Tag Archives: tokens of death

Empress Eugenie and the Scent of Violets: 1880

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

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

SCENT FROM BEYOND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Pigeons of Doom: 1700

 

Doves in a funeral flower arrangement, 1885

Both doves and pigeons are constantly associated in the popular mind with death. Every reader of Westward Ho! will remember the white dove which was the habitual death-token of the Oxenham family.

We have in Shropshire a less poetical record of a similar death-warning, which, however, seems to have been attached not so much to a particular family as to a particular house. The narrative shall be given verbatim from the pages of the old writer who has preserved it for us.

‘Beecause many maryages of persons in this parish of Myddle have beene made with persons of Cayhowell, I will say something of that farme. . . . There is a wounderfull thing observable concerning this farme, of which I may say, in the words of Du Bartas—

Strang to bee told, and though believed of few,

Yet is not soe incredible as true.

It is observed that if the chiefe person of the family that inhabits in this farme doe fall sick, if his sicknesse bee to death, there come a paire of pidgeons to the house about a fortnight or a weeke before the person’s death, and continue there untill the person’s death, and then goe away. This I have knowne them doe three severall times. 1st. Old Mrs. Bradocke fell sicke about a quarter of a yeare after my Sister was maryed, and the paire of pidgeons came thither, which I saw. They did every night roust under the shelter of the roofe of the kitchen att the end, and did sit upon the ends of the side raisers. In the day time they fled about the gardines and yards. I have seene them pecking on the hemp butt as if they did feed, and for ought I know they did feed. They were pretty large pidgeons; the feathers on their tayles were white, and the long feathers of theire wings, their breasts, and bellyes, white, and a large white ring about theire necks ; but the tops of theire heads, their backs, and theire wings (except the long feathers,) were of a light browne or nutmeg colour. (My brother-in-law, Andrew Bradocke, told mee that hee feared his mother would die, for there came such a pair of pidgeons before his father’s death, and hee had heard they did soe beefore the death of his grandfather.) After the death of Mrs. Bradocke, the pidgeons went away. 2ndly. About three-quarters of a year after the death of Mrs. Bradocke, my father goeing to give a visit to them at Kayhowell, fell sicke there, and lay sicke about nine or ten weekes. About a fortnight beefore his death, the pidgeons came; and when hee was dead, went away. 3rdly. About a yeare after his death, my brother-in-law, Andrew Bradocke, fell sicke, the pidgeons came, and hee died; they seemed to me to bee the same pidgeons at all these three times. When I went to pay Mr. Smalman, then minister of Kynerley, the buriall fee for Andrew Bradocke, which was in April, Mr. Smalman said, this is the fiftieth Corps which I have interred here since Candlemas last, and God knows who is next, which happened to bee himselfe. Andrew Bradocke died of a sort of rambeling feavourish distemper, which raged in that country, and my sister soone after his decease fell sicke, but shee recovered, and dureing her sicknesse, the pidgeons came not, which I observed, for I went thither every day, and returned att night. Afterwards my Sister sett out [= let] her farme to John Owen, a substantiall tenant, who about three yeares after fell sicke; and my Sister comeing to Newton, told mee that shee feared her tenant would bee dead, for hee was sicke, and the pidgeons were come; and hee died then.’

From Richard Gough, Antiquityes and Memoyres of the Parish of Myddle, 1700, Ed. 1875, pp. 45-48

Shropshire folk-lore: a sheaf of gleanings, edited by Charlotte Sophia Burne, 1885: p. 227-9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: On several recent mornings Mrs Daffodil has noticed the mourning doves making moan in the shrubberies. The creatures visit only intermittently and Mrs Daffodil does not know whether to take it as an omen or a directive…

Doves and pigeons are often conflated in folk-lore. One suspects that their reputation as downy death omens comes from their role as a symbol for the Holy Spirit.  In some parts of England there was a superstition that if pigeon feathers were found in the feather bed or pillow of a dying person, that person would not be able to pass on until the offending feathers were removed. See this post on “Feather Superstitions” for the particulars of death-preventing feathers.

