Category Archives: History 1800-1837

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.

 

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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.

She Was To Have Been His Bride: 1820s

Mary's ghost a pathetic ballad BL

THE SCHOOLMASTER’S STORY.

The next evening was stormier than the other. In the afternoon the wind hauled into the east, and at nightfall it blew a gale. The rain dashed in fierce gusts against the windows.

“A terrible night on the coast,” said my uncle, as he took his accustomed seat before the glowing hickory fire. “I’d rather be here than tossing about the bay to-night.”

“Yes, or five miles east of High Pound Light,” said Stephen Ford, who was a Truro man.

“Hear the wind roar in the chimney,” said the children.

The schoolmaster was reading by the lamp-stand. But Mary Horton, and I suspect Aunt Sarah also, had not forgotten his promise of a story. So while it was yet early in the evening, the children were, by various inducements, inveigled into retiring; and as soon as they were out of the way, Mary reminded him of his narrative. As all joined with her, he was easily persuaded to lay aside his book and entertain us.

I hardly know, he began, if I ought to divulge a circumstance of so strange and terrible a character; yet as it happened long ago, and the principal parties, none of whom were ever known in this part of the country, are now dead, I think that by altering names and other particulars, I may with propriety do so. We are bound to contribute as much of individual experience as we can (he added, smiling at his own preciseness) to the general stock of information.

Among the students at the college where I received my education, was one towards whom I very early learned to cherish those sentiments which ripen under the lapse of time into the most endearing friendship. William Alison was then a young man in the bloom and promise of life. Delicate and slender in person, yet with a form of masculine mould; in his manners lofty and gentle; alive to all impulses; his graceful forehead just saddened with the paleness of thought; his conversation open and various; he was to my mind the realization of my ideal of a student. It was my pride to make him my friend; and I felt more joy in knowing that we were looked upon by our fellow students as inseparable companions, than in gaining the highest honors of the university.

In the third year after our friendship, Alison was compelled, in consequence of some cause which I have now forgotten, to remain for nearly a term at his home, which was in __ington, about sixty miles from the town where the college was situated. During this time he informed me, in the frankness of youthful correspondence, of an attachment he had conceived for a certain young lady in the neighborhood, and his happiness in believing his affection returned. The young lady’s name he did not mention, though from sundry sonnets he inclosed me, I suspected it must be Ellen, and gathered also that there was some obstacle in the way of their wishes, which they almost despaired of ever being able to remove. When he returned to the university in the term after the summer vacation, I found a marked difference in the character of his hopes and purposes. The whole bent of his existence was changed. Before, he had been the indefatigable student, the example of his class and the pride of our professors and tutors. No labors had been too hard for him, nor was there any department of science or literature into which his mind did not seem to burst with such an eagerness it was as if there had been a latent affinity between his spirit and knowledge. Now, he was another creature. Books for him had lost their charm. He delighted to muse alone, and it was with difficulty I could persuade him into our old topics of talk, in our customary walks and conversations. On one subject only would he willingly dilate—the perfections of the aforesaid Ellen, of whom, for my own part, since by his painting she appeared to be such a miracle as could by no possibility exist in the world, I grew somewhat tired of hearing.

As I might judge from his portraiture, she was a rather slight girl of seventeen or eighteen, with blue eyes and light hair, and a disposition inclining more to tenderness than to gaiety. I imaged to myself, through his descriptions, a creature susceptible to poetic influences as well as to the grosser developments of manly strength; one like Coleridge’s Genevieve, who loves her poet best when he sings to her

“The songs that make her grieve.”

I fancied I could see such a one as nature would choose to be the bride of such a man as Alison—a being capable of loving him as Desdemona loves Othello, for “his mind,” or as poor Ophelia loves her ill-starred prince, for his “noble and most soverain reason,” as well as for his ability to sustain her and minister to her feminine pride. With all my allowance for the exaggeration of his passion, I could not but believe he had found what is so rare in man or woman, that love which is unto the death —that sacred interchange of wills which makes two beings, in deed as well as in form, one flesh and one spirit.

