MOURNING BAND WITH GOLD STAR SUGGESTED FOR MOTHERS
Those Whose Sons Sleep in France Must Wear Honor Badge.
To avoid the widespread use of mourning in the United States, as the war goes on, the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense has recommended to American women insignia that shall take the place of mourning for solders. It is a black arm band, 3 inches wide, with a gilt star for each member of the family who has died in the service. President Wilson has indorsed the recommendation. Dr. Shaw, chairman of the Woman’s committee, said:
“The desire to avoid the usual symbols of mourning on the part of large numbers of those who have lost their loved ones in the country’s service is highly patriotic and to be commended. The constant reminder of losses and sorrow must tend to depress the spirits of the people and to develop a feeling of hopelessness and despair not in keeping with the supreme sacrifices which our army of fighting men and toiling women in the field of action are making.
“If our soldiers can face death with cheerfulness, if they can spring forward to their fate with shouts of victory and exult in that for which they die, shall we cast a shadow over their triumph and go about garbed in mourning when they have died so gloriously? Doubtless, as they awaited their doom, many manly hearts ached with homesickness and longing for those who were left behind, but they knew that if the battle was to be won it could not be with regrets or repining. While the heart ached, the face was bright, the voice cheerful, the spirit undaunted. So we, too, must meet our fate, whatever it may be, in the same spirit and show to the world that as our men can die bravely, women can live bravely.
A badge was suggested by many who felt it our duty to emulate the example of the British women an wear no mourning, yet who desire to honor our dead. To meet this demand and to secure uniformity, the Woman’s Committee of the Council of National Defense adopted, and the President approved, a black band 3 inches wide upon which shall be placed a gold star for each member of the family lost in the service of our country, and which shall be worn on the left arm.
Duluth [MN] News-Tribune 16 June 1918: p. 7
A standard arm-band furnishes an excellent substitute for the wearing of black. It has all the objectionable features of black removed and still serves the purpose of indicating that a death has occurred.
Arm-Bands Are Advocated
Patents for a standard arm-band have been applied for. This arm-band consists of a black background symbolizing the black war-cloud with the blue sky beyond. A torch indicates the blazing path of national attainment and a lyre symbolizes the rejoicing at valor and sacrifice, while the dove of peace hovers over all. These bands are to be made in the colors of the Allies.
The Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense has suggested an arm-band with a gold star for the death of each member of the family in service. President Wilson has given his approval of the suggestion in the following letter made public by Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, chairman of the committee:
“My Dear Dr. Shaw: Thank you for your letter of yesterday. I do entirely approve of the action taken by the Women’s Committee in executive session, namely, that a 3-inch black band should be worn, upon which a gilt star may be placed for each member of the family whose life is lost in the service, and that the band shall be worn on the left arm. I hope and believe that thoughtful people everywhere will approve of this action, and I hope that you will be kind enough to make the suggestion of the committee public, with the statement that it has my cordial indorsement. Cordially and sincerely yours, WOODROW WILSON.” In an explanatory statement on the subject the Women’s Committee says:
The action of the committee at this time is prompted by a feeling on their part that we should determine beforehand the attitude we are to take toward the inevitably growing death roll of the defenders of our country. The wearing of such insignia will, they feel, express better than mourning the feeling of the American people that such losses are a matter of glory rather than of prostrating grief and depression.
For a long time the Women’s Committee has been receiving letters from women urging some such action on their part. The determined avoidance of mourning by English women has been much commented on and praised. One woman. who advocates this step has four sons in the service one of whom has already been killed. She wrote recently: “I know the costliness of such supreme glory and sacrifice, and have felt both the selfish temptation to hide my pain behind a mourning that would hold off intrusion and the inspiration and stimulus of keeping up to my gallant son’s expectation that I should regard his death as a happy promotion into higher service. Patriotism means such exalted living that dying is not the harder part.”
The insignia which has been chosen by the Women’s Committee is of a kind that can readily be made at home out of whatever material can be procured. The band is to be black and 3 inches wide—the stars gilt, and one for each member of the family who has lost his life in service. These stars may be gold, of gilded metal, or satin, or of cloth. The design will not be patented, and the insignia will never become a commercial article.
I was smoking my after-dinner cigar and reading Figaro on the esplanade in Strasbourg, when I was accosted by an old woman who inquired in French for the nearest photographer. She wore the common dress of the Alsatian peasant, and her dusty shoes indicated a long foot journey, but under her linen head-dress fell her white hair round a face that, sunburnt and wrinkled and wearing traces of recent tears, yet was so beautiful in its expression of tender goodness and touching resignation not unmixed with a certain pride, that I involuntarily addressed her as “Grandmere,” and forgetting that I had promised a friend to await his arrival, offered to guide her to her destination.
On the road she told me her simple story. She was a widow, and lived prior to the French-German war with her married son in a village, fifty miles from Strasbourg. They were well-to-do peasants before the enemy invaded their little village; but one morning they woke to find the Prussians encamped in their fields and making themselves perfectly at home. More troops arrived the next day and the following, until the quiet village was a big camp, where the enemy heaped up the stores needed for the siege of Strasbourg.
One dark night the camp was alarmed and a magazine containing among other stores a considerable quantity of powder was found on fire, and there was no doubt that it was the work of the inhabitants. Accordingly the next morning six of the most prominent or most patriotic of the inhabitants were brought before the Prussian commander, and after a short examination that proved nothing, without further trial, were shot in the square in front of the village church. The widow’s son was one of the six victims, and his wife, who became frantic with grief over his death, was the next morning found lifeless on his grave, thus leaving her infant son to the sole care of his grandmother.
The old woman now centered all her hope and all her affection in the little boy, and as he grew up she was fully repaid, for he loved his grandmother with an intensity often found in children who die young a love that was alone equaled by his veneration of his dead parents, his adoration of “la belle France” and his hate of the Prussians, for the old woman, who loved her country dearly, and never forgot that her husband fell fighting for it at “Solferino,” and that her son was killed by its enemies, instilled, perhaps unconsciously, both feelings in his young breast.
One day, when the boy was 10 years old, a Prussian official who inspected the village school was struck with his beauty and serious air, and addressed a question to him in German respecting his parents. “The Prussians killed them,” answered the boy in French. The official colored, and in a rebuking tone asked the boy why he didn’t speak German. “Because it is the language of my country’s enemies,” answered the boy fearlessly.
The official ordered him in arrest, and he was shut up in a chamber above the school-room, where he remained until night, when he boldly leaped from the window to the ground and, as he fell in a thick copse, escaped unhurt. The boy now fairly flew to his grandmother’s house, but as he was afraid of being seen and brought back to the school if he followed the road, he crossed in through the fields behind the village.
