Category Archives: History 1800-1837

Rings that are Fatal: Various Dates

RINGS THAT ARE FATAL.

Amazing Stories New and Old.

“A learned German physician,” says a well-known writer upon jewels, “has given an instance in which the devil of his own accord enclosed himself in a ring as a familiar, thereby proving how dangerous it is to trifle with him.”

The Germans are all learned, as we know, and I should not like to dispute a statement so admirable. Finger-rings henceforth should have a new interest for as. The idea that the devil is bottled up in one may not be pleasant to entertain but then we have the German’s word for it, and Germans know everything.

If I do not feel inclined, however, to enter upon such a controversy, as is here suggested, none the less do I, as a jeweller, realise the potency of the superstitions connected with precious stones. Until the last two years, the opal— most beautiful, most lustrous, most wonderful of gems was almost a drug in the popular market. As well might you have sent a woman a letter edged with black to congratulate her upon her marriage as an opal for her wedding present. The prejudice arose, of course, from the old superstition that the opal is fatal to love, and that it sows discord between the giver and the receiver unless the wearer, happily, was born in October. In the latter case the stone becomes an emblem of hope and will bring luck to the wearer.

But, I hear you ask, is all this serious? Are you not rather joking, or speaking of the few and not of the many? I answer that I am as serious as ever I was in my life. Not only did we find it almost an impossibility five years ago to sell an opal at all, but the few women courageous enough to wear them in society contributed in the end to their unpopularity. I remember well a leader of fashion who for 12 months was conspicuous everywhere for the magnificence of the opals she wore, both upon her arms and her fingers. One day she came into my shop and bought an opal ring of immense size and singular magnificence.

“I am determined to kill this superstition,” she said, “and I am buying this ring because I am sure it will bring me luck.”

“I hope it will,” said I, “and if it should do so I trust that you will speak of it. The opal is sadly in need of a good word. I feel sure that nobody can speak that word to greater advantage than yourself.”

She promised that she would; and during the next three months she was loud in her conviction that the opal had been the best friend she had ever bought. Her husband doubled his fortune in that time. Her son obtained conspicuous honours at Cambridge. She backed the favourite for the Derby and he won. It really looked, even to the man of no superstitions, as though a freshet of fortune had flowed for her since the day she bought the ring.

Alas! how soon her hopes were to be shattered. Two months after her horse won the Derby her husband was in the bankruptcy court, a victim in a high degree of the Liberator [a famous race horse.]

It would be absurd and ridiculous, of course, for any sane man to regard the case as a post hoc ergo propter hoc. The event was a pure coincidence; yet nothing in this world would induce the lady in question to regard that ring otherwise than as a fatal one. We may say what we like, but once a woman has dubbed this or that lucky or unlucky, the homilies of a thousand bishops would not change her opinion. Witness that remarkable story told in the “Lives of the Lindsays,” in which we are shown how the Earl of Balcarres, forgetting on the morning of his wedding his appointment to marry the grand daughter of the Prince of Oxaxute, went hurriedly to church at the last moment without the all-necessary ring. This, of course, was a sad position for anybody to be in, and the young man appealed pathetically to the company to know if the deficiency could not be made good. Happily, or rather most unhappily, the best man standing at his side suddenly remembered that he had a ring in his pocket, and he slipped it into the earl’s hand just as the service began. Was it not a strange thing that this should have been a mourning ring, and that, when the happy bride ventured to look down upon her finger, she saw a skull and crossbones grinning at her? So great was her distress that she fainted in the church and when she came to she declared that it was an omen of death, and that she would not live through the year. And did she? the matter-of-fact man asks expectantly. Alas! twelve months were not numbered before Lady Balcarres was in her grave!

byron's mother's wedding ring Newstead Abbey

Byron’s mother’s wedding ring, Newstead Abbey

It is necessary at this point to tell you a story with a happier ending, lest the superstitious man should have it all his own way. It is said of Lord Byron that he was about to sit down to dinner one day when a gardener presented him with his mother’s wedding ring, which the man had just dug up in the garden before a wing of the house. Byron was at that time expectantly awaiting a letter from Miss Millbanke a letter which was to contain an answer to his proposal of marriage. When he saw the ring which the gardener brought him, he fell into a fit of deep gloom, regarding it as a sign of woeful omen but scarce had this depression come upon him when a servant entered with a letter from the lady. She accepted the poet.

There is another story told by the late Professor de Morgan I think it appeared in “Notes and Queries” which relates an instance of a page who fled to America simply because he lost a ring which he was carrying to the jeweller. The stone was an opal, if I remember rightly. The lights of it had so impressed the lad when he saw it upon his mistress’s finger that he stopped upon the plank bridge crossing the stream in his town, and took the jewel out of the box to admire it. But his fingers were clumsy, and in his attempt to try the ring on he let it slip into the river. Two years after in America he told the story, and related how that the ring had driven him to the condition of a miserable serf in the plantations. He did not know then that his condition was soon to be changed, and that diligence and hard work were to carry him to such a position of affluence that at the end of 20 years he returned to this country and to his native town. On the night of his arrival be went with a friend. to the old bridge, and recalled his misfortune there.

“It was in that very spot,” said he, thrusting his stick into the soft mud of the river, “that I dropped the ring.”

“But look!” cried the friend, “you have a ring upon the end of your stick!”

Sure enough, incredible though it may sound, the very ring he had dropped into the river 20 years before was now upon the end of the muddy stick.

Some people may be inclined to take this story with a grain of salt. Personally I am willing to think that Professor de Morgan and “Notes and Queries” would not have fathered upon us a mere bundle of lies. For the matter of that, there are cases as marvellous of the recovery of rings in nearly every town in England. At Brechin they will tell you of a Mrs Mountjoy who, when feeding a calf, let it suck her fingers, and with them a ring she wore. When this animal was slaughtered three years after, the ring was found in its intestine.

In the year 1871 a German farmer, who had been making flour balls for his cattle, missed his dead wife’s ring which he had been wearing upon his little finger. He made a great search for the treasure, holding the ring in some way necessary to his prosperity; but although he turned the house upside down, he never found it.

Seven or eight months after, this farmer shipped a number of bullocks upon the Adler cattle ship. The Adler came to port all right, but one of the bullocks had died during the voyage and been thrown overboard. Strangely enough, the carcase floated upon the sea, and was picked up by an English smack— the Mary Ann, of Colchester— the crew of which cut open the body to obtain some grease for the rigging. Did we not know that every line of this story had been authenticated, we should laugh when it is added that the farmer’s ring was found in the stomach of the derelict bullock and duly restored to its owner through the German Consul.

Here are stories of luck if you like. I will give you one also of luck which has never been told except to me and to the members of the household in which the strange occurrence took place. A lady, whose husband was a bank manager, purchased at my house some six years ago a singularly fine turquoise ring. She came to me at the end of two years and declared that the jewel in question had completely lost its colour. I saw that this was so, and told her there was no secret about the matter, but that she had washed her hands with the ring upon her finger, The turquoise, as all the world knows, should never be dipped in water. Some of the finest stones will stand the treatment, but in the majority of cases it is fatal. You would think that this was not a case for any superstitious fears, but my client was sadly troubled from the start at the omen of the ring; nor could my assurances comfort her. And oddly enough, within three months of the date of her visit to me her husband was in difficulties and had fled to America.

But this is not the end of the story of the turquoise. I had, previous to this calamity, set a new stone in the place of the old, and this jewel, being properly treated, kept its colour very well. Yet, as though that ring must prove fatal to all who wore it, it was the instrument of the capture of the lady’s husband, and of the term of imprisonment which followed on his arrest. The thing worked out in this way. For two years the fugitive remained abroad, but with that love of country which sometimes will prevail above reason, the unfortunate man returned here at last, and lay in hiding at the house which his wife had taken near Reading.

This was a rambling old place, with a decaying wing, very convenient for hiding a man. One morning the servants, who were not in the secret, found a turquoise upon the floor of a bedroom in this side of the house. As they had reason to believe that no one except themselves had been in the place for some years, they carried the ring to their mistress as a wonderful and amazing discovery. She, in her feverish desire to protect her husband, made up some cock-and-bull story which did not satisfy them. Although they had promised absolute secrecy, they made haste to tell the story in the village, where by a colossal misfortune the detective who was watching the case was even then staying. Needless to say how he pricked up his ears at the information; arguing rightly that where a ring was there a man or woman must have been. Three days later he arrested the defaulter, who had been hidden in the house all the time and had dropped the ring upon the floor of the bedroom. He had worn it on his little finger as a memento of his wife when he fled from the country, but it proved a fatal ring to him and to her.

