Love on a Hearse: 1891

LOVE ON A HEARSE

A Breezy Idyll of the West Side of the Big Windy.

From the Chicago Herald.

Everybody on the West Side knows Barney Sullivan. He drives a hearse for a Madison street undertaker. He wears a fuzzy old plug hat and a monkey-fur cape. Barney also takes great pride in his whiskers. They are of a pleasing though rather tyrannical red, and exude only from his chin.

Not long ago Barney met the Widow McGraw, whose husband was killed last summer in the Burlington yards. It was at a wake that Barney became acquainted with the Widow McGraw. Barney was invited to call, which he did, and on leaving it was arranged that they should go buggy-riding Sunday afternoon if the day was fine.

Barney forgot all about engaging a rig until 10 o’clock yesterday morning. He went to several stables on the west side, but could not hire a horse for love or money. There wasn’t a horse or buggy to be had in all Chicago. As a last resort he hitched up a team of cream-colored horses to a white hearse and started for Prairie avenue. In front of where the widow is employed he turned in so close that the wheels of the hearse scraped against the curbstone.

People in the neighborhood went out on the front steps to inquire who was dead. Presently Barney and the widow came out of the house and mounted the driver’s box. They drove in impressive dignity down Drexel boulevard, and then turned the heads of the cream-colored horses toward Jackson Park. Thousands of persons saw the strange vehicle circling around the park, but they didn’t know what to make of it. Barney and the widow paid no attention to the caustic comments made upon them from time to time. They enjoyed the drive as well as they would have done in a landau.

For on the way home it was all planned that the Widow McGraw will soon change her name to Sullivan.

Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 22 March 1891: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil wishes the couple joy, but to be punctilious about a point of etiquette, a white hearse, while no doubt a lovely spectacle, is meant only for the youthful and the previously unmarried, which the Widow McGraw emphatically was not.

There was also a popular superstition that to see a hearse or mourning-coach on one’s wedding day was an ill-omen for the marriage.  Mr Sullivan is fortunate that the lady of his choice not only did not recoil in horror at his choice of vehicle, but took pleasure in the ride and the company, despite the circumstances, hinting at a character of rare flexibility and amiability, and suggesting that their home life will be a happy one.

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 anecdote

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.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead and on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Inconsolable Grief Department – Shopping for Mourning Goods

 

mourning for families Jay's warehouse 1880s
1888 advertisement for Jay’s General Mourning Warehouse, London

FASHIONABLE MOURNING. THE HABILIMENTS OF GRIEF,

FROM A COMMERCIAL POINT OF VIEW.

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 widowsilk.

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.

The piece above appears in The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available in a Kindle edition.

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.

The Charming Widow Worked the Mourning Racket: 1885

Womens mourning ensemble 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 29 August 2021, <https://ma.as/75188&gt;

THE CHARMING WIDOW
How She Worked the Mourning Racket on the Dry Goods Manager.

Burlington Hawkeye

She was pretty and sweet, so much so that the several clerks nearly broke their necks in struggling to see who would be the one to wait on her, but she ignored them all, and, sitting down on a stool, drew from her pocket a handkerchief which she held in readiness for application to her eyes, and sent for the manager. He soon came up to the lady, who, with the handkerchief to one eye, flashed the other brilliant or at his and told her story thusly:


“Mr. B___, Charley, my husband (sob), is dead, and I have no suitable (sniffle) mourning. I came down to see (gulp) if you would trust me for a (sob) mourning outfit” (sniffle). Here the other eye was hid behind the handkerchief, while a kind of cold chill shudder passed over her.

“But, my dear madam, I don’t know you. I would be rather departing from our rules to comply with your request,” replied Mr. B___, politely. “How much of a bill did you wish to buy?”
“I want (sob) everything as nice (sniffle) as I can get (sob)—about two (another sniffle) two hundred dollars, I (sob) guess.”

“I am sorry, but as you are a stranger to me I shall have to decline unless you can furnish security or come recommended by someone know to us.”
“Do you (sob) know Mr. (two sobs) Mr. Richfellow?” (Two sniffles.)

“Yes, madam, I know him. Do you think he would guarantee the payment of the bill?”
“I don’t (sob) want (sniffle)—want you to (sniffle) ask him (sniffle), because I am going (two sniffles) to marry him (sob) when my (sob) mourning has expired.” (Sob.)

