Fiends for a Funeral: 1875

wreath and coffin

That amiable Mrs. Harkins stopped in yesterday as she was on her way home from the funeral. She said the corpse didn’t look a bit natural, and she was almost sorry that she went. Mrs. Harkins makes it a business to attend funerals, and what she says can be relied on. As soon as she hears that any one is likely to die, she pays them a visit, and if death ensues she can get a chance to “sit up with the corpse,” she is there on time, and she never leaves until she has seen the grave filled up.

And Mrs. High is another. She doesn’t take the least interest in the spring styles or neighborhood scandals, but let any one die and she is all attention. She wants to know what they died of; whether they were prepared; whether they mentioned anything about her as they went off; whether they kicked around or died quietly; and if they requested to be buried in white or black. Then she visits the house of mourning. As she enters by the back way she commences to get her mourning look on, and by the time she gets through to the front room one would think she had lost five children at once.

“How very natural—seems as if he was sleeping,” she whispers, as she bends over the dead.

Then she takes off her bonnet and assumes charge of the house, sending word to her family that they must get along without her as best they can until she has performed her duty. And Mrs. Jobkins is another. If any one dies without her having heard that they were likely to go she can’t forgive herself for a month. On the day of the funeral she sends her children away, has Jobkins take his dinner to the shop, and she puts on black and attends. She commences to shed tears when she leaves home, and only ends when she returns. She always secures the best seat in the best hack, is the first one at the grave, remembers all about the sermon, and five years from that day she can tell who cried and who didn’t; whether the corpse looked natural or otherwise; how many carriages were out, and in fact all about it.

Once when I was down with fever the old ghoul heard that I was going to die. She came over on the gallop, and as she sat down by the bed she said to my wife:

“Of course you’ll have a black velvet coffin, trimmed with silver nails, and real lace around the inside.”

Then she wanted to know if I was prepared; if I wanted to request my wife not to marry again; if I had ever cheated anybody and wanted to ask their forgiveness, and she promised me one of the largest funeral processions of the season. She was awfully disappointed when I began to mend, and she said to one of her friends:

“It’s another o’ them cases where he was so wicked he couldn’t die.” 

“Quad’s Odds,”  M. Quad, 1875

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It was a moral imperative that someone must “sit up with” a sick person, or, if things went badly, with the corpse until burial. The busy-body’s questions about being prepared stem from the mediaeval notion of the “good death”: one should have all one’s affairs in order and no regrets. Death-beds seemed to involve a good bit of badgering of the dying. Yet the dying badgered back, sometimes extracting promises that the surviving spouse would not remarry. This might go horribly wrong–a chapter in The Face in the Window called “The Death-Bed Promise: Revenge from Beyond the Grave in Coshocton,” tells the lurid story of an unfaithful woman haunted by her dead husband.  Happily for the literary world (and, one hopes, for his wife) “M. Quad,” survived to write another day. “M. Quad” was the pseudonym of Charles Bertrand Lewis, an extraordinarily inventive journalist with an elastic sense of the truth.

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 will find other stories of funerary enthusiasts in The Victorian Book of the Dead, also available in a Kindle edition.



2 thoughts on “Fiends for a Funeral: 1875

  1. Pingback: A Plucky Little Widow: 1884 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

  2. Pingback: How Mrs Stum Arranged a Funeral: 1875 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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