It is scarcely within the scope of this article to write upon that vast branch of this subject which would properly come under the heading of poisoned rings. There was a story told in the French newspapers at no distant date of a man who bought an old ring in a shop in the Rue St. Honore, He was much interested in this, and was examining it closely, when he chanced to give himself a slight scratch in the hand with the edge of the ring. So slight was it that he scarce noticed it, and continued in conversation with the dealer, until of a sudden he was taken with violent pains in his body and fell in a fit upon the floor of the shop. The doctor who was summoned discovered every trace of mineral poison, and administered an antidote–happily with success, though the man suffered severely for several hours, and was at one time upon the very point of death. There is no doubt whatever that he had purchased what is called a “death ring,” a common weapon of assassination in the sixteenth century, and still to be found in the byways of Italy. The ring in question was made in the shape of two tiny lions’ claws, the nails being minute tubes from which the poison was ejected into the body. A man bearing a grudge against another would contrive to send him such a ring as a present and he would so manage it that he would meet the unlucky wearer very shortly after the present was received. It was the easiest thing in the world to give the victim a hearty shake of the hand, so squeezing the sharp claws into the flesh and administering a dose of the poison. And so skilled were the men in the manufacture of these rings that the day was rare when the victim of one lived even 10 minutes after he had received this death grip.

Otago [NZ] Witness 15 October 1896: p. 50

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has written before on those useful poisoned diamond rings with little spikes and a cursed ring formerly the property of the Spanish royal family. Various royal personages have also possessed “lucky” and “unlucky” rings as magical talismans.

Mrs Daffodil cannot accede to the author’s suggestion that Byron’s proposal to Anne Isabella Milbanke was a story with a “happier ending.”  The ill-matched couple separated shortly after their one-year anniversary and may have never seen each other again before Byron’s death in Greece in 1824.

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.

An Independence Day Toast: early 1800s

 

lady with firecrackes

A pleasant retort was that once given by Admiral Marsden many years ago at a dinner in Malta. It was given on the Fourth of July by him to the American officers on a man-of-war, and all the English officers in the harbor were guests. They were no better bred than many Englishmen of that day, for when the regular toast, “The day we celebrate,” was read, they set down their glasses untasted. The venerable host added, gently:

“The day, gentlemen, when England celebrates the coming of age of her eldest daughter.”

Every face cleared, and the toast was drunk with hearty cheers.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 1 July 1915

Mrs Daffodil wishes all residents of “England’s eldest daughter” a delightful holiday week-end and more presence of mind in the handling of pyrotechnics than the lady on the cover of Harper’s. Mrs Daffodil will be taking a brief holiday as the Family is off to The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club for a spot of tennis-viewing.

For images of vintage patriotic tableaux from Independence Day, 1918, please see Mrs Daffodil’s previous post.

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 Spectre Wedding: 1820s

the oracle 1919 ghosts

THE SPECTRE WEDDING.

Mr. Martin Dupont was a Justice of the Peace in the little town of Marlburg. He had been elected to the office at the close of the war of 1812, and had acted in his present capacity for nearly nine years. Men of Mr. Dupont’s type were very common in those days, and even now one does not have to search far to find one of these self-complacent, pompous gentlemen, who delight in winning admiration from their associates, who always have at their tongue’s end a great many stories in which they played the leading part, but who are, nevertheless, very superstitious, so much so, indeed, that a glimpse of the moon over the left shoulder, or a howling dog, has power to make them melancholy for a week.

Having failed to secure for himself as large a share of this world’s goods as he had wished, Mr. Dupont was fully resolved that his two children, Henry and Margaret, should not be lacking in wealth. As for his son, he very wisely concluded that a good education, added to his natural abilities, would secure for him a place in the world: and already Henry was showing the wisdom of the plan, and by his rapid advancement in business was more than fulfilling his father’s expectations. It had always been Mr. Dupont’s desire that his daughter should marry some rich man, but Margaret had fallen in love, very foolishly, according to her father’s idea, with the principal of the Marlburg High School.

Charles Foster had several times pleaded his suit in vain before Mr. Dupont. There was no fault in the young man, Mr. Dupont rather grudgingly admitted, except that all he had to depend upon was his salary, but still no man should presume to become his son-in-law who had not money enough to support his daughter in better style than that in which she was then living, He liked the school teacher very well as a friend, but as a son-in-law that was quite another matter.

Nevertheless Charles and Margaret did not despair of their cause, although Mr. Dupont was seemingly immovable. The thought of an elopement was banished by them both as being dishonorable, and as no other plan seemed practicable, they very wisely resolved to wait until some kind fate should come to their aid. This, then, was the condition of affairs when our story begins.

Mr. Dupont’s duties as Justice of the Peace did not confine his law practice to Marlburg, but very frequently he was called away to attend various lawsuits in neighboring towns and hamlets, and it so happened that at this particular time he was engaged in a case of some considerable importance in an adjoining town. On account of the nearness of the place, it was Mr. Dupont’s custom to drive his own horse back and forth and to spend his nights at home.

One night, on account of an unusual press of business, he was obliged to remain beyond his ordinary time of leaving, and after the work was completed he yielded to the urgent invitation of his client to chat for a few moments. As they puffed away at the choice Havanas, they began to tell each other of curious exciting adventures and wonderful experiences. Time slipped away so rapidly that it was after 10 o’clock before Mr. Dupont suddenly remembered that a seven-mile drive lay between him and his home. Hastily bidding his friend good-by, he started for the hotel stable to get his horse.

The weather had changed while the two gentlemen had been chatting, and now the ominous stillness and the cloudy sky admonished Mr. Dupont that, if he wished to get home before the rain began to fall, he must hasten. Hastily throwing a quarter to the sleepy hostler, he sprang into his buggy and set out on his homeward way.

The road home was a lonely one; houses were few and far between, and a few miles out of Marlburg some lonely woods lined the road on either side, and adjoining the woods was a graveyard. As Mr. Dupont drove on into the darkness he began to become nervous, the weird stories that he had just been hearing kept flashing through his mind, a great many wrong deeds of his life came before him, magnified by the darkness and solitude, and among other things he began to wonder if he was doing just right in refusing his consent to his daughter’s marriage. In this frame of mind he approached the woods; involuntarily he tried to quicken his horse’s pace, but the darkness and the low murmurings of thunder seemed to have affected the horse too, and the sagacious brute tried constantly to slacken his pace. How lonely it seemed there, no houses, no living being–nothing but the dead in the graveyard beyond. Suddenly the, horse stopped and snorted. Mr. Dupont saw two white figures suddenly dart into the road; one stood beside his horse, and the other beckoned him to descend from his wagon. His hair rose, and his tongue seemed glued to his mouth. The silence was terrible. If those white beings would only speak; but no sound came from them. At last in desperation he stammered out:

“Who are you, and what do you mean by stopping me here in this way” “We are spirits of the departed dead,” a sepulchral voice replied, “and we have need of your services; descend from your vehicle, do as we bid you, and on the word of a ghost you shall not be harmed.”

The terrified lawyer descended and stood by the speaker’s side, while the other ghost tied his horse to a tree and joined them.

“Yield yourself entirely to us and you shall be safe,” said the spokesman. “You must needs walk far and must allow us to blindfold your eyes, in order that you may not discover before your time the way to the land of the shades. No more words must be spoken. Obey.”

Mr. Dupont was so terrified that he could not speak, and in silence allowed a cloth to be bound over his eyes; then, escorted by his ghostly companions he began to walk. It seemed to him that he would never be allowed to stop; seconds seemed ages; every attempt of his to speak was checked by impatient groans of his guides. At last, after walking half around the earth, as it seemed to him, he realized that he was being piloted up some steps and by the feeling of warmth he knew that he had left the open air.