“Well, in a case of that kind, of course we will trust you; we can present the bill to him after your marriage.”

“Oh thank you (brightening up), thank you; indeed that will be all right. Now I want a box of black gloves, number six and a half; fourteen yards of cashmere, thirty yards of crape cloth, twelve yards of veiling, two boxes of black silk hose (number eight), and the necessary trimmings. Please fix it up nice. Don’t you think I will look nice in mourning?”
Mr. B___ looked into her eyes, his heart began to jump, and, thinking discretion the better part of valor, he assured her that her order would be filled, and the lady departed smiling. Mr. B__, after the lash of the pretty widow’s eyes, would have filled a thousand dollar order and paid it out of his own pocket. He is bald-headed.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 9 May 1885: p. 11

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead and on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Folding Up the Mourning: 1891

1891 mourning fashions
1891 mourning fashions https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-02f0-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

MARY SPOTTSWOOD, OF ELMIRA.

 People are always interested in the breaking of a record, whether it be that of the steamer time across the Atlantic, or the number of days which a superfluous man can go without food and still continue his superfluity. So it is not strange that when it is announced that an Elmira young woman, twenty-four years old, has just been married for the fifth time, a demand for information concerning her should arise so loud that we cannot ignore it.

Before her marriage, two days ago, with the present incumbent, the lady’s name was Mary Mason. Space will not permit as to give her entire list of names, and thus run back to her maiden name–we can only say that her father was named Spottswood, and as Mary Spottswood she was known to her school-girl friends. She was bright and pretty, and later was well known in Elmira society.

Seven years ago, she contracted the marrying habit and has not yet been able to shake it off. A Tioga man named J. M. Coleman met Mary Spottswood and won her young heart So they were married in June, while the forward roses clambered up the veranda and peeped in the open windows at the redder roses of the cheeks of the bride. She was dressed in some sort of clinging white stuff, while the bridegroom wore the conventional black. Six months of wedded happiness rolled by, when the foolish Coleman stopped behind a vicious horse to look at the scenery. The horse knew the danger and switched his tail warningly, but still Coleman tarried and feasted his eye on the hill and dale. Then the horse kicked, and Mary Coleman put on her first mourning. But she did not wear it long, for mourning seems so out of place for a bride, especially when it is for a former husband.

Samuel Rucker, of Binghamton, came in seven months and claimed her for his own, and again the roses on the veranda envied those in her cheeks. Rucker was a butcher, and strong and healthy, and cautious as to horses, but the smallpox came, and he fell sick of it. His young wife nursed him faithfully, but one day she told the hired girl to go up stairs and to bring down the mourning. Mary Rucker was a widow after five short months of married life. But there was one slight consolation–how slight none may know–the mourning had not had time to go out of fashion.

And the same may be said of her wedding dress, for in a few more months Edwin Ailing, of Buffalo, threw himself at her feet, and hand in hand they went to the altar, while the girl packed away the mourning up stairs and the roses nudged one another in the ribs as they peeped in the window. Ailing lived a year, and it occasioned much quiet talk in the neighborhood. But one day he went into the bar to get a lemon, and a beer keg exploded and blew him through the ceiling. The faithful domestic had the mourning out before the Coroner arrived, for Mary Ailing was a widow. The dresses needed a little changing, owing to the lapse of time, but not much. And for that matter, the wedding dress had to be made over, too, because it was almost a year before Mary married again.

This time the bridegroom was named J. S. Mason, and he was from Brocton, and was a contractor. It is said that the roses did not take the trouble to peep this time, as it was becoming an old story to them, and the minister only looked in a moment and said, “Consider yourselves married,” and hurried away. The life insurance companies withdrew their policies on the life of J. S. Mason, and the honeymoon began. Fourteen months later he fell off scaffold. The fall was fatal He was five miles away from home, but in some mysterious way the hired girl felt that something was going to happen, and when the messenger came she was dusting off the mourning with a whisk broom. A dressmaker came that afternoon and fixed it over a little, putting in those high-top Gothic sleeves, and so forth, and again Mary Mason put it on.

