The Not-So-Honored Dead

Christopher Howse has written a hilariously cranky, quintessentially British indictment of “Poet’s Corner” in Westminster Abbey. There, the humble great lie forever next to the mediocre, many of whom had crass, fame-seeking survivors. Although in truth, they don’t even all lie there as some of the slabs are just memorials to people buried in whole or in part elsewhere.

And while I am on the subject, do you know who is not buried in Westminster Abbey? Lawrence of Arabia. David Lean’s magnificent movie about Lawrence opens at a majestic funeral service after which people debate whether Lawrence really deserved “a place in here”. This must account for why every year tourists come to the Westminster Abbey to see his grave.

Unfortunately for said tourists, the film is portraying St. Paul’s rather than Westminster Abbey, and even there one finds only a bust of the man. His body lies in Dorset.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

5 thoughts on “The Not-So-Honored Dead”

  1. Dude! Never mind. Didn’t read the last line. But seriously, there are tourists who think St Paul’s is Westminster Abbey?

    1. There are tourists who think Nelson’s Column is a porn film, of course there are some who confuse the Abbey and the Cathedral.

  2. Your heading brought to mind this poem by Wendy Cope

    Engineers’ Corner

    Why isn’t there an Engineers’ Corner in Westminster Abbey? In Britain we’ve always made more fuss of a ballad than a blueprint … How many schoolchildren dream of becoming great engineers?
    Advertisement placed in The Times by the Engineering Council

    We make more fuss of ballads than of blueprints —
    That’s why so many poets ends up rich,
    While engineers scrape by in cheerless garrets.
    Who needs a bridge or dam? Who needs a ditch?

    Whereas the person who can write a sonnet
    Has got it made. It’s always been the way,
    For everybody knows that we need poems
    And everybody reads them every day.

    Yes, life is hard if you choose engineering —
    You’re sure to need another job as well;
    You’ll have to plan your projects in the evenings
    Instead of going out. It must be hell.

    While well-heeled poets ride around in Daimlers,
    You’ll burn the midnight oil to earn a crust,
    With no hope of a statue in the Abbey,
    With no hope, even, of a modest bust.

    No wonder small boys dream of writing couplets
    And spurn the bike, the lorry and the train.
    There’s far too much encouragement for poets —
    That’s why the country’s going down the drain.

  3. Though of course it has always been the case that poets, and not engineers, need day jobs – even in the UK. The Romantic poets could afford to combine poetry with an Epicurean lifestyle because they had inherited wealth. Lord Byron was not ennobled for his poetry.

    There is in fact a scientists’ corner in Westminster Abbey, although it is not as famous as Poet’s corner.

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