A world of correspondence passed between the lovers, but of this nothing was ever communicated by Alison to me. He could enlarge upon the personal charms of his love; her devotion to him; the high inspiration which her affection breathed into him, and the vision of coming happiness which almost overwhelmed him with its lustre; but his love was not of that kind which requires sympathy. In truth I believe that if there was ever true affection, like that depicted by our great poets, it was experienced then by Alison and his young mistress.

But there was an obstacle. Ellen was the daughter of a poor widow, Alison the heir to wealth. She was without family and without friends, dowered only by her beauty and her love; Alison was descended of a proud stock, and had a mother who, he dreaded, would never hear of his marrying beneath his rank. Their great fear was the apprehension of his mother’s displeasure.

As far as I could gather from what he informed me, it seemed there was little in common between his mother and himself; she was an austere woman, of gloomy religious faith, and almost a monomaniac on the subject of family. He kept the whole affair of his love a secret from her, and intended to win her gradually by ingenious contrivance, to allow him to wed the daughter of one who had been the tenant of a small portion of his paternal acres. His scheme was to bring Ellen by some means, at church or elsewhere, though his mother, he told me, seldom visited, to be acquainted with her; when he hoped that the loveliness of her character could not fail in time of pleasing.

Thus matters stood during the remainder of the time we spent at college. Alison grew more studious and somewhat reserved. It appeared that his love had passed into the depth of his life, and became a part of his very self, so that his whole bearing showed an inward peace, and he was no longer a speculative youthful scholar, but a resolute, laborious man. Yet there was in him no want of sympathy, and we continued firm friends till the day we graduated, when we separated, as class-mates usually do, to meet we knew not when. Alison retired to his estate, and I went to the West, where I found employment in teaching.

For many months we kept up a regular correspondence, but our ways of life were so different, his so quiet, mine so full of excitement, that gradually, though our friendship was unabated, the intervals between our letters grew longer, and at last it occasioned me no surprise that I did not hear from him for nearly half a year.

As it happened, opportunely enough, I was in Cincinnati preparing to return eastward after three years’ absence, when I received one day a letter bearing the postmark of Alison’s village. It may be supposed that not having heard from him for so long, I opened it with no little eagerness, though the handwriting of the superscription was unfamiliar. What was my surprise to find, instead of a letter from my friend, a communication from his mother, informing me that he had been afflicted with an illness which had injured his mind, and requesting me, if possible, to visit them. She stated that since the commencement of his disease, her son had frequently spoken of me, and always in the most affectionate manner, and that one of his favorite occupations was re-reading and re-arranging the numerous letters that had passed between us. He would sit gazing at the parcel which they made for hours together, saying that I was the only true friend he had ever possessed in the world, and lamenting my neglect in not keeping up my correspondence. (This by the way was altogether fancied, for I had written him twice since hearing from him.)

Much grieved by this unpleasant news, respecting one on whose intellectual strength I had so securely relied, and whose noble heart I had so truly loved, I lost no time in replying to the summons. I was to leave the West in a week, and hoped ere another to be able to visit __ington, and render to my friend such assistance as might be in my power. To him also I wrote an apparently careless letter respecting my return to the East, the pleasure it would give me to see him again, and the like, designed to soothe him without betraying any knowledge of his affliction. Within three days after, I was on my way across the mountains, and in little more than seven, had arrived home. I remained but a day or two to exchange greetings with my kindred, my anxiety for Alison urging me to comply with his mother’s request without delay.

I well recollect, though so many years have now passed away, the evening when, after a long day’s ride, I at length dismounted before Alison House. It was in the season of the Indian summer, and the sun was just setting beyond a woodland valley that sloped away in front and exhibited all the variegated richness of our autumnal forests. The mansion, which, though I had never seen it before, I had no difficulty, through my friend’s well remembered descriptions, in recognizing, was an ancient structure, such as there now remain but a few of in the country. In front it was three stories high, with a double roof and narrow projecting windows; on the back the roof sloped down to a single story. The eaves were heavily moulded in the antique fashion, and the glass in the windows looked obscure and weatherworn. In the ends and at the rear I observed several small casements fitted with gothic or lozenge-shaped frames.