She now announced that she should not marry again. She was still young, only twenty-two. She had always regretted leaving school so soon–she had left a year before her class had graduated–and now that she had seen her four poor, dear husbands in the only place where husbands can really be trusted, she determined to go back to school and finish the course. This she did, graduating with high honors. But after this was over the idea of marriage again occurred to her. Her schoolmates were marrying, why should not she do the same?

Joseph Armstrong, of Philadelphia, came and wooed her, and she consented. Two days ago, she became Mary Armstrong. The minister sent word that it was all right, and that he would call the next day with the certificate. The servant-girl folded up the mourning and put in some tar-camphor to keep away the moths for a few months. The bridegroom’s friends shook hands with him and sadly turned away. He is now busy arranging his business affairs. At the request of the bride he has made his will. She told him that this had been customary in the past, and he complied. New York Tribune.

The Kansas Chief [Troy KS] 2 April 1891: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To paraphrase Mr Oscar Wilde, to lose one husband may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose four husbands looks like carelessness–or worse. Certainly one cannot blame Miss Spottswood. She seems far too young and inexperienced to engineer a skittish horse, smallpox, an exploding beer keg, and a fall from scaffolding. If the four husbands had all succumbed to gastric trouble, one might rightly look askance. One does wonder, however, about the hired girl’s prescient brushing of the mourning clothes and Mrs Armstrong’s request for the “customary” will. Perhaps the best we can say of her is that she is, to use the vernacular, a “hoodoo.”

A feature of interest in this story is the packing away of the lady’s mourning. It is widely believed to-day that Victorians thought that keeping mourning in the house after the expiration of the mourning period was unlucky. The author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, an assiduous researcher into mourning customs, has been looking into the matter and was pleased to find confirmation in this otherwise melancholy story of bereavement that mourning was not always immediately discarded.

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 anecdote

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.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

A Sufficient Degree of Grief: 1854

A Weeping Widow c. 1897
A Weeping Widow c. 1897

ETIQUETTE FOR WIDOWS .— The following humorous hit is from a late novel by Alphonse Karr. We will not answer for its truth; but we will for its humor:

“Those who shall scrupulously observe certain simple and easy practices shall be considered to experience a sufficient degree of grief. Thus it is proper for a widow to mourn her husband a year and six weeks (a man only mourns his wife six months); that is to say, the widow, on the morning of the four hundred and seventy-first day, and the widower on the dawn of the one hundred and eighty-first, awakes in a gay and cheerful mood.

“Grief divides itself into several periods in the case of widows.

“1st period— Despair, six weeks.— This period is known by a black paramatta dress, crape collar and cuffs, and the disappearance of the hair beneath the widow’ s cap.

“2d period— Profound grief. Despondency, six weeks. Profound grief is recognized by the dress, which still continues to be of paramatta, and the despondency which succeeds to despair is symbolized by the white crape collar and cuffs.

“3d period— Grief softened by the consolation of friends, and the hope soon to join the regretted object of her affections in a better world. These melancholy sentiments last six months; they are expressed by a black silk dress; the widow’s cap is still worn.

“4th period— Time heals the wounds of the heart. Providence tempers the east wind to the shorn lamb. Violent attacks of grief only come on at rare intervals. Sometimes the widow seems as though she had forgotten her loss; but all at once a circumstance, apparently indifferent, recalls it, and falls back into grief. Yet she dwells from time to time upon the faults of the beloved; but it is only to contrast them with his dazzling virtues. This period would be tiresome enough for the world at large; therefore it has been decided to express it simply by half mourning.

“5th period.— There is now only a softened melancholy, which will last all her life— i.e. six weeks. This touching and graceful sentiment shows itself by a quiet gray silk dress; the sufferer less feels the loss than the actual deprivation of a husband.

“When the lady loses her husband, it is requisite either to pay her a visit of condolence, or address a letter to her. It is customary in these cases to make use of such language as admits the probability of the greatest possible grief— that of Artemisia, for example. Fontenelle, however, thought proper to send a blank letter to a young friend of his who had lost an old husband, saying he would fill it up three months afterwards. When he did so, he began, ‘Madam, I congratulate you.’ But this is quite contrary to custom. Therefore, when a widow loses an old, avaricious husband, from whom she inherits a large fortune, you ought not the less to entreat her not to give herself up to despair; and take care to look as though you believed it was law and custom alone which prevented her from burying herself with him.”

Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] September 1854

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Paramatta [also spelt Parramatta] was a light-weight mixture of wool and silk or cotton. Alphonse Karr was a French novelist, critic, and editor of Le Figaro. He also founded a satirical journal called Les Guêpes (The Wasps) and coined that useful epigram, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The French set the standard for strictly codified conventions of mourning with their list of requirements for the bereaved and the notion of funeral “classes,” as if death were a railway ticket office. The witty Fontenelle was Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle, 18th-century French essayist, poet, and member of the Academy.

The grief of Queen Artemisia, who so desperately mourned her husband King Mausolus, was proverbial. She built an elaborate tomb for him (hence the term “mausoleum”) and supposedly drank her wine mingled with his ashes. In the face of such violent regret, untacking the crape from one’s gowns and ordering a violet mantle for half-mourning seem frivolously inadequate.

See the “Mourning” category for Mrs Daffodil’s frequent other posts on mourning costumes and customs.  Look also for The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, a book on the popular culture of Victorian mourning and death, telling of subjects such as widow humour; the uses and abuses of crape; edifying deathbeds; and unusual products for correct mourning, as well as stories of ghosts,  strange deaths, and grave errors. Mrs Daffodil fears that the author “wants to make your flesh 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.

 

Mrs Bungay and Undertaker Toombs: 1882

hearses in front of undertaker building

Bungay’s Experiment

By Max Adeler.

Bungay, the real-estate agent over at Pencader, suspected that Mrs. Bungay didn’t care as much for him as she ought to. So one day he went up to the city after leaving word that he would be gone two or three days. While there he arranged with a friend to send a telegram to his wife, at a certain hour, announcing that he had been run over on the railroad and killed. Then Bungay came home, and, slipping into the house unperceived, he secreted himself in the closet in the sitting-room, to await the arrival of the telegram and to see how Mrs. Bungay took it. After a while it came, and he saw the servant-girl give it to his wife. She opened it, and as she read it she gave one little start. Then Bungay saw a smile gradually overspread her features. She ran for the girl, and when the servant came Mrs. Bungay said to her:

“Mary, Mr. Bungay’s been killed. I’ve just got the news. I reckon I’ll have to put on black for him, though I hate to give up my new bonnet for mourning. You just go round to the milliner’s and ask her to fetch me up some of the latest styles of widow’s bonnets, and tie a bunch of crape on the door, and then bring the undertaker here.”

While Mrs. Bungay was waiting she smiled continually, and once or twice she danced around the room, and stood in front of the looking-glass, and Bungay heard her murmur to herself:

“I ain’t such a bad-looking woman, either. wonder what James will think of me?”

“James!” thought Bungay, as his widow took her seat and sang softly, as if she felt particularly happy. “Who’n the thunder’s James? She certainly can’t mean that infamous old undertaker, Toombs? His name’s James, and he’s a widower; but its preposterous to suppose that she cares for him, or is going to prowl after any man for a husband as quick as this.”

While he brooded, in horror, over the thought, Mr. Toombs arrived. The widow said:

“Mr. Toombs, Bungay is dead; run over by a locomotive and chopped all up.”

“Very sorry to hear it, madam; I sympathize with you in your affliction.”

“Thank you; it is pretty sad. But I don’t worry much. Bungay was a poor sort of a man to get along with, and now that he’s gone I’m going to stand it without crying my eyes out. We’ll have to bury him, I s’pose, though?”

“That is the usual thing to do in such cases.”

“Well, I want you to ’tend to it for me. I reckon l the Coroner ’ill have to sit on him first. But when they get through, if you’ll just collect the pieces and shake him into some kind of a bag and pack him into a coffin, I’ll be obliged.”

“Certainly, Mrs. Bungay.  Funeral to occur?”

“Oh, ’most any day. P’rhaps the sooner the better, so’s we can have it over. It’ll save expense, too, by taking less ice. I don’t want to spend much money on it, Mr. Toombs. Rig him up some kind of a cheap coffin, and mark his name on it with a brush, and hurry him with as little fuss as possible. I’ll come along with a couple of friends; and we’ll walk. No carriages. Times are too hard.”

“I will attend to it.”

“And, Mr. Toombs, there is another matter. Mr. Bungay’s life was insured for about twenty thousand dollars, and I want to get it as soon as possible, and when I get it I shall think of marrying again.”

