The politics of Britain's brainiest cemetery
I first went there about 25 years ago, looking for the grave of James Frazer, on whom I was then working (with his fantastic, obsessive anal archive, compiled largely I suspect by Lady Frazer and now in the care of Trinity College -- on which more in a minute). And have wandered up every now and then ever since, doing what my mother used to call "churchyard creeping" and finding the memorials of the long lost dons. It's a great place for a Sunday stroll . . .and if I had to spend eternity somewhere it would be my place of choice. (I expect a plot is rather expensive.)
Mark obviously shares my enthusiasm for the Burial Ground, its slightly "overgrown-ness", its motley crowd of occupants, the striking contrasts and the hints of living character (as you would expect, that dandy, Sir Richard Jebb's monument is a very grand creation). But he carefully drew a veil over some of the more curious politics -- and other weirdnesses -- of the place.
Take Wittgenstein's grave.
Yes, it certainly seems appropriate to the man. But there are other, less noble factors at work here too. Wittgenstein's memorial is actually a pretty close match for that of Sir James and Lady Frazer (who you would expect to have something a bit more showy -- Frazer was a real celeb by the 1930s). The secret is that both these slabs must have been commissioned by Trinity College on the cheap (rich colleges in Cambridge may look after archives very nicely, but they don't throw their money around on slabs). Wittgenstein died without heirs and the Frazers died within a day of each other and without kids -- so in both cases it fell to Trinity to handle to funeral and the grave. The fact that it fitted nicely with Wittgenstein's character was a happy coincidence.
But Wittgenstein's grave is even more curious than that. For a start it attracts a regular series of offerings and tributes. The last time I went there was a little ladder on it (after his famous metaphor, I suppose) and an assortment of drooping flowers.
There is also a politics of proximity. If one is thinking of eternity, it might seem important to be next to a friend rather than a rival or enemy. And that's exactly what Wittgenstein's pupil Elizabeth Anscombe must have thought. For how else, apart from buying the next door plot, did she end up in death at Wittgenstein's feet? Even defying the boundaries of religion -- for she was a Catholic after all.
Worth a trip, and a ponder on the politics -- though, as the husband points out, not quite on the scale of Highgate.