 

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 Ladies in Black; The Lady in White: 1854-1871

A mourning ensemble and veil from the Metropolitan Museum's "Death Becomes Her" exhibition.

A mourning ensemble and veil from the Metropolitan Museum’s “Death Becomes Her” exhibition.

The Lady in Black.

Owing to the connections which I had, during my youth, with the Court of Bavaria, I was personally acquainted with the actors in the following story and am enabled to give the following details:

King Ludwig I, having abdicated his throne owing to the revolution of 1848, retired to Aschaffenburg with his spouse, the Queen Thérèse, to seek protection from the ravages of cholera, which at that time prevailed at Munich. There he received visits frequently from his son-in-law, the Grand Duke Ludwig II of Hessen, residing in Darmstadt. They used to have tea together, subsequently playing cards, and the General Du Jarrys de la Roche took part in the game.

It was once a stormy night when they met in this manner. The rain was pouring down, rattling at the windows, the thunder was rolling, and lightning illuminated the room. All at once one of the large doors of the apartment opened, a lady dressed in black entered and posted herself behind the chair of the Queen. King Ludwig and both of his guests saw that lady and exchanged looks of surprise; the Grand Duke arose and went to the anteroom, where he asked the officer in charge:

“How could you permit an unknown lady to enter the apartment of their majesties, without having her properly announced?”

“Your Highness will excuse me,” was the answer; “I have been in attendance here for three hours, and no one has passed through the ante-room except their majesties and the General de la Roche.”

The Grand Duke returned to his chair, but the lady in black had disappeared. The Queen Thérèse noticed by his looks that something was taking place, and as she begged to have the matter explained, the Grand Duke told her about the apparition and the answer of the officer. The Queen turned pale and with a trembling voice exclaimed: “This concerns me.”

The cholera at Munich subsided and having been assured that there was no danger, the Court returned to the “Wittelsbach Palace.” In a couple of weeks the Queen Thérèse was dead.

*****************

King Maximilian of Bavaria returned one evening from one of his daily horse-back rides through the royal park and was about to dress for dinner, when a slight indisposition induced him to retire to his rooms.

At about eleven o’clock that night the officer of the bodyguards in charge made his usual round of inspection at the quarters where the princes and princesses resided. As he came near the rooms of the ladies of the Court, where the Countess Fugger and the Baroness Redwitz slept, he saw a lady dressed in black, and with a black veil covering her head, issuing from one of these rooms and walking slowly along the corridor. Thinking that she was returning from a visit to one of these ladies, the Captain called to her, as she was passing by the only staircase which led to the street door, and told her that the way out was there.

The lady in black paid no attention to him, but continued her way through several apartments. She finally descended the stairs slowly, passed by one of the sentinels and disappeared at the entrance of the chapel. The officer, feeling some suspicion, ran quickly down stairs, calling to the sentinel to stop the stranger. The guard swore that he had seen no one. Next morning the King was dead.

*****************

The White Lady, British Library

The White Lady, British Library

A similar case is the one of The Lady in White, who is said to appear in the royal castle of Stockholm whenever a death at the Court is about to take place. The following is an account of such an occurrence given by the Princess Eugénie, a sister of King Oscar:

“During one of the last days of the month of March 1871, and a short time before the death of Queen Louisa, I had been spending the evening with my mother the Queen-widow Josefina. We both were glad that the illness of the Queen had taken a favourable turn, and that the physicians expected a speedy recovery. It was late at night and I was about to retire, when the servant entered, informing us that a big fire had broken out in the vicinity of the castle. My mother desired to look at it, so we went to the great hall, where it could be seen from the windows.

