Category Archives: Aristocracy

Empress Eugenie and the Scent of Violets: 1880

It is Bastille Day, so Mrs Daffodil will share a strange French tale. Let us preface this story with a few words of historical background.

Napoléon Eugene, the Prince Imperial, son of the exiled French Emperor, Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie, had enlisted in the British Army and, eager to see action, had managed to have himself posted to Zululand to fight in the Anglo-Zulu War. On 1 June 1879, the Prince Imperial was ambushed and killed. His body was returned to England for burial; a funeral was held on 12 July 1879. In 1880, the Empress made a pilgrimage to Zululand, wishing to see where her son fell.

SCENT FROM BEYOND

Of the many stories told of uncanny experiences, that related of the late Empress Eugenie is one of the most amazing.

After her son, the Prince Imperial, was killed in Zululand, the Empress, accompanied by the late Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood, paid a visit to his grave. This spot had been marked by a cairn of stones, but by the date of the visit the jungle had encroached so that even the Zulu guides, who had been among the Prince’s assailants, could not find it.

The Prince had a passion for violet scent; it was the only toilet accessory of the kind he used. Suddenly the Empress became aware of a strong smell of violets. “This is the way,” she cried, and went off on a line of her own.

She tore along, stumbling over dead wood and tussocks, her face beaten by the high grass that parted and closed behind her, until, with a loud cry, she fell upon her knees, crying, “C’est ici!” (It is here). And there, hidden in almost impenetrable brushwood, they found the cairn!

“The Empress told me,” said Sir Evelyn afterwards, “that the first whiff of perfume had been so overwhelming that she thought she was going to faint. But it seemed to drag her along with it; she felt no fatigue, and could have fought her way through the jungle for hours.”

News-Journal [Mansfield OH] 3 July 1921: p. 17

In addition, after the Empress had spent the night in prayer at the site,

Towards morning a strange thing happened. Although there was not a breath of air, the flames of the candles were suddenly deflected, as if someone wished to extinguish them, and I said to him: “Is it indeed you beside me’? Do you wish me to go away’?” Quoted in Featherstone. Captain Carey’s Blunder, pp. 21S-16.

Another version of the story of the scent is related by Dr Ethel Smyth, musician and friend to the Empress.

When these Recollections were first published, much interest was excited by a curious psychic experience of the Empress’s in Zululand, whither she went in 1880 to visit the spot where her son had fallen. When, she told me the story I remembered having heard something about it from Sir Evelyn Wood who was in command of the expedition, but in those days I kept no diary, and certain details had distorted themselves in my mind.

I will therefore collate my version with that given by my friend, Lucien Daudet—one of “les enfants de la maison”—in a Memoir [L’Imperatrice Eugenie, par Lucien Daudet (A. Fayard).] of which, before it finally appeared in book-form, the Empress herself corrected the proofs. She disliked being written about at all, but this particular work gave her great pleasure. And though her weaknesses find no mention here, (“inevitable, but a pity!” as she herself remarked) this is the most faithful and delicate portrait of her in later years that exists.

When, at length, after many days trekking across the veldt, the expedition was nearing the goal, the Empress begged that instead of pressing on they might pitch camp. The first sight of the Zulus in war panoply had produced a terrible impression on her, and she wished to brace herself for the last stage. Since many months it was only with the aid of chloral and by inducing physical fatigue that she could win a little sleep in the 24 hours, and at the close of that long sultry day she slipped out of her tent for her usual solitary walk.

It appears that the Prince had a passion for verveine, that to think of “mon petit gargon” was to think of that scent. Suddenly the air was full of it; so unexpected, so overwhelming was the perfume that the Empress told me she thought she should faint. But it seemed to drag her onwards, and presently, without sensation of fatigue, ever faster and faster, she was following it “comme un chien sur une piste,” passing over rough, broken ground, pushing through thickets, crossing hidden ravines without conscious effort. . . . Then, quite as suddenly, the perfume failed, and with it her strength. She found herself on a hill covered with curious flat stones and knew she could never retrace her path. Presently men sent after her by her alarmed suite appeared and led her back to the camp.

Next day, as they neared the spot where the Prince had fallen, no need to tell her the goal was at hand; she recognized the hill and the stones.

This story is doubly impressive since, as I have said, she was not imaginative, and to all appearance anything but psychic.

Streaks of life, Ethel Smyth, 1922: p. 56-60

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  There are several little inaccuracies in the newspaper story. The site where the Prince fell was not only well-known, but it had been tidied and gravelled over in the manner of an English church-yard. The Empress was distressed by this. She had been hoping to find the site as it was when her son had been cut down. Here is an admirable article describing some of the events of the Empress’s pilgrimage.

While the violets story is inexpressively poignant, Mrs Daffodil has not been able to find it in Sir Evelyn Woods’s several memoirs or in biographies of the Empress herself. And was the Prince’s favourite scent violet, the signature flower of Napoleon Bonaparte, or verbena?

At the start of the Empress’s pilgrimage, her aides had to deal with a odiously intrusive female journalist working for The New York Herald, calling herself “Lady Avonmore,” who claimed to be a dear friend of the Empress and who tried to intercept the Imperial party. One wonders if it was she who created the sensational narrative above for her American readers.

Mrs Daffodil will add one more curious anecdote about the Prince Imperial’s death:

On the day of the surrender of Napoleon III, after the Battle of Sedan, a frightful storm broke over Windsor, and during the tempest a tree which the Emperor had planted in the park, while he and the Empress Eugenie were visiting Queen Victoria in 1855, was struck by lightning. Still half the stricken tree remained standing, but on June 1, 1879, a similar terrific storm broke over and swept the park, and a further lightning stroke completed the destruction of the tree. On this date the Prince Imperial (son and heir of Napoleon III) was killed in action in Zululand.

Noted Prophecies, Predictions, Omens and Legends, The Countess Zalinski, 1917 pp. 97-98

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 Cashmere Shawl: 1840

 

[From the London Journals.]

THE CASHMERE SHAWL

Everybody knows the vast importance which our Parisian belles formerly attached to the possession of a cashmere shawl; and although their value is considerably decreased since the Empress Josephine gave fifteen thousand francs for one, they are still objects of desire to all female hearts; I mean married ones, of course, for the cashmere is rarely worn by a demoiselle, at least until she begins to despair of ever being called Madame. Indeed, these shawls play a very important part in matrimonial arrangements; many a match has been brought about by the lady’s impatience to possess them, and many a ménage has been rendered unhappy by a husband’s obstinate refusal to buy one. I do not, however, recollect any adventure in which the cashmere has played so singular a part as the one I am about to narrate.

