The Dart of Death: c. 1880s

dart of death

Lady Waterford said, ‘Now I must tell you the story. Somers came to Highcliffe this year. I like having Somers for a cousin, he is always so kind and pleasant, and tells me so many things that are interesting. I felt it particularly this year, for he was suffering so much from a piece of the railroad that had got into his eye and he was in great pain, but he was just as pleasant as ever. “Oh, love has sore eyes,” he said, but he would talk. The next day he insisted on going off to Lymington to see Lord Warwick, who was there, and who had been ill; and it was an immense drive, and when he came back, he did not come down, and Pattinson said, “Lord Somers is come back, but he is suffering so much pain from his eyes that he will not be able to have any dinner.” So I went up to sit with him. He was suffering great pain, and I wanted him not to talk, but he said, “Oh, no; I have got a story quite on my mind, and I really must tell you.” And he said that when he got to Lymington, he found Lord Warwick ill in bed, and he said, “I am so glad to see you, for I want to tell you such an odd thing that has happened to me. Last night I was in bed and the room was quite dark (this old-fashioned room of the inn at Lymington which you now see). Suddenly at the foot of the bed there appeared a great light, and in the midst of the light the figure of Death just as it is seen in the Dance of Death and other old pictures – a ghastly skeleton with a scythe and a dart: and Death balanced the dart, and it flew past me, just above my shoulder, close to my head, and it seemed to go into the wall; and then the light went out and the figure vanished. I was as wide awake then as I am now, for I pinched myself hard to see, and I lay awake for a long time, but a last I fell asleep. When my servant came to call me in the morning, he had a very scared expression of face, and he said, ‘A dreadful thing has happened in the night, and the whole household of the inn is in the greatest confusion and grief, for the landlady’s daughter, who slept in the next room, and the head of whose bed is against the wall against which your head now rests, has been found dead in her bed.’

The Story of My Life, Augustus Hare

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Hare, in a footnote, says that he heard the story again from Lord Warwick himself. This was George Guy Greville, 4th Earl of Warwick [1818-1893]. Somers was Charles, 3rd Earl of Somers [1819-1883]. He was married to a sister of the well-known photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron.

Mrs Daffodil’s readers might be interested to know that the illustration is entitled “Death in the Woolpack.”  Anthrax, also known as “Woolsorters’ Disease,” was a dire occupational hazard of that profession. See this fine article on “Le Maladie de Bradford,” for more on the subject.

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 Dart of Death anecdote is found in Chris Woodyard’s, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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