“The Justice of Peace may be seated,” said the ghost who had done all the talking. Mr. Dupont sat down and the cloth was quickly removed from his eyes, revealing to his astonished gaze the interior of a room dimly lighted by wax candles. Every side was hung with black curtains, and on four black-covered stools facing him sat four white-robed spectres, while beside him stood another dressed like his companions. Before he had time to more than wonder at his strange surroundings, the spokesman began:

“Mr. Dupont, we have a solemn duty for you to perform. You are a Justice of the Peace in the world of the living, and a man dear to us on account of your noble life; therefore are you here. We have in these abodes of the dead two young shades recently come from the other world. Each of those died of a broken heart because a stern parent forbade them to marry What do you think sir, of such a parent as that?” Mr. Dupont wiggled about uneasily in his chair, and at last said: “I think, good shade, it was very wrong of him.”

“We knew you would,” resumed the ghost, “because you are a kind man. and one who loves his children. Now do we understand you to say that if the poor girl had been your child it would never have happened?” “Surely it never would,” replied the frightened Mr. Dumont.

“We have not misjudged you, then,” replied the shade, while the other four ghosts nodded approvingly. “We have summoned you in order that you may unite them in wedlock, so that in this world at least they may be happy. Such a marriage as this is not common among us, so we brought you here, a good justice of the peace, rather than a minister, who might have been shocked at these proceedings. You can marry them just as well as a clergyman. Now, sir, will you oblige us by marrying these two shades? If you will consent, you may depart at once to your home. Will you?”

Marry the two shades? Of course he would: anything to get away from this terrible spot. And so, without the precaution of stipulating his fee, he stammered out:

“Oh, yes, surely, anything you wish.”

No sooner had he given his consent than one of the black curtains was drawn aside and two other beings in white entered and stood before him. The other shades rose, and Mr. Dupont, not wishing to be the only one to keep his seat, rose too. The good justice had never married shades; he did not know quite how to proceed. They looked exactly alike; he did not know which was the bride and which the groom. He wished he were well out of it, and the only way to gain his wish was to proceed quickly with the ceremony, and so he began at once. In some way he managed get through, although he could not have told afterward how it was done. He turned to the bride when he said: “Do you take this woman to be your wedded wife?” and to the groom when he should have addressed the bride; but at length, much to his relief, the “I do” was said by each, and the Justice finished with the “I pronounce you man and wife.”

But all was not yet over. No sooner had the words left his lips, than one of the beings before him threw aside its ghostly robe, and there, in a beautiful wedding gown, stood his daughter, Margaret. Mr. Dupont started to speak, but he only gasped, for around him stood the other ghosts; they too had thrown aside their robes and stood revealed. Could he believe his eyes? Yes, there was no mistake, he had married his daughter to Charles Foster, in the presence of his wife, his son, and three family friends; and the Justice knew enough of law to realize that the ceremony was binding. The black curtains, too, were torn down, and there they all stood in his own parlor.

There was no help for it, consequently Mr. Dupont submitted, and someway all his friends thought that he was very glad that the joke was played upon him; at any rate, in later days, as he trotted his grandchildren on his knees he never tired of telling over and over again into their wondering ears the tale of the spectre wedding. Amherst Literary Monthly.

The Garden City [KS] Telegram 15 October 1892: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mr Dupont must have been heavily under the influence of those weird stories not to have noticed the earthly actions of the “ghosts” such as taking care to tie up his horse and the nonsensical explanation for the blindfold. Did he not recall that in Heaven there is no marriage nor giving in marriage? Were there no earthly boots visible beneath those robes? And, even draped in black and lit by candles, why did the quaking gentleman not recognise his own parlour?

Such is the power of imagination. Mrs Daffodil and that ghastly person over at Haunted Ohio have written about persons who were convinced that they were marrying an actual spirit. See A Wealthy Widow Weds a Ghost, Girl Weds a Ghost, and Too Much Prudence–Spirit Weddings.

Justices of the Peace seemed to be ready targets for ghostly clients. Mrs Daffodil has written before about a haunted JP, who married a genuine ghostly couple.

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 Phrenological Failure: 1824

veggie face

 

The science of Phrenology is not likely to be long in fashion. Important anticipations were entertained of indications and discoveries in the head of Thurtell, but they have failed. Some time ago a gentleman found a large turnip in his field, the shape of a man’s head, and with the resemblance of the features of a man. Struck with the curiosity, he had a cast made from it, and sent the cast to a Society of Phrenologists, stating that it was taken from the head of Baron Turnempourtz, a celebrated Polish Professor, and requesting their opinion thereon. After sitting in judgment, they scientifically examined the cast, in which they declared that they had discovered an unusual prominence, which denoted that he was a man of an acute mind and deep research, that he had the organ of quick perception, and also of perseverance, with another that indicated credulity. The opinion was transmitted to the owner of the cast, with a letter, requesting as a particular favour that he would send them the head. To this he politely replied, “that he would willingly do so, but was prevented, as he and his family had eaten it the day before with their mutton at dinner.”

The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 135,1824

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “science” of Phrenology was just getting started. Although it was scientifically discredited by the 1840s, it survived in the patter of the snake-oil salesman, and as a popular lecture-circuit topic and parlour entertainment into the early 20th century, as Mrs Daffodil has written in Bump Parties: 1905, 1907.

Thurtell was John Thurtell who murdered Mr William Weare over a gambling debt. The crime caused a sensation; the gruesome particulars were memorialised in a ballad, part of which ran:

They cut his throat from ear to ear,
His head they battered in.
His name was Mr William Weare,
Wot lived in Lyons Inn.

Thurtell committed a vicious murder, but was astonishingly stupid over it, openly boasting that he would “do” Weare, who was said to have cheated Thurtell at cards, and leaving the murder weapon, one of a matched set he owned, in the road. No doubt the phrenologists wanted to analyse his cranium to determine where he went wrong and prevent future murderers from making the same egregious errors.

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 Lost Song: c. 1800

THE LOST SONG.

It was my grandmother’s story, and this how she came to tell it to me:

I, Annie Rae, had come down to spend Christmas at “Raeburn,” the old family homestead. My grandmother and grand-father had been abroad for years, and this being the first Christmas for so long that the old house was opened, they wanted to fill it with bright young faces and merry laughter, to crowd out the voiceless memories which lurked in every corner, and so a whole party of us had come–cousins, first, second and third, in fact of all degrees. Speaking of cousins, isn’t it strange that very often the further removed the nearer they seem? At least George Stewart was only my third cousin by blood, and yet he always assumed more on the strength of our relationship than any of my first cousins, and somehow, in my own heart I did not mind it at all, though I did tease him so.

But I must go on with my story. It was Christmas Eve, and the old house was quiet at last. We girls had all gone to our rooms after a merry evening together. Fannie and Rose had the room near grandma’s, while Kate and Lillie were just opposite. Some one had to sleep alone at the other of the hall, and after long consultation, it was decided that I should go, for I had rashly boasted of never being afraid. I will confess to feeling a little lonely when all was quiet, and the deep shadows in the corners of the room seemed very dark, for the light of my candle did not reach far. There were three doors in my room, and fastening securely the one leading into the entry, I merely turned the handles of the others, and finding them locked inside, did not care to explore any further just then.  I must have been a long time undressing, for the clock struck the hour of midnight as I put my light out. Even then I could not sleep, but found myself wondering what was behind those doors that I had not opened, and I determined to have a regular exploring expedition the next day. There were so many romantic stories to this old house. I had even heard hints of staircases, shut up rooms, &c., and had always delighted in mysteries.

I think I must have been asleep for a short time, when I suddenly found myself awake with a start, and a curious impression that I was listening for something. There certainly was a sound overhead, but what was it? It came more clearly, and I distinguished a faint, broken melody, and yet imperfect, like some one playing a long forgotten air on a piano where some of the strings were broken. Three times it came like the verses of a song, and though there were no words, it seemed to speak to my very heart, and I thought of George, and how sorrowfully he had looked at me that evening as I had passed him without saying “good night.” It was only to tease him, I had pretended not to see his proffered hand, but had taken Willie Thorne’s instead, and we had walked up the broad staircase together.