Monsieur de M. began some time ago, notwithstanding his large fortune and very handsome person, to be set down by his acquaintance as a decided old bachelor; this opinion might be thought too hastily formed, as he was only thirty-six, had not his mode of living given color to it—for it was well known that he did not spend half his income; and he would certainly have been set down as a miser, had not circumstances revealed that instead of hoarding his riches, he dispensed them in charity, but it was charity without ostentation. He mixed in the world, enjoyed its pleasures with moderation, was generally liked, and when at last determined upon committing matrimony, his proposal for Mademoiselle de V. was warmly received by her widowed mother, a perfect woman of the world, who had for some time had her eye upon him, and spread her net by a skillful exhibition of those qualities in herself and daughter, which, though they were very far from possessing, she knew he would look for in a wife. The bait took, to her great joy; for she almost began to despair of getting a match for Sophie, whose own fortune was too small to entitle her to a good one, and who being all of twenty-four, was fast verging on what we in France consider an old maidenism.

The young lady had played her part so well that, without it at all transgressing the rules of propriety, De M. had reason to believe his proposal would be perfectly agreeable to her before he made it to her mamma; his explicitness on one point was, however, far from pleasing to either lady; that was his intention of devoting the same amount as usual to charitable purposes, in which he had no doubt he should be assisted by his dear Sophie. A few timid words of acquiescence from the young ladies, and an eloquent harangue from mamma on the pleasure it must give her daughter to participate in his benevolent plants, settled the matter to De M.’s great delight.

The preliminaries of the marriage were arranged—De M.’s family jewels, which were really very handsome, were sent to be new mounted, and he requested his belle fiancée to make choice of a cashmere. No task could be more agreeable to the fair one, who showed that her taste was equally elegant and magnificent, for she selected a superb long shawl, bleu turquoise ground, and a border of matchless beauty. Nothing could be handsomer, but unfortunately, there was one objection that the bridegroom elect could not get over—it was double the price he intended to give.

Now here I find myself in a strait. I wish to please all my readers, and if I mention De M’s price, I have no doubt that some of the gentler sex will say, “Oh, now mean!” while several of those in unmentionables will call him an extravagant fellow. In order then to avoid drawing upon my hero the displeasure of any party, I shall avoid specifying the sum, and shall, merely, in justice to him, declare that the price he intended to give, would be considered by the generality of the people as a handsome one. He requested Sophie to make choice of another, and several were shown to her, but she had some decided objection to each; and in spite of the significant looks, and even hints of her mother, she shewed so much ill temper and ill nature, that she fairly frightened away all the little cupids that were dancing about the heart of her intended; in  short, the cashmere was not chosen that morning, and the evening brought not the devoted lover, but a letter, in which he made his adieu in a very decided manner.

We have no trials in France for breach of promise; but I think even in England the ladies would not, all the circumstances of the case considered, have got damages, unless indeed she was allowed to have a female jury. The matter passed off, and De M., perfectly recovered from his love fit, went on his usual quiet way for some time.

One morning he called on an old woman, to whom he had been a constant benefactor for some years, and as he mounted to her dwelling on the fourth story, a lady passed him on the stairs, plainly dressed, and with a black veil down. As he made way for her respectfully, he observed that her figure, though petite, was elegant, and her features, from the slight glimpse he had of them, agreeable. On entering Manette’s apartment, he found her in tears, and a handsome cashmere shawl lying on a chair.

“What is the matter, my poor Manette?” cried he, in a pitying tone. “What are you crying for?”

“Oh, it is nothing, Sir,” said the old woman, wiping her eyes; “there is nothing amiss, indeed.”

“But what are you in tears for?”

“Why I could not help crying while I was telling poor Jeannette’s story to that dear good lady, Madame de ___.”

My readers will easily believe that De M. insisted upon hearing Jeannette’s story, which we shall tell more briefly than Manette did. She was a friend of the old woman, recently left a widow with several small children, reduced by the death of her husband to the greatest distress, she was in danger of perishing for want, when an offer was made her, if she could raise six hundred francs, of going into a business that would support both her and her children creditably. “But,” continued Manette, “where could she raise six hundred francs? Bah! One might as well have asked her a million; and so I said to Madame de__ who found me crying just as Jeannette left me.”

“Don’t say that, Manette,” cried she, “we shall make up the money somehow. I have very little by me now, but I think you could sell this shawl for that, or at any rate for nearly as much, and I will make up the rest,” and before I could say a word, Monsieur, she had thrown off her beautiful shawl, and telling me to do the best I could with it, and to let her know as soon as it was sold, she hurried away just as you came.”

“What an excellent creature!”

“Excellent indeed! I don’t believe there is her equal in the world. Why, Monsieur, though she is young, aye and very pretty and lively too, she thinks of nothing but doing good. You would not believe how sparingly she lives, and how many things she denies herself, that she may have it in her power to assist the unfortunate.”

My readers will not be surprised that De M. bought the shawl, first swearing Manette to secrecy. His next step was to obtain an introduction to Madame de ___, who was still a young and really very petty widow. He declares that he had no other intention of doing so than to form a friendship with a woman of a congenial mind, but—“Friendship with woman is sister to love.”

And so it proved in this case, for within three months the well-assorted pair were united. When he purchased the shawl, it was with the intention of sending it back to her anonymously, but he delayed doing so for some time, lest through it his share of the affair might be discovered, and he lose the pleasure of her acquaintance. When he sent the usual marriage presents, there was no cashmere among them. Whatever the widow thought of the omission, she said nothing about it, but on the very evening before the ceremony was performed, he asked her to choose one, which she did; and this time he had no fault to find with his fiancée on the score of extravagance. The morning after marriage he said to her, as they were seated at breakfast.

“Were you not surprised, chere amie, that you did not sooner receive your cashmere?”

I thought you had forgotten it.”

“No, I delayed out of prudence, that you might not have an opportunity of selling it.”

At these words Amelie’s face became scarlet!

“Dearest! Best beloved!” cried the happy husband, unsealing a packet, and presenting the shawl—“receive again the offering you made to charity; an offering dear and sacred in my eyes, for it has led to a felicity which I despaired of finding—that of a wife whose heart was in perfect unison with my own.”

And so in truth it is, and will I hope remain, notwithstanding that the acquaintance—the female part of it, I mean—of Madame de M. thinks she pays a very bad compliment to her husband’s present; for while his rich cadeau de Noces is seldom seen on her shoulders, she is observed to be excessively fond of a cashmere that she was known to have some time before her second marriage, and which is very inferior to the one De M. presented her with.

The Gloucester [MA] Telegraph 25 December 1841: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The cashmere shawl, indeed, had the power to transform lives. Mrs Daffodil has written before about the plague carried in a cashmere, and how the Empress Josephine’s life was “saved by a shawl.” We have also seen delectable descriptions of the cadeau de Noces of an aristocratic French bride, in which she tells of her delight that her fiancé was thoughtful enough to give a red-ground cashmere to her dear mamma.