“After a while we returned, and as we passed through a room that was connected with the rooms of the Queen by means of a staircase, I saw a tall lady standing in the middle of the apartment right below the lighted chandelier. She was dressed in white silk, and wore a large collar of lace reaching down upon the shoulders. I felt quite certain that she was one of the ladies of the Court ordered to wait for the return of my mother and to inform her about the condition of the Queen. However, the lady in white looked at both of us without stirring and without showing us any attention. I had never seen that lady before, and I thought at first to ask my mother whether she was acquainted with her; but I did not, because I expected my mother would speak to her and tell me her name. Great was my surprise when my mother did not seem to see the lady while we passed her. Still I never suspected anything uncanny about it; I merely thought that my mother did not wish to notice her because she had not yet been presented. Nevertheless the fact that none of us had seen that lady before seemed strange to me; but as my mother said nothing, I kept silent about it.

“Before we stepped out of the room, I turned around once more and saw the lady still standing at the same place, like a statue of marble. After a few moments she made a few steps in advance, as if she wanted to come nearer. We entered into the next room and I immediately asked my mother ‘Who was she?’

“’She?—What she?’ asked my mother in surprise.

“’She, the lady in a white dress, who stood there without saluting us.’

“My mother stopped and asked in a voice trembling with fear: ‘Did you see a white-dressed lady in the room that leads to the apartments of the Queen?’

“’Most certainly I did,’ was my answer. ‘She stood just below the chandelier. Did you not notice her? I will open the door again to see whether she is still there.’

“My mother caught my hand. ‘Don’t tell anybody at present of what you have seen,’ she said. ‘You have perhaps seen the “Lady in White,” and that means the Queen’s death.’

“I went to bed, but I could not sleep for a long time. I prayed for Queen Louisa and for the King, who was perhaps soon to experience such a loss. Next morning the physicians sent word that the Queen was worse, and in three days she died.”

This account was given by the Princess to Pastor Wadstrom and was published in his “Memoirs.” The explanation in regard to such cases is that an “elemental” or thought image had been formed for the purpose of giving warnings of approaching death. Further particulars about the nature of such appearances may be found in my book on The Life and Writings of Theophrastus Paracelsus. (Kegan Paul and Co.).

Frantz Hartmann, M.D.

The Occult Review July 1907: pp 14-17

The Women in Black are well-known as omens of death around the world. (That sub-fusc person over at Haunted Ohio has devoted entire chapters to them in The Face in the Window and The Ghost Wore Black.)

The Woman in White was also a harbinger of doom to the Hohenzollerns. She was believed to be a wronged ancestress who would appear to announce an impending royal death. Since so many of the royal houses of Europe intermarried in inexplicably intricate ways, perhaps the White Lady travelled from kingdom to kingdom as needed.

Dr Hartmann was a medical doctor as well as occultist, Theosophist, and “geomancer.” One wonders how much we can trust the reminiscences of a man who was an associate of Madame Blavatsky and who wrote such titles as In The Pronaos Of The Temple Of Wisdom Containing The History Of The True And The False Rosicrucians and The Principles of Astrological Geomancy, The Art of Divining by Punctuation According to Cornelius Agrippa and Others.

Mrs Daffodil is not aware that Cornelius Agrippa ever wrote a style manual or a grammar, but no doubt occultists know a great many things which are as a sealed book to the uninitiated.

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 Swans of Closeburn: 1700s

swan

Whenever any member of the Kirkpatricks of Closeburn in Dumfries-shire was about to die, a swan that was never seen but on such occasions was sure to make its appearance upon the lake surrounding Closeburn Castle, coming no one knew whence and passing away mysteriously when the predicted death had taken place. In connection with this omen the following legend is told: In days gone by the lake was the favourite resort during the summer season of a pair of swans, their arrival always being welcome to the family at the castle, from a long-established belief that they were ominous of good fortune to the Kirkpatricks. No matter what mischance might have before impended, it was sure to cease at their coming, and so suddenly as well as constantly that it required no very ardent superstition to connect the two events as cause and effect.

