Tag Archives: Victorian widows

A Sewing Machine for Christmas: 1898

 1877-sewing-machine

I very well remember the day before Christmas in Boston some years ago, when the mail carrier brought the morning letters, and one of them had in it a check for $50 from a well-to-do friend, inclosed in a letter which said: “I have more money than time. I would like to do something to make Christmas a little more cheerful and happy to somebody, but I have no time to look up a case. You must, in your work, know of some family where this money will make the Christmas time seem a time of good will. Use it in your own way to bring the most happiness.”

While I held the letter in my hand, grateful in my heart to my friend for choosing me as the messenger of his good cheer, and wondering where I could best use it, to make it meet his requirement, I was called from my study to see a little girl from one of the worst alleys of the South Boston slums of that day. She was about eleven years of age, but though she was not large for her years, there was in her face an acquaintance with care, and a knowledge of suffering, that made her look like a little old woman.

It was a sad little tale of woe she had to tell me. Her father had been killed a few months before by falling from a building. The mother and the four children, of whom this was the eldest, were left without anything but their own resources to get a living. The mother was not strong enough to go out to wash or scrub, and so she had tried to keep the wolf from the door by sewing while the little elven-year-old was housekeeper and caretaker of the other children.

The mother had bought a sewing machine some months before, and had been trying to pay for it by installments, but had had a hard time to meet the weekly payments. She did it for a while, but when the cold weather came on in November, and they had to have coal and a little extra clothing she had fallen behind, and now, on this day before Christmas, the agent had been around, and threatened to take away the sewing machine, and then what was to become of them they could not tell.

If you could have looked in that little girl’s eyes, and heard her tale, you would have had a new conception of what a great thing a sewing machine may be, under certain circumstances. If it had been a title to heaven she was talking about, the little thing could not have been more tearfully in earnest.

I clutched my friend’s check in my hand with a sudden consciousness of what I was going to do and told the little girl to tell her mother not to worry, and that I would look the matter up and see what I could do for her.

I went at once to the sewing machine company and found that there was still owing $28 on the machine. I paid off the contract and put the receipted paper in my pocket. Then along toward evening I had a grocer load up his wagon with a barrel of flour, a barrel of potatoes, some sugar, and tea, and a whole host of goodies, including a good fat chicken for the Christmas dinner, and with some soft blankets and some warm clothing and toys for the children. I paid a Christmas eve visit to that little tenement house suite in the slum alley.

I called just ahead of the wagon, and told her I hoped she would be willing to accept a little Christmas remembrance, which a good hearted friend of mine had asked me to bring for him; and then before the astonished eyes of the mother and children the flour and potatoes, and all the good things came in, borne on the shoulders or rolled in by the big bluff grocer boys.

The woman was overcome with gratitude and the tears ran down her cheeks, while the little children danced for joy. The woman tried to thank me, and then she said what seemed to me at the time, the most pathetic thing I had ever heard.

“Do you think this good friend of yours, who has been so kind, would be willing to take back part of these things and pay the amount on my sewing machine lease?”

Poor soul, how could she be happy so long as the mortgage on her sewing machine was unappeased, and her one permanent stay in self-support threatened to be taken from her?

You can imagine the joy with which I thrust my hand into my pocket and took out the canceled lease and handed it to her, saying: “My friend wanted me to hand you this paper, too, and tell you that nobody would ever trouble your sewing machine again.”

Then there seemed nothing left to wish for. The mother grabbed both my hands, and in spite of all I could do, wet them with her kisses and tears. The children were finally speechless at such munificence, and I went out from them with my heart singing, if it were in my throat, and the tears blinding my eyes.

My only regret was that my generous friend could not see with his own eyes the joy his gift had brought, and thus be able to realize more clearly than would otherwise be possible the truth of Christ’s words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

LOUIS ALBERT BANKS

Plain Dealer [Cleveland OH] 11 December 1898: p. 30

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr Banks was the author of White Slaves: or, The Oppression of the Worthy Poor, The Saloon-keeper’s Ledger, and many works on temperance and religion. He was well-positioned to seek out those in need of assistance, although Mrs Daffodil has always found the sorting of the poor into “deserving” and “undeserving” to be a trifle unjust.  Surely the Unworthy Poor are similarly oppressed and may starve just as efficiently. And, speaking frankly, where should we be if we were all given exactly what we deserved? Mrs Daffodil does not normally make a habit of it, but who can quarrel with the notion of being kind?