Monsieur de M. is to be congratulated on his good sense in making his adieu so decidedly. Mrs Daffodil shudders to think of what perils would have marked his married life: extravagance, recriminations, forged notes, money-lenders, and, perhaps, scandal, divorce, or even murder. One need only examine the ending chapters of Madame Bovary to see what the harvest might have been, had it not been for a cashmere shawl….

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 Bridegroom’s Trousseau: 1909

A stylish Edwardian wedding couple. Note how the bridegroom forms a sober background to the bride’s ensemble.

THE BRIDEGROOM’S TROUSSEAU,

A fashion column for men is now a feature of several of the London papers of high standing, London editors having at long last come to understand that men are just as much concerned about their personal appearance and the minutest sartorial detail as women—a fact which has never been any secret to the latter, by the way.

Edwardian gentleman’s travelling case, 1909 http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22132/lot/144/

Now with regard to the wedding outfit of a fashionable man. In this respect we learn the modern bridegroom is first and foremost an epicure in those little niceties of the toilet generally regarded as of interest to women only. Take for instance his dressing case, many scores of which we are credibly informed are now being sold in the Bond Street shops. They have solid gold fittings, and, some are valued at £2,000, while the cheapest are sold at about £150. A description of the contents of one of these articles de luxe, as given by a writer in the “Daily Mail” is somewhat instructive, especially to those people who imagine that the days of the dandies are over. The case was valued at £1000, and the pure white morroco lining gave to it a distinctly bridal appearance. Every fitting was of gold, very simple in design, and tiny monograms in diamonds were to be set on each of the fittings before being sent to the owner. Among the etceteras of the case are mentioned bottles of cut glass with gold tops, and some of these are for scent and some for cunning liquid to be applied to the bridegroom’s hair and add to its natural glossiness. There are razors that will make his face as smooth as a girl’s, shaving brushes mounted in gold, and a shaving pot with, spirit lamp of gold. There is—speak it softly—a tiny golden case containing another spirit lamp, and (it seems almost treachery to give these secrets away) gold-mounted curling tongs.

These, are for curling the bridegroom’s moustache, or, perhaps, to impart just a little waviness to his locks.

And the instruments of manicure—there are dozens of them! Little golden files to give the smooth roundness to his nails; little gold-mounted polishing pads and little gold boxes to contain pink powder which will make his nails glisten like jewels; little gold scissors, and little gold forceps (even in a path of roses, there are thorns), and. glistening in the centre, the veritable “golden spoon” that we were just going to say these bridegrooms must be born with. This one is merely designed as a measure for medicines. It is but the old-fashioned “doctor’s spoon” of our youth, made of gold to match the other fittings.

After detailing fitted “suit cases” and other little luxuries which the fashionable bridegroom of to-day indulges in, the “Daily Mail” writer adds:—But these things are merely the minor accessories to the modern bridegroom’s toilet. To know what clothes he will consider necessary for his trousseau we must visit one of the fashionable tailors of London, where the name of nearly every well-known man in England is known. Here we can arrive at a fair estimate of the outfit a bridegroom of fashion will obtain.

First come the black coat and fine linen in which he.will be married. No smart bridegroom would be married in a “frock” to-day; the “morning” coat is the only ’possible wear.

It will be “braided,” and will have either one or two buttons. The will be folded, not rolled, very low. Occasionally the coat is made without any buttons on’ the front.  Instead are two buttonholes, and the coat is hold together by a “link” made of two buttons connected by a strong thread.

A “dove-coloured” morning suit waistcoat http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1367170.2

The waistcoat will, be light grey, or dove colour, and will be cut a little lower than, recent fashions have dictated, and the trousers will be grey, not too light, nor yet too dark. Very light trousers, such as were worn not long ago, are now quite impossible.

With the dove-coloured waistcoat a narrow tie of grey, rather dark in shade, will be worn, and, of course, the collar will be of the wing pattern with slightly rounded corners. The actual coat, waistcoat, and trousers will not cost more than eleven guineas.

Next, at least two evening suits will be necessary, and two frock suits will also be required, and most men would order a dozen pairs of trousers at the same time, which cost about two pounds five or two pounds ten shillings a pair.

A dozen lounge suits, one is told, ought to be ordered together, as these can be worn on so many occasions, and they ought to be of every thickness from blue serge to heavy “Harris.”

At least four overcoats should be included in a good trousseau, including one lined with fur, which may cost anything between ten guineas and one thousand guineas.

Since fancy waistcoats are popular again most bridegrooms consider a large selection necessary.

One recently gave an order for one hundred, which included nearly every colour and material known to the tailor’s art. The average order would probably be about one dozen, or perhaps rather less. Quiet greys of various patterns are most popular.

The underclothing of the modern bridegroom is almost entirely of silk, and in this luxury he certainly will not stint himself. Clothes never seem to set well over anything but silk, and in his account for underwear will be almost as large as his tailor’s bill.

Upon handkerchiefs at about thirty shillings a dozen, scarves, and white waistcoats for dress wear, he may, of course, spend anything he chooses; but perhaps enough has been said to show that though the bridegroom’s trousseau is not discussed among friends like the bride’s, its cost often mounts to a figure which shows that it is not only the fashionable woman who is occasionally extravagant.

New Zealand Times 20 March 1909: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This piece is unusually candid about the cost to outfit the well-dressed bridegroom.  Such things were not always thought worthy of mention. The gentlemen were merely expected to appear, correctly costumed, on the wedding morning as a sort of backdrop or foil to the bride—a bridal accessory ranked somewhere on the level of gloves or stockings instead of an essential part of the proceedings.

To be fair, there was also controversy about whether or not it was indiscreet to discuss a bride’s trousseau in the newspapers. While Mrs Daffodil regrets that she could not decipher some of the captions, this cartoon from Punch suggested that what is good for the goose is good for the gander:

The Bridegroom’s Trousseau 1908

THE BRIDEGROOM’S TROUSSEAU: OR, THE NEWEST JOURNALISM

A distressing practice has grown up in the last year or so of publishing photographs of the dresses, hats, veils, etc., comprised in the trousseau of a forthcoming bride, and of showing them worn, for the purposes of photography, by miscellaneous strangers—ladies, we presume, in the employ of the tradespeople. Our artist cannot see why men should not retaliate in kind, except, of course, that very few bridegrooms would consent to tolerate an exhibition of this character.

A Dainty Silk Hat.

Fascinating Going away Suit for the Bridegroom

A Perfect Dream of a Cap for Golf and Countrywear.

Absolutely Blinding Patent-leather Boots for the marriage ceremony.

Bewitching Little Tyrolean Toque

Bewilderingly Beautiful Pyjamas

Punch, Or The London Charivari 16 September 1908: p. 213

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 Eye-Miniature Fad: 1905-1916

Eye miniature with tear, anonymous, c. 1790-1820 Usually the tear is a feature of later revival pieces http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1067812/eye-miniature-unknown/

Of all the odd fads that have reached New York via London, the latest captures the palm. What do you think miladi is presenting her true love with nowadays? A miniature of her beautiful eyes—eye, rather, for only one eye is pictured. The fad is just now raging in London, and a few smart New York women, just over from a season in the world’s metropolis, brought the fad with them. The Duchess of Manchester is one of them….