But a century and a half had passed away, when it happened that the young heir of Closeburn, a lad about thirteen years of age, in one of his visits to Edinburgh, attended a performance of The Merchant of Venice at the theatre. In the course of the play he was surprised to hear Portia say of Bassanio that he would

Make a swanlike end.

Fading to music.

Wondering whether swans really sang before dying, he determined at the first opportunity to test the truth of the words for himself. On his return home he was one day walking by the lake, when the swans came rushing majestically towards him, and at once reminded him of Portia’s remark. Without a moment’s thought he lodged in the breast of the foremost one a bolt from his crossbow, killing it instantly. Frightened at what he had done he made up his mind that it should not be known, and as the dead body of the bird drifted towards the shore he lifted it and buried it deep in the ground.

No small surprise, however, was created in the neighbourhood when for several years no swans made their annual appearance. As time passed it was thought that they must have died, but one day, many years later, much excitement was caused by the appearance of a single swan with a deep blood-red stain upon its breast. As might be expected, this unlooked-for occurrence occasioned grave suspicions even among those who had no great faith in omens; and that such fears were not groundless was soon abundantly clear, for in less than a week the Lord of Closeburn Castle died suddenly. Thereupon the swan vanished and was seen no more for some years, when it again appeared to announce the loss of one of the house by shipwreck.

The last recorded appearance of the bird was at the third nuptials of Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick, the first baronet of that name. On the wedding day his son Roger was walking by the lake, when, on a sudden, as if it had emerged from the waters, the swan with the bleeding breast appeared. Roger had heard of the mysterious swan, and although his father’s wedding bells were ringing merrily, he himself returned to the castle a sorrowful man, for he felt convinced that some evil was hanging over him. On that very night the son died, and here ends the strange story of the swans of Closeburn.

The Occult Review March 1916: pp. 164-5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Some might take this as a warning about the evil influence of the play-house on Impressionable Youth.

The exact quote is

Let music sound while he doth make his choice;
Then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end,
Fading in music.
(The Merchant of Venice, 3.2.46)

Of course, the term “swan-song” is proverbial; swans were believed to burst into beautiful song as they were dying.

Swans are also considered to be a death omen for the Marquises of Bath. When the Marquis is about to die, it is said that one of the swans flies away from the lake at Longleat and does not return.

“The present Lord Bath told author [Christina Hole] that during World War I, when his elder brother, then the Marquis, was fighting in France, his mother saw a swan fly away as she stood by a window. Five swans flew toward her, then circled the mansion. One swan then turned out of the formation and flew into the distance while the four returned to the lake. The following morning she received the official telegram informing her of her son’s death.” The Psychic Power of Animals, Bill Schul

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 Flash of Fire: A Ghost Story: 1863

 

little girl with candle

There was something very agreeable to me, in my boyhood, in lingering among its simple denizens and listening to their traditions and passing experiences—none of which, however, were more interesting to a psychologist than what I am now about to relate, as happening to a person still living there in Philip Spencer’s cottage.

Philip and his first wife, Martha, who was a cousin of mine, having no children of their own, adopted the little daughter of a young woman who went to live at Derby. The child called them father and mother as soon as she could speak, not remembering her own parents—not even her mother. While yet very young, she one day began to cry out that there was a young woman looking at her, and wanting to come to her; and according to her description of the person it must have been her mother. As no one else saw the apparition, and the child continued for more than half an hour to be very excited, Philip took her out of the house to that of a neighbour; but the apparition kept them company, talking by the way. They then went to another house, where it accompanied them still, and seemed as though it wanted to embrace the child; but at last vanished in the direction of Derby—as the little girl, now a young woman, describes it—in a flash of fire. Derby is about fourteen miles distant from Holloway, and as in that day there was neither railway nor telegraph, communication between them was much slower than at present. As soon, however, as it was possible for intelligence to come, the news arrived that the poor child’s mother had been burnt to death; that it happened about the time when it saw her apparition; and, in short, that she was sorrowing and crying to be taken to the child during the whole of the time between being burnt and her expiration. This is no “idle ghost story,” but a simple matter of fact, to which not only Philip, but all his old neighbours can testify; and the young woman has not only related it more than once to me, but she told it in the same artless and earnest manner to my friend, the late Dr. Samuel Brown, of Edinburgh, who once called at the cottage with me,—repeating it still more clearly to Messrs. Fowler and Wells on our recent visit. Those people who ridicule all psychical phenomena they may not themselves have seen, will possibly be disposed to explain away this fact; but all we need say to such is what Shakespeare said long ago—” There are more things between heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Nor could I well quit Holloway on this occasion without recording the story.