“Indeed, madam!”

“Yes; and can you think of anybody who’ll suit me?”

“I dunno. I might. Twenty thousand you say he left?”

“Twenty thousand; yes. Now, Mr. Toombs, you’ll think me bold, but I only tell the honest truth when I say that I prefer a widower, and a man who is about middle-age, and in some business connected with cemeteries.”

“How would an undertaker suit you?”

“I think very well, if I could find one, I often told Bungay that I wished he was an undertaker.”

“Well, Mrs. Bungay, it’s a little kinder sudden; I haven’t thought much about it; and old Bungay’s hardly got fairly settled in the world of the hereafter; but business is business, and if you must have an undertaker to love you and look after that life insurance money, it appears to me that I am just about that kind of a man. Will you take me?”

“Oh, James! fold me to your bosom!”

James was just about to fold her, when Bungay, white with rage, burst from the closet, and exclaimed:

“Unhand her, villain! Touch that woman and you die! Leave this house at once, or I’ll brain you with the poker! And as for you. Mrs. Bungay, you can pack up your duds and quit. I’ve done with you; I know now that you are a cold-hearted, faithless, abominable wretch! Go, and go at once! I did this to try you, and my eyes are opened.”

“I know you did, and I concluded to pay you in your own coin.”

“That’s too awful thin. It won’t hold water.”

“It’s true anyhow. You told Mr. Magill you were going to do it, and he told me.”

“He did, hey? I’ll bust the head off of him.”

“When you are really dead I will be a good deal more sorry, provided you don’t make such a fool of yourself while you’re alive.”

“You will? You will really be sorry?”

“Of course?”

“And you won’t marry Toombs? Where is that man Toombs? By George, I’ll go for him now! He was mighty hungry for that life insurance money! I’ll step around and kick him at once while I’m mad. We’ll talk this matter over when I come back.”

Then Bungay left to call upon Toombs, and when he returned he dropped the subject. He has drawn up his will so that his wife is cut off with a shilling if she employs Toombs as the undertaker.

The Elocutionist’s Journal. A Repository of the Choicest Standard nad Current Pieces for Readings and Declamations.June 1882: p. 14

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Heartless Wife: 1850

Black silk plaid mourning gown (possibly another gown dyed and with the trimmings removed) c. 1850 https://www.augusta-auction.com/component/auctions/?view=lot&id=4676&auction_file_id=8
Black silk plaid mourning gown (possibly a previously-made gown dyed and with the trimmings removed) c. 1850 https://www.augusta-auction.com/component/auctions/?view=lot&id=4676&auction_file_id=8

Going Into Mourning

A few weeks ago, our friend Clark was lying sick with the bilious fever. The attack was severe, and he believed death was near. One morning he awoke from a short sleep, to hear a hurried and smothered conversation in the adjoining room, in which his wife took part. The first words that Clark caught were uttered by his better-half.

“On that ground,” said she, “I object to mourning!”

“Yes,” replied another, “but the world looks for it—it is fashionable, and one might as well be out of the world as out of the fashion.”

“Here,” thought Clark, “is a nice wife. She thinks I am about to die—to be planted, if I may use the expression, in the cold earth, and yet she refuses to go in mourning for me. Ah, me!”

“Now that I am here, perhaps I had better take your measure.”

“The unfeeling wretch!” exclaimed Clark, “to think of sending for a dressmaker before I am dead! But I’ll cheat her yet! I’ll live in spite!”

“Well,” mused the wife, “I believe you may measure me. I will let you buy the trimming, and let it be as gay as possible.”

“What heartlessness,” groaned Clark. “Woman-like, though. One husband is no sooner dead than they set about entrapping another. I can scarcely credit it.”

“Of course you will have a flounce?”

“Two of them; and as the body is to be plain, I wish you to get wide gimp to trim it.”

“How will you have the sleeves trimmed?”

“With buttons and fringe.”

“Well—well—this beats all,” sighed poor Clark.

“When do you want the dress?” inquired the mantua-maker.

“I must have it in three days. My husband will then be off my hands, and I shall be able to get out!”

“Oh, horrible—horrible!” ejaculated the sick man; “I am only half dead, but this blow will kill me.”

His wife heard him speak, and ran quickly to his bedside. “Did you speak, my dear?” said she, with the voice of an angel.