Mrs Daffodil wishes her readers the joys of the season and all good things in the New Year. She will return on 4 January, 2017, with more jottings on fads, fashions, and follies.

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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She Wanted to Be a Widow: 1889

 

She Made a Pretty Widow, c. 1890

She Made a Pretty Widow, c. 1890

Perhaps the queerest of tales is that of a young lady who had just attained her majority, and with it the unrestricted control of 100,000 dollars. This young lady’s sole desire was to become a widow. Weeds are so becoming. What is so interesting as a young bewitching widow, with a handsome fortune? Accordingly, to obtain the desirable result, she engaged the services of the real estate agent who managed her property to procure an accommodating moribund husband. The agent set to work, and, with the aid of a friendly physician (every apothecary and sawbones is a physician here), a suitable subject was found in the person of a destitute printer, who was supposed to be dying of whisky and consumption.

After a little inducement the dying man consented, knowing that he was on the verge of the grave, the prospect of being decently buried overcoming any repugnance he might have felt at such an unnatural wooing, and by his orders the fair would-be widow was asked to name the day. Thereupon the next day there was presented at the bed of the bridegroom the bride and a widowed friend, the dying man’s mother, the real estate agent, the doctor, and a Justice of the Peace. The blushing bride having satisfied herself that the man she was about to take for better or worse “would soon be where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest,” shyly consented to be united according to the Statute in such cases made and provided by the accommodating Justice, and without bestowing another look on her newly-acquired husband, the fair bride left the room, having left sufficient coin of the Republic to pay the present living expenses and the future funeral charges, which she fondly hoped would be at early date.

Time passed, however, and still the bride remained a wife, and not a widow, and days merged into weeks and weeks into months, and the lady was reminded of the existence of a husband by the frequent demands on her purse. At last, her patience being exhausted, she determined to visit her husband to ask him why he persisted in living, and when he intended to be ready to be measured for his coffin. With that intent she proceeded to take the train for ‘Frisco, her residence being Oakland, and just as she was stepping into the carriage, someone stepped in front of her with outstretched arms, and said, “Frankie, my darling, I have found you at last.” Frankie (the lady) took a good look at the speaker; it was her husband. She was too cool to faint that, of course, goes without saving, but her voice, husky with emotion, trembled as she said, “What, not dead yet”

“No,” replied her husband, “I have quite recovered. They told me they did not know your address.”

You can imagine the fair one’s feelings. After a stormy interview and a refusal by the husband of a substantial sum to permit a divorce, a compromise was affected, whereby the lady was to furnish so much a month to the husband for his needs, —meaning whisky, of course—and after two or three months of unlimited quantities of the aforesaid needs, death claimed the victim who had so nearly escaped him. And the fair widow furnished with unbecoming cheerfulness the necessary funds to inter her dear departed and now, the object of her life being attained, she is turning the heads of all young eligible men with her ravishing widow’s weeds. But enough of this. I know your readers will say I have been romancing, but I can assure them that the lady is now residing in Oakland, and has taken no steps whatever to contradict the story on the contrary, she is quite proud of her exploit. Funny taste, is it not?

Waikato Times, 14 September 1889: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is rare to find a young woman (particularly one in possession of such a large fortune) who knows her own mind so well. Not for her the siren-song of young and handsome. It is not entirely dissimilar to those young persons, poor in worldly goods, but bountifully equipped with feminine charms, who calculatingly marry elderly millionaires, although in those cases, the young persons crave the money rather than the weeds.  One must admire the young lady’s coolness, if not her kindly heart.

The bewitching widow was something of a cliché in popular mortuary literature:

We could hardly conceive how it was possible the head could think of the fashion of a bonnet if the heart were breaking, We for a long time supposed that the matter lay entirely with the milliner, but we were undeceived once by having to carry a mourning bonnet back, intended for a young and pretty widow, because it was not becoming, and another, as the funeral did not occur for two days thereafter, was forthwith made that suited to a charm. The Spirit Messenger, R.P. Ambler, Editor, 14 June 1851: p 361

and

It is in questionable taste for a young and pretty widow to wear her mourning after she has become reconciled to the death of her first husband and is quite willing to marry a second. A widow still wearing her weeds, and at the same time carrying on an animated flirtation with some new admirer, is a sight to make the gods weep…To angle for a second husband with the weeds worn for the first, because they are becoming, is a thing that should be forbidden by law. Social Customs, Florence Howe Hall, (Boston: Dana Estes & Co., 1911)

For more on mourning customs and bewitching widows, see The Victorian Book of the Dead, as well as this story, “The Widow’s Baby,” and “The Mourner a la mode,” a satirical poem about a fashionable widow.

