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Ibsen inscription mystery solved

By Staff | Jun 12, 2008

The mystery of the authorship of the epitaph on the tombstone of Nicholai Ibsen in the Norwegian cemetery in Estherville has been solved.

Nicholai’s famous brother, Henrik Ibsen, did not compose the tombstone’s epitaph, “By strangers honored, and by strangers mourned.” Henrik chose that line from a poem written in 1717 by Alexander Pope, a poet and satirist who was born in 1688 in London. The poem, “Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady,” is available on the Internet; see line 54.

Pope, who has been called “the greatest English poet of the 18th century”, became ill at the age of 12 with the same spinal illness that Nicholai later suffered. Both of them became hunchbacks which restricted their growth. And both died in their 50s. So putting epitaph written by Pope on Nicholai’s tombstone was entirely appropriate.

When listed with other famous quotations, Pope’s is usually posted as, “By foreign hands thy humble grave adorned; By strangers honored, and by strangers mourned.”

Many quotations have been credited to Pope, including, “To err is human, to forgive, divine,” “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” and “A little learning is a dangerous thing.”