The works of William Shakespeare were a popular source for inscriptions with Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Anthony and Cleopatra, Henry V and Macbeth probably being the most popular.
People sometimes ask me if there is a difference between the inscriptions chosen by officers’s and soldiers’ families. As I say in Private William Walls’ inscription, whilst officers’ families might be less likely to choose something like ‘A silent thought a secret tear will keep his memory of ever dear’, literary inscriptions are not restricted to soldiers’ families, in fact far from it.
I wondered about this for some time since the school leaving age for most working-class families was 12 in the pre-war years. This was until I read how the works of the classics came within their price range as a result of the proliferation of second-hand book stalls and the publication of cheap reprints of dead authors. Articles like ‘Conservative Canon: Cultural Lag in British Working-Class Reading Habits’ by Jonathan Rose make interesting reading on the subject.