“I heard it all, madam,” replied Clark.

“All what, my dear?”

“The mourning—gay dresses—fringe—every thing. Oh! Maria—Maria!”

“You rave!”

“Do you take me for a fool?”

“Certainly not, my dear.”

“You expect me to be out of the way in three days, do you?”

“Yes, love; the doctor said you would be well in that time.”

“What means the dress?”

“It is the one you bought me before you were taken sick.”

“But you were speaking of mourning!”

“We were talking of Mrs. Taperly.”

“Oh, is that it?”

“Yes, love. You know she is poor, and her family is large, and it must inconvenience her very much to find mourning for them all. On this ground alone, I oppose it.”

“So—so—that’s it, is it? I thought you were speaking of me, and it distressed me. Let me beg of you to be more careful for the future.”

Clark was out in three days, and he now laughs at the matter, which then appeared so horrible.

The Brooklyn [NY] Daily Eagle 7 May 1850: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One quite understands the gentleman’s distress. Taken in the context of a dying husband, the lady’s remarks would have seemed the height of social depravity, although, to judge from the many jocularities surrounding “Merry Widows” in the papers, such things were not uncommon. And fringe, although popular on early 1850s gowns, was certainly not approved for mourning.

Of course, there was also merit to Mrs Clark’s opposition to the wearing of mourning, although she seems to regard it as the purview of those fortunate enough to be able to afford it. It is true that the practice weighed most heavily on the poor as this Spiritualist publication wrote:

 How sadly out of place, then, are the milliner and the dressmaker, the trying on of dresses and the trimming of bonnets. There is something profane in exciting the vanity of a young girl by fitting a waist, or trying on a hat, when the corpse of a father is lying in an adjoining room. It is a sacrilege to drag the widow forth from her grief to be fitted for a gown, or to select a veil. It is often terribly oppressive to the poor. The widow, left desolate with a half dozen little children, the family means already reduced by the long sickness of the father, must draw on her scanty purse to buy a new wardrobe throughout for herself and her children, throwing away the goodly stock of garments already prepared, when she most likely knows not where she is to get bread for those little ones. Truly may fashion be called a tyrant, when it robs a widow of her last dollar. Surely your sorrow will not be questioned, even if you should not call in the milliner to help display it. Do not in your affliction help uphold a custom which will turn the afflictions of your poorer neighbour to deeper poverty, as well as sorrow. The Spiritual Magazine, Vol. 5, January 1870: p. 28

Mrs Daffodil has previously posted about the sartorial excesses of enthusiastic widows in “The Mourner a la Mode,” “The Mourning Boudoir,” and a cutting dialogue between pieces of mourning stationary over their mistress’s grief or lack thereof.  The latter two pieces and similar stories of the happily bereaved, as well as widow jokes and discussions of funerary excess may be found in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 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 Baby in Mourning: 1889

Baby with mourning bows. http://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+47559
Baby with mourning bows and a black petticoat http://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+47559

A BABY IN MOURNING

TRAPPINGS OF WOE WHICH WERE DECIDEDLY OVERDONE

The wearing of black fabrics, especially of that particularly somber black fabric known as crape, as emblematic of mourning has long been a much-mooted question. Even those who have taken a decided stand against such as would abolish the custom, on the ground that in too many cases it savored of mawkish sentiment, have agreed that its excessive use is revolting. Perhaps a more aggravated case of revolting excess in this direction was never witnessed than that which was necessarily endured by a carful of passengers on a Sixth-avenue L train yesterday.

A woman, whose face was lit up with more than ordinary intelligence, got on the car at Fifty-ninth-street with two children, a girl about four years old and a babe in arms. Under different circumstances the hearts of those who saw this mother must have gone out in kindly sympathy, for she was young and a widow, as was evidenced by the fact that her dress was of the deepest black and her headgear a long crape veil, reaching far below her waist. The three should have formed a most attractive group, for the children were unusually bright and pretty, but it is doubtful if the passengers, judging from the expressions on their faces, ever looked upon a picture that filled them with greater disgust. The mother’s “weeds” should and would have commanded respect, in spite of their superabundance, had it not been for the fact that she advertised her bereavement by arraying her little ones in costumes which, because of the contrast, were even more somber than her own.