Again all was still, only a long drawn sigh seemed to echo my own through the room, and came from the direction of the furthest door. Without a sensation of fear, only an ill-defined feeling of pain and regret, I sank to sleep, and when I woke the morning sun was shining brightly enough to dispel illusions. I resolved to say nothing to the girls, but quietly to explore and see what was to be found, for I knew perfectly well that what I had heard was no dream. So I got up long before breakfast, and after completing my toilet, threw wide the shutters and opened the first door nearest the entry. Only an empty closet! Disappointed but slightly relieved, I closed it and went over to the other. The key turned hard in the lock as if it had not been opened for a long time. Then the door stood wide open, and I saw a flight of stairs but only prosaic wooden steps, like those leading to any garret. I started bravely up and soon found myself in a large loft attic, with odds and ends. First, an old spinning wheel caught my eye, relic of our most industrious great grandmothers. Then a stack of old fire- arms, with which our ancestors, the bold Races, may have shed the blood of daring foes, or, perhaps, and I am afraid more likely, have only done damage among the crows that came to steal from their spacious cornfields. Lastly, beyond these, and behind a pile of mattings and boxes, I came upon an old piano. It quite startled me at first but then the broad daylight was very reassuring, and I am not nervous. It was very old and of a most curious shape, and evidently had been very elegant in its day. I tried to lift the lid, and found it locked, but as I touched it a shiver ran through me, for I was convinced now that this was what my ghostly music had come from last night, and I am determined to find out before another day had passed who it had belonged to, and what restless spirits still haunted its worn strings.

So after breakfast, when all the others gone to church, I went into my grandmother’s room to sit with her, for she was not very strong, dear old lady, and rarely went out of the house in winter.

After we were nicely settled and had got through our morning’s reading, I told her of my last night’s adventure, and my subsequent researches, and begged her to tell me all about the old piano I had found in the attic. She smiled at my eagerness, but did not seem at all surprised or incredulous, for though she herself had never heard the music I spoke of, there had been others long ago, she said, who, sleeping in that room on Christmas Eve, had been known to hear faint sounds, coming as if from the old piano above, though it was locked, and the key had been lost. The coincidence, at least, was very strange, taken in connection with the history attached to it, and which my grandmother then proceeded to relate to me.

“Many years ago,” said my grandmother, “when your great-great-great-grandfather was alive, this house was full of life and merriment; for your Aunt Annie–your great-great-aunt for whom you are named, child—lived here with her father and brothers. She was as bright and funny as the day was long, but so full of mischief and coquetry that she gave the heartache to all the young men, far and near and yet had suffered never a pang herself. I am afraid that a spice of her coquetry has descended to this generation too, my dear,” said the lady gazing fondly, but reproachfully at me. “I felt sorry to see the look in poor George’s eyes, last night, as you turned from him on the stairs–”

“Oh I please go on, grandmother dear,” said I, ”I am so much interested in the story.” But in my own wicked little heart I was sorry too, and inwardly resolved to make up for it to him on the first opportunity. “Well your Aunt Annie always had the house full, and some of her cousins and young friends were always staying there. Among the gentlemen who were their frequent visitors was a young naval officer, Robert Carrol, whom they inspected Annie of preferring. Of course, as girls will, they teased her most unmercifully about him and consequently she would hardly speak to him sometimes, and just because in her own heart she knew that to talk with him just one hour was better to her than a whole day with the others.

“The poor fellow evidently had no eyes for any one else, but he was very reserved and sensitive, and did not go in boldly and make love to her, as any other man would done, but stood and worshiped afar off. They say he was very fine musician, and sang beautifully, and not only that but he composed a song for Annie to sing; for she had a lovely voice, and would sing lovely old ballads for us in the long summer evenings with wonderful pathos and feeling.

“As the days went by the time drew near for Robert to join his ship. Early in December his orders came, and he was to leave the day after Christmas.

“He loved Annie so dearly that he felt he could not go away from her so long without asking for some assurance that his love was returned, and yet he could not bear to think of hearing her say she could never love him. Sometimes she treated him so coldly, almost rudely, and yet again, when they were alone, he could have sworn her eyes spoke a different language.

“The day before Christmas came and still no word had been spoken. On the morning of that day Robert wrote a note to her and inclosed in it a little song he had written and in the note he said,–“But stay,” said my grandmother, “I think I can show you the very note itself,” and going to her desk she took from it an old yellow piece of manuscript music, so faded as to be illegible and a little sheet of paper. “These,” she said, “were found up in the attic among other old letters and private family papers when we came back, and though I destroyed the rest I kept these,” and taking up the note she read it aloud. It was very short, and ran thus:

Annie, darling will you be my wife? And may I go away with hope warm at my heart that when I come back I may claim you as my own? Little one if it is to be, and can love me, will you sing my song for me to-night when I come. If there is no hope for me you will sing something else, and I will know my fate at once, and it will be better to learn it so than to give you pain of telling me. But somehow I feel hopeful, and shall come with a brave heart in spite of the fate which your sweet voice is to sing me into life or death.

Forever yours, in this world and the next.

Robert.

“He sealed the note inclosing the song and sent it over by his servant.  As the man was going into the gate he met Annie’s youngest brother, Harry, a little fellow of ten years old, who snatched the note from him, and said, ‘Oh! I’ll take it to Annie, Tom,’ and ran off. So Thomas walked away with an easy conscience, thinking he had delivered the note safely at least to a ‘member of the family.’

“Harry trotted off toward the house with the best intentions in the world, but was diverted on the way by some important business with a small boy of his own age, who suddenly turned up, so by the time he did go home all memory of the note had vanished from his youthful mind.

“Evening came and the younger children were all in bed, and Harry lay sound asleep, while on a chair hung his little jacket, and in the pocket still, poor Robert’s note undelivered. Annie, with ‘cheeks like twin roses,’ and’ eyes bright with love and hope was waiting for the company.

All the young people were coming from neighborhood to have a frolic, but she only thought of Robert. ‘He must speak to me to-night,’ she said to herself. ‘I am sure he loves me, and in spite of my bad behaviour to him sometimes he must know my heart.’

“Early in the evening Annie’s father according to his custom, asked her for a song and as she rose and went to the piano she caught sight of Robert’s pale handsome face. He was near the door, where he had just entered standing with his arms folded and his eyes fixed upon her with a look that to her dying day she never forgot. As she sat down to the instrument an unaccountable feeling of depression came over her, some unseen influence seemed to hold her hands so that she could scarcely strike the notes, but with an impulse she threw it off and dashed into some gay and nonsensical song that was popular at the time, and sang it through to the very end.

“When she looked up Robert was gone, and she never saw him again in this world. He left home that night and never returned, for his ship, with all on board was lost on the way out; and he went to his grave thinking her cold and heartless. And she–all the next day she waited for him, wondering that he did not come. That night as she was wearily going to her room a little voice from the nursery called her, and going in she found Harry wide awake.

“Oh! sister Annie,’ said he ‘don’t scold me, but I forgot your note yesterday, and there it is still in my pocket.’ And he pointed to the jacket which hung on a chair. Mechanically, she reached and took it, but when she saw the address in his hand, she grew as pale as death. She only stopped and kissed the little fellow, who was sobbing bitterly, and no word of reproach passed her lips.

“From that day she was a different being. Her whole life seemed to be a period of waiting; waiting for news of him.

“You must remember, my dear,” added grandmother, “that in those times there were no such conveniences for communications as we have now-a-days, when lovers can change their minds two or three times a day by mail, and can telegraph ‘yes’ and ‘no’ sixty times a minute (more or less) if they please.

“And when at last the news of Robert’s death came, it was as if some blight had fallen on her, for she seemed to fade away, and grew weaker and weaker, until it got to be so that she never left her room. Then her piano was moved up there, the room you were in last night–for her music seemed the only thing left in which she took any interest, and often at night when all was still they would hear her playing, for she had never been known to sing since that time when, with her own sweet voice, she had smilingly sounded the death knell of two hearts.”

“On Christmas morning, just one year after, when they came to her room they found her seated at her piano, with his song before her, and her white hands cold and stiff resting on the keys. She had gone to meet him, and her weary waiting was over at last.”

“This was my grandmother’s story of the piano–and that evening as George and I were sitting together on the board staircase, while the others were dancing in the parlor, I told it all over to him, and would you believe it? when I came to the part about poor Robert’s last letter, George actually said it served him right for not being man enough to ask for what he wanted when he had the chance, “as I intended to ask you right here, little Annie,” said he, and then–well, somehow I did not finish the story that evening.

Since then, however, we have often talked it over since, but George always smiles when I tell him of the ghostly music I heard on Christmas eve in the old house, and suggests though the piano was locked, yet the back had fallen out from old age, and there was room enough for a whole regiment of mice to creep in and run over the rusty strings, and he further says that I was sleepy and troubled in my mind for treating him so badly, and thought it was my aunt’s ghost come to warn me. But that is nonsense, of course, and I shall always believe that it was poor Robert’s last song that I heard.

