The BBC website today has an article about the Protestant cemetery in Rome. Among the numerous rich and/or famous people buried there is John Keats, who died at twenty-five.
It is so sad that he didn’t live long enough to know how popular his work would become and how his genius would be appreciated. He felt he was leaving no mark on the world.
Never one to deny what he saw as truth, he asked for this epitaph on his gravestone:
Here lies one whose name was writ in water.
Reading that made me wonder how we could describe those of us who write electronically. ‘On water’ doesn’t quite cover it; ‘on ether’ is a bit fanciful.
I do sometimes wonder what will happen to the billions of words written daily in websites, blogs, social media and others. Will they withstand any test of time? Does material stored on a hard disk slowly fade, first to a stuttery whisper and finally to a white hiss? Will the future be saddled with inaccessible diaries and letters on unreadable DVDs? If so how will future biographers manage?
Now that some of the material has taken to radio waves I picture it floating around the world and out into space to eventually saturate the galaxy with the thoughts of people who will be millenia dead by that time. Will future historians leap into faster-than-light spaceships and pursue the words of the famous across interstellar emptiness?
Keats’ works have proved durable, but part of that is that they were committed to paper.
Public domain picture from Wikicommons.