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 Every-day Juliets: 1883

THE EVERY-DAY JULIETS.

In killing off Juliet, Shakespeare for once at least, sacrificed nature to dramatic effect. A strong minded, obstinate, self-willed young woman like Juliet, would never have killed herself. What would probably have happened would have been this: Juliet would have fallen down fainting, and after lying in a state of syncope for a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes would have revived, and would have run away from such a scene of horror as fast as her legs could carry her. She would have gone home, told her mamma and papa the whole story, and would have remained in strict seclusion until after the funeral was over and her mourning had come home from the dressmaker’s. Then she would have appeared as the disconsolate young widow, in a set of bewitching weeds. Then she would have taken to devotion. She would have risen at an unearthly hour to go to six o’clock mass, to the great disgust of her lady’s maid, whom she would have compelled to accompany her.

In a few weeks’ time this little habit would have been followed by a remarkable “revival” amongst the young men of the place, who would also have taken to going to mass, with small pocket prayer books, the spick and span newness of which would have betrayed the fact that their owners were not in the habit of using them very frequently. By and by one or more of them would have lurked about the church porch until Juliet’s arrival, and would then have offered her the holy water brush. After one or two of such incidents had occurred, Juliet would have acknowledged the attention with a sweet sad smile, as who should say, “I see your devotion, and I pity you— but it is hopeless— my heart is buried in the grave of my dead love.” Then the young men would begin to call on papa and mamma, and take intense delight in papa’s stories, and mamma’s interesting reminiscences of her other babes who had “gone before.” By-and-bye one of the young men would begin to speak to Juliet of the necessity of not allowing herself to be so entirely absorbed by her grief. She would shake her head sadly, and give another pitying smile. Then she would begin to think of half mourning, and interviews with the dressmaker would take place with suggestions from the latter of a little less crape, and a speck or two of white or mauve. Juliet would comply, but with reluctance.

Then the young man, if he were a wide-awake young man, would speak out a little more plainly, for it does not do to be undecided and hesitating with pretty young widows and Juliet would burst into tears, which she would mop up with a handkerchief deeply fringed with lace, and ask him “How he could be so cruel, so soon after (sob-sob-sob!).” The young man would, of course, humbly apologise, and repeat the offence at the earliest opportunity. At length the necessary consent would be given, and a year and a day after Romeo’s death, Mrs Romeo would doff her last remnants of mourning and be led to the hymeneal altar by some body else, and Romeo would for a time be forgotten.

But not entirely forgotten. Oh, dear no; these re-married widows never do entirely forget number one. When number two objects to the milliners’ bills, then would come the time when Juliet would remember Romeo, and vow that “her first husband would never have been such a brute, and would have paid any milliner’s bill, however large, without grumbling.” Which might be true, only that Romeo never had to pay any milliner’s bills.

This is a horribly common-place view of the whole affair, and would have spoilt the play as a tragedy, but as a matter of fact healthy young women never kill themselves for love; they know that there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it.

I had the honour of escorting home a very matter-of-fact young person of the age of thirteen, and naturally asked her what she thought of the play. “Oh, Miss Pomeroy was delightful,” &c. &c. But what did she think of Romeo and Juliet as characters? And the matter-of-fact young person briefly remarked, “Oh, they were a couple of fools,” and then proceeded to discuss the incidents of the play.

Star 24 November 1883: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This week marks the 400th anniversary of the day that the death of William Shakespeare is celebrated. Mrs Daffodil cannot take the fuss entirely seriously. “Bardolotry” or the worship of the Swan of Avon, was a feature of some fulsome literary circles, suggesting that there never had been, nor never would be, another author so Enlightened or Sublime. The Spiritualists, too, could not leave Shakespeare in peace, calling his spirit back from the vasty deeps to channel rather indifferent poetry and feeble wit. There were also, of course, the many Bacon/Shakespeare controversies, including mysterious ciphers, raids on church-yards in search of vaults, and an improbable tale of Bacon’s murder and decapitation of Shakespeare, which you will find in this grewsome post by that collector of cranial curiosities over at Haunted Ohio.