Before the house was a narrow green plat or lawn leading down to the gateway, where two pillars of rough masonry, surmounted by wooden urns, stood like sentinels to guard the place from profane intrusion. Some venerable trees waved their arms over this inclosure, and on one side a decaying orchard encroached upon the level sward. On the other were sundry out-buildings, apparently coeval with the principal structure. All the aspect of the place inspired a solemn peace, that sacred, almost religious repose which it brings into the mind to come as it were into the immediate presence of the generation that has passed away. There was no gravel walk leading from the gateway to the entrance, and clumps of lilac and other shrubs had been suffered to spread untrained around the house and against the walls, as if nature loved to contrast the vigor of their youth with the venerableness of its age.

Had it been later in the year, or on a gloomy day, my first impressions of such a scene would have been doubtless far less agreeable; but now, bathed as it was in the full radiance of the sunset, and mingling its impression with the cheerful feelings inspired by the nearness of my friend, and my hopes of aiding him by my presence, it appeared only suggestive of tranquillity.

I passed into the house and was conducted by an aged serving-woman into the presence of the mother of my friend. It was the first time I had ever seen her, and I was destined to a sad disappointment. I hardly know why, but from the moment she greeted me, all my cheerful frame of mind seemed to pass from me like the fading sunlight, and a horrible shadow crept over my spirits, filling me with an indescribable uneasiness.

She was a tall unfeminine person, without any trait of gentleness in form, or voice, or carriage. Her face—I shall never forget it—was characterized only by an expression of cruel, self-denying pride— that peculiar conformation of temper which finds a poison in the most innocent pleasures of life, and tends constantly towards unhappiness, both in itself and those with whom it comes in contact. Her eyes were gray and severe; her forehead contracted; she had prominent cheek bones, an aquiline nose, and pinched lips; altogether her countenance was the most stern and unwomanly I had ever seen in a female—and may God grant I never behold such another!

As I recall the scenes of that memorable night, I seem to see her sitting in her high-backed chair in that dusky parlor, discoursing to me of the condition of her unfortunate son, and impressing me, as she supposed, with her extraordinary sagacity, but in reality astonishing me by the reflection how such a man as my friend could have been the offspring of such a mother. It had appeared to her, she said, that William had grown of late rather over-studious, and to this cause and their retired mode of life, she attributed his malady, which was a sort of melancholy nervousness that led him to pass whole days in his study, almost without food, and permitting no one to approach him. She thought it better to postpone informing him of my arrival until she had spoken with me; this I readily assented to. She believed I could be of infinite service to him by winning him to rides or walks with me in the fields, and that a few weeks of my society would quite restore him to health. The cause of his melancholy being but temporary, a little cheerful society would soon restore him.

I made suitable replies to these observations, and said that I hoped all would succeed as we desired. But I was by no means satisfied with this view of the causes of my friend’s illness. He must, indeed, I said, have studied severely if that had driven him to madness, for his mind was of a texture to bear study as well as any I had known. But his mother persisted in her opinion, and added that he had for the last year or more lived in much too retired a manner; that she had for some time entertained fears for his health, and in order to wean him from study, had contrived a marriage for him with a young lady who was heiress to a large property in the next county, when he was suddenly taken ill.

As she said this I observed that momentary unsteadiness of the eye which the most thorough adepts in falsehood are not always able to avoid, and by which we know that the tongue is uttering what the mind knows to be untrue. I observed this, and I remembered at once what Alison had told me in our college days of his love affair, how much it changed him, and the difficulty he anticipated with his mother. “Ah,” said I, with the assumed nonchalance of a man of the world,” if my friend is grown to be a woman-hater, he is changed indeed. Had he never,” I inquired, “since college times, shown a partiality for any of the sex?” “O yes, he had at one time been quite a lady’s man; that is, he used to visit and amuse himself with the farmers’ girls in the village below. She had not encouraged it. She had heard something, indeed, of a sort of flirtation with a little artful minx who was so presumptuous as even to pay court to herself. But it never came to anything. The hussy had left the village several months, and gone no one knew whither.”