Now that the fad has hit Gotham inside of a year—the way fashions travel—it should be raging in San Francisco. Of course the photographers will take it up, and eye photos as well as miniatures will be possible. The frames, jeweled or merely of gold or silver, will be another item. If every man cannot write a sonnet to his mistress’ eyebrow, he can at least present her with a photo of his best orb….

Eyebrows are not necessarily a part of the eye miniature, but eyelids and lashes are. Half-closed lids are significant of indulgence and are a great “give-away” in an eye picture. Dark circles under the eyes are by the Parisian demi-mondaines considered a beauty and they cultivate them to make themselves of an effréné [frantic] appearance, but the bud of 20 or less would not like to see her eye miniature with one of these borders.

The white of the eye should be pure and pearly, which in the fashionable devotee of the cigarette it never is. “Pink eyes” and “red eyes” would be tabu to the eye miniaturist. The eye that gives way to grief is never lovely…. The San Francisco [CA] Call 9 April 1905: p. 6

Many distinguished ladies had their eyes “done.”

In the eye miniatures of today the eye is painted life size and the color of the iris, the shade and curl of the eye-lashes, the form of the lid and the shape of the brown, are all indicated. Queen Alexandra, the Princess Henry of Pless, her sister; the Duchess of Westminster and the Countess of Warwick are among the women who have given orders for eye pictures, it is said. The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 14 March 1905: p. 7

Miniature artists found themselves back in fashion:

[The miniature artist] Mr Williams has “an eye for an eye,” so to speak, in a special and most interesting way. That is in his successful introduction, or revival, of the poetic art of painting miniatures of eyes-eyes alone, as if shining out of the sky or the imagination-to be set and worn as jewels on cuff-links, brooches, scarf-pins, in watch-cases, and the like.

Tie-pin with lady’s weeping eye, c. 1900-10, painted during the eye-miniature revival https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/search#/2/collection/43600/tiepin-with-a-miniature-of-a-ladys-eye

It is in line with the pretty conceit of Count Robert de Montesquieu, who gave a series of ‘‘conferences” in New York one season, and in his discourse on “Jewels” led up triumphantly to the demonstration that the most varied, wondrous, and beautiful of all gems or jewels are-eyes.

A famous eye-picture, perhaps the earliest, was that of Mrs. Fitzherbert, the morganatic wife of King George IV, who sat for it to the great Cosway himself, and had the tiny miniature set in a gold bracelet, which the king wore upon his wrist.

The eyes of Mrs. George Gould and those of her daughter Marjorie, painted from life by Alyn Williams, are worn by Mr. Gould on cuff-links. The same artist has done a marvelously expressive miniature of the prom-lidded, yet keen and kindly eye of the late King Edward. This was what probably gave a new start to the fashionable fad.

A truly royal pair of cuff-links. The one at the left has a painted eye of Queen Mary (top) and of King George; the other one shows an eye of Queen Alexandra (top) and of King Edward VII

At a recent miniature-show in London, many paintings of eyes were shown, including some dating back more than a century, to the time of Cosway. One of the most interesting curios in the collection was an exquisite bracelet containing seven diamond-set miniatures depicting the eyes of the seven children, of a Scotch laird. There was also the melting dark eye of the lovely Lady Blessington.

We have no specific record of the prices commanded by the early English miniaturists. Those of their present day successors are decidedly “fancy,” and Alyn Williams undoubtedly heads the list. His uniform price for painting a pair of eyes is two hundred dollars.

Cosmopolitan, Volume 53, 1912: pp. 667-8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  As the commentary on an eye miniature from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection says:

Eye miniatures came into fashion at the end of the 18th century. They seem to have originated in France, and were a curious but brief anomaly in painting in miniature. They represented an extremely intense manifestation of an already emotionally charged art, apparently an attempt to capture ‘the window of the soul’, the supposed reflection of a person’s most intimate thoughts and feelings. Often, as here, the result was a compelling piece of jewellery. But sometimes the result was merely anatomical and unpleasing, or uncanny and disturbing.

Mrs Daffodil concurs that the result is often disturbing. One fancies that the lover’s eye miniature might be a sort of witchery, the all-seeing eye watching the Beloved’s every movement… Not a pleasant thought.

The fad continued through the War and even into the 1930s.

An eye miniature by Emily Drayton Taylor after 18th-century miniaturist Edward Greene Malbone, c. 1930 http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/2904?sortBy=Relevance&ft=eye+miniature&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=11

Since the present war began [miniature artist] Ernest Lloyd has been sojourning in Southern California and has introduced the eye miniature among society folk there. It is the claim of the artists that they paint the eyes because they reveal more than any part of the face. “It is a wonderful thing to know how to read one’s character through the window of one’s soul,” declared Mr. Lloyd.

The eyes of Napoleon and Josephine, herewith reproduced, are the work of Miss Minnie Taylor, a well-known artist in San Francisco. Miss Taylor is such a rare soul herself that she is always seeking to find the soul of those with whom she comes into contact; hence this painting of the eyes has had a special appeal for her. She copied the eyes of the great conqueror and his wife from the originals in the famous Wallace collection in London, the largest collection of miniatures in the world.

When the pictures were first introduced, they were then, as they are now, set in gold and jeweled frames and given to friends as little intimate and secret presents, meant to convey a sweet and delicate sentiment. When the fad shall have reached San Francisco, Miss Taylor’s service doubtless will be in great demand for she probably is the only artist in the city who has made a study of eye miniatures.

California’s Magazine, 1916: p. 184

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 New, Frank Guest Book: 1915

Visitors’ Book The Manor House. Studland 1908 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1255992

A NEW, FRANK GUEST BOOK

One Which Will Prove Helpful to the Hostess and Bring Comfort to Guests

At one of the big country houses a new sort of guest book has been installed and it bids likely to prove a tremendous success. At this place there is a guest house, an annex for the accommodation of guests, and in each of the sleeping rooms therein is a guest book, bound to match the furnishings of the room. One is covered with block printed English chintz, another has a cover of rose brocade, bound on with gilt braid and still another is in black and white printed linen. But the bindings are not the interesting part of the guest books.

At a week-end party a little while ago each guest was requested to make a new use of the guest book. After registering the guest was to make truthful comment on the guest house, and, in fact, the whole house—friendly criticism as well as praise.

Monday morning, before the party broke up, the hostess gathered the books before her on a table, and read out the comments to the guests, and the result was decidedly entertaining.

Here are some of the entries:

“The hot water in the bathroom assigned to me,” wrote the guest, “does not run well. I like the way the windows are shaded so that the early sun doesn’t waken one.”