The Indiana [PA] Democrat 14 November 1872: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It seems to Mrs Daffodil that there is blame enough to go around, with some to spare. Coquettes! Thoughtless younger brothers!  Timid suitors!  One wonders how, without the spur of “on-line” dating and “swiping,” the species ever propagated itself.

Still, it was curious that the mice, if mice there were, only came out to run over the piano’s strings on Christmas eve.

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 Night at La Scala: 1836

night at la scala illustration

A NIGHT AT THE “SCALA.”

By Oscar Zurich.

It was the third day of the carnival at Milan, 1836. Donizetti’s immortal masterpiece, “Lucia di Lammermoor,” had been performed for the first time at the San Carlo in Naples, a few months previous, and was then making its triumphal tour throughout Italy.The genius of Bergamo’s sweet bard had attained its culminating point. “Fra poco,” its great aria and the stupendous magnificence of the septette had electrified the entire musical world; even the star of Rossini had been eclipsed by the incredible success of the younger composer.

Milan was in an uproar; the streets, squares, and arcades were illuminated a giorno; the cathedral in marble majesty glittered beneath the glare of innumerable lanterns, while the joyous quip and laughter of sixty thousand pleasure-seekers made the old, narrow streets ring and echo again, and the “Scala,” Italy’s greatest opera house, ablaze with glory, had placed before the entrance, in letters of flame, the magic word “Lucia.”

No wonder the crowd hastened thither; for eighty lire you could not have obtained a seat. It was the third representation—the third only–and fame, beauty, or gold could not have forced an entrance. It was now six o’clock; the pit and gallery boxes and stalls of the immense theater were crowded to suffocation. Four thousand eager people–four thousand anxious, soulful Italians–were waiting with subdued frenzy for the curtain to rise.

The nobility of Lombardy graced the boxes, the political celebrities of the city crowded the passages, all the elite of the art-loving town had flocked thither.

The heat was stifling; at half-past six the overture began. The immense throng was silenced at the first wave of the conductor’s baton. Was it not to hear the last and the most admirable of Donizetti’s operas? Had not the Neapolitan papers been devoured with avid eyes? Was It not to hear the songs over which Italy was raving? And last, but not least, was it not to applaud the beauteous prima donna, Alfieri, who had achieved such a colossal success the two previous nights?–their favorite–their idol–the divine Alfieri! who had sung for seven consecutive seasons in Milan, alike renowned for her consummate art, her beauty, and her unrivaled voice! Ah! how the audience was moved!–how it trembled with expectant ecstasy! the curtain rose.

The hunters’ chorus was listened to with religious attention; the baritone’s song and cabaletta which follow caused but a slight impression in spite of their veritable excellence, and the shifting of the scene to the park where Lucia makes her first appearance was welcomed with a hushed murmur of delight.

A frail, white-robed female form advanced toward the footlights, her eyes were cast down, and she moved slowly near the prompter’s box. There she stood still, raised her eyes and gazed full upon the audience.

A howl of anger and disappointment arose from the crowded house:

Non è Alfieri!” (She is not Alfieri!) was echoed on all sides; groans, hissing, and stamping of feet drowned the orchestra. Some vociferously cried out, “Basta! basta! We want Alfieri!”

The frail woman confronting the enraged audience appeared not in the  least disconcerted, and walked leisurely around the stage during the uproar. A man peeped out from the side-scenes. It was the director.

“Who is that woman?” he asked. “It is not Alfieri!”

“No one saw her enter,” was the reply.

Again the conductor raised his baton; the unknown prima donna seemed to rouse herself from her pensiveness and lethargy, and moved solemnly toward the centre of the stage.

The clamor had ceased. She raised her eyes to the level of the first tier, and stood in the full force of the light. She was wondrously beautiful, but white–white as a shroud of snow; deathly, spectrally white!–not a tinge of rose enhanced the marble graces of her face, which was purely, faultlessly Greek.

Her eyes, black and radiant, flashed luridly. When she dropped them their tint became sad, gray, and crepuscular. Her lips shone red as vermilion, and seemed like a gash—like a hideous gash–when contrasted with the whiteness and rigidity of her face.

Her hair, long and purplish, in undulate tresses rioted over her shoulders, pure and colorless as marble.

She had no ornaments. A tuberose thrust in a rebellious curl adorned her brow; around her throat was a piece of broad, black velvet Her dress was white–all white.

She gazed weirdly upon the audience and began, in a strange, vague, unearthly tone of voice, the ravishing aria of “Lucia” upon hear entrance.

I was present, and I can recall perfectly the cold sensation and chilliness I felt at the first few notes.

It seemed to me as if some humid cavern had been suddenly opened, and that I had breathed the first icy wafts of air emanating therefrom.

Not a sound save her voice was heard. Her hands hung listlessly by her side. I do not remember how she finished. I heard her first strange tones change to a soft, sweet voice of fascinating, bell-like brilliancy, and I awoke from a trance by hearing the audience shriek and stamp with delight.

The applause was feverish and frantic, then suddenly ceased as if by enchantment; the strange woman had turned aside and began the ordinary stage business and duet with Edgardo, as Alfieri would have done. The act ended in indescribable amazement.

“Who is she? Who is she? What a voice!” and such exclamations were heard on all sides.

The director appeared at this moment, evidently anxious to find out for himself who the beautiful pale songstress was, but could answer no inquiries.

In the meantime I hurried behind the scenes to Alfieri’s dressing-room, where I had often gone to chat with her, expecting to see that marvelous creature.

The apartment was illuminated; Lucia’s bridal costume for the second act was ready on the sofa; a bottle of Asti wine, which Alfieri always partook of between the acts, stood on the table; but naught proved that the room had been occupied previously by another–nothing showed the presence of the new-comer.

I waited a few minutes, took a few whiffs from my cigarette, and was about to return, when I spied upon the door an earring of such uncommon size that I stooped to pick it up, and gazed upon it in wonder, held spellbound by its beauty.

It was a solitaire diamond, richly set, of a slightly greenish tint. I knew the value of green diamonds, and estimated this one to be worth at least seven or eight thousand dollars, being really finer than any I had seen in the famous vaults of Dresden.

I hastened down to the director’s office to remit it, thinking it belonged to the new-comer or to Alfieri. The director was absent; soon I heard the bell ring. The diamond in my hand, I hastened to my seat.

The unknown woman again entered; she was, if possible, a tinge paler than before. She wore gloves this time, and her lips were not so cruelly red. She sang, and, ye gods, what song! Her voice soared, spread, fused with other invisible voices; It rang sonorously, and murmured divinely in magnificent power and harmony—a voice all fire, a voice all soul.

I trembled–the audience quivered.

Still that strange being stood in the same position, still did her great luminous black eyes gaze continually upward; she seemed not to heed her fellow-artists; the bewilderment of Edgardo, the anxious, inquiring glance of Ashton did not move her; she would glide by them like a sylph, a vision–light, ethereal, graceful. No one heard her walk–she sang!

Again the curtain fell, again the house cried out with delirium. “Brava! brava!” yelled the rabble.

But no one appeared.

Again I went to Alfieri’s box while the ballet (which in those days was performed between the acts) was going on, but it was empty; so I returned to listen to the animated discussions and conversations in the lobby.

“Alfieri is eclipsed; she is Pasta and Persiani combined! she is not human, she is an angel from Heaven’s gates!”

“’Tis the Beatrice of Dante descended from Heaven!”

A friend came from behind the scenes.

“Well, what news, Ricciardo? Have you seen her?”

“No, but Grazzini has” (Grazzini was the tenor, a handsome fellow), “and he tells me he spoke to her–forced to do so by some subtle, magnetic attraction. He told her of his wonder, his admiration, his love, I believe, and she answered him, in Milanese dialect, ‘We shall meet again.'”

The bell rang, and the curtain went up slowly. The lights seemed to burn badly, and the heat was stifling, but upon the entrance of the mysterious stranger a sudden chill pervaded every one.

We did not breathe to listen, and as I gazed upon her, charmed by her supernatural beauty, I noticed that from one of her ears hung a bright, large stone, similar to the one I held in my hand. Scarcely had I seen it when she caught my eye. She smiled–the only time. I averted my glance. The music went on.