The little girl, whose hair was so golden that it seemed as though the sun was streaming through it, had not a touch of color about her, except that which came from her hair and bright blue eyes. Her dress was of black cashmere, with a heavy drapery of crape, and she wore a black hat, also trimmed with crape. Even the little pin that fastened her somber dress at the throat was of jet, and she carried a black-bordered handkerchief. The climax was reached, however, in the clothing of the babe in arms, a swaddling robe of unrelieved black crape, the little head covered with a baby’s cap of the same material. The effect was positively ghastly, and there was a sign of relief when the widow and her two little ones left the car.

New York [NY] Times 5 August 1889: p. 5

A child's mourning bodice, c. 1845-60 http://museums.fivecolleges.edu/detail.php?museum=all&t=objects&type=all&f=&s=mourning&record=11
A child’s mourning bodice, c. 1845-60 http://museums.fivecolleges.edu/detail.php?museum=all&t=objects&type=all&f=&s=mourning&record=11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: How very unkind of the passengers to be “disgusted” by a bereaved lady with two very small children!  To be fair, there was much controversy over whether it was healthy to put children into full mourning. Crape was considered depressing to health and spirits in adults and it was feared that the effects would be magnified in vulnerable, impressionable children and infants. Despite this, it is possible that the widow was pressured by an officious mother-in-law or well-meaning friends to clothe her little ones in black as a mark of respect for their departed father. There was much anxiety among the bereaved about “correct” mourning, Common sense was sometimes sacrificed on the altar of propriety.

A child's mourning dress, c. 1882. It shows signs of being hastily made. http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/50734/
A child’s mourning dress, c. 1882. It shows signs of being hastily made. http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/

No Crape for Children

It is fortunately no longer the custom, as a general thing, to put little children into black, and even when it is done crape is no longer employed, even as trimming, and black cloth coats and hats and black ribbon sashes are the greatest concessions that are made. The St Paul [MO] Daily Globe 13 January 1895: p. 13

A child's black velvet dress. This was a mourning dress for a little boy, Travers Buxton, who wore it on the death of his mother in 1871. http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/658369
A child’s black velvet dress. This was a mourning dress for a little boy, Travers Buxton, who wore it on the death of his mother in 1871. http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/658369

Official Court Mourning: The children all wear black sashes on their white dresses; black gloves, black veils, and black ribbons on their straw or Leghorn hats. La Belle assemblée: or, Bell’s court and fashionable magazine, 1824

A child's half-mourning dress and bolero c. 1850-60 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1362562
A child’s mourning or half-mourning dress and bolero c. 1850-60 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1362562

Young persons, or those who are in mourning for young persons, frequently wear a good deal of white, as for instance, white ribbons, handkerchiefs, and white gloves sewed with black: very young children, only wear white frocks and black ribbons. The Workwoman’s Guide, by A Lady, 1838

Children are, as a rule, dressed in white when they are placed in mourning, as so many people feel that black is out of harmony with their tender years and bright feelings, which can happily be only temporarily damped. Bruce Herald 7 April 1899: p. 6

A shirt for a baby trimmed with black mourning ribbons. https://www.modemuze.nl/collecties/jurk-baby-rouw-van-wit-linnen-batist-met-zwarte-kettingsteek
A shirt for a baby trimmed with black mourning ribbons. https://www.modemuze.nl/collecties/jurk-baby-rouw-van-wit-linnen-batist-met-zwarte-kettingsteek

And then the girl remembered that she had seen a baby downstairs decked out in crape and black ribbons, and she knew that this must be Jacky’s baby sister. How could this mother be so very foolish?  Star 26 January 1901: p. 1

For more details on Victorian mourning see The Victorian Book of the Dead and posts on this blog labeled with the topic “mourning”.

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.

 

The Inconsolable Grief Department – Shopping for Mourning Goods

 

mourning for families Jay's warehouse 1880s
1888 advertisement for Jay’s General Mourning Warehouse, London

FASHIONABLE MOURNING. THE HABILIMENTS OF GRIEF,

FROM A COMMERCIAL POINT OF VIEW.

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 widowsilk.

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.

The piece above appears in The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available in a Kindle edition.

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.

The Old Wife’s Kiss: 1883

elderly man in white post mortem
Elderly man in white. c. 1840-60 https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/post-mortem/pQGZAGorRZtlZw

THE OLD WIFE’S KISS.

