It seems that we, as mortal beings, with hopes and dreams like any other human, find a connection with the past and with other human beings, when we learn about their lives, and sometimes their deaths, through researching the name that appears on a piece of mourning jewelry. Maybe it comforts us, knowing that we too must die one day, to have a piece of someone who once was (the hair), and tangible proof that that person who once was, was loved, respected, and remembered (the dedicated jewel); in short, to have those parts of them still remain, both physically and emotionally. This window that opens onto the past through discovering the life behind a name usually elicits for me feelings of a shared humanity, of a certain closeness, simply because that person too was a person who moved in the world, had connections to people and places, and to history, and ultimately was a fragile human being, because they died, and we too share the same fate, no matter who we are. It’s easy then to find some connection and even like that person, as little as we really know them, if only for the shared commonality of being human and being mortal. These are the feelings I’ve had with all of the mourning pieces I’ve researched and connected to a once-living being. That is, until I found this ring.
Here we have a simple, almost austere, mourning ring of the late 18thcentury. Its shape is an elongated oval,
almost a navette. The shank is tapered, and of plain gold. A gold bezel, with just a touch of decoration to the edge, a band of black enamel, and a thin beaded border suffice to frame the simply woven hair memento; hair that’s almost lost its color, having more white than brown in it. This is a perfect example of a basic, typical mourning ring of its day. However, underneath, there is engraved, in elegant script, a dedication entirely in Latin. This is not the shortened Latin using obit (died) and aet (for aetat- at the age of) that we normally find on mourning rings, but a more complete dedication which states: Rogerus Kelsall diem obiit 5 Decembris ’88 circiter 51 annos natus. Translated this means: Roger Kelsall died on (the day of) 5 December ’88 (1788) approximately 51 years after he was born. So, why the more elaborate Latin? I have a few ideas, one based on an educated guess having to do with the person who probably had this ring commissioned (which I’ll get to later), and one simply because it lends the memorial a feeling of high respect; it imparts the sense that this was a great individual,both intellectually, morally, an even physically, by relating it to the Classical age of poets, philosophers, statesmen, great military commanders.
Well then, who was Roger Kelsall? There is quite a lot of information about him out there, much of it I have not yet delved into. In the next post, I will explore more about the man’s history.