Mrs Daffodil has always preferred comedy to tragedy and suspects that the Immortal Bard, who did, after all, pen some excruciatingly broad puns, would enjoy the humorous posts for to-day and Saturday. Mrs Daffodil has also previously shared a post about a young man’s Shakespearian enthusiasm, unshared by his family.

 

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 Widow’s Baby: 1888

the widow's baby

THE WIDOW’S BABY.

Any unfortunate being who ever attempted to smuggle anything from the Continent, and fell into the hands of Captain Peter Muggins, of her British Majesty’s Customs, on landing at Dover, never forgot the circumstance.

The captain was the one to vindicate the honour of the said British Majesty. He was a short, stout, red-faced, well-fed, and exceedingly ill-tempered son of Mars. His martial tread and loud-voiced oaths did not convey the idea of a carpet-knight, yet he had never faced the foe, nor “sought the bubble reputation at the cannon’s mouth.” No, he had contented himself with filling the “Queen’s Tobacco pipe,” as the kiln where contraband goods were formerly burned was somewhat profanely styled.

The captain was prepared to “fix” anyone who carried ashore one cigar, one inch of lace, a pair of gloves, or any other item.

As he stood thus, watching the coming ashore of the passengers with a “stony British stare,” he espied a lady who walked with the gentle, appealing, uncertain step of a young widow.

She was followed by a nurse, wearing the cap and apron of a French bonne and in the arms of this nurse was a baby, in long and flowing white robes.

The captain was on the alert.

The lady came up to him, and, throwing back her long crape veil, addressed him in deep, musical accents:

“You are the custom officer, sir?”

“I am,” responded the captain, rather gruffly.

Now, the widow was sufficiently beautiful to disarm even the ill-nature of Captain Muggins, and just the style of beauty he would be sure to admire.

The widow was beautiful, with a clear, brown eye—or, rather, two of them velvet-lidded, heavy fringed, full and languid, prone to be cast down modestly and upraised suddenly, to the no small confusion of the luckless male bystander.

She wore the full attire of woe. A small crape bonnet, with a slight frost-work of white under its brim, rested on her glossy black hair. Such hair waving, and shining, and blue-black.

Her brow, so smooth and broad, was undisfigured by lunatic fringe or bang. Her eyebrows were black and delicate, but straight, not arched. Her nose might be a trifle large, but it was beautifully formed and clearly chiselled and her mouth was beautiful, the lips so full, so heartlike, in their proud arch, their colouring so fresh and rich.

Then her complexion was of a soft, ruddy, indescribable brunette tint, impossible to picture in words, but wholly charming; her chin was so finely moulded, and her throat full and round.

Altogether, the irascible captain thought “The finest woman I’ve seen for years!” For the widow’s form fully equalled her face, and she was handsomely dressed.

“I am, madam,” he repeated. Where is your luggage?”

“Here it is. I am alone—that is with the exception of my nurse and baby. I have to travel so much now and always alone.”

Tears seemed very close to the widow’s lovely eyes, and a mournfully appealing tone touched even the ironclad heart of Captain Muggins.

“All right, ma’am. Have nothing to declare, I suppose?”

“Nothing. Please examine my trunks, for I long to rest, and my baby has been quite seasick, poor darling.”

The trunks were examined carefully for, however fine a woman the widow might be, “duty before sentiment” was the captain’s motto.

Nothing was found, and the trunks were passed.

The widow took her baby from the nurse’s arms, and hushed it to sleep as it had evinced signs of disquietude by beginning to whimper.

“A fine child, ma’am,” said the captain, who hated babies like poison.

“Is he not beautiful, my Henry?—the image of his dear—oh!” a sob completed the sentence.

He was beautiful at least as much as could be seen of him, for he was one mass of lace and embroidery, his rosy face half concealed by a filmy veil.

“He is a fine fellow; how old might he be?” The captain’s parboiled eyes shone with interest, he admired the widow more every moment.

“Seven months to-morrow—poor little darling! To think how much he has travelled!”

“He has, ma’am?”

