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The Kennicott Tombstone

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Notes on Slips connected with Devonshire. Pt III. Trans. Devon Assoc., 1879, Vol XI, pp. 367-370.

by

W. Pengelly, F.R.S., F.G.S. Etc.

Prepared by Michael Steer

Benjamin Kennicott (4 April 1718 - 18 September 1783) was a churchman and Hebrew scholar, born at Totnes and succeeded his father as master of the charity school there. The generosity of friends enabled him to attend Wadham College in 1744, where he distinguished himself in Hebrew and divinity. Kennicott's major work is the Vetus Testamentum hebraicum cum variis lectionibus (1776-1780). Before this appeared he had written two dissertations entitled The State of the Printed Hebrew Text of the Old Testament considered, published in 1753 and 1759. These were designed to combat contemporary ideas about the "absolute integrity" of the received Hebrew text. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought- after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

WINDEATT, MILFORD, JUN. (1808), EDWARD (1878)

1. The Kennicott Tombstone: - There is in the churchyard at Totnes, on the north side of the parish church, a tombstone having an inscription of which I have seen two copies; - the first printed by "Milford Windeatt, Jun.," of Bridgetown, near Totnes, in the Monthly Magazine, xxvi., 310, 1808; the second by Edward Windeatt, of Totnes, in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art, x., 221, 1878; and both reprinted here: 

Mr. Milford Windeatt’s Copy, 1808.

"As virtue should be of good report,
sacred
be this humble monument
to the memory of
BENJAMIN KENNICOTT, parish-clerk of
TOTNES:
and ELIZABETH his wife :
the latter,
an example of every christian duty!
the former,
animated with the warmest zeal,
regulated by the best good sense ;
and both constantly exerted
for the salvation of himself and others.
Reader!
soon shalt thou die also ;
and as a candidate for eternity,
strike thy breast and say.
Let me live the life of the righteous
Until my last end may he like his.

Trifling are the dates of time,
Where the subject is eternity.
Erected
By their son BENJAMIN KENNICOTT, D.D.,
Canon of Christ-church, OXFORD."

Mr. Edward Windeatt’s Copy, 1878.

"AS VIRTUE SHOULD BE OF GOOD REPORT
SACRED,
BE THIS HUMBLE MONUMENT
TO THE MEMORY OF
BENJAMIN KENNICOTT, Parish Clerk of Totnes,
AND ELIZABETH, his Wife.
the latter
an example of every christian duty;
the former
animated with warmest zeal,
regulated by the best good sense,
and both constantly exerted
for the salvation of himself and 0thers.
READER
SOON SHALT THOU DIE ALSO,
AND AS A CANDIDATE FOR IMMORTALITY,
STRIKE THY BREAST, AND SAY,
'Let me die the death of the Righteous,
That my last end may be like his.'

TRIFLING ARE THE DATES OF TIME,
WHERE THE SUBJECT IS ETERNITY.
ERECTED
BY THEIR SON, BENJAMIN KENNICOTT, D.D.,
CANON OF CHRIST CHURCH, OXFORD."

The manner in which each copy is "set up" led me to expect that they were exact representations, not only of the words, but of the orthography, the type, the punctuation, and the arrangement or "form," of the original. But finding, from the discordance of the two copies, that there must he slips somewhere, I took, on 22nd April, 1879, the copy printed below, which I hope and believe is correct in every respect: -

"As Virtue should be of good report:
sacred
be this humble Monument
to the memory of
BENJAMIN KENNICOTT. Parish Clerk of TOTNES.
and ELIZABETH his Wife:
The latter.
an Example of every Christian Duty!
The former.
animated with warmest Zeal
regulated by the best Good Sense :
and both constantly exerted
for the Salvation of Himself and Others.

Reader
Soon shalt thou die also:
and as a Candidate for Immortality.
strike thy breast and say:
Let me live the Lift of the Righteous,
that my last end may be like his.

Trifling are the Dates of Time.
where the Subject is Eternity.
Erected
By their son B: KENNICOTT, D:D:
Canon of Christ Church OXFORD."

On comparing, it will be found that the Words in Mr. Milford Windeatt's copy differ from those in the original in the following particulars: - The "the" in the 11th line is redundant;  “eternity" has been substituted for "Immortality" in the 17th line; and "Benjamin" for "B:" in the last line but one. On the whole, the Type is pretty accurately copied, the only slips being the use of small initials instead of capitals in several instances. The Punctuation is not quite so successful; notes of admiration being twice used, whilst there is no more than one in the original. The stonecutter's punctuation is no doubt peculiar, and it is scarcely probable that the printer, left to himself, would follow it, even if he found it in the " Copy." There is but one departure from the original Form; namely, that of making "TOTNES" a distinct line, instead of placing it at the end of the 5th line. This, however, was probably due to lack of space for so long a line in the Monthly Magazine, where each page is divided into two columns.

On passing Mr. Edward Windeatt's copy through the same ordeal, the only slips which present themselves amongst the Words include the rather important one of substituting "Let me die the death of the Righteous," for  “Let me live the Life of the Righteous" in the 18th line, and " Benjamin " for "B” in the last line but one. No attempt seems to have been made to follow the Type. Roman capital letters are almost invariably used, whilst in the original they are rather defective than excessive; German characters are employed twice, though there are none on the tombstone; and the 18th and 19th lines are in Roman letters, whilst in the original they are in italics. The Punctuation is consistent with modern usage, the stops used by the stone-cutter being disregarded. The Form is an exact copy of the original.

In fact neither of the Mr. Windeatts succeeded in copying correctly the inscription on the stone.

It may be observed that, whilst Mr. Milford Windeatt copied correctly the 18th and 19th lines of the tombstone, the words themselves are not an exact copy of those of Balaam, {Numbers xxiii. 10,) whence they are presumably taken; nor are Mr. Edward Windeatt's words, though much nearer, a verbatim copy of those given in the Bible. The words in Numbers are: - “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his;" those in Mr. Edward Windeatt's copy are, '' Let me die the death of the Righteous, that my last end may be like his;" whilst the tombstone and Mr. Milford Windeatt have “Let me live the Life of the Righteous, that my last end may be like his."

Should it be asked, ''Do any of Dr. Kennicotts writings on the Hebrew scriptures throw light on the discrepancy between the words in Numbers xxiii. 10 and those, which are no doubt his, in the inscription on the stone over the remains of his parents? ".  I can only reply that an eminent Hebraist informs me that there is no doubt of the correctness of the rendering in the authorized English Bible; and that the solution of the problem is probably the simple one that Dr. Kennicott appropriated the thought and modified the expression, but did not intend the inscription to be regarded as a quotation.