Another wrote; “Why didn’t you say that my room was pink so that I could have brought pink lingerie and negligee? DO tell me next time what color my room will be. Your maid has a lovely way of wrapping a hot water bottle in blue Canton flannel at the bottom of the bed each night. It is delightful.”

“The south window in my room rattled in the wind, and never did I see anything more comfortable than that little reading stand and light by my bedside,” read another.

And this: “I think the futurist paper in your dining room is awful. I and my lovely new dinner gown swore at it horribly, and I really think neutral-toned walls are far better in the dining room. But your guest house is a dream, and really I’m not cross about that fascinating dining room paper.”

There were other entries, each written frankly. And they were not only interesting to the guests, they were of real help to the hostess. For one thing, she had little wooden pegs made, and placed a box of them in each room so that they could be wedged into rattling windows, and so save sleepless hours. After this she does intend to tell her guests—the women of them—the color of their rooms. A plumber took five minutes to fix the hot water—and but for that entry she might never have known of its slowness and her guests might always have been inconvenienced.

It is a clever idea, this new guest book, far more interesting than the old book that was merely a record of names and dates.

Tulsa [OK] World 24 February 1915: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has known a great many hostesses who kept private “guest books” about the idiosyncracies of her guests: their favourite foods, their preferred amusements, positions on important political questions, sensitive conversational topics, mistresses or lovers du jour—a hundred-and-one helpful and compromising details that a hostess needs to create a delightful country-house stay or a lucrative black-mail.

This hostess is to be commended for inventing, well in advance of Tripadvisor, the candid hotel review. Mrs Daffodil feels, however, that while wooden pegs are a useful stop-gap measure, the truly considerate hostess would look into having the windows replaced.

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.

 

Hearse Horses: 1860-1911

 

Miniature model of a hearse and horses, c. 1865-75 http://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/M990.674.1

It is the week-end of the Royal Windsor Horse-show and Mrs Daffodil has been persuaded by a box of really excellent chocolate cremes to allow Chris Woodyard, the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, to post a guest article on the theme of “hearse horses,” a class which Mrs Daffodil can confidently assert will not be on the programme at Windsor. In view of Prince Phillip’s impending retirement, a Hearse Four-in-Hand event might be seen as lacking in tact.

But enough persiflage. Chris Woodyard is champing at the bit….

Hearse and plumed hearse horses, 1870

In the United States, until the advent of the automobile hearse, hearse horses were a cherished commodity, well-known and sometimes beloved by the communities they served. The acquisition of a new pair of hearse horses was, like the purchase of a new hearse, an important event—something to be puffed in the papers. A smart team of plumed hearse horses was a selling point for any undertaker.

As late as 1911, E.F. Parks, an undertaker in Bryan, Texas, announced the arrival of “our fine team of hearse horses” rhapsodizing: “They are simply beautiful. White with a touch of red about the ears, back and hip. They are full brothers 5 and 6 years old.” Undertaker Parks even ran a contest for several weeks in the local newspaper to name the horses, selecting “Prince” and “Pilot” as the winning names. The Bryan [TX] Eagle 16 March 1911: p. 1

Mexican hearse with six netted horses. 1884

Articles about the acquisition of hearse horses often stressed the animals’ training (which seems to have been primarily about gait and speed), yet there were hundreds of accounts in contemporary newspapers of hearse horses running away or colliding with trees, trains, or telegraph poles, often with grave consequences.

FUNERAL HORROR FRIGHTENED HORSES

The Corpse of a Man Pulled After the Demolished Hearse in a Runaway

Rochester, N.Y., Feb. 24. A ghastly accident occurred at the double funeral of Mr. and Mrs. John Hackett, held near Lyons yesterday afternoon that has deeply shocked that community.

While the first hearse, drawn by a spirited team of blacks, was passing through a deep snow drift the horses became frightened, and, unseating the driver, ran away. The hearse containing the coffin and the remains of Mr. Hackett tipped over and the casket was demolished, throwing out the corpse, which, becoming entangled in the wrecked hearse, was dragged a considerable distance over the bare road and through deep snow drifts. When the terrified team finally broke loose from the wrecked vehicle and its ghastly occupant, the corpse was so badly mangled as to be almost unrecognizable. A driver was sent to look up another casket, which was procured several hours later, after which the funeral procession proceeded to the cemetery, where both bodies were interred in one grave. Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 24 February 1902: p. 4

One undertaker, when he discovered that the hearse horse he had trained could not keep to the required solemn gait, made the best of a bad job and released the horse to a racing career:

There is a son of Del Sur in California that they call “The Los Angeles Del Sur Wonder,” but known, for short, as the “hearse horse.” He was bred by an undertaker, and used for a while hauling the hearse. He was found to be rather faster than was needed to keep at the head of the procession, and being trained, trotted a 2.20 gait and paced in 2.18. Otago Witness, 28 April 1892: p. 27

 

White child’s hearse with driver outside Neil Regan Funeral Home, Scranton, PA c. 1900 http://en.wikipedia.org

An essential part of funeral pageantry, black horses were used for many adult funerals; white horses—or sometimes white ponies—drew the white hearse of the maiden, the child, or the infant. White horses were also used at state funerals:

Last of the Lincoln Hearse Horses.

A local celebrity recently died after a kind, useful life of thirty-eight years, says the Indianapolis Journal. His name was Jesse, and the one act which entitled him to mention was participation in the funeral cortege of the martyred Lincoln. He was the last of the six white horses which drew the hearse containing the honored body along the streets of Indianapolis. His mate in the proud but sorrowful lead of the team died eight years ago. The McCook [NE] Tribune 3 July 1891: p. 8

Since they were so much in the public eye, certain traits made for the most desirable hearse horses. In the United States, this was a suggested standard:

A more popular hearse-horse is coal-black with no white markings, and he must also have a long, flowing tail. Occasionally they are accepted when slightly marked with white, which is less objectionable on the hind feet than in the face or on the front feet….A hearse requires a horse from 15-3 to 16-1 hands high and weighing 1200 to 1250 pounds. Quarterly Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Volume 21, 1909 p. 490 and 512

In England, a matched set of black Drenthe horses from Hanover were employed at royal funerals. For the fashionable society funeral, black Belgian stallions were the ne plus ultra. Some of the cheaper imported stallions lacked the all-important tail-weepers and were provided with false tails:

A queer English custom is that of decorating the black hearse horses with long false black tails. They attract no more notice on a street in Liverpool than do the black nets used in this country to cover the horses. Pierre [SD] Weekly Free Press 16 November 1905: p. 1

The use of nets, as seen in several of the illustrations, seem to have been confined to the Americas. If draped, a European funeral horse would wear a blanket, as we see in these pictures of Russian and Roumanian hearse horses.

Russian hearse with elaborately draped horses, First World War http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205250983

Draped Roumanian hearse horses c. 1920

Rich in detail is this account of the “Black Brigade” of funeral horses in London. I’m particularly amused by the horses being named for current celebrities. It is also fascinating that an influenza epidemic put pressure on the supply of desirable hearse horses.