Days in Derbyshire, Dr. Spencer T. Hall, 1863

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Another queer tale of “second-sight,” made all the more striking by the child having never known her own mother, yet seeing an apparition of her description. Such a vision was often a token of the seer’s own death and one would very much like to know whether the child survived. These apparitions are a common theme in the literature of the supernatural: ghostly loved ones are seen by the dying and their attendants, even though they have not been told of the loved one’s death. Here is another example:

APPARITION CAUSES DEATH

Sudden Demise of Woman After “Seeing Ghost.”

New York, Dec. 2. The death of Mrs. Margaret Smith while she was visiting friends in this city has all the uncanny surroundings of a real ghost story. Friends believe that she expired after seeing an apparition for a moment before she fell to the floor the woman raised her eyes to the ceiling and exclaimed: “Why, Frank, where did you come from?”

Only a few hours previous Mrs. Smith’s favorite grandson, Frank Kane, had died at his residence in West Sixteenth street, but Mrs. Smith had not been advised of it.

Physicians who examined the body pronounced her death as due to heart failure, but those who witnessed the dramatic scene think otherwise despite their non-belief in spirits or ghosts. Mrs. Smith was a well to do widow and lived at Seaford, N.J. Little Falls [MN] Herald 4 December 1908: p. 4

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.

For more stories in a funereal vein, see The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard, a look at the popular culture of Victorian mourning.

 

 

The Funeral Coach: 1855

 

Eugene Atget, Funeral Carriage, First Class, 1910

Eugene Atget, Funeral Carriage, First Class, 1910

THE FUNERAL COACH.

“1855, March 28.—The following story was told me by Lady S., who heard it from Mr. M., a gentleman of considerable note, and one not at all given to romancing:—

“Mr. M., a well-known lawyer, went to stay with Mr.T., in the county of ___. In the course of their first evening together, Mr. M. learned that, among his host’s neighbours, was an old friend of his own, for whom he had great regard; but of whom he had lost sight since college days. The next morning Mr. M asked the gentleman of the house if he would forgive him if he walked over to see his old friend; adding a request that if he were asked to dinner, he might be allowed to accept the invitation.

“On being assured that he might do whatever was most agreeable to himself, he went to make his call—not on foot, as he had proposed, but in his friend’s dog-cart. As he anticipated, the gentleman he went to see insisted on his staying to dinner. He consented, and sent the groom back with the dog-cart, with a message to his master to say that, as it would be a fine moonlight night, he should prefer walking home. After having passed a very agreeable day with the old fellow-collegian, he bade him good-bye; and, fortified with a couple of cigars, sallied forth on his return. On his way he had to pass through the pleasant town of ___, and on coming to the church in the main street, he leaned against the iron railings of the churchyard while he struck a match and lighted his second cigar. At that moment the church clock began to strike. As he had left his watch behind him, and did not feel certain whether it were ten o’clock or eleven, he stayed to count, and to his amazement found it twelve. He was about to hurry on, and make up for lost time, when his curiosity was pricked, and the stillness of the night broken, by the sound of carriage wheels on the road, moving at a snail’s pace, and coming up the side street directly facing the spot where he was standing. The carriage proved to be a mourning-coach, which, on turning at right angles out of the street in which Mr. M. first saw it, pulled up at the door of a large red brick house. Not being used to see mourning-coaches out at such an unusual hour, and wondering to see this one returning at such a funereal pace, he thought he would stay and observe what happened. The instant the coach drew up at the house, the carriage door opened, then the street door, and then a tall man, deadly pale, in a suit of sables, descended the carriage steps, and walked into the house. The coach drove on, and Mr. M. resumed his walk. On reaching his quarters, he found the whole household in bed, with the exception of the servant, who had received orders to stay up for him.