The scene where the unhappy Lucia, after having been dragged to the altar by her heartless brother, realizes the full atrocity of his conduct, seemed to influence the sombre sprite-like prima donna, for she roused herself at last and acted–acted with the frenzy of passion, acted with the sublimity of pathos and despair. She was intense, superb in the mad scene. Her voice had sobs of anguish.

Up swelled the vertiginous staccato high above the moans of the orchestra. She raved, she wept, and the large tears rolled down her white cheek; her hair floated wildly over her quivering shoulders, and still rang forth her magical, heartrending notes.

I trembled; the house groaned.

The mad scene neared its end, and the musicians, as if ordered, ceased to play. They looked at her, she sang unaccompanied. It was terrible, unique, sublime.

The culminating point arrived, and the pains and pangs of Donizetti’s masterpiece vibrated on her lips as they had never done on lips before. She gazed wildly, stupidly about, when she stopped, and I saw drops of blood ooze from her mouth; she fell heavily upon the stage, and the curtain went down. The house was in tears.

Half an hour later all Milan knew of the miraculous performance at the Scala. The last act of the opera was listened to without curiosity, Lucia not appearing in it. Nothing occurred except the indisposition of the tenor, Grazzini, who was taken suddenly ill, and I afterward learned, died that night.

Milan, outdoors, all fun and animation, could not comprehend the story told in the cafes and on the squares. The reports were called exaggerated, and the singer’s phenomenal voice a myth. No one could find her, and it was in vain that I waited for more than an hour in Alfieri’s box.

The director told me confidentially that he was as nonplussed as the audience, and had never beheld the marvelous singer before. Then, as he left me, he superstitiously added: “She was a spirit, I believe.”

Full of conflicting thoughts, I walked sadly homeward, and heard again through the quiet streets, far away from the riot and revel of the carnival, the heavenly echo of that unutterably divine voice.

I walked on, and passed across the Saint Italda Cemetery to near my home. It was late. The noise of Milan’s festivities reached my ear from time to time faintly, but I heeded it not, wrapped as I was in my reverie and musing.

Within a few steps of my house, separated by a high wall from the end of the graveyard, there, beneath a few cypress trees, in the full glare of the moon, 1 beheld a rather unusual sight.

The cemetery, through which I passed regularly every night, and which I knew in every nook and corner, seemed in that particular spot to present  a different aspect than it ordinarily did.

I advanced, and remarked with astonishment that a tomb had been desecrated, and that a coffin had been exhumed!

Sure enough, the sod on either side was all strewn and scattered here and there, footprints were plainly visible, and to my horror I saw that the coffin was open. In it, wrapped in a faded yellow shroud, was a human form.

I was about to call for the guard, when my eye was suddenly attracted by a faint greenish light twinkling near the top of the coffin.

I stooped over, and to my amazement saw a diamond earring in the lobe of the corpse’s ear–the mate of the one I had found.

The moonlight, checkered by the tree-boughs, did not allow me to view the face, and trembling I drew aside and lit a match. Approaching, I gazed on the body. It was the spectral songstress!

Utterly bewildered, with haggard eyes and quivering knees, I grasped the coffin lid and replaced it over the livid face. On it was written in large letters:

Virginia Cosseli,

Queen of Soprani,

Died September, 1781,

Requiescat in pace.

I remember a wild thrill of horror came over me and I fell senseless.

For weeks I raved in delirium. When I had sufficiently recovered I left Milan. People were still talking of the mysterious prima dona and the famous representation of Lucia. They have not understood, but I believe in spirits.

Frank Leslie’s Pleasant Hours, Vol. 30

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has nothing to add, except to note that it was perhaps a good thing that the lady was not recalled for an encore.

 

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.

Wedding Tales from a Parish Clerk: 1830

[The narrator is a parish clerk of long-standing.]

It would not perhaps be unamusing to describe the vast changes in fashion which have taken place during the forty years that I have officiated as parish clerk; but though I am not an inattentive observer of dress, I have looked beyond the bridal robes, and my chief delight has been to scrutinize, I hope not impertinently, the conduct of the parties. I was much interested by the appearance of a lady who came in a splendid carriage, and attended by her friends to our church. She was richly and elegantly attired, in white lace and white satin; but no one who looked upon her countenance would ever cast a thought upon her dress again: her form was so thin and fragile, it seemed a mere shadow; her face was of lily paleness, and she wore a look of such deep and touching melancholy, that the heart melted at the piteous sight. There was, however, no violence in her grief; her eyes were tearless, and her manner was calm. I understood that she was a great heiress, who had lately changed her name for a large fortune, and that she was of age, and her own mistress; therefore there could be no constraint employed in inducing her to approach the altar. My ears are rather quick, and I could not help overhearing a part of that lady’s conversation with her bridesmaid, as they walked up and down the aisle together. “I was wrong to come here,” she said in a mournful tone, “wrong to allow any persuasion to tempt me to violate the faith I have plighted to the dead. Can an oath so sacred as that which I have sworn ever be cancelled? I scarcely dare glance my eyes towards those dark and distant corners, lest I should encounter his reproaching shade: it seems as though he must rise from the grave to upbraid me with my broken vow.”

The friend endeavoured to combat these fantastical notions, urged the duty she owed to the living, and the various excellencies of the man who now claimed her hand. “I know it all,” returned the fair mourner, “but still I cannot be persuaded that I have not acted lightly in accepting the addresses of another. My faith should be buried in the tomb with my heart and my affections. I fear me that he who now receives my vows will repent those solicitations which have induced me to break my steadfast resolution to keep that solemn promise which made me the bride of the dead.” Pulling down her veil, she passed her hand across, her eyes and sighed heavily. Not wishing to appear intrusive, I withdrew to the vestry-room; and shortly afterwards the bridegroom entered, accompanied by a gentleman whom he introduced as a stranger, saying that the relative who was to have attended him as the groom’s-man had been suddenly taken ill, and his place unexpectedly supplied by a friend newly arrived from the continent. He then inquired for the bride, entered the church, and led her to the altar. The clergyman opened his book– the ceremony commenced–and the lady, raising her drooping downcast head, fixed her eyes upon the stranger who stood by her intended husband’s side, and, uttering a wild scream, fell lifeless on the ground! We carried her immediately into the vestry, and, after many applications of hartshorn-and-water, she at length revived. In the interim an explanation had taken place; and I learned that in early life the bride had been engaged to the gentleman whose appearance had caused so much agitation, and whom she had long mourned as one numbered with the dead. The bridegroom did not urge the conclusion of the ceremony, and indeed the spirits of the lady had sustained too severe a shock for the possibility of going through it. Her tremor was so great that there was some difficulty in conveying her to the carriage, and the whole party retired looking very blank and dejected.

About three months afterwards, the same lady came to church again to be married, and never in my life did I see so astonishing a change as that which had taken place in her person and demeanour. She had grown quite plump; a sweet flush suffused her face, and her eyes, instead of being sunk and hollow, were now radiantly brilliant. She stepped forward with a cheerful air, and her voice sounded joyously. If my surprise were great at this alteration, it was still greater when I looked at the bridegroom, and saw that he was the very same gentleman who had come before. I thought, to be sure, that the lady who had grieved so deeply was now going to be united to her first love–but no such thing; and I was told afterwards, that the young heiress was so shocked by the inconstancy of the faithless friend–for it seems that he was not aware of the report of his death, and had long ceased to trouble himself about her–that her attachment was quite cured, and she had determined to bestow her hand and fortune upon the man who best deserved them.

There was something very remarkable about the next couple who came to be married. The lady was old, and the gentleman young –a mere boy of one-and-twenty, going to link himself with sixty-five. And such a vinegar, crabbed aspect as the bride possessed, was surely never exhibited at a wedding before. She seemed conscious that she was about to do a foolish thing, and was angry that the world thought so too; the bridegroom looked sheepish, and kept his eyes fixed on the ground, while he rapped his shoe with his cane, much to the discomfiture of the lady, who was compelled to put herself forward as he hung back, and to take his arm instead of waiting to be led to the altar. She could not conceal her mortification at the neglect she experienced, but she bridled, and tossed, and cast such bitter glances upon those who seemed disposed to smile, that all, the party stood awe-struck; and when the ceremony commenced, it was rather curious to hear the bridegroom whispering his part of the service, while the sharp shrill voice of the bride was actually startling in the solemn silence of a large and nearly empty church. The contrast between this antiquated belle’s yellow parchment visage and her snowy drapery was so striking that it increased her ugliness. I could think of nothing but an Egyptian mummy tricked out in white satin; and there were some sly looks passed amid the company when her restless fiery eyes were for a moment withdrawn, which seemed to say that some such idea was gliding through their heads. I suppose that she had a good deal of money; for by the poor lad’s manner I should think that nothing else would have induced so young a man to link himself with such a withered, and I may say pestilent hag.