It was in the harvest and the grapes were ripe, so old Martin, the owner of the choicest grapes in the village, kept watch with a loaded shot-gun over his precious treasures. Softly he walks over the field behind the wine-press, when he hears something force its way through the grapevines. He stops and cocks his piece. He will now catch the thief who robs him of his biggest grapes. The moon is behind the clouds, out he sees the outline of a person running fast through the vines. “Halt!” he commands but the person never heeds him. He raises his gun–a flash–a scream–a fall of a body among the grapes, and when the old man arrives on the spot, he finds instead of the supposed grape thief a little curly-haired boy whose life is fast ebbing away with the blood that flows out and mixes with the crushed grapes; his black eyes are already fixed and glassy and it is with a faltering voice he whispers: “Give my love to grandmother and tell her– father! mother! I am coming”–his hands grasp the vines tighter, he raises himself to a sitting posture, the moon coming from behind the clouds shines on the wine leaves in his curly hair, a cry rises in his throat: “Vive la belle France!”–he sinks back, his eyes closed, and the orphan boy is gone.
“And it was me–me alone–who murdered him,” complained the grandmother when she concluded her tale. Her eyes were dry, but the muscles round the corner of her mouth worked convulsively and there was a great sob in her throat. “It was all my fault, the result of my unforgiveness; holy Mary have mercy–” and the old woman ran the black beads of her rosary through her fingers, murmuring her prayers.
We arrived shortly after at our destination, the atelier of a French photographer, with whom I was slightly acquainted. I introduced my companion to him, and he, after offering her a seat, addressed some questions to her about her picture. She looked at him with wonder, and finally replied that she only wanted a picture of her boy. “Ah!” said the photographer, “a little boy, very good, where is he!” A tear dimmed the old woman’s black eye, and for answer she pointed up to heaven. “Oh!” exclaimed my friend, “dead! I do not like to photograph dead bodies, but still as monsieur brought you here I will make an exception; when did your little boy die?”
“When the grapes ripen he will have been gone a year,” replied the grandmother.
“But, my dear,” began the photographer, perplexed, when I interrupted him, and taking him aside told him the old woman’s story and how she had walked fifty miles on her old legs to procure a likeness of her dead grandchild.
“But, my dear fellow, what can I do? I am grieved, upon my word I am; but what would you have me do? I can’t photograph angels!”
A noise of romping children was now heard and two boys, about 8 and 10 years old, came running into the atelier, crying at the top of their voices: “Oh, papa, voici!”
“Hush, children!” said the parent, “go away; I am busy,” and the happy boys disappeared laughing in the next room. A sudden idea struck me and turning to the old woman, who looked wistfully at the door through which the boys escaped, I asked her if she had kept any of her little boy’s clothes. “Indeed I have, monsieur!” she answered. “I have kept everything belonging to the little dear,” and opening a bundle she carried with her she continued: “Here is the best dress and (her voice sunk to a whisper) the last I ever saw him wear.”
I now took the photographer aside and made him acquainted with my plan for “photographing angels,” and after obtaining his promise of carrying out my instructions I persuaded the grandmother to leave her grandson’s clothing in the atelier and follow me to an inn, where I left her to the care of the buxom hostess.
Two days after the photographer sent for her and on her arrival handed her a picture at sight of which the old woman began crying freely. “My boy! my own darling boy! It is the clothes I spun every thread of myself and his pretty curly hair but why does he cover his face so? Won’t he look at me?” she asked suddenly, looking up from the picture that represented a little boy kneeling in a chair with his folded hands before his face.
“Oh!” remarked the photographer, “he is saying his prayers.”
“Yes, yes, I know! he is praying for his poor old grandmere. Oh, my darling boy!” and the great tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks. “God and our lady bless you, messieurs!” said she when she grew calmer. “I am now going to pray by my boy’s grave until I follow him;” and refusing all aid for her trip home, but pressing her newly found treasure fast to her brave old heart, “Grandmere Jeanneton” left us.
As to the picture, our readers have of course all guessed that the photographer dressed his oldest boy in the poor peasant boy’s clothes; and who would not practice such a deception to see the tears that rolled down Grandmere Jeanneton’s aged cheeks?
The Argos [IN] Reflector 25 December 1884: p. 1
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil was formerly in service in the household of Mrs Marrowfat, the society medium and shudders at the impostures by which that clever lady enriched herself at the expense of the desolate and sorrowing. And yet, somehow, Mrs Daffodil cannot bring herself to condemn the photographer who gave such consolation to the aged Grandmere who had lost everything.
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.
A Peculiar Characteristic of Philadelphia Funerals.
Persons Who Endeavor to Gain Rides to Cemeteries, Although Unacquainted with the Family– Fainters and Flower-Pot Carriers.
[From the Philadelphia Press.]
“Madame, yon must get out of this carriage—it is intended only for the friends and relatives of the family. I never permit ‘regulars’ to attend funerals when I am in charge.”
The speaker was a well-known up-town undertaker, who stood beside a carriage in Kensington .yesterday and spoke to some one inside the vehicle. A streamer of black crape fluttering from the door-bell of a neat three-story dwelling near by and a long line of carriages, preceded by a hearse, told that a funeral was in progress. The first, second and third carriages had been filled with the near relatives of the deceased, and as the fourth vehicle drove up a woman, dressed in shabby black and with her face closely veiled, came down the steps of the house of mourning, and opening the carriage door herself, got in and sank back into the farthest corner. The action, quick as it was, did not escape the eye of the solemn-faced man standing on the steps of the dwelling. Quietly advancing to the curbstone, and in a voice just loud enough to be heard by the person for whom it was intended, he spoke. Without a word the unwelcome occupant alighted, drew her rusty black shawl more closely about her shoulders and walked slowly up the street. “That is an annoyance peculiar to Philadelphia,” said the undertaker to a Press reporter, who happened to be a witness of the episode, “and is probably more of an institution in Kensington than any other section of the city. The American custom of exposing the dead to the gaze of the general public, which has been in vogue for more than half century, has naturally led to abuses, of which this is one bf the most marked. I refer to the attendance of persons at funerals who have no possible interest in the deceased, nor connected by the most remote tie of blood or marriage. Not only do they mingle their tears with those of the mourners, but they actually force themselves into the carriages and ride to the cemetery, there to witness the final scene with apparently as much emotion as the nearest and dearest relatives.
“REGULARS” AND “FAINTERS.”