“The next morning, at breakfast, after he had given the host and hostess an account of his doings on the previous day, he turned to the husband and asked him the name of the person who lived in the large red brick house directly opposite the churchyard. ‘Who lives in it?’ ‘Mr. P., the lawyer!’ ‘Do you know him?’ ‘Yes; but not at all intimately. We usually exchange visits of ceremony about once a year, I think.’

“Mr. M.: ‘Does any one live with him? Is he married?’ “Answer: ‘No. Two maiden sisters live with him. He is a bachelor, and likely to remain one; for, poor fellow, he is a sad invalid. If I am not mistaken, he is abroad at this moment, on account of his health.’

“Mr. M. then mentioned his motive for asking these questions. When he had told of his adventure, he proposed that, after lunch, they should drive to and call on the ladies, and see if, by their help, they could not unravel the mystery. Full of their object, they paid their visit, and after the usual interchange of commonplace platitudes, the sisters were asked if they had heard lately of their brother. They said, ‘No; not for weeks: and felt rather uneasy in consequence.’

Mr. M. surprised at not seeing them in mourning, asked them if they had not lately sustained a great loss. ‘No,’ they replied: ‘why do you ask such a question?’ ‘Oh,’ said Mr. M. ‘because of the mourning-coach I saw, with some gentleman of this family in it, returning from a funeral so late last night.’ ‘I think, Sir,’ said one of the ladies, ‘ you must have mistaken this house for some other.’ He shook his head confidently. At their request, he then told them what had happened. They said it was impossible that their street door could have been opened at that hour, for that every servant, as well as themselves, were in bed. The more the subject was canvassed, the farther they seemed from arriving at any satisfactory conclusion. The ladies, rather nettled at the obstinacy of his assertions, examined the servants, individually and collectively, but with no better result. Mr. M. and his host eventually withdrew. On their drive home, Mr. M.’s friend quizzed him, and reminded him that when he saw the apparition he had dined, and dined late, and had sat long over his friend’s old port. But Mr. M., though he submitted to the badinage good-humouredly, remained ‘of the same opinion still.’

“A week after, when Mr. M. was in his chambers in London, his friend from the country burst in upon him, and said, ‘I know you are much engaged, but I could not resist running in to tell you that the two ladies we called on last week, three or four days after our visit received a letter, telling them that their brother, “a tall, pale man,” had died at Malta, at twelve o’clock on the very night you saw the mourning-coach and the person in it at their door.'”

The Spiritual Magazine 1 October 1871

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While Mrs Daffodil finds that the ghostly tale delivers a delightful frisson (and plans to tell it at the next All Hallow’s festivities, where it will frighten the Tweenie out of her wits…) , she is pursing her lips dubiously over the many breaches of etiquette found in this narrative. Mr. M. deserves reproach for entering a stranger’s house and posing such a delicate question, despite paving the way with conventional platitudes. His host is equally in the wrong for introducing him to the household simply in order to gratify a morbid curiosity.

The dead man is also to be censured. He might have panicked the household by his unexpected appearance, so late at night. At the very least he should have sent a telegram notifying his sisters of his arrival.  One might also point out that the tall, pale gentleman properly belonged in a hearse, not in a funeral carriage, which is reserved for conveying legitimate mourners to and from the funeral and churchyard. Mrs Daffodil will reserve judgement on the dead man’s attire. It is a nice point of etiquette as to whether the corpse himself should don “sables” for his own demise.

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.