“Yes by his dear father’s strange will I live six weeks in Paris and six in England alternately.”

“Rather troublesome for you, ma’am.”

“Oh, I don’t mind for myself,” said the bewitching widow, with a swift upward flash of her adorable eyes, “but my poor little boy—fancy, I might risk his health, might even lose him.” Here she seemed about to give way to her feelings, but just then the captain murmured “Oh, I hope not,” sympathetically, the bonne came up to say that the carriage waited, and with a hurried, “Thank you so much—good-by,” the beautiful widow disappeared.

“Ah! that’s something like a woman!” ejaculated the captain, as he resumed his official duties. He felt that Providence had been guilty of gross injustice in not providing him with just such a wife, instead of poor, faded, weak-eyed, heart-broken Mrs Muggins. In three weeks the beautiful widow returned to France, and in six weeks she again had her luggage examined by the Captain, who became more deeply interested than before. This sort of thing continued for nearly a year. Captain Muggins was now violently enamoured of the lovely widow, who long ago had informed him that her name was Mrs Cecil, and that her husband’s death had left her very wealthy, though sadly inconvenienced by the terms of his strange will.

Master Henry throve apace he grew wonderfully large and heavy, and was a remarkably good boy—so quiet.

“He is quite a sailor,” said the captain, as he stood examining the trunks after rather a stormy voyage.

“Yes; and, poor darling, he cried so very dreadfully during the passage, he is quite worn out.”

When the widow and the captain had been acquainted a year or so the head officer of the department sent for Captain Muggins one day.

He received him in his private office, and remarked as soon as he saw him: “I sent for you, Muggins, for I know you’re very sharp.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied the captain, pleased by the compliment.

“Well, Muggins, I have something rather unpleasant to say.”

“Yes, sir.” The captain felt rather alarmed.

“I’ve received information that a noted smuggler has been getting ahead of us for a year, bringing over diamonds, laces, &c— thousands of pounds worth of valuables. I have known it for some time but though I’ve tried every way, I’m blowed if I can spot him.”

The captain’s red face grew redder.

“I hope, sir, you don’t imagine that I neglect my duty,” he said humbly.

Like all other bullies, he was a great coward.

“No, I don’t. But it is quite possible that some one has been a little too smart for you.”

“I scarcely think that possible,” said the captain indignantly.

“Well, well, the thing is that the game is going on, and I want to tell you what I am going to do. I’ve sent to Scotland Yard for one of their sharpest men, and he’ll be on the wharf the next trip.”

No crimson dye of Eastern fame could equal the tint of Captain Muggin’s face. A detective put on his wharf—to overlook him!

He dared not offer a remonstrance but anyone who knew him could judge for themselves what a nice time his wife and daughter would enjoy when he returned to his home, as they were always the helpless victims of his fury when any indignity was put upon him by outsiders.

He left the office and returned to his duties. His blood boiled with indignation, and he scarcely replied to the many questions asked him during the day by those with whom he came in contact through his official position.

When the steamer arrived and her passengers flowed ashore in a stream, the captain espied the widow advancing with her usual smile, her nurse and her baby. “Ah! how are you my friend?” said the charmer, in her usual soft, melodious accents.

“Well, thank you. How is Master Henry?”

“Oh, so well, so beautiful!”

The trunks were passed, and after a few pleasant words the widow prepared to depart, but just as Julia, the bonne had announced the carriage, a quiet-looking man, in a salt-and-pepper suit, stepped up and laid a profane hand on the beautiful shoulder of the charming widow.

“Caught again, Iky!” he said, in a pleasant manner.

The widow started. She glanced around in terror, alarm.

“No use, Iky!” said the salt-and-pepper man. “I’ve been wondering why you kept so quiet. Game up, old boy.”

The captain stood by in speechless amazement while the detective arrested the beautiful widow.

And the baby, Master Henry, what of him?

He was disrobed of his lace and his embroidery, and he proved to be one mass of smuggled goods adroitly built together on the foundation of a bottle of the best French brandy, and furnished with a waxen face and an apparatus to make a noise resembling the cry of an infant.

The captain is still employed as an officer of Her Majesty’s Customs, but he is more humble, for his beautiful widow was a smart young smuggler from Paris. He was singularly handsome and made up well as a woman, and he had brought thousands of pounds’ worth of valuables through right before the redoubtable captain’s nose and as long as the captain lives he will never hear the last of the widow’s baby.— Prize Tit Bit.