“There are very few funerals taking place north of Girard avenue and east of Fourth street,” continued the speaker, as he closed the door of another cab, “where you will not find what we term ‘regulars.’ They are an evil tolerated simply because the solemnity of the occasion prevents such measures being taken as would prevent a repetition of the annoyance. The ‘fainter,’ to use another trade phrase, is a similar nuisance, but not seen as frequently as her more ubiquitous sister. The ‘fainter’ swoons suddenly while looking at the corpse, and is only revived by copious draughts of brandy. She usually picks out a soft chair to fall upon, and is quite expert at assuming a graceful position. The precise object of the ‘fainter’ I have never thoroughly understood. Whether to gain sympathy, or whisky, or to display an attitude, is a question. Of the two characters, however, the regular is the most familiar and the most audacious. At an ordinarily large funeral, say of twenty or more carriages, she is seen most frequently. The body is laid out In the parlor as a general thing, sometimes a day before the funeral, and is there viewed by the relatives and friends. The neighbors usually testify their esteem for the deceased by calling at the house, although they may not be acquainted with the family. In many cases this visit is expected, and it is looked upon as slight if It is not made. English people, however, show a decided aversion to having any one gaze on their dead, except those very near to them, but custom is so arbitrary that the residents of any neighborhood, and specially in this section of the city, would feel insulted if they were not allowed to take the last look. As I said before, one of the outgrowths of this custom is the regular funeral-goer. She reads, besides her weekly story paper of sensational trash, the marriages and deaths in the Ledger. She notes carefully all the funerals that are to take place within a reasonable distance of her home, and appears to have an especial weakness for interments at the Palmer-street burying-ground. If two funerals occur in the same day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, the “regular” is delighted, and makes a strenuous effort to attend both. She dresses herself early in the morning, and, provided with a large handkerchief, she repairs to the house of death. The first thing the “regular” does is to make a mental estimate as to whether the crape on the door belongs to the undertaker or to the family; to speculate as to whether the coffin handles are solid silver or plated, to take an inventory of the furniture, the carpets and the probable cost of the coffin.
MAKING AN INVENTORY
“She examines the quality of the shroud and passes judgment on the profusion or poverty of the floral offerings. Then she makes a critical survey of the mourning worn by the grief-stricken relatives, and is usually able to tell whether it is owned or borrowed, and it the latter, it becomes almost a duty to find out who the owner is, and how often the crape has done duty on similar occasions. With an experienced ‘regular’ this is an easy matter, and these points once settled to her satisfaction, she opens! the flood-gates of her every-day grief. She looks on the face of the dead and weeps. She snivels and sobs, and says, ‘How natural! How very natural! Poor, dear man; he just looks as if he were asleep,’ and then usually turning to some one near, she offers consolation by remarking that ‘it is the prettiest corpse ever I see’d in my life. So peaceful and life-like.’ It makes not a bit of difference, whether the dead man or woman is wasted to skin and bone from a lingering disease or not, to the ‘regular,’ the corpse is always ‘so natural.’ She sways to and fro, and exhibits all the symptoms of grief, and sobs audibly as the clergyman pronounces a eulogy on the noble qualities of the deceased, who might have been in life a grinding skinflint or consummate rogue. As the coffin lid is fastened on, the ‘regular’ dries her tears and prepares to execute a flank movement on the undertaker. Her plan is usually to get into a carriage the minute it stops in front of the door, as that woman did a moment ago. Rather than have a disturbance, many undertakers permit this, and the ‘regular’ accomplishes her principal object, which is to get a ride to the cemetery. She has a melancholy mania for getting as close to the grave as possible and crying loud enough to attract general attention. Then she goes home in the street cars, and hurries off to another funeral, where the same programme is repeated. Very often we encounter another class of ‘regulars’ who strive only to get a ride to a graveyard where their own people are buried. These worthies always betray themselves by carrying a flower-pot, which they vainly try to conceal in their shawls. The pot contains flowers to be planted on the graves of their own dead.”
“The flower-pot regulars make a regular picnic out of the occasion. They take their sewing and lunch. An old tombstone forms a table if the weather is fine, and seated on the grass, the cronies gossip and sew to their heart’s content. On a clear day in the springtime, I have seen no less than twenty of these scandal-mongers waiting at the Palmer Street Ground for a funeral to enter, which they follow like carrion crows in search of horse meat.”
The suggestive, but rather inelegant, simile was interrupted by a young man who called the undertaker’s attention to a woman ascending the steps, and crowding her way between the persons coming out of the house. She was prevented from going any further by the undertaker whispering something in her ear.
“That woman,” said be, resuming his position at the curbstone, “has been going to funerals for twenty years, to my certain knowledge. If she fails to get a ride, she is content to watch the house while the family is absent. She takes occasion to go all over the house and examine everything. I don’t think the woman is dishonest. She is a genuine female Paul Pry, umbrella and all. Now, then, you know all about the Kensington regulars,” concluded the voluble undertaker, as he slammed to the door of the last carriage and mounted the box with the driver, “and I only hope that I may be called upon some day to bury the whole tribe in one grave.”
St. Louis [MO] Globe-Democrat 17 February 1882: p. 11
In Ireland the living are dominated by the dead to an extent unknown probably in other countries. It is a willing servitude, based upon two powerful sentiments—the constancy of Irish family affection, and their Catholic solicitude for the eternal welfare of those they love whose mortal existence has been brought to an end. Death, as the extinction of-life, as a farewell for ever to the warm^ precincts of the cheerful day, is not regarded as a matter of very great importance. No race faces death, whether on the battlefield or anywhere else, with more unconcern than the Irish, or, when lying on the bed of sickness, accepts with more resignation the doctor’s pronouncement that there is no hope. They can pass into the eternal silence with a joke on their lips. I have heard a story of a dying Irishman who, when asked by the priest, in the course of the administration of the last religious rites, whether he was prepared to renounce the devil and all his works, exclaimed, “Oh, don’t ask me to do that, your reverence. I am going to a strange country and I don’t want to make myself enemies.”
If there is any concern in the mind of the dying, it arises from some uncertainty as to what may happen in that strange country, the other world. This feeling finds expression in the quaintest and most wayward fancies. Canon Sheehan, the author of Luke Deimage, and other novels of Irish life, who was a parish priest in county Cork, relates that an old farmer after receiving the last sacrament of extreme unction said to the priest: “I want you to say a word to rise me heart for me long journey, your reverence. Will the Man above have anything agin me in His books?” This dread simile was prompted by sad experiences of the land agent’s office, arrears of rent and the fear of being thrown out of house and home. “I’m sure,” replied the priest, “Almighty God has pardoned you. You have made a good confession, and your life has been a holy and a pure one.” “And did your reverence give me a clear resate?” asked the old farmer. Here was the land agent’s office again. “I’ve given you absolution, my poor man,” said the priest. The dying man was satisfied. “Thanks, your reverence,” were his last words. Another story I have been told shows the droll forms which the same thought assumes in the minds of relations. A farmer who was dying had occasional fits of coma, or profound torpor. The doctor advised the wife, when one of those attacks came on, just to moisten the lips of the patient with a little brandy. “Doctor, dear,” cried the poor wife, with reproach in her voice, “is it to go into the presence of his Maker with the smell of spirits in his breath you’d be havin’ him?”