I have seen, to be sure, many unwilling bride-grooms in my time. One, I remember, was evidently brought to church through fear of the brothers of his bride. They came, three of them, to escort the lady, as fierce as dragoon officers; and I believe one of them was in the army, for he clattered in with long spurs, and wore a brave pair of mustachios on his upper lip. The other two were stout athletic men, with an air of great resolution; while the bridegroom, who was strong enough to have coped with any one of them, but who in all probability disliked the chances of a bullet, looked dogged and sullen, taking especial care to show that the slight civility which he displayed was extorted from him by compulsion. I felt for the poor girl, for she met nothing but stern glances. The rising tears were checked by a frown from some one of her three brothers, who watched her narrowly; and there was little consolation to be drawn from the countenance of her intended husband: if ever he looked up there was a scowl upon his brow. She could only hope to exchange three tyrants for one, and there seemed too great a probability that the last would revenge upon her the treatment which he had received from her kinsmen. The ladies of the party shook their heads and were silent; and altogether I never saw more evil augury, although the termination was not so disastrous as that which I once witnessed upon a nearly similar occasion.

The lady, according to custom, came first. She had many of her friends about her; and the whole company showed more joy than is generally exhibited by the polite world, even on these happy events. There appeared to be a sort of congratulation amongst them, as though they had brought some fortunate circumstance to pass of which they had despaired; and amid them also was a tall bluff-looking brother, who seemed very well pleased with the success of his exertions. The bride, too, was in high spirits, and talked and smiled with her bride’s-maiden, arranged her dress at the glass, and carried her head with an air. So much were the party occupied with their own satisfied feelings, that they did not appear to observe the wild and haggard look of the bridegroom. I was shocked and alarmed at the pale and ghastly countenance which he presented; he was dressed in black, and though somebody took notice of this circumstance, it was only to joke about it. To me he seemed under the influence of brandy, or of laudanum, for he talked strangely, and laughed in such a manner that I shuddered at the sound. Nobody, however, appeared to regard it; and the wedding party entered the church as gaily as possible. During the ceremony the bridegroom’ s mood changed; as if struck by its solemnity, he became grave; a shade of inexpressible sadness passed over his wan, cold brow; and large drops of perspiration chased each other down his face. The nuptial rite ended; he stooped forward to kiss the bride, and just as the clergyman turned to leave the altar, drew a pistol from his bosom, and shot himself through the heart before an arm could be raised to prevent him! Down dropped the new married couple together, for this unhappy gentleman had entangled himself in his wife’s drapery, and dragged her with him as he fell. It was a horrid sight to see the dead and the living stretched in this fearful embrace upon the ground. Paralyzed by the report of the pistol, we stood aghast, and a minute elapsed before even I could stretch out my hand to extricate the bride from her shocking situation.  She had not fainted, and she could not weep; but her eyes were glazed, her features rigid, and her skin changed to a deep leaden hue. Her satin robe was in several places stained with blood; and surely never was any spectacle half so ghastly! Her friends repressed their tears and sobs; and, gathering round her, attempted to convey her away. She submitted as if unwittingly; but when her foot was on the threshold of the portal, she burst into long and continued shrieks. The whole church rang with the appalling cry; and it was not until she had completely exhausted herself by her screams, and had sunk into a sort of torpor, interrupted only by low moans, that she could be taken from the fatal spot. A coroner’s inquest sat in the vestry; and a sad tale of female levity, and of the weakness and libertinism of man, came out. But the subject is too painful to dwell upon, and I gladly turn to pleasanter recollections.

We had a very fine party shortly afterwards, who arrived in two or three carriages. The bride was young and fair, but she held her head down, and seemed greatly agitated. It was very easy to perceive that her heart had not been consulted in the choice of a husband. The father, a tall heavy-browed man, cast severe and threatening glances upon his trembling daughter; but the mother, though she seemed equally bent upon the match, interceded for a little cessation of hostilities; and, when the shrinking girl asked to be allowed to walk for a moment with one friend in the church, in order to collect her scattered thoughts, leave was granted. As she passed out of the door she dropped her white satin reticule, and it clanked heavily against the steps–a sound not at all like that of a smelling-bottle, and I must confess that my curiosity was strongly excited. I endeavoured to pick it up; but before I could bend my arm, which is a little stiff with the rheumatism, she had whipped it off the ground, and down the side aisle she went, leaning upon her companion’s arm. This aisle is long, and rather dark, terminating in a heavy oaken screen, which conceals the green baize door leading to the front portal. She passed behind this screen and was seen no more! I thought it very odd, but it was not my place to speak, so I returned into the vestry room, that I might not be questioned. Presently the bridegroom arrived and an ill-favoured gentleman he was with a fretful discontented countenance; and he began complaining of having been detained at home by some fool’s message. After he had grumbled for a few minutes the bride was called for–she was not to be found. The father stormed. “Is this a time,” he exclaimed, “to play such childish tricks! she has hidden herself in some corner;” and away we all hastened in search of her. The church doors were shut and locked; but as I passed up the gallery stairs, I observed that the bolts were withdrawn from that which led from the side aisle. I did not, however, feel myself compelled to publish this discovery, though I shrewdly suspected that the reticule which had rung so loudly as it fell contained a key; and so it proved. Some time was wasted in examining the organ-loft, and indeed every place in which a mouse might have been concealed. At last somebody hit upon the truth, and a little inquiry placed the elopement beyond a doubt. We learned that a carriage had been in waiting at a corner of the street opposite to the church; and that a gentleman had been seen loitering under the portico, who, the instant that two ladies popped out, conducted them to his equipage, which moved leisurely away, while we were engaged in our unsuccessful search. Upon strict examination, it came out that a pew-opener had furnished the means of obtaining a false key. It would be impossible to describe the rage and dismay of the disappointed parties: the mother went off in hysterics, the bridegroom looked sourer than ever, the father raved and swore bitterly; and the clergyman, after vainly attempting to pacify him, read him a lecture upon his intemperate conduct. All those who were not related to the parties slunk quietly away, perhaps to have their laugh out; and I take shame to myself to say that I could not help enjoying the scene, so thoroughly unamiable did those persons appear with whom the fair bride was unfortunately connected. I was anxious about the young couple, and heard with great pleasure that they got safe to Scotland.

