reader will find a set of index cards cataloging the occupants of the Waterside's historic necropolis, along with their gravestone inscriptions. Dexter's epitaph resembles those fashioned in his time, imparting simple words about the honesty and benevolence of the dearly departed. Though original, there is little originality. The stonecutter might well have added the standard, "An honest man is the noblest work of God."

2 At least nothing successfully persevered with his Lordship's most severe, austere widow ~ who perceived her husband's penchant for poetry a waste of time and money ~ certainly not worth the stipend he paid his solicitous poet laureate, Jonathan Plummer. By the end of his life, Dexter had reconciled with his wife, but he and Plummer were estranged ~ with Plummer saddened and distraught that he was not named in Dexter's will. It is the Knowing Ones' inspired knowledge (though neither acquired nor ascertained) that a certain condition of the Dexters' reconciliation was that Plummer would no longer be retained to poetize or proselytize Dexter's philosophies ~ nor would he be a welcomed guest at the Dexter House. And while Jonathan Plummer was to write elegiac tributes to his former patron~ published in in broadsides before and after Dexter's death ~ Dexter's onetime poet laureate would not turn a phrase for the epitaph cast in stone over Dexter's gravestone monument. There is no poetic justice in that.
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