For other stories of death-omens and tokens of death, see The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past and The Victorian Book of the Dead, both by Chris Woodyard of http://www.hauntedohiobooks.com.  Her blog also contains rather too many stories of death and the grim and grewsome for those of a sensitive disposition. Mrs Daffodil has had to forbid the Tweenie the site.

 

The Blood-stained Cap: 1850s

A lady's nightcap. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art Brooklyn Costume Collection.

A lady’s nightcap. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection.

A sad and chilling story of a strange death-omen.

The following letter was sent to me by Mr. T. J. A., whom I had asked to make personal inquiry into the story he had told me:—

“My Dear Sir, November 17.

The incident I mentioned to you the other evening occurred at Wivenhoe, near Colchester, in the cottage of a poor widow, who added to a very small annuity by letting two rooms, whilst her sons earned their subsistence by fishing. At the time of which I write, the widow’s rooms were inhabited by Captain and Mrs. B., a family connection of mine, and from whom I heard the tale. One morning the two young fishermen went out, telling their mother they should not be home all night as the tide would not serve them. Their mother gave them their provisions accordingly, telling them if they did get home, to knock very gently at the window, so as not to disturb the sick lady (meaning Mrs. B.) At night she went to bed as usual and as the weather was calm, felt no uneasiness about her sons. She slept till about three o’clock when she was roused by the usual signal at her window; jumping out of bed and quietly throwing open the sash, she looked into the darkness and saw the form of her eldest child. “Be still,” she said, “I will light the candle and let you in.” On opening the door she found no one there, nor could she obtain any answer to her calls though often repeated, and thinking she had been dreaming, she re-entered her room to return to bed. But again she heard the knocking at the window and a second time she put her head out the window and called her sons by name. No answer was given and feeling something drop on her forehead, which she supposed to be rain, she, almost angry at what she called a trick, put out the light and got into bed. Though not alarmed she could not sleep and at day break rose to dress herself. The first thing she saw was a slight stain of blood upon her fingers, and on going to the little glass hanging on the wall, she was frightened at seeing blood upon her temple, and on the border of her night cap. There was no scratch in either temple or finger, no clue to guide her as to the cause of the blood stain. In a moment the truth flashed upon her mind, and she felt sure her sons were dead. She went to the kitchen and there, sitting in a state of desolation, Captain B. found her, when, wondering at her non-appearance, he went to enquire about his wife’s breakfast. The tale was told, and the blood stains, displayed upon the night cap. Captain B. was startled, for he had heard (or fancied he had heard) the knocking, but he endeavoured to persuade the poor woman she had hit her head against the window. No, she was sure she had not, and what she had supposed to be rain was, in reality blood. She bade Captain B. examine the window, and to satisfy her he did so, but he could discover no projecting nail or anything by which his landlady could have hurt either head or finger, but on the small sill, he saw drops of blood similar to those on the night cap. Nothing could be otherwise than conjecture, and taking the afflicted woman to his wife, Captain B. set out to obtain tidings of the young men, but it was late in the day ere their suspense was ended and then the widow’s presentiment was confirmed. Her son’s boat had been swamped and both had perished. The body of one, the younger, was soon found and on his temple was a deep wound as if he had been struck by the mast of the boat as it turned over. The body of the other was never brought to shore.

Thus ends the tale of the Wivenhoe widow. I have seen her many times, but I never heard her mention the subject, for she never quite recovered her senses.

To my sister, who married Captain B’s son, she has frequently told her tale, and shown her the cap with the blood stains on it.”

The British Spiritual Telegraph, vol. 3-4, 1859, p. 57  

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Spiritualist literature of the period was full of stories of death-omens or “tokens of death,” as they were often known.  This post tells of some of the more usual portents. Mrs Daffodil, who is well-acquainted with post-mortem blood-stains and has a professional interest in knowing when people are going to die, finds that blood is an atypical omen of death. The belief that three drops of blood from the nose foretells death is found in Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Some say that the number of drops indicates the days to pass before the death. The anecdote at the end of this post tells of a blood-omen in connection with King Charles I.

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.