Another young lady, forced by her parents to the altar, did not manage matters quite so cleverly. They had dressed her out, poor thing, in ball-room attire; her beautiful hair fell in ringlets from the crown of her head, down a swanlike throat as white as snow, and these glossy tresses were wreathed with long knots of pearl, which crossed her forehead twice, and mingled in rich loops with the clustering curls. Her white arms were bare, for her gloves had been lost in the coach, and the veil had slipped from her hand and hung in disorder over her shoulders. Before the carriage reached the church, I saw her fair face thrust out of one of the windows, as if in expectation of seeing somebody. She paused for an instant on the steps, and, unmindful of the gazing crowd, cast hurried glances up and down the street; and even in the vestry-room, and in the church, she searched every corner narrowly with her eyes, turning round quickly at the slightest sound. Hope did not forsake her until the very last moment–when the bridegroom appeared– a tall prim person, who drew on his gloves very deliberately, not seeing or heeding the agonizing perturbation of his intended bride. Her movements became more hurried as her expectation of a rescue decreased. She suffered herself, as if bewildered, to be led to the communion table; her head all the time turned over her shoulder, still watching for the arrival of some too tardy friend. But when she stood by the rails, and the actual commencement of the ceremony struck upon her ear, she seemed to awaken to a full sense of her dangerous situation; and, throwing up her beautiful white arms, and tearing away the long curls from her brow, she exclaimed, with much vehemence, “No! no! no!” Her bosom heaved as though it would have burst through the satin and lace which confined it; her dark flashing eyes seemed starting from her head; her cheek was now flushed with the hue of crimson, and now pale as death, and every feature was swelled and convulsed by the tumultuous emotions which shook her frame. The tall prim gentleman looked astounded: there was a gathering together of friends; but the bride was not to be appeased–she still continued her half-frenzied exclamation, “No! no! no!” A slight scuffle was heard outside the church, and in the next moment a fine-looking young man dashed in through the vestry-room, scarcely making two steps to the afflicted fair, who, uttering a piercing cry of joy, rushed into his outstretched arms. The clergyman shut his book, scandalized by the indecorum of these proceedings; the tall prim gentleman opened his eyes, and seemed fumbling in his waistcoat pocket for a card; and the lovers, careless of every thing but each other, clasped in a fervent embrace, had sunk down upon one of the free seats in the middle aisle–the youth swearing by heaven and earth that his beloved should not be torn from his grasp, and the lady sobbing on his shoulder. The parents of the bride, confounded and amazed at this unexpected catastrophe, had nothing to say. They at length attempted to soothe the bridegroom ; but he had elevated his eyebrows, and, looking unutterable things, was evidently preparing to walk off; and, this resolution taken, he was not to be stayed. He seized his hat, placed it solemnly under his arm, faced about, and, perceiving that his rival was wholly engrossed in wiping away the tears from the loveliest pair of eyes in the world, he pursed up his mouth to its original formality, and marched straight out of the church. An arrangement now took place between the intruder and the crest-fallen papa and mamma. The latter was left with her daughter, while the two gentlemen went in quest of a new license. The young lady, a little too wilful, it must be owned, pouted and coaxed, till the old lady’s brow relaxed, and all was harmony. Again the curate was called upon to perform his office, and now radiant smiles played upon the lips of the bride–a soft confusion stole over her cheek, and scarcely waiting until the conclusion of the ceremony, as if she feared a second separation, clung to her husband’s arm, not quitting it even while signing her name in the book.

There was nothing extraordinary about the next couple who joined their hands in our church, excepting their surpassing beauty. It seemed a question which could be styled the handsomer, the lady or the gentleman: both were tall, and both had that noble aspect which one is apt to fancy the exclusive gift of high birth. The bridegroom was a man of rank, and the bride little inferior in family connexion. The friends of each party, magnificently appointed, graced the ceremony: altogether–it seemed a most suitable match, and was one of the grandest weddings that had taken place for a long time. The whole affair was conducted with the greatest propriety; hearts, as well as hands, appeared to be joined; the lady smiling through the few tears which she seemed to shed, only because her mother and her sisters wept at parting from her, and the rapturous delight of the gentleman breaking through the cold and guarded forms prescribed by the fashion.

I was much amazed to see the same lady only five years afterwards come again to our church to be married. The same she certainly was, but still how different! Wrapped in a plain deshabille, attended by a cringing female, who bore the stamp of vulgarity in face, dress, and demeanour; her cheeks highly rouged, and the elegant modesty of her manners changed into a bold recklessness, which seemed to struggle with a sense of shame. I could scarcely believe my eyes; the widow of a nobleman would not surely have been in this degraded state. I was soon convinced of the truth of the surmise which flashed across my mind: she answered to the responses in her maiden name–she had been divorced–and the man to whom she now plighted the vow so lately broken, was he worthy of the sacrifice? I should say, no! He was, I understand, one of the wits of the day; but in person, bearing and breeding; sadly, wretchedly beneath her former lord. She seemed to feel her situation, notwithstanding all her efforts to shake off the painful recollections that would arise. I saw her press her hand once or twice upon her heart; and when her eyes glanced around, and caught those well -known objects which she had gazed upon in happier days, she heaved deep and frequent sighs. There was less of solemn earnestness about the clergyman who officiated than usual, and he seemed to hurry over the service as though the holy rite were profaned in joining guilt and shame together. But though the marriage ceremony was cut short, it had already detained this dishonoured pair too long. As they were leaving the altar the vestry-door opened, and a gay bridal party descended the steps. It was the divorced lady’s deserted husband, leading a beautiful young creature, the emblem of innocence and purity, by the hand, and surrounded by a host of friends splendidly attired. A start, and almost a scream of recognition, betrayed the emotion which the wretched woman, who had forfeited her rank in society, sustained at this unexpected and most unwished-for meeting. She had many mortifications to undergo before she could get away. During the ceremony of signing her name, several individuals made excuse to enter the vestry, in order to stare at her; while the ladies, in passing by, shrunk away as though they feared contamination; and she was obliged to walk half-way down the street, amid a line of gaping menials, before she could reach her shabby carriage, which had drawn off to make room for the coroneted coaches of the noble company in the church.

There was something I thought exceedingly strange about another wedding which took place nearly at the same period. One chariot contained the whole party, which consisted of an elderly and a young gentleman, and the bride, a very pretty girl, not more than seventeen or eighteen at the utmost. She was handsomely dressed, but in colours, and not with the precision and neatness of a bride: her clothes, though fashionable and expensive, were certainly not entirely new, bearing slight tokens of having been worn before. Neither did she show any thing like timidity or bashfulness; asking a hundred questions, as if totally ignorant of the forms and ceremonies usually observed at weddings, laughing heartily at the idea of a set of demure bride-maids, and exclaiming continually, “La! how ridiculous!” The bridegroom lounged upon the chair and benches, and said it would be a fine addition to a parson’s income, if he could unmarry the fools who were silly enough to slip into his noose; and the old gentleman listened to this idle conversation with a grieved and mortified air. The young couple, it seems, had not very long returned from a journey to Scotland, and were now re-united, to satisfy the scruples of the bride’s father; although both appeared as if they would have been as well pleased to have been left at liberty to seize the facilities offered in the North for the annulling, as well as the celebrating of contracts, too often hastily performed and speedily repented.

There was a gentleman, a sort of Blue-beard, I must call him, who, having his town-house in our parish, came five times to be married; and I observed that, in all his five wives, he seemed to make a pretty good choice, at least as far as beauty went. The first was a blooming country nymph, who, except that her hair was powdered, and she wore high-heeled shoes, might have passed, with her large curls pinned stiffly in a row, immense hat, and spreading furbelows, for a belle of the present day; and a mighty comely pair she and the ‘Squire made. The second wife was a languishing lady of quality, who, annoyed at the bridegroom’ s old-fashioned prejudice against a special license, kept her salts in her hand, said that the church smelled of dead bodies, and that she should catch some disease and die; and so she did. Then came the third, buttoned up in a riding-habit, which was an ugly fashion adopted at weddings some fifteen or twenty years ago, with a man’s hat upon her head, and a green gauze veil: her partner, then a little inclining to the shady side of life, affected the fooleries of the times, and was dressed in the very tip of the mode, She looked as though she would see him out; but he came again; and the fourth, a pale, pensive, ladylike woman, apparently far gone in a consumption, who seemed, poor thing, as though she had been crossed in love, and now married only for a maintenance, did not last long. The fifth time we had three weddings: the old gentleman and his son espoused two sisters; the former taking care to choose the younger lady, and his daughter married the uncle of her father’s bride. It was a droll exhibition; and I think that the elder Benedict would have done well to remain in his widowed state; for he appeared to have caught a Tartar at last, and would have some difficulty in carrying things with the high hand which he had done with his former wives. I have not heard of his death, but I still retain the expectation of seeing his widow.

Godey’s Lady’s Book, October 1830

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A candid narrative from a gentleman with a front-pew seat, as we might say. He is most severe upon the ladies, which one feels is ungenerous of him and unfair to a sex put at such a disadvantage by society and the law. One does wonder why the clergy did not put a stop to marriages where there was obviously coercion.

A Consent.—A girl was forced into a disagreeable match with an old man whom she detested. When the clergyman came to that part of the service where the bride is asked if she consents to take the bridegroom for her husband, she said with great simplicity, ” Oh dear, no, sir! but you are the first person who has asked my opinion about the matter.” New-York Mirror, Volume 18, 1840

Or where fashion sowed confusion:

 A certain Macaroni bien peudre et bien frize, with a feather hat under his arm, perfumed like an Egyptian mummy, and who had all the appearance of a modern puppy, went to church with his bride, to receive the nuptial blessing, when the Parson, struck with wonder at the strange apparition, for fear of a mistake, thought proper to ask before the ceremony, which of the two was the Lady?

Spooner’s Vermont Journal [Windsor, VT]  7 April 1784: p. 3

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.