Lily’s Wardrobe: 1877

blue baby shoes embroidered with forget-me-nots 1875-84
Baby shoes embroidered with forget-me-nots. c. 1875-84 https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/pair-of-baby-s-shoes/sgE9W8oo_ImA-A

Which is Best?

“Oh, what shall I do with them?” said a bereaved mother, as she hung over the little garments whose owner had gone to be with the angels. “Can I ever put them out of my sight? Never! Never!” It was only a week since white crape on the door told the passers-by that death had taken a little child from the home. Now the mother had ventured into the nursery to touch the clothing which her darling had made sacred. They were not elegant garments, at least they were not of finest lace and cambric, but every article told of the love which made it. There were no careless stitches, no sparing of pains could be discovered. Fine, dainty, chaste in every detail, they spoke pathetically of the tenderness which fashioned them. And now what could be done with them? A beautiful box was made; it was of satin-wood and silver, and on the handle was graven the name, “Lily.” Into this, between silver paper, and with sprays of rosemary, was laid the tiny wardrobe. Here the mother came to weep, to open afresh the never-healing wound. Here she recalled each precious word, and look and her lost one; here she tried to imagine the little arms again around her neck, the soft cheek pressed to hers.

Her grief became first selfish, then morbid. The luxury of tears forbade exertion, which is one of God’s laws for healthy spiritual development.

One day a friend came. “My dear,” she said, “what is to become of these little things when you can no longer shed tears over them? Are they to be buried, as sweet Lily’s body was when her soul went up to God?”

“Buried?” said the mother. “I do not know; I suppose not.”

“Would you not rather give them away yourself,” said her friend, “than have less loving hands than yours do so?”

“Oh, I could not give away my darling’s clothes. No other child must wear them.”

“Here are a great many garments,” continued her friend; “and think how many little children are in need. I remember Lily always wanted to give to the poor.”

“Yes,” mused the mother.

The friend said no more, but her words sank deep into the stricken heart. Before her great sorrow she had been generous to the needy. Now she remembered with sharp pain that she had forgotten all those who once depended largely on her bounty. One thought suggested another, and soon she saw her future path shining in clear light—the light of love.

With tender memories, but with a strong resolve, the hoarded treasures were brought forth. Little children were made glad, and mothers’ hearts comforted. And did the angel Lily seem farther away for this sacrifice? Oh, no! When the material bond was broken, the mother’s thought went naturally to greet her child in her heavenly joy. Instead of tears of anguish over the earthly relics, there were tears of joy that her darling was so blessed. Did her love lessen? Never. But her power to love deepened as she thought of those things which are eternal, and realized that her child had entered upon them. Harper’s Bazar.

The Republican [Sycamore, IL] 17 October 1877: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A poignant picture of a devastating loss….

While to-day the bereaved are practically required to “get over” their loss in a few weeks so that no one is rendered uncomfortable by the spectre of their sorrow, the Victorians wisely understood the need for a specified time of grief. However, they also understood the unhealthy nature of what alienists now call “complicated grief.” Queen Victoria, for example, was widely criticised for giving way to excessive mourning to the neglect of her duties. Although it may be a later, apocryphal story, it is said that she turned Prince Albert’s death-room into a shrine, directing that his servants continue to lay out his clothes and bring hot water for shaving.  Certainly she insisted on memorialising her mourning in dozens of photos of herself and her children wearing deepest black, gazing sadly at a bust of the late Prince Consort. In the face of rising public discontent, the press dubbed her “The Widow of Windsor” and there were mutterings overheard about dismantling the monarchy. It seemed that none of her family could guide the bereaved Queen into the sensible outlook of Lily’s mother’s friend, although eventually she was persuaded back into public life by her out-spoken servant and confidant, John Brown.

 

For more on the history of Victorian mourning and death, see Chris Woodyard’s The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available for Kindle.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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