I remarked an unsteadiness when this was saying, not in the eye only, but in the voice and manner. It was evidently the constraint of dissimulation. But I had not time to sift the matter further, for the door of the parlor opened, and in a moment I was grasping by the hand my poor friend, who had, on my arrival being announced to him by the serving-woman, come down at once to meet me.

Time and sorrow had wrought sad changes in his once noble countenance, and fearfully ravaged the graceful beauty of his once healthful form. I read at a glance, in his hollow cheek and eye, and heard in his cavernous voice, that the destroyer had marked him, and that however successful I might be in my endeavors to recover him from his depression, it could never be for a long enjoyment of his society. I might minister to his diseased mind, but no earthly power could arrest the progress of consumption. I should restore him only to watch at his death-bed.

We sat and conversed of old times, for his affliction did not reach his reason, until I was convinced that he was suffering more from general decay than from any organic affection, arising from what cause soever. He grew faint with the effort of speaking, and was obliged to recover himself by intervals of rest. These his mother by her looks to me evidently considered as simple wanderings of his intellect. She encouraged him accordingly to converse, and urged him to partake more of the tea, which was in the meantime brought in by the housekeeper, than he would have desired. She did not appear to be in the least aware of his actual condition. In her manner towards him she mingled none of that gentleness, none of those kind tones which are so soothing to the exhausted nerves of the sick. On the contrary, she appeared quite rough and dictatorial, as though in my coming she had gained a point, and was now securing the attainment of her wishes. Grim and rigid, she sat in her upright chair and doled us out a thin infusion that kept no promise to the taste, meanwhile talking on in the very presence of her wretched son, of schemes and plans which it was plain he was well aware could never be realized. It seemed she was one of those women who have man’s desire for control, and that she had been accustomed to assume the entire management of her son; he deferring to her out of long habit, and because he was too affectionate to wish to undeceive her. I made one or two attempts to check her by exposing her pride and wickedness, but my friend rebuked me with glances which seemed to say, “Let her alone—it will soon be over!”

After tea I went up with him to his chamber. It was a dark old room, with antique presses and chairs, and cold—very cold—one of those rooms which strike upon the senses with a funereal chilliness. We sat upon a faded sofa that stood against the eastern wall, and talked of former days and hopes departed. My own life had not been unchequered by grief, and in endeavoring to probe the rooted sorrow of my friend, I was obliged to go over much which even now I struggle to forget.

But at length I wrung from him his secret. It was, as I suspected, no excess of application that had jangled the harmony of his soul. Ellen—it was she who was the burden of his lamentations—once she was his, and now she was lost forever. Where was she? He had searched the country over for tidings of her; he had spent days and weeks, and employed the best assistance money could buy. But never since one fatal evening in the May that was past was he able to hear aught concerning her. She was to have been his bride; they had loved long; they had been patient. He had been dutiful, and his mother he thought would have yielded. She had relaxed so far even as to invite Ellen to the house, and had seemed to countenance her efforts to please. On the very evening, she had come up to the mansion with a bouquet of flowers from her own garden; he was to have met her here, and they thought then to have joined in asking his mother’s consent to their union. But an accident to his horse had delayed him in returning from a neighboring town; Ellen was forced to walk down alone, and that was the last ever seen of her. Was not this enough to make him weary of life? Had she sickened and died, or even been taken away by some sudden and dreadful accident, he could have borne it with fortitude. But now what might she not have undergone? In what secret den of hell might not her beauty be the spoil of ravishers and murderers? Feeble as he had seemed, while he spoke thus he started up in agony, and his voice rang loud and hollow. I trembled lest when the paroxysm passed I should see him fall and die before my face. I exerted all my art to soothe and divert him. We would speak of it to-morrow, I said, but that in the meantime he must be quiet. I appealed to his pride—to his Christian’s faith. At last he softened, and allowed himself to let me assist him to his couch.

As I descended from his apartment I met his mother in the hall. She was coming, she said, to conduct me to my chamber. As I took the candle from her withered and bony fingers, I glanced at her face. She saw that I had heard the truth and more than suspected her falsehood. But she would not relent; it seemed she expected to overawe me by the same stern authority she exercised upon her son. “My God!” I could not help exclaiming as then a horrible suspicion crossed my mind. She grew deadly pale and pointed to the door of the room I was to occupy. I went in mechanically and locked the door with violence.