A sample of the Black Brigade

THE BLACK BRIGADE

A good many of the coal horses are blacks and dark bays, and by some people they are known as ‘the black brigade ‘; but the real black brigade of London’s trade are the horses used for funerals. This funeral business is a strange one in many respects, but, just as the jobmaster is in the background of the every-day working world, so the jobmaster is at the back of the burying world. The ‘funeral furnisher’ is equal to all emergencies on account of the facilities he possesses for hiring to an almost unlimited extent, so long as the death rate is normal. The [funeral] wholesale men, the ‘black masters,’ are always ready to cope with a rate of twenty per thousand —London’s normal is seventeen—but when it rises above that, as it did in the influenza time, the pressure is so great that the ‘blacks’ have to get help from the ‘coloured,’ and the ‘horse of pleasure’ becomes familiar with the cemetery roads.

A hundred years ago there was but one black master in London. He owned all the horses; and there are wonderful stories of the funerals in those days when railways were unknown. The burying of a duke or even a country squire, in the family vault, was then a serious matter, for the body had to be taken the whole distance by road, and the horses were sometimes away for a week or more, and were often worked in relays, much on the same plan as the coach-horses, only that rapid progress through the towns and villages was impossible, for the same reason that no living undertaker dare trot with a tradesman within the limits of the district in which the deceased happens to have been known and respected….

Hearse with Plumes, John Henry Walker, 1850-85 http://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/collection/artifacts/M930.50.7.409

Altogether there are about 700 of these black horses in London. They are all Flemish, and come to us from the flats of Holland and Belgium by way of Rotterdam and Harwich. They are the youngest horses we import, for they reach us when they are rising three years old, and take a year or so before they get into full swing; in fact, they begin work as what we may call the ‘half-timers’ of the London horse-world. When young they cost rather under than over a hundred guineas a pair, but sometimes they get astray among the carriage folk, who pay for them, by mistake of course, about double the money. In about a year or more, when they have got over their sea-sickness and other ailments, and have been trained and acclimatised, they fetch 65£. each; if they do not turn out quite good enough for first-class -work they are cleared out to the second-class men at about twenty-five guineas; if they go to the repository they average 10£; if they go to the knacker’s they average thirty-five shillings, and they generally go there after six years’ work. Most of them are stallions, for Flemish geldings go shabby and brown. They are cheaper now than they were a year or two back, for the ubiquitous American took to buying them in their native land for importation to the States, and thereby sent up the price; but the law of supply and demand came in to check the rise, and some enterprising individual actually took to importing black horses here from the States, and so spoilt the corner.

Three-horse hearse, c. 1895-1898 http://www.historymuseum.ca/collections/artifact/140018/?q=deueil&page_num=2&item_num=2&media_irn=5249990 Canadian Museum of Civilization digitized historical negatives

Here, in the East Road, are about eighty genuine Flemings, housed in capital stables, well built, lofty, light, and well ventilated, all on the ground floor. Over every horse is his name, every horse being named from the celebrity, ancient or modern, most talked about at the time of his purchase, a system which has a somewhat comical side when the horses come to be worked together. Some curious traits of character are revealed among these celebrities as we pay our call at their several stalls. General Booth [founder of the Salvation Army], for instance, is ‘most amiable, and will work with any horse in the stud’; all the Salvationists ‘are doing well,’ except [George Scott] Railton, ‘who is showing too much blood and fire. Last week he had a plume put on his head for the first time, and that upset him.’ [Journalist W.T.]Stead, according to his keeper, is ‘a good horse, a capital horse—showy perhaps, but some people like the showy; he does a lot of work, and fancies he does more than he does. We are trying him with General Booth, but he will soon tire him out, as he has done others. He wouldn’t work with [biologist Thomas Henry] Huxley at any price!’ Curiously enough, Huxley ‘will not work with [physicist John] Tyndall, but gets on capitally with Dr. [philanthropist Thomas John] Barnardo.’ Tyndall, on the other hand, goes well with Dickens,’ but has a decided aversion to Henry Ward Beecher. [Liberal statesman John] Morley works ‘comfortably’ with [Conservative politician & PM Arthur] Balfour, but [Liberal statesman William Vernon] Harcourt and [Irish political leader Michael] Davitt ‘won’t do as a pair anyhow.’ An ideal team seems to consist of [political activist and atheist Charles] Bradlaugh, John Knox, Dr. [Alfred] Adler, and Cardinal [Henry Edward] Manning. But the practice of naming horses after church and chapel dignitaries is being dropped owing to a superstition of the stable. ‘All the horses,’ the horsekeeper says, ‘named after that kind of person go wrong somehow!’ And so we leave Canon [Frederic] Farrar, and Canon [Henry] Liddon, and Dr.[William Morley] Punshon, and John Wesley and other lesser lights, to glance at the empty stalls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now ‘out on a job,’ and meet in turn with [celebrity quack doctor] Sequah and [Louis] Pasteur, [hypnotist Franz Anton] Mesmer and [Electrohomeopathy inventor Cesare] Mattei. Then we find ourselves amid a bewildering mixture of poets, politicians, artists, actors, and musicians.

‘Why don’t you sort them out into stables, and have a poet stable, an artist stable, and so on?’

‘They never would stand quiet. The poets would never agree; and as to the politicians—well, you know what politicians are, and these namesakes of theirs are as like them as two peas!’ And so the horses after they are named have to be changed about until they find fit companions, and then everything goes harmoniously. The stud is worked in sections of four; every man has four horses which he looks after and drives; under him being another man, who drives when the horses go out in pairs instead of in the team.

One would think these horses were big, black retriever dogs, to judge by the liking and understanding which spring up between them and their masters. It is astonishing what a lovable, intelligent animal a horse is when he finds he is understood. According to popular report these Flemish stallions are the most vicious and ill-tempered of brutes; but those who keep them and know them are of the very opposite opinion….

There is an old joke about the costermonger’s donkey who looked so miserable because he had been standing for a week between two hearse horses, and had not got over the depression. The reply to this is that the depression is mutual. The ‘black family’ has always to be alone; if a coloured horse is stood in one of the stalls, the rest of the horses in the stable will at once become miserable and fretful. The experiment has been tried over and over again, and always with the same result; and thus it has come – about that in the black master’s yards, the coloured horses used for ordinary draught work are always in a stable by themselves.