It is to the family that the visitation of death brings terrors and obligations. At first it has a crushing and stupefying _ effect by reason of the void it makes in the domestic circle, and, afterwards, it entails a lasting devotion to the memory of the loved one who has passed away. So long as a member of the family lives, the dead, in a sense, never dies in Ireland. They survive in the prayers that are said for them, morning and night, in the Mass on each anniversary of their death, in the weeping and wailing over their graves, years upon years after they have been laid to rest. You rarely if ever hear among the peasantry the expression “dead and gone.” Death is simply a passage from one life to another. What you do hear is, “She’s in Heaven,” “God sent for her,” or “He’s with God,” telling of the life of the dead hereafter, of their eternal companionship with angels and saints.
The custom of “waking” the dead, with the drinking, smoking, and conversation of the large company of neighbours who assemble in the house of mourning, appears incongruous and repulsive to those who are unacquainted with its remote origin or the kindly and humane motives which underlie it. The wake is a very old institution. It existed among the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans. Shakespeare and Scott give instances of medieval revels in honour of the dead. The custom survives in a different form, but with somewhat identical motives, among the Irish, almost alone of the ancient peoples.
“Waking” means, for one thing, “watching.” The English way of leaving the corpse shut up in a room, all alone, would be most repellent to the Irish nature. It would be regarded as a desertion of the dead. The Irish keep close company with their dead until the very last moment of the burial. The body is clothed in a shroud, made in imitation of the habits worn by certain Orders of Friars, and in the hands, crossed reverently on the breast, is placed a crucifix. The walls near the bed are hung with clean white sheets on which are pinned bunches of flowers, laurel leaves and holy pictures. Lighted candles, seven in number, are placed on a table. They are symbolical of hopes and aspirations relating to the dead. That he or she has been cleansed of the seven deadly sins—pride, covetousness, lust, gluttony, anger, envy, and sloth ; that he or she possessed the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost—wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, and the seven principal virtues—faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and that the relatives joined their sorrow with the seven dolours of Our Blessed Lady—the prophecy of Simeon that a sword of sorrow should pierce her soul; the flight into- Egypt; the loss of Jesus in the Temple ; meeting Jesus with His Cross ; the standing beneath His Cross; the receiving the Body of Jesus; and the burial of Jesus. The room is frequently sprinkled with holy water to banish any evil spirits that may be hovering round. All this is in part a survival of the public lying-in-state of the bodies of great personages, a ceremonial that, once rather common in Ireland, is now reserved for ecclesiastical dignitaries and national heroes.
The Irish people are at all times addicted to companionship, to association with their fellows, and the desire for it is strongest perhaps when death has visited them nearly. We know that we are mortal and ephemeral; that nothing is more certain than that death will come. Every day almost we are reminded that death is the common fate of all in reading our newspapers and meeting with funerals in the streets. Yet there is always an element of the terrible and incomprehensible in the sight of one that is near and dear to us, one, as we know from long experience, capable of the most loving thoughts and deeds in our regard, lying there inert, deaf to familiar voices, unconscious for ever of the joys and tenderness of domestic life. A chill runs down one’s spine, as though the icy coldness of death emanated from the remains and penetrated subtly into one’s frame, and we seek for consolation and support in the sociability of the living. And the neighbours, ever quick in showing sympathy, crowd in to ease the sting of death, to cheer up the spirits of the bereaved, to distract them for a while from the crushing thought of their irreparable loss.
First entering the room where1 the corpse lies the visitors kneel and say a prayer for the eternal salvation of the departed soul. Afterwards in the kitchen, snuff, pipes and tobacco, whisky and stout are served to the company. The dead person is in his house for the last time, and, as host for the last time, dispenses hospitality. What he would do, but can do no longer, those who love him best do for him. Memories of his kindliness and good nature are revived by the neighbours. “’Tis he that had the bright smile and cheery word whenever you met him, and no matter what you might want of him, sure you had only to say the word to get it with a heart and a half.” Stories are told by the elders, and politics discussed; forfeits may be played by the young of both sexes, or, more likely, riddles given for solution. But the Irish are most reverent in the presence of sorrow and nothing unseemly is permitted in these efforts to give relief to the relatives from cares that weigh heavily on their spirits. Manifestations of grief are not entirely suppressed, but they are confined to the chamber of death. In some parts of Ireland it is believed that the soul of the dead person is detained on earth by tears and lamentations, and that not until the sorrow of the relations is appeased can it turn contentedly to face the eternal judgment. To a young widow who was sobbing by the death-bed of her husband, I heard the remonstrance addressed—”Don’t be crying that way, asthore; or you’ll keep him from his rest.”
Here and there throughout the country where waking has been abused by excessive indulgence in drink, the authorities of the Catholic Church have tried to abolish it altogether. It is therefore not so common as it used to be, especially in the towns and the larger villages. Religious services have been substituted for the ancient observances. The body is removed from the house to the parish church, where it remains for the night in its coffin resting on a bier near to the high Altar ; and in the morning the Mass for the Dead is said before its removal for interment. There could hardly be a more notable example of the influence of the Church. The Irish are slow to adopt new ideas. They are among the most conservative people in the world in their adhesion to traditional habits and customs. Especially do they resent any innovation which touches their dead. It is their deep and reverential respect for the Church, rather than their instinct as to what is right and proper, that induces them to part from their dead for a night. They bow their heads in submission, but so heavy lies the immemorial past upon them that in their hearts they doubt whether in doing so they are quite loyal to their dead.
In the case of the keen (Gaelic caoine) or funeral lamentation— one of the eeriest death chants to be heard from the crushed heart of sorrowing humanity—the Irish also adhere to a custom held sacred by their remotest ancestors. It has come down to us from the Pagan era. Walker, in his Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards, says the object originally was to propitiate the gods by proclaiming the genealogy, rank, possessions and virtues of the dead person. Spirits whose requiem was not thus sung were liable to be condemned eternally to a state of unrest. Geraldus Cambrensis, the Welsh writer who visited Ireland in the twelfth century, describes this funeral song or wail as it was practised in Christian times. Its purpose then was to sound the praises of the dead without regard to any supernatural or religious motive. The keeners, in the course of their chanting, put a number of questions, as if with a view to discovering why it was the person lamented had died. If a man, whether his wife was faithful to him, his sons dutiful, or good hunters or warriors? If a woman, whether her daughters were fair or chaste? If a young man, whether he had been crossed in love, or if the blue-eyed maidens had treated him with scorn? The keen of the twentieth century differs very little in form or spirit from the keen of the twelfth century. The cries of lamentation usually take the form of questions which are asked in a half-singing, half-reciting and sobbing voice. “Mo cushla machree (pulse of my heart), why did you die from me? Wasn’t it you that was the best of husbands and fathers, giving joy to all that knew you, and wouldn’t those that love you go through fire and water to save a hair of your head from being hurt?” The piercing wail of a mother for a favourite son is most heartrending to hear.