The funeral services were ended; and as the voice of prayer ceased, tears were hastily wiped from wet cheeks, and long-drawn sighs relieved suppressed and choking sobs, as the mourners prepared to take leave of the corpse. It was an old man who lay there, robed for the grave. More than three-score years had whitened those locks, and furrowed that brow, and made those stiff limbs weary of life’s journey, and the more willing to be at rest where weariness is no longer a burden.

The aged have few to weep for them when they die. The most of those who would have mourned their loss have gone to the grave before them; harps that would have sighed sad harmonies are shattered and gone; and the few that remain are looking cradleward, rather than to life’s closing goal; are bound to and living in the generation rising, more than in the generation departing. Youth and beauty have many admirers while living,—have many mourners when dying,—and many tearful ones bend over their coffined clay, many sad hearts follow in their funeral train! but age has few admirers, few mourners.

This was an old man, and the circle of mourners was small: two children, who had themselves passed the middle of life, and who had children of their own to care for and be cared for by them. Beside these, and a few friends who had seen and visited him while he was sick, and possibly had known him for a few years, there were none others to shed a tear, except his old wife; and of this small company, the old wife seemed to be the only heart-mourner. It is respectful for his friends to be sad a few moments, till the service is performed and the hearse is out of sight. It is very proper and suitable for children, who have outgrown the fervency and affection of youth, to shed tears when an aged parent says farewell, and lies down to quiet slumber. Some regrets, some recollection of the past, some transitory griefs, and the pangs are over.

The old wife arose with difficulty from her seat, and went to the coffin to look her last look—to take her last farewell. Through the fast falling tears she gazed long and fondly down into the pale, unconscious face. What did she see there? Others saw nothing but the rigid features of the dead; she saw more. In every wrinkle of that brow she read the history of years; from youth to manhood, from manhood to old age, in joy and sorrow, in sickness and health, it was all there; when those children, who had not quite outgrown the sympathies of childhood, were infants lying on her bosom, and every year since then—there it was. To others those dull, mute monitors were unintelligible; to her they were the alphabet of the heart, familiar as household words.

Then the future: “What will become of me? What shall I do now?” She did not say so, but she felt it. The prospect of the old wife is clouded; the home circle is broken, never to be reunited; the visions of the hearthstone are scattered forever. Up to that hour there was a home to which the heart always turned with fondness. That magic is now sundered, the key-stone of that sacred arch has fallen, and home is nowhere this side of heaven! Shall she gather up the scattered fragments of the broken arch, make them her temple and her shrine, sit down in her chill solitude beside its expiring fires, and die? What shall she do now?

They gently crowded her away from the dead, and the undertaker came forward, with the coffin-lid in his hand. It is all right and proper, of course, it must be done; but to the heart-mourner it brings a kind of shudder, a thrill of agony. The undertaker stood for a moment, with a decent propriety, not wishing to manifest rude haste, but evidently desirous of being as expeditious as possible. Just as he was about to close the coffin, the old wife turned back, and stooping down, imprinted one long, last kiss upon the cold lips of her dead husband, then staggered to her seat, buried her face in her hands, and the closing coffin hid him from her sight forever!

That kiss! fond token of affection, and of sorrow, and memory, and farewell! I have seen many kiss their dead, many such seals of love upon clay-cold lips, but never did I see one so purely sad, so simply heart-touching and hopeless as that. Or, if it had hope, it was that which looks beyond coffins, and charnel-houses, and damp, dark tombs, to the joys of the home above. You would kiss the cold cheek of infancy; there is poetry; it is beauty hushed; there is romance there, for the faded flower is still beautiful. In childhood the heart yields to the stroke of sorrow, but recoils again with elastic faith, buoyant with hope; but here was no beauty, no poetry, no romance.

The heart of the old wife was like the weary swimmer, whose strength has often raised him above the stormy waves, but now, exhausted, sinks amid the surges. The temple of her earthly hopes had fallen, and what was there left for her but to sit down in despondency, among its lonely ruins, and weep and die! or, in the spirit of a better hope, await the dawning of another day, when a Hand divine shall gather its sacred dust, and rebuild for immortality its broken walls!

Gems for the Fireside, Otis Henry Tiffany, 1883: pp 244-246

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.