The American Magazine 1888

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil really has nothing else to add except her admiration for the ingenious young smuggler and his cunning crying-baby scheme, which reminds her of this apparatus:

A mechanical genius has hit upon the most effectual means of securing ladies travelling by railway from male intruders. This is his advertisement, which needs no comment “Artificial Babies for Travellers.— Common travelling infants, yielding intermittent cries of fear, and capable of being put into the pocket, 10s. Second class, crying not too loudly, but lamentably and insupportably, 20s. Third class, full squallers, with a very piercing and aggravating voice of five octaves, £2. The same, arranged as a prompt repeater, £2 6s Fifth class, first quality, capable of continued squalling, £3.”

Otago Witness, 8 January 1876: p. 5

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

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

 

A New Mourning Racket: “Cadging”: 1887

weeping widow SF Call 3 Oct 1897 p. 18

A NEW RACKET

“Cadging” as It Has Been Introduced by the Tramp Fraternity

How Recently-Bereaved Chicago Widows Are “Worked” for Old Clo’.

“I have heard with deep regrets of your bereavement, madame, and knowing that you are charitably inclined, I have called to see if you would aid me in procuring employment. I have a wife and three children dependent upon me for a living. I am promised work in ten different stores if I can make myself presentable. You have no further use for them—they will only tend to call up painful recollections. I mean the clothes of Mr. ___.” The lady, in deep mourning, and eyes bedimmed with tears, readily assented, and in a few moments a servant appeared with a good-sized bundle of clothes, the door closed, the petitioner left a house on Washington Boulevard, where death had visited the night before, turned the next corner, met a confederate, delivered the bundle to him, and the latest Eastern racket had worked to a nicety.

Curious to get a more thorough insight into the business, a reporter for The Inter Ocean yesterday morning visited a well-known resort of the apostles of “cadging” on Washington Street, near Franklin. The place is a low, dingy, and filthy groggery, denominated by the genus tramp, whose headquarters it has been for years, the “Sewer.” A dozen or more of the fraternity were collected about the stove, smoking, chewing, expectorating, and narrating fables. Presently.

A LULL TO THE PROCEEDINGS

Was occasioned by the appearance of a comparatively well-dressed man. “Poys,” quoth he, handing three of them a slip each, “de goots are goot to-day. All big fellers up in der avenues. Gome ‘round to der sthore und wash yer mugs und fins.”

The reporter recognized the speaker as a well-known Madison Street pawnbroker. The trio accompanied him to the sign of the three golden spheres, and a moment later emerged with clean faces and somber looks. Each was accompanied by a confederate. They were armed with the residences and names of the men who had died the previous night, copied form the death notices contained in the morning papers. The reporter singled out a pair and followed them down to Clark Street. There the two boarded a north-bound street car, riding as far as Lincoln Park. Following them, the reporter was carried down Garfield Avenue. The pair were in advance of the scribe about 100 yards. Suddenly the “unwashed” party turned a corner. The other kept on until a house was reached, in front of which he halted. There had been a death in the house, as was evidenced by a long piece of crape pendant from the door knob.

THE MAN TIMIDLY RANG

The bell, and a domestic answered the summons. The caller desired to see the lady of the house. The lady could not be seen. A great bereavement—the loss of her husband—had so worked upon her that she was confined to her room. The caller was not to be put off in this way. He insisted mildly, yet emphatically, and the lady of whom he was in quest soon came to the door. The same story as was poured into the sympathetic ear of the Washington boulevard widow was given here, and was equally successful, for, as before, a bundle was the outcome of the conversation. As before, too, the clothes were handed to the man around the corner. Three other houses were visited, only one of which, however, any clothes were gotten from. And so, with the bundles, the pair returned the way they had come, obtained the ready cash for the fruits of their labors, and returned to the “Sewer,” where they spent the money obtained in this manner.

“Cadging” is a comparatively new institution in Chicago. A good strike is very often productive of an entire outfit of suits, including broadcloths and fine linen underwear. “Johnny” Dugan, “smooth-tongued Johnny,” brought the practice West some months ago, and it will soon assume the proportions it holds in New York and Philadelphia.

Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL] 10 April 1887: p. 13

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A deplorable “scam,” but the ways to impose on the newly-widowed are, alas, legion. Mrs Daffodil recalls the drummers who would call upon a widow with some piece of merchandise—perhaps a Bible stamped in gilt with her name—and the claim that her husband ordered said merchandise before his untimely demise. There were also pawnbrokers who would claim that jewelled articles were merely paste and advance only a pittance to the desperate widow. The mustache-twisting banker holding the mortgage, ready to foreclose in the depths of winter, is celebrated in legend and melodrama. And there were cads, like this utter bounder:

He Cheated the Widow.

Louisville, Oc. 23. F.M. Hoyt, a fine-looking middle-aged stranger, was arrested this afternoon charged with obtaining money by false pretense. The warrant was worn out by Mrs. Julia Hunt, a widow, from DeFuniak, Fla. He went there two months ago, and presenting himself as a detective and by promising to marry her, he got possession of her entire estate, which he sold and came to Louisville. He also secured $815 in cash from her.

Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 24 October 1889: p. 1

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. For daily posts on mourning, please visit The Victorian Book of the Dead’s FB page.

Other pieces about mourning appear in The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, also available in a Kindle edition.

See this link for an introduction to The Victorian Book of the Dead, a collection about the popular culture of Victorian mourning, featuring primary-source materials about corpses, crypts, and crape. 

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 Mourner A-la-Mode: A Satirical Poem: 1871

mourning walking toilettes The Milliner and Dressmaker, Goubaud

THE MOURNER A-LA-MODE.

By John G. Saxe

I saw her last night at a party

(The elegant party at Mead’s),

And looking remarkably hearty

For a widow so young in her weeds;

 

Yet I know she was suffering sorrow

Too deep for the tongue to express.

Or why had she chosen to borrow

So much from the language of dress?

 

Her shawl was as sable as night;

And her gloves were as dark as her shawl;

And her jewels that flashed in the light,

Were black as a funeral pall;

 

Her robe had the hue of the rest

(How nicely it fitted her shape!)

And the grief that was heaving her breast,

Boiled over in billows of crape.

 

What tears of vicarious woe,

That else might have sullied her face,

Were kindly permitted to flow

In ripples of ebony lace!

 

While even her fan, in its play,

Had quite a lugubroius scope,

And seemed to be waving away,

The ghost of the angel of Hope!

 

Yet rich as the robes of a queen

Was the sombre apparel she wore;

I’m certain I never had seen

Such a sumptuous sorrow before;

 

And I couldn’t help thinking the beauty,

In mourning the loved and the lost,

Was doing her conjugal duty

Altogether regardless of cost!

 

One surely would say a devotion

Performed at so vast an expense,

Betray’d an excess of emotion

That was really something immense;

 

And yet as I viewed, at my leisure,

Those tokens of tender regard,

I thought:—It is scarce without measure

The sorrow that goes by the yard.

 

Ah! grief is a curious passion,

And yours—I am sorely afraid—

The very next phase of the fashion

Will find it beginning to fade.

 

Though dark are the shadows of grief,

The morning will follow the night,

Half-tints will betoken relief,

Till joy shall be symbol’d in white!

 

Ah, well! It were idle to quarrel

With Fashion, or aught she may do;

And so I conclude with a moral

And metaphor—warranted new.

 

When measles come handsomely out,

The patient is safest, they say;

And the sorrow is mildest, no doubt,

That works in a similar way!

The Spiritual Magazine 1 August 1871

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Widows were often, alas, fair game for the Victorian press. Many marriages were not love-matches and many women were widowed quite young. In addition, there might be economic incentive to remarry. These circumstances led to the cliche of the “merry widow,” a woman who delighted in mourning finery and thought of nothing except bagging another husband. Tragically, the author, John G. Saxe [1816-1887] poet, wit, and satirist, knew too much about mourning. Only three years after this light-hearted poem was published, he began to suffer a series of losses: his youngest daughter Laura died of consumption aged 17 in 1874. His daughter Sarah died in 1879; his mother in 1880; another daughter, Harriet, his eldest son, John, and John’s wife also died of the disease in quick succession in 1881. In 1880, his wife collapsed with an apoplexy and died, worn out from nursing her sick children and husband. Saxe himself suffered head injuries in a train accident in 1875, sank into a reclusive melancholy and died in 1887.