“Ah, Michael, me ville astore (my ten thousand treasures), sure your like was not to be found on all the broad acres of Ireland, and your death has cast a shadow on the country that no sun will ever disperse.” In towns the keen is cried in the room where the corpse is being waked before the start of the funeral. In rural districts, where the journey to the graveyard is often long, the keen breaks out at intervals, and then the whole countryside rings with the weirdest lamentation.
To have “a grand buryin’ with all the neighbours at it” is the last thing the Irish peasant desires of this world. A farmer who married a penniless girl was asked why he made so poor a match. “My wife,” he answered, “has thirty brothers, uncles and cousins, and if I was to die to-morrow her faction could give me as long a funeral as the King of England.” It is an object of solicitude long before the end is felt approaching. During a visit to the remote parts of Donegal I was told so great was the difficulty of getting a coffin made that many people gave the only carpenter in the district sheaves of oats or a sack of potatoes annually by way of a retaining fee for this service when they died. I remember a curious case that came for decision before a bench of magistrates in my native city of Limerick. An undertaker was asked by an old maid to make her coffin, and his proposal “to complete the job” for £4 was thought by her to be reasonable enough. When the coffin was finished the undertaker brought it to the woman’s house and received £2 as part payment; but being unable to obtain the balance he was reluctantly obliged to summon her. The defence set up by the woman was that the undertaker was not only to supply the coffin, but bury her respectable for the £4, and as he had not yet fulfilled the latter part of the agreement she submitted that he was not entitled to be paid the remaining £2. The case, which caused much laughter in court, was dismissed. Then the old maid turned to the undertaker and said, “As soon as you perform your part of the contract, I’ll not be behindhand in completing mine.” Wandering beggars, lone creatures who have no one belonging to them, who tramp the countryside for a living, carrying all their worldly goods on their back, are known to stint themselves of food in order to add an odd penny or sixpence, now and then, to the sum of money, kept in a secret hiding-place in their clothing, and intended to pay the expenses of the burial. An old fellow of this class who, feeling ill, sought refuge in a workhouse and died there, had a piece of paper, with his little hoard—the slow accumulations of many a hard year—on which he had written: “This is to bury me. Bury me decent, or I’ll haunt you.” Thus all through life he was providing against what he would have thought the last misfortune and final disgrace—a pauper’s coffin, and a grave in the “yellow hole,” as the workhouse pit is called. Some years ago it was the custom of the poorer classes, when they were unable to afford a coffin, to make the corpse beg for it. The body was laid on a board outside the door on a Sunday with a plate to receive the coppers of the people on their way to Mass. Sometimes imposture was practised. On one occasion a woman placed a sixpence on the plate and began to take up five pennies.
“Arrah, ma’am,”: cried the supposed corpse, “be generous wance in yer life and don’t mind the change.”
Ireland is noted for its big funerals. The whole parish, and sometimes the countryside, turns out to pay the last tribute of respect. It is the rule also in rural districts for strangers who meet with a funeral to turn back and accompany it for some distance at least. “Who is it that’s dead?” they will ask, and when they are told they will add, “Well, well, may the journey thrive with him,” “God rest his soul,” or “Wisha, God be with him, whoever he is.” Burials are so well attended that they have come to convey the idea of the largest possible numbers. A man out for a day’s shooting asked a lad whether he had seen any rabbits on his way. “Yes, sir, whole funerals of them,” was the reply. Comedy often follows closely on the heels of tragedy in all circumstances of life and death in Ireland. At any rate family pride in a large funeral softens bereavement. Condolences take that form on the way to the grave. “If your father could only sit up in his coffin, and see the grand funeral he’s havin’, wouldn’t he be mightily pleased?” “Well, oughtn’t you to be consoled and made proud by so fine a funeral?”
Vanity and ostentation are very prevalent in Ireland, and most so, perhaps, among the poorer classes. It is a point of honour to have a fine funeral. But a funeral is fine by reason of the numbers of unhired cars and unhired mourners attending it. These manifestations of neighbourly sympathy and respect give to funerals in Ireland an unostentatious dignity. There is an entire absence, even in the cities, of that hired ornate ceremonial of the great hearse and horses with plumes, and mutes in tall hats and frock coats and wreaths of flowers, that make burials so extravagantly expensive to the poor in England.
Another reason why, apart from neighbourliness, funerals are so well attended is that they afford opportunities for revisiting family graves. When the coffin is committed to earth and the prayers are said, the mourners disperse through the graveyard, and soon from all quarters are heard the wildest bursts of grief. The rain may be falling pitilessly, and the graveyard engulfed in a dense humid atmosphere. But the wet and the mud are unnoticed, discomforts accepted as a matter of course. Moved by the overpowering impulse of their revived affection and sorrow for those that are no more, the mourners fling themselves prostrate on the ground, passionately kissing the mounds and flagstones, pressing closer and closer to get as near as possible to their long-buried but still darling dead, babbling almost incoherently expressions of the fondest love. Then they sit back on their haunches, and raise the keen, swaying their body to and fro, clapping their hands in time with the rhythm of their lamentations, and weeping the bitterest tears of affliction.
It is a scene in which Irish history, life and character are epitomized: the dust of saints, the ruined abbey, the broken cross; the crowded dead; hemlock, and deadly nightshade; weeping and wailing; the love that always endures; and, casting a tender light over it all, the hope of a glorious resurrection
Mourning Styles for the Society “Gentlemen in Black”
How the Bombazine Band is Worn.
With the death of William Astor one of the first families in the land has retired from social life for a year or more, and it may interest the man of fashion to know how John Jacob Astor, the heir, appears in gentleman’s mourning garb and how the remainder of the family will follow the dictates of society in this regard.
The band of fine bombazine comes within half an inch of the top of Mr. Astor’s high hat, and that, it may be said, is de rigeur. For a year the band will be worn at this height, then it may be worn lower or removed altogether and replaced by the staid black ribbon and bow.
“It is almost impossible in this country,” says an authority, “where there are no hereditary customs, to lay down exact laws, either as to the length of the period during which mourning should be worn or as to the extent to which it should be assumed. There is, however, a certain etiquette of mourning, which, while not as arbitrary as the French code (which declares a widow must don weeds for one year and six weeks exactly), is usually followed in this country, where most of the customs are borrowed from the English. It would be interesting in this connection to know how the arbiter of English fashion, the Prince of Wales, attires himself for the Duke of Clarence. His mourning is, of course, much modified by the exigencies of his position, but it is safe to assert that it is distinguished by that perfection of detail, that faultlessness of selection that shows the perfect gentleman.
“The laws governing the depth of the band on the hat have become mathematically exact, and it is the first article of attire to consider in this connection. For deep mourning for the day of the funeral, for church, for all occasions except business and traveling, the high hat is in style.
“For the widower the band of fine bombazine comes to within one-quarter of an inch from the top. For the father or mother one half an inch from the top. For brother or sister or grown child, three and one-half inches up from the brim, and for an aunt, uncle or collateral relation, three and one-half inches up from the rim.