1880 hearse

The funeral horse hardly needs description. The breed has been the same for centuries. He stands about sixteen hands, and weighs between 12 and 13 cwt. The weight behind him is not excessive, for the car does not weigh over 17 cwt., and even with a lead coffin he has the lightest load of any of our draught horses. The worst roads he travels are the hilly ones to Highgate, Finchley, and Norwood. These he knows well and does not appreciate. In a few months he gets to recognise all the cemetery roads ‘like a book,’ and after he is out of the bye streets he wants practically no driving, as he goes by himself, taking all the proper corners and making all the proper pauses. This knowledge of the road has its inconveniences, as it is often difficult to get him past the familiar corner when he is out at exercise. But of late he has had exercise enough at work, and during the influenza epidemic was doing his three and four trips a day, and the funerals had to take place not to suit the convenience of the relatives, but the available horse-power of the undertaker. Six days a week he works, for after a long agitation there are now no London funerals on Sundays, except perhaps those of the Jews, for which the horses have their day’s rest in the week.

To feed such a horse costs perhaps two shillings a day—-it is a trifle under that, over the 700—and his food differs from that of any other London horse. In his native Flanders he is fed a good deal upon slops, soups, mashes, and so forth; and as a Scotsman does best on his oatmeal, so the funeral horse, to keep in condition, must have the rye-bread of his youth. Rye-bread, oats, and hay form his mixture, with perhaps a little clover, but not much, for it would not do to heat him, and beans and such things are absolutely forbidden. Every Saturday he has a mash like other horses, but unlike them his mash consists, not of bran alone, but of bran and linseed in equal quantities. What the linseed is for we know not; it may be, as a Life Guardsman suggested to us, to make his hair glossy, that beautiful silky hair which is at once his pride and the reason of his special employment, and the sign of his delicate, sensitive constitution.

The Horse-world of London, William John Gordon, 1893, pp 139-147

****

We find equally telling detail in this section from an article on unusual professions. Painting over inconvenient white portions of a funeral horse was widely practiced. An 1875 article tells of undertakers “not stinting with paint or black lead.” A lady observer in 1912 wrote about “dyed horses” in Paris funeral processions.

Vista of funeral horses, man painting out a white fetlock.

The last curious industry deals with funeral horses. Mr. Robert Roe, of Kennington Park Road, has imported these stately animals for upwards of twenty-five years. It seems they come from Friesland and Zeeland, and cost from £40 to £70. There must be about nine hundred funeral horses in London. The average undertaker, however, keeps neither horses nor coaches, but hires these from people like Seaward, of Islington. Mr. Seaward keeps a hundred funeral horses, so that a visit to his stables is an interesting experience.

“It is dangerous,” said one of my informants, “to leave a pair of these black stallions outside public-houses, when returning from a funeral; for these animals fight with great ferocity.” Once, at a very small funeral, the coachman lent a hand with the coffin; but, in his absence, the horses ran amuck among the tombstones, which went down like ninepins in all directions.

A white spot takes a large sum off the value of a funeral horse. In the photo one of Mr. Seaward’s men is painting a horse’s white fetlock with a mixture of lampblack and oil. A white star on the forehead may be covered by the animal’s own foretop.

On the right-hand side in the photo. will be seen hanging a horse’s tail. This is sent to the country with a “composite” horse— a Dutch black, not used for the best funeral work, owing to his lack of tail. He is sold to a country jobmaster, with a separate flowing tail, bought in Holland for a shilling or two. In the daytime, the “composite” horse conducts funerals, the tail fastened on with a strap; but at night he discards it, and gaily takes people to and from the theatres.

Worn-out funeral horses, one is horrified to learn, are shipped back to Holland and Belgium, where they are eaten.

The Strand Magazine, Vol. 13, 1897: p. 202

At least, that was the practice in England; Belgian horses were prized in their native country for their tender meat. In the United States, a hearse horse often retired to green pastures, after a long and useful career. This clever hearse horse had a well-deserved tribute paid to him on his retirement.

KEPT UNDERTAKERS BUSY

Horse Always Stopped at Houses Where Crape Hung on Door.

From the New York Press.

Having reached such a degree of zealousness in behalf of his owner’s business interests that he would stop in front of any house on the front of which symbols of mourning were displayed, Dan, for twenty years a faithful horse for Thomas M. O’Brien, an undertaker of Bayonne, N.J., has been retired on a pension. The undertaker made arrangements with a farmer in Orange county to take good care of Dan for the rest of his life, and to give him decent burial when he dies. Dan was shipped away yesterday. Twice when on the way to the railroad station the horse balked, and it was noticed that each time he balked it was in front of a house with crape hanging on the door. It was not until the driver whispered in Dan’s ear that his boss already had the jobs that the intelligent animal consented to move on.

Dan knows the way to and from every cemetery within 20 miles of Bayonne. Some persons even assert that he knows most of the family plots in those cemeteries. More than once the horse placed O’Brien in an exceedingly embarrassing position by stopping with a hearse in front of houses on which mourning was displayed regardless of whether O’Brien had been retained to have charge of the burial.

One of the stipulations entered into between O’Brien and the Orange county farmer is that Dan must not be compelled to do any work. He must have good oats and timothy hay in winter and, added to that, all the grass he can eat in spring, summer, and fall.

“He’s earned his retirement by twenty years of faithful work,” O’Brien said. “If he were a man instead of a horse, he would have been a partner long before this. He was simply indefatigable in hunting for new business.” The Washington [DC] Post 17 January 1909: p. M10

Shrouded horses with hearse, 1858, advertising Undertakers Massey & Yung, San Francisco

The hearse horse might also serve as an equine memento mori as in this elegiac New England article:

THE OLD HEARSE HORSE

Among the long-standing fixtures of our day are the Hearse-man, the venerable Robert Bell, and his scarcely less venerable old Black Horse, which will be twenty years old next months. For fourteen years the same man and the same horse have been in attendance at almost every funeral that has taken place in our city. For nearly two thousand times have they borne to their resting places the old and the young—the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlettered. There can be seen scarcely a more grave sight than these funereal accompaniments. The old horse though lively and active on other occasions, knows the moment a corpse is put into the hearse, and he will scarcely mind the admonition of a whip to change his speed from walking. His master is growing infirm and the horse is nearly blind—a premonition that all must ere long return to the dust. Portsmouth [NH] Journal of Literature and Politics 12 May 1860: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is sure that we are all very grateful to the subfusc author for being so relentlessly informative and are pleased to have learned something new to-day about this department of the Victorian funeral industry.

Mrs Daffodil has noticed an unlikely resemblance between the plume-adorned hearse-horses with their dark burdens and beplumed circus horses drawing brilliantly carved and coloured circus wagons at a stately pace. One idly wonders if an aged circus horse ever retired to a career as a hearse-horse or if a black horse of too cheerful a disposition might run away with the circus.

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.

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.

 

Letters from the Grave: 1850s

 

Romney, George; A Hand Holding a Letter; Kendal Town Council; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-hand-holding-a-letter-143151

The curtain has but recently fallen on a touching drama of society, whose hero’s name I could give you if I chose. Though I suppress the chief actor’s name, the play has naught of fanciful construction, being really a natural series of terrible facts.