I knew not why, but I remember that I then examined the apartment all over with the light. I felt as though there were some dreadful influence in the very air of the house—an indefinite apprehension oppressed me. Thoughts that I dared not entertain floated into my mind. Did I hear a noise? I looked so long in one direction that I shuddered to turn to look in another. The candle burnt low—I could not bear to be in darkness—sleep was out of my power. While the wick fell I raised the heavy sash, and looked forth into the night.

There was a full moonlight, whose radiance fell softly on the valley, and the air was calm and filled with the fragrance of autumn. As I gazed, my nerves grew tranquil; the peace of the scene passed into my soul, and I smiled at my late perturbations. It could not be, methought; the world is not so bad; I misjudge my species. And then I grew abstracted with watching the effects of the moonlight cm the masses of foliage and the broad shadows beneath.

I was looking thus towards the orchard, when I perceived up the vista made by two rows of trees, something white, which appeared to be slowly moving. At first I paid no particular attention to it, thinking it must be a dog or cow. But now it approached, and I saw it was upright— could it be a man? Alas! God help me! it was no human creature, but a sheeted figure, which I knew by its gliding to be a bodiless visitant from the world of shadows! The blood froze in my veins as I marked its steady advance. I tried to shout, but could only groan, as in a dream. It was all enwrapped in white, so that I could see no face, and it came directly below and before my eyes to the very door of the house, and I saw it enter!

Presently—all the wealth of the universe would not tempt me to undergo it again— the house rang with shrieks—loud, agonized. I sprang to my feet and seized a chair, not knowing what I did. But immediately I heard the voice of the old servant, who occupied the chamber adjoining mine, crying “Fire!” and this recalled me to my senses. I opened the door and went to her room, the shrieks still continuing, though more faintly, and seeming to proceed from below.

But I need not narrate circumstantially all that followed. By the time we had obtained a light, and proceeded to the old woman’s apartment, the shrieks (which were found to come from thence) had fallen to low groans, and when we stood around her bedside she was past recognising even her son, whose presence appeared but to increase her agonies. She died raving, and the ghastly look of her stiffening features was awful.

My unhappy friend did not long survive the shock of his mother’s sudden death. He died peacefully. I never told him what I had witnessed. Indeed for a long while I was never sure that it was not an illusion of my senses caused by fatigue and excitement.

But upon the death of my friend the estate passed into the hands of a distant connexion, a worthy man, who is still living. He had the house torn down and replaced by a more comfortable dwelling, and made also many improvements on the adjacent grounds. In removing the orchard, which had long ceased to be productive, they found an old well, of whose existence none but the housekeeper had any knowledge; it was covered by a thin slab of slate, almost overgrown with grass and briers. Thinking it might be rendered serviceable, the proprietor a few years ago determined to have it cleaned, and in performing that operation the workmen drew up in the first buckets what proved to be the bones of a human skeleton. The circumstance naturally made some noise in that neighborhood; to me it was the solving of a fearful mystery. I went to see the bones, and from a plain gold ring which was found along with them I knew they must be those of Ellen. The ring had been made smaller by a clumsy workman. I remembered when my friend had it done. I gave no hint of my knowledge to others, for the innocent and the guilty were both gone to their account; but ever since then I have had no doubt in my own mind that Ellen was murdered by the mother of my friend, either pushed into this well as they were walking there, which might easily have been done, or made away with in some other manner and thrown there afterwards. And I cannot but believe it was her injured spirit which I saw, and which Heaven instructed to be the minister of its vengeance upon such atrocious wickedness. G. W. P.

American Review: A Whig Journal Devoted to Politics and Literature, Volume 8: October 1848: pp 411-420

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil really has nothing more to add to this story of a woman who would have surely been the mother-in-law from Hell and who, if the narrator had his way, would surely have gone hence.

Undine of Strange Company gives us another, brilliant example of a mother-in-law from Hell.

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.