“The widower, and the man wearing the band for father or mother should wear it unaltered for at least a year; after that period, according to individual taste, it may be lowered.”
The same rule holds good for the band worn for brother or sister, one year being the proper duration of deep mourning. For aunts, uncles, cousins and collateral relations the period varies from three to six months, according got the degree of intimacy and affection existing between the dead and bereaved.
In “complimentary” mourning, a ghastly term used to denote that worn for parents-in-law, the rule is the same as for the closer and truer kinship. The mourning for parents-in-law is, however, purely arbitrary and depends principally upon how much they leave. The bigger the bank account the deeper the mourning, especially for mothers-in-law. Any man, however, who honors his wife will show her deceased parents the same respect he would his own, and nothing could possibly appear in worse taste than to see a woman in all the trappings of woe, while her husband disregards the custom entirely.
For round topped derbys the band for wife and all the closer kinships must be as high as the shape permits. Fr the other ties of kindred it can be a bout half way to the top. The square topped derbys are regulated exactly as the high hats.
In deep mourning the rough cheviots, and any all black goods, but more particularly the rough woolens, are in good taste. There should be no deviation from the rule of all black for one year; after that the band may be lowered and fancy trouserings in gray and black and goods with a mixture of these colors may be adopted.
Beau Brummel was once asked what was the distinguishing characteristic of a gentleman’s attire and he replied: “Good linen, plenty of it, and country washing;” and good linen, plenty of it, and pure white is essential in mourning. Nothing is so suggestive of a cake walk as a black and white shirt and don’t be deluded into considering it mourning. Handkerchiefs should also be pure white; the black bordered affairs, permissible to women, are abominations when carried by men. They are extremes and extremes are always vulgar. The man of taste is a conservative being and oversteps the boundaries in nothing.
For the first year ties should be all black and nowadays the “man in black” has a range of choice both in material and shape. A few years ago only gros grain silk was admissible, and this after a few wearings looked shiny and greasy; now, the soft crepe de chine, china silks and armures are made up in the ever popular four-in-hand and puff shapes, the former being preferable for deep mourning, requiring no pin.
Jewelry, except what is absolutely necessary, is tabooed. A black silk watch guard is better form than a chain, and it is debatable whether the usual plain gold studs and sleeve buttons are better taste than the black ones, whether of onyx or enamel. For a widower there is something incongruous in the glitter of gold, and the black studs and sleeve buttons seem more consistent; but for heaven’s sake don’t wear a black jet or onyx watch chain, they make the gods weep. And, by the way, a velvet collar on the overcoat is not mourning, nor this garment made of brown and blue chinchilla, however dark; neither are black satin ties, nor a brown derby with a band on it, which last eyesore is not infrequent. It would be impossible in the limits of this article to enumerate the various solecisms of fashion even well informed men commit in wearing mourning. Only a few general rules can be given and you do the rest.
It is, however, in the matter of gloves that men err most frequently. Most men hate a black glove, buy a pair for the funeral, wear them till worn out and then buy their favorite color. They must, however, in wearing the deeper grades of mourning, wear only black gloves for one year, or go bare handed, a mechanic like alternative, but far better than to done pumpkin colored dogskins or even brown ones. As fashion, however, is great, so also is she merciful, and at the ned of the year a very dark tan may be permitted, another instance of those unwritten laws which smooth the way of man.
And now having exhausted deep mourning, let me consider what might be called “mitigated grief.”
Under this head also I may consider collateral sorrow, that for all the less near degrees of kindred. After the first year the band may be lowered, and clothes of various black and gray mixtures be worn. Ties of pure white, black and white and vice versa are permissible, but mourning must be left off gradually, so that the re-adoption of colors be most imperceptible. Lavender, heliotrope and gray are allowed in scarfs, though a man’s individual taste may be followed in this respect. What is said of second or half mourning is applicable to “complimentary” mourning—a despicable term, but I know no other. In deep mourning, for three months at the very least, men should attend no theaters, banquets or festivities requiring a dress suit. After that time he may, if he cares to, and should, wear a black tie of dull silk. Satin is never mourning. His jewelry in full dress should be the white enamel so generally worn. Here is something absolutely ghastly in seeing a man arrayed for a function with such grave-like suggestions as black jewelry about him.
The simple and beautifully pathetic mourning of the soldier and sailor, the black band on the coat sleeve, has something infinitely touching about it, and appeals to one’s sense of the fitting more perhaps than the trailing weeds that women wear or the crow like attire of men, but we have not as yet arrived at any such simple solution of the problem of black, and as the etiquette of mourning now stands it should be respected. It is, after all, a matter of sentiment, above all a matter of good feeling. Precise rules are impossible to formulate, and its depth and direction must depend on individual taste. Above all, no man should be judged harshly for any deviation from the custom, even though he might show better taste by conforming to it. Many a sad heart throbs beneath a gay mantle and many a happy one has crape, so to speak, on its door bell; like the pathetic emblem waving at many a door, while the “wakers” make merry within.
The yellow bus crossed Cambridgeheath-road, and pulled up with a jerk in front of the big public-house at the corner. A little group stood on the pavement waiting. The widow was in the middle of it. ‘Enery and Hallice stood grasping the glossy new crape of her dress with one hand. In the other they carried a sugary mass, as they took occasional bites and sucks. Around were three or four sympathising friends whose faces were as red as the widow’s, and who formed the chorus.
They formed quite a party on the top of the bus after they had climbed up the narrow stairway—a process which took so long that the driver delivered two or three vicious slashes on the near side windows, and desired to know whether they thought he was driving Black Maria.
“For shime, young man,” said one of the chorus, “and her so full of trouble. Dessay your old bit o’ crackling wouldn’t be sorry if she was in the same boat.”
The driver grunted something that was inaudible, and the widow pulled out a cotton handkerchief with a black border about two inches deep all round it. But peace was restored when another of the chorus produced a flat bottle, the contents of which caused the driver to gasp as he tilted upwards. And the bus rumbled along City-wards over the cobbles of Bethnal Green-road.
The conductor came up with tickets. He, too, was introduced to the flat bottle, which brought to his face an expression of sympathy worthy of the occasion. ‘Enry took the tickets when they had been punched, and put them in his jacket pocket, after a little difference of opinion with Halice as to their ownership, which was brought to a close by a slap and a shake given impartially to each by the widow, coupled with an inquiry as to whether they; desired to lose their pore mother as well as their father.
“What you’ve got to do is to bear up, and take a little drop of something,” said one of the chorus.
The widow agreed. “Well, they can’t never say as I didn’t put pore ‘Enry away respectably,” she remarked. “The undertaker said he was robbing his wife and kids when he did it for twelve pun fifteen.” “
“And brought out his new ‘erse,” said one of the chorus. “Some them wreafs cost a tidy bit,” she went on, pensively.