The personage in question, who is in the enjoyment of a high social position, a handsome establishment and a large fortune, had, as a consequence of a youthful folly, a natural daughter, whose mother died a few years after her seduction. The seducer, afterwards marrying, had not force of character enough to confess to his young wife the existence of this poor child, and having long confined himself to a mere mercenary care of the latter, he finally neglected her altogether.

The aged mother of this parvenu, being cognizant of the circumstances, was deeply moved by this abandonment, though she herself was barely supported by her snobbish son, in lodgings respectably distant from his own sumptuous hotel. But Madame N—–, the mother, who had in days gone by pinched herself to pay for her son’s education, and having nothing but the little pension she now received from him, nevertheless took all possible care of the forsaken child. And the child grew up to be a fine young girl capable of taking up some occupation. The occupation chosen was art.

Hortense, that was the girl’s name, applied herself to it with all her mind and heart, and struggled bravely against the many difficulties which society stupidly puts in the way of unmarried women in their efforts at self-support. She thus reached her twentieth year, her grandmother her seventy-eighth. While the father of one, the son of the other, gave magnificent balls, delicious dinners, vain fêtes in his rich hotel, the young girl and the old woman suffered the most cruel privations—the requests for a little supplementary aid from the rich man being often left unanswered.

One night the poor old woman died. At the simple funeral which he gave her the son necessarily came into contact with his daughter, and, glad of the chance to persuade himself that she now had a livelihood, departed, leaving her a trifling pecuniary assistance. A few weeks rolled by, and society’s whirlpool engulphed him deeper than ever.

Winter came. He gave a ball one night, and the salons of his hotel were crowded with the fashionables of the court and of the city. The rooms were dazzling with the light, the rich toilets, the French and foreign uniforms, the decorations, the gilded ceilings, the polished mirrors, the everything that could lend a lustre to the scene. The conservatory, lit up by colored lanterns, afforded little mysterious corners, where beautiful and romantic Polish women listened to the whisperings of love. The English ladies present danced with untiring gaiety; the daughters of Italy, listlessly extended on the sofas, kept up their flowery chat; the Parisiennes, with a Frenchwoman’s eye to good things, began to look for the magnificent supper which was to be served by Chevet. The rich man had the world in his salons. He revelled in ostentation and vanity, he was intoxicated with the great names announced at his door, his cup of pride was filled to the brim, and when ministers of state, with waistcoats bedizened with honorary orders, came to shake him by the hand, his delirium was not far from that when Cæsar, at the culmination of unheard-of power, exclaimed, “I feel myself a god.” Our parvenu mentally said, “I feel myself a duke.”

A group of guests had surrounded him, loading him down with praises of his fête as they sipped his delicious sherbets. A great foreign lady complimented him upon the completeness of his conservatory; an ambassador told him that his ball was the thousand and second night. The rich man, crammed with vanity, was fast losing his senses, when suddenly a valet de chambre enters, passes through the aristocratic circle, and presents to his exalted master a large letter on a golden salver.

The rich man, brusquely awakened from his dream, followed into his empyrean of pride, deprived of his aureole of glory, and nettled at being brought down to earth again by so vulgar a matter, exclaimed,

“You stupid rascal, idiot, donkey! could you not choose another time!”

And he pushed away the salver with an angry movement; but as the servant resisted a little, his eyes fell upon the peaceful cause of the disturbance, the letter, and in an instant he turned frightfully pale.

By his half-stifled cry, by the haggard eyes which he could not remove from that mysterious letter, every one about him saw that something extraordinary had occurred.

The guests politely drew aside, whispering to themselves, exchanging looks and words of surprise. Soon our Crœsus found himself alone with the valet in the middle of the salon, and still before his face the obstinately presented letter.

He had recognized in the address the handwriting of his mother, who had been dead eight months!

He seized the letter with a trembling hand and succeeded with difficulty in reaching the adjacent library, where he locked himself in, to the great surprise of his guests, who had followed his movements with wondering eyes. There he fell, rather than sat down on a sofa and looked at this terrible letter, sent him from the grave and bearing the unmistakable trace of a hand long since cold in death.

He summoned up all his strength, excitedly broke the black seal of the letter, and read as follows:

“My son, your daughter is suffering! her ill-requited labor does not suffice to keep want away from her door. In the midst of your opulence remember her. Your mother begs you to do it; your mother who is now looking upon you and knows what is passing in your heart.”

Then followed the signature.

In intense excitement the gentleman rang a bell; a servant answered it.

“Who brought this letter?” he asked.

The lackey replied that it was a young girl poorly clad, who had been nearly run over by the equipage of a Russian count, as it dashed into the courtyard of the hotel.

The host returned to his salon with a pale and troubled face; a cloud had settled over his fête, and his guests saw it without understanding the reason.

He retired early, before the party had broken up, but could not sleep, so strong a hold did the ghostly features of this demand from his dead mother take upon his imagination.

In the morning he sent two hundred francs to the young artist, who, in point of fact, had not money enough to buy bread to eat nor colors to work. What would this miserable sum do to rescue her from such distress? But the gentleman probably thought he had been very generous.

The winter past, he went to Italy.

Months went by, and the circumstance became erased from his mind. One evening at Naples, he had just returned with a brilliant company of tourists from an excursion to an island near by. As he entered his room he discovered on a table a letter bearing the Paris postmark. He opened it carelessly, continuing his chat with his friends. But suddenly he became agitated, turned away and left the room. It was another call from the grave; it was his mother again imploring aid for his child. Finally, several months after, in Paris, at his own house, as he was just stepping into his carriage for a drive in the Bois, another letter was handed him, another appeal, and this time more earnest, more imperious, more solemn than ever before.

He now determined to rid himself at once of the annoyance; he was becoming blasé to the emotion. He went to his lawyer and constituted in favor of Mademoiselle L—–, artiste, a life pension, just sufficient, if not to live on, at least to keep her from starving— exacting at the same time that he should have handed over to him in a lump all the letters which might yet remain in the hands of her who had received this trust so admirably conceived, so terribly made use of!

In fact, as you have, perhaps, all ready divined, the poor old mother dying had foreseen the future miseries of the young girl, for she well understood the character of her precious son. Hence, she had the sublime inspiration of the letters, and, thanks to them, the maiden—that child of love, protected by death—was snatched from a poverty so full of perils to one of her age—her sex, and, above all, her abandonment. 

Frank Leslie’s Weekly.22 October 1859.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  What a pity that the shock occasioned by the letters from beyond the grave was not fatal. His daughter would then have had a claim upon his estate and could have lived happily ever after without repeated calls upon the cold charity of such a heedless father. A life pension “sufficient, if not to live on, at least to keep her from starving,” suggests that he had not learnt anything from the salutary letters. Mrs Daffodil hopes that his mother decided to appear in person, preferably in a state of advanced decomposition in a bloody shroud, a visit which might have proved more effective than writing.

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.