Mead’s is “Paul Mead’s” a chop house in Brooklyn popular with lawyers and sporting men. The last stanza refers to the belief that if the rash of measles was somehow supressed or turned inward, it would go ill with the patient.

You may read more about mourning in The Victorian Book of the Dead, now available. A recent post satirizing the fashionable widow was this one.

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.

 

A Mourning Envelope and Paper Discuss a New Widow’s Grief: 1880

Black-bordered mourning stationery.

Black-bordered mourning stationery.

MOURNING STATIONERY.

“Dear me,” said the Paper, “I feel awfully queer—so stiff round the edges. What is this black band for?”

“Hush!” said the Envelope; “don’t you know? Her husband is dead.”

“Well?” said the Paper.

“Well,” said the Envelope, “how stupid you are. The black is mourning for him, that’s all.”

“Good gracious!” said the Paper; “does she do it like this? Do you suppose it comforts her to see a black edge on her stationery? How very funny!”

“It’s the proper thing to do, at any rate,” said the Envelope, sharply. “You haven’t seen the world, evidently.”

“But it is not my idea of grief,” persisted the Paper. “If I were sad I would go away from everybody and keep quiet.”

“You are very simple-minded,” said the Envelope. “Who would see you if you mourned like that? I knew a widow once who was very angry because she found a card with a wider black edge than her own. She said she had told Tiffany to send the widest that was made, and here was one wider. She almost cried, and measured the edges to make sure. That was grief, now.”

“Was it, indeed?” said the Paper. “Well, times have changed, I suppose. Once when a woman lost her husband her eyes were so full of tears that she could not see how to measure black edges. This is the age of reason, I am told. All feeling is treated as weakness and soothed away by ignatia.”

“Oh, people feel, I suppose,” said the Envelope, a little ashamed; “but, really, there are so many things expected of one now when one’s friends pass away, that there isn’t as much time for grief. Just look at our poor lady to-day. At nine the undertaker came upon a matter most painful. It was—well, the mountings on the casket. She was going to have hysterics, but couldn’t, because he was waiting for her decision. Then the florist came to know about the decorations for the house. Then Madam Lameau with boxes upon boxes of dresses, wraps, bonnets, etc., and although our lady did sigh when she saw the deep black—tears spoil crepe, you know, and madam quickly diverted her mind by showing Lizette how to drape the long veil becomingly. Then came the jeweler with the latest design in jet, and her diamonds have to be reset now, you know, in black claws. After this the mourning stationery was sent with the crest in black, and all sorts of cards and letters had to be written. Then the servants’ new mourning liveries and carriage-hangings were selected. When dinner was served, our lady was so exhausted by all this that she felt faint, and ate a really good dinner to sustain life. Now I should like to know what time she has had for grief, poor thing!”

“Don’t say no time for grief!” said the Paper, rustling with indignation; “say no soul for it, and you will be nearer the truth. When a woman can choose bonnets and jewelry, her husband lying dead in the house, there is not much sadness in her heart. I see that she needs the black-edged paper to express herself. She might as well give up all this miserable farce and enjoy herself at once. Let her give a ball instead of a funeral, and show her diamonds in their new claws.”

“Oh, dear me, do hush!” said the Envelope.  “A ball in crepe and jet jewelry; you are not even decent; you don’t seem to understand things at all.”

“I don’t, that’s true,” said the Paper, “and I hope I never will; when women have got to mourning by sending out black edges and wearing the latest thing in jet, I give them up. I never shall understand.”

“Emotional people always make difficulties for themselves,” said the Envelope, coldly. “I accept things as they are, and adapt myself—Hush! she is coming, and crying, too, I declare, after all.”

“Well, really, Lizette,” said a voice broken with sobs, “you are very thoughtless. How should I remember, in my distracted state, to say twelve-buttoned gloves? and here they are only six-buttoned; it is too bad. But every one takes advantage of me now. I am alone—forlorn—desolate,” and the sobs redoubled.

“Poor thing,” said the Envelope.

“What hopeless grief” said the Paper. “I pity her.”

Arthur’s Home Magazine, Volume 48, 1880

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Such surprisingly scathing social commentary from stationery! Mrs Daffodil trusts that the Hall stationery will keep its opinions to itself, but one had no notion that stationery could be so censorious.

This is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead, now available at Amazon and other online retailers, and for Kindle. 

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.