Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 32

Gilbert Imlay died on the Isle of Jersey on 20 November 1828 and was buried four days later in the churchyard of St. Brelade’s, though Imlay’s interment there was not known until 1903. I emailed St. Brelade’s, and the Verger there replied that she can no longer read the inscriptions on the graves that date back to the early nineteenth century. “I have had a wander around our graveyard,” she wrote, “to see if I could find anything.” But she couldn’t. Later, I read that someone had transcribed the simple epitaph in 1833, but the stone is no longer legible, and the original transcription is also lost. Imlay seems determined to evanesce.
  The Verger did tell me the grave registry itself is now in the hands of the Jersey Archive. I contacted them and, for £5, received a photocopy of the spare notation of Imlay’s burial: 24/11/1828  Gilbert Imlay  74 years. I also acquired the full entry for his death (translated from the French): November 24th. Gilbert Imlay, deceased the 20th day of the month of November one thousand eight hundred twenty-eight, 74 years old, was buried the 24th of the same month.[1]
I can only wonder: What transpired during those four days between his death and his burial?  Was there a service?  Who attended?  Who viewed the body?  What words were spoken?  Who wept?
At the time of Imlay’s burial, Mary Wollstonecraft had been dead for thirty-one years. 

Still curious about those Imlaystown gravesites, I return there over the 2011 Thanksgiving weekend to look for them. It is an impossibly nice day, this late November Saturday—bright sunshine, temperatures in the upper sixties, mild breezes. People are walking around in shirtsleeves, enjoying the anomaly. Joyce and I arrive in Imlaystown and walk down below the mill, where, we’ve read, the gravesites are. We don’t see much of anything. I take a few pictures of what I think is a likely spot, but I feel oddly dissatisfied. I’ve wanted something more definite.
We drive to nearby Allentown, New Jersey, where his cousin John and some other Imlays lived (and are buried). John Imlay’s home is still standing at 28 South Main Street, where the structure is now a notions store—Necessities for the Heart—that this day is crowded with shoppers. The streets are full of cars; the sidewalks, of pedestrians amazed that on this 26 November they’re experiencing the last balmy breaths of autumn.
            At home, I double-check some information from the Monmouth County Historical Association and begin cursing myself roundly: The old Imlay family burying ground lies on the south bank of Doctor’s Creek; we looked only on the north.
And still I think of Wollstonecraft, of Imlay, of necessities for the heart.






                [1] In his biography of Imlay, Verhoeven provides a copy of the epitaph as it was transcribed in 1833, then published in 1903—although that original transcription is lost: Here was intered the pershiable remains of Gilbert Imlay, Esq., who was born Feb. 9, 1758, and expired on the 20 Novr., 1828. Also on the stone was a poem: Stranger intelligent! should you pass this way / Speak of the social advances of the day— / Mention the greatly good, who’ve serenely shone / Since the soul departed its mortal bourn; / Say if statesmen wise have grown, and priests sincere, / Or if hypocrisy must disappear / As phylosophy extends the beams of truth, / Sustains rights divine, its essence, and the worth / Sympathy may permeate the mouldering earth, / Recal the spirit, and remove the dearth. / Transient hope gleams even in the grave, / Which is enough dust can have, or ought to crave. / Then silently bid farewell, be happy, / For as the globe moves round, thou will grow nappy, / Wake to hail the hour when new scenes arise, / As brightening vistas open in the skies.

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