The widow threw out a reflection on the character of the boiled leg of pork which had formed part of the funeral baked meats, but the chorus all rushed in to its defence.
“I never eat a better,” said one.
“Well, pore ‘Enry would never have off eating it when we had one a sundays,” said the widow. “Give ‘im that and a bit o’ pease pudden, and he always used to say as he wouldn’t say thenk yer to dine with the King.”
“He seemed a nice young feller, that insurance man,” ventured one of the chorus, who desired to lead up to a discussion as to the amount of the insurance money.
“Well, I oughter a had £150,” said the widow, “but the foreman came round and said, ‘Take £l4, and never mind no lawyers.’”
A glance of intelligence passed over the faces of the chorus, who began to inveigh against the greed of them insurance companies. Then one ventured a remark on the fact that you could do things as they was right to be done on a figger like that.
By this time the bus was threading the traffic across Great Eastern-street, and one of the chorus, who was more of a thought reader in the face than the others, opined that the only thing to do was to bear up.
“‘Ave a few friends in now and then,” she said; “don’t sit alone and mope.”
She was gallantly backed up by the other members of the chorus, and she proceeded to remark on the noise of this part of London, which always does make your head ache.
The chorus agreed. Someone suggested a little drop and rum and peppermint was one of the finest things for a headache caused by street noises. Another remembered that she knew a barmaid at the Cock and Magpie, just out of Norton Folgate, and she hadn’t seen her for a month o’ Sundays.
The bus stopped and the widow got up and made ready to descend. She was reminded that they wasn’t near the bank yet.
“I must have a little something,” was the reply, “or else I shall drop.”
There were murmurs of sympathy, and the whole party descended opposite the turning which led to the Cock and Magpie.
“Pore dear, you must bear up,” were the last words we heard as the conductor rang the bell.
“Be a bit of mopping before the old man’s money is blewed,” he remarked pensively.
The queerest funeral I ever heard of occurred in a neighboring village. It was the child of a very odd couple. The mother of the child was seventeen years old when she was married to a man of almost sixty. He was poor and crippled and prematurely old. It was a strange mating. She was not a refined girl. She had no opportunity to cultivate refinement. Her people were unrefined and illiterate. She went to work at a farm house and there met the man whom she married a year later. He was employed on the farm, so they returned to the farm and resumed their residence there as they had been living previous to their marriage.
Hired help on the farm do not have much spare time, and they soon begin to think that all the world is just as busy as they are, and I suppose it was this idea in the mind of the young mother that suggested the odd funeral for their dead child. The baby lived to be three months old. It never had been well and strong. ‘The father wanted to have a funeral and hearse, but the bereaved mother said it would be expensive; and, besides this, everybody was so busy, it being housecleaning time, that they would not want to knock off; to attend the funeral of such a little [one.]
“But I want our friends to see poor little Jimmy before he is laid away in the cold, dark grave, so we’ll borrow the horse and buggy and go to town and get a little white coffin and we’ll bring it down to the farm and put our dead baby in it, and tomorrow, John, you and I will take Jimmy in the buggy and go around to all our intimate friends and call them to the door to see the corpse. We won’t get out of the buggy at each house, because it is no longer fashionable for the mourning friends to get out of the carriage at the cemetery.”
John agreed to this, so they drove to town and purchased the little coffin, and on the way back they stopped at many houses to notify the friends that their baby was dead. John drove and the wife and mother held the little box on her knee, very often breaking down and weeping bitterly. In her own peculiar way, she felt very badly. Next morning the parents started out for the burial ground near the mother’s old home, six miles away. Had they driven directly to the cemetery and buried the child’s body it would not have, appeared so strange, but it was late in the afternoon by the time they arrived at the burial ground. It was pathetic, yet ridiculously strange and absurd. They would drive up to a friend’s door, and in her peculiar, shrill voice would call out:
“Hello, Misses Jenkins, Mrs., Jenkins! Come here! Oh, there you are–good morning, Mrs. Jenkins! We are going to bury our baby today and we thought you would like to take a last look at dear little Jimmy. We knew you all were so busy and could not take time to come to the funeral, so we brought the funeral to your own door.
“Don’t the little darling look sweet! And just to think that we must lay him in his little grave and never see him again! I thought you would want to see him, just because you were my friend before I was married, and because you have a baby of your own sleeping out under the sod, where the moonbeams fall so silently during the night, and the birds and the sunlight come in the morning, and the snow comes in the winter and hides the place for months, so that we may forget the little body wasting away to dust.”
Then they would drive on to another street and stop in front of a house and call out the inmates to see little Jimmy, and discuss death and bereavement and the coming resurrection and the celestial crown. The father never said a word, but allowed his wife to do all the talking, as she had done all the planning and arranging the funeral. Out in the country a friend induced them to stop and, eat dinner, placing little Jimmy’s body in the parlor. Several of the neighbors hearing of this, sent their children over to look at the dead child, and the mother took much pleasure in showing the corpse, even though a fresh fountain of sorrow opened at each exhibition.
It was late in the afternoon when they drove into the cemetery, where a number of the mother’s old time friends had gathered to await the arrival of the funeral. They had been there several hours, and some had gone home before the arrival of the coffin.
Here the little white box was opened for the last time and the dead, face fondled by the mother’s coarse hand before the coffin closed for all time. Then the sexton lowered the child into the little narrow grave, and the father led the weeping mother from the place.
Some people look upon the affair as ridiculous in the extreme, but it appears so only because it is a new departure, That mother felt just as badly as though the baby had been hauled to the cemetery in a white hearse, and she and her husband rode in a closed carriage. It came as near to being a private funeral as their circumstances would allow, but it will hardly become fashionable.
Jake Haiden [Jacob Huff] “The Philosphy of Jake Haiden” column for the Reading Times and “Faraway Moses” articles in Pennsylvania Grit
On the occasion of a recent visit to London, whilst I was debating with myself over the breakfast things as to how I should spend the day, I received by the post a letter deeply bordered with black, evidently a messenger of affliction. I tore the white weeping willow upon a black background which formed the device upon the seal, and read the contents. It proved to be an intimation from a relative of the sudden death of her brother-in-law, and a request that, under the circumstances of the sudden bereavement of the widow, I should undertake certain sad commissions relative to the articles of mourning required by the family. I at once set out upon my sad errand.
I had no difficulty in finding the maison de deuil to which I had been referred. It met me in the sad habiliments of woe; no vulgar colors glared from the shop windows, no gildings amazed with its festive brightness. The name of the firm scarce presumed to make itself seen in letters of the saddest gray upon a black ground. Here and there heads of white set off the general gloom of the house-front, like the crape piping of a widow’s cap. The very metal window frames and plates had gone into a decorous morning–zinc having taken the place of what we feel, under the circumstances, would have been quite out of the character: brass.
On pushing the plate glass door, it gave way with a hushed and muffled sound, and I was met by a gentlemen of sad expression, who, in the most sympathetic voice, inquired the nature of my want, and, on my explaining myself, directed me to the Inconsolable Grief Department. The interior of the establishment answered exactly to the appearance without. The long passage I had to traverse was paneled in white and black borderings, like so many mourning cards placed on end; and I was rapidly becoming impressed with the deep solemnity of the place, when I caught sight of a neat little figure rolling up some ribbon, who on my inquiring if I had arrived at the Inconsolable Grief Department, replied almost in a tone of gaiety, that that was the half-mourning counter, and that I must proceed further on until I had passed the repository for widow–silk.
Following her directions, I at last reached my destination–a large room draped in black with a hushed atmosphere about it as though somebody was lying invisible there in state. An attendant in sable habiliments, picked out with the inevitable white tie, and with an undertakerish eye and manner, awaited my commands, I produced my written directions. Scanning it critically, he said: “Permit me to inquire, sir, if it is a deceased partner?” I nodded assent. “We take the liberty of asking this distressing question,” he continued, “as we are extremely anxious to keep up the character of our establishment by matching, as it were, the exact shade of affliction. Our paramatta and crapes give satisfaction to the deepest woe. Permit me to show you a new texture of surprising beauty and elegance manufactured specially for this house, and which we call the inconsolable. Quite a novelty in the trade, I do assure you, sir.”
With this he placed a pasteboard box before me full of mourning fabrics.
“Is this it?” I inquired, lifting a lugubrious piece of draping.
“Oh, no!” he replied, “the one you have in your hand was manufactured for last year’s affliction, and was termed, ‘The Stunning Blow Shade.’ It makes up well, however, with our sudden bereavement silk- a leading article–and our distraction trimmings.”
“I fear,” said I, “my commission says nothing about these novelties.”
“Ladies in the country,” he blandly replied, “don’t know of the perfection to which the art of mourning genteelly has been brought! But I will see that your commission is attended to to the letter.”
Giving another glance over the list, he observed; “Oh! I perceive a widow’s cap is mentioned here, I must trouble you, sir, to proceed to the Weeds Department for that article–the first turning to the left.”
Proceeding, as directed, I came to a recess fitted up with a solid phalanx of widow’s caps. I perceived at a glance that they exhausted the whole gamut of grief, from the deepest shade to that tone which is expressive of a pleasing melancholy. The foremost row confronted me with the sad liveries of crapen folds, whilst those behind gradually faded off into light, ethereal tarleton, and one or two of the outsiders were even breaking out into worldly features and flaunting weepers. Forgetting the proprieties of the moment, I inquired of the grave attendant if one of the latter would be suitable.
“Oh! no, sir,” she replied with a slight shade of severity in the tone of her voice; “You may gradually work up to that in a year or two. But any of these,” pointing to the first row of widows’ weeds- -are suitable for the first burst of grief.”
Acquiescing in the propriety of this sliding scale of sorrow, I selected some weeds expressive of the deepest dejections I could find, and having completed my commission, inquired where I could procure for myself some lavender gloves.
“Oh! for those things, sir,” she said, in the voice of Tragedy speaking to Comedy, “you must turn to your right, and you will come to the Complimentary Mourning counter.”
Turning to the right, accordingly, I was surprised, and not a little shocked, to find myself amongst worldly colors. Tender lavender, I had expected; but violet, mauve, and even absolute red, stared me in the face. Thinking I had made a mistake, I was about to retire, when a young lady, in a cheerful tone of voice, inquired if I wanted anything in her department.
“I was looking for the Complimentary Mourning counter,” I replied, “for some gloves; but I fear I am wrong.”
“You are quite right, sir,” she observed. “This is it.”
She saw my eye glance at the cheerful colored silks, and with the instinctive tact of a woman guessed my thoughts in a moment. “Mauve, sir, is very appropriate for the lighter sorrows.”
“But absolute red!” I retorted, pointing to some velvet of that color.
“Is quite admissible when you mourn the departure of a distant relative. But allow me to show you some gloves?” and, suiting the action to the word, she lifted the cover from a tasteful glove box, and displayed a perfect picture of delicate half-tones, indicative of a struggle between the cheerful and the sad. “There is a pleasing melancholy in this shade of gray,” she remarked, indenting slightly each outer knuckle with the soft elastic kid as she measured my hand.
“Can you find lavender?”
“Oh, yes! but the sorrow tint is very slight in that; however, it wears admirably.”
Thus, by degrees, the grief of the establishment died out in tenderest lavender, and I took my departure deeply impressed with the charming improvements which Parisian taste has effected in the plain, old-fashioned style of English mourning.
The Christian Recorder 19 September 1863
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: For more about the Byzantine conventions of Victorian mourning see Mourning Becomes Elective. For a look at a strange garden party at the London home of the Duke of Sutherland, promoting funeral reform and wicker-work coffins, see Wicker Man. The story “Crape” in the neo-Edwardian collection A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales , tells of the revenge exacted from beyond the grave by an aunt determined to be “mourned relentlessly.” For further reading, see Mourning Dress: A Costume and Social History, by Lou Taylor.
See this link for an introduction to The Victorian Book of the Dead, a collection about the popular culture of Victorian mourning, featuring primary-source materials about corpses, crypts, and crape.
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.
Our old friend Truegood, from Nevada, was in Los Angeles a week ago. Noticing his woebegone expression and observing an enormous crape on his hat, we were instant in our inquiries as to the cause of his sadness, when he informed us that his wife had died two weeks ago. We offered our condolence, with as much comforting advice as we could muster, on the loss of the partner of his youth. We had touched a tender chord, for he wiped his streaming eyes with an elegant silk handkerchief and sobbed “such a remarkable coincidence; she died on the anniversary of the death of my previous wife.’ We were surprised, and asked him how long he had been married to the dear departed. ” Six years,” he tearfully said, ” and I had been married only ten years to poor Sarah, her predecessor.” Knowing that our disconsolate friend had a son about thirty years of age, we asked an explanation. He said his oldest son, William, was a son of his first wife, while Mary, who had been married for six years, was a daughter of his second. “The last two wives,” he said, “had left him no children to comfort him in his old age.” Here he broke down and said he would go and see old Mrs. Jones, his mother-in-law by his first wife, who was a sympathetic, motherly old lady, and whose daughter Jennie, his sister-in-law by his first wife, could offer him some consolation. The survivor of four matrimonial engagements walked off, brushing the dust from his English crape, intent on seeking some balm for his connubial distress in the society of his mother-in-law and sister-in-law by his first wife. Truegood is still here, his crape has disappeared, his handkerchief reposes more comfortably in his capacious coat tails, and there is every prospect of mother-in-law No. 1 becoming mother-in-law No. 5, and sister-in-law No. 1 becoming wife the fifth.