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Art. XIII.-On Burial Societies ; and the Character of an
SIR, I was amused the other day with having the following notice thrust into my hand by a man who gives out bills at the corner of Fleet-market. Whether he saw any prognostics about me, that made him judge such notice seasonable, I cannot say ; I might perhaps carry in a countenance (naturally not very florid) traces of a fever which had not long left me. Those fellows have a good instinctive way of guessing at the sort of people that are likeliest to pay attention to their
“ A favourable opportunity now offers to any person, of either sex, who would wish to be buried in a genteel manner, by paying one shilling entrance, and twopence per week for the benefit of the stock. Members to be free in six months. The money to be paid at Mr. Middleton's, at the sign of the First and the Last, Stonecutter’s-street, Fleet-market. The deceased to be furnish ed as follows:
-A strong elm coffin, covered with superfine black, and finished with two rows, all round, close drove, best black japanned nails, and adorned with ornamental drops, a handsome plate of inscription, Angel above, and Flower beneath, and four pair of handsome handles, with wrought gripes; the coffin to be well pitched, lined, and ruffled with fine crape; a handsome crape shroud, cap, and pillow. For use, a handsome velvet pall, three gentlemen's cloaks, three crape hatbands, three hoods and scarfs, and six pair of gloves ; two porters equipped to attend the fune ral, a man to attend the same with band and gloves; also the bu. rial fees paid, if not exceeding one guinea.”
“ Man,” says Sir Thomas Browne, “is a noble animal, splen, did in ashes, and pompous in the grave." Whoever drew up this little advertisement, certainly understood this appetite in the species, and has made abundant provision for it. It really almost induces a tædium vitæ upon one to read it. Methinks I could be willing to die, in death to be so attended. The two rows all round close-drove best black japanned nails,-how feelingly do they invite and almost irresistibly persuade us to come and be fastened down! what aching head can resist the temptation to repose, which the crape shroud, the cap, and the pillow, present ? what sting is there in death, which the handles with wrought gripes are not calculated to pluck away? what victory in the
grave, which the drops and the velvet pall do not render at least extremely disputable? but above all, the pretty emblematic plate with the Angel above and Flower beneath, takes me mightily.
The Notice goes on to inform us, that though the society has been established but a very few years, upwards of eleven hundred persons have put down their names. It is really an affecting consideration to think of so many poor people, of the industrious and hard working class (for none but such would be possessed of such a generous forethought) clubbing their twopences to save the reproach of a parish-funeral. Many a poor fellow, I dare swear, has that Angel and Flower kept from the Angel and Punchbowl, while, to provide himself a bier, he has curtail. ed himself of beer. Many a savory morsel has the living borly been deprived of, that the lifeless one might be served up in a richer state to the worms. And sure, if the body could understand the actions of the soul, and entertained generous notions of things, it would thank its provident partner, that she had been more solicitous to defend it from dishonours at its dissolution, than careful to pamper it with good things in the time of its union. If Cæsar were chiefly anxious at his death how he might die most decently, every Burial Society may be considered as a Club of Cæsars.
Nothing tends to keep up in the imaginations of the poorer sort of people a generons horror of the workhouse more than the manner in which pauper funerals are conducted in this metropolis. The coffin nothing but a few naked planks, coarsely put together, -the want of a pall (that decent and well-imagined veil, which, hiding the coffin that hides the body, keeps that which would shock us at two removes from us), the coloured coats of the men that are hired, at cheap rates, to carry the body,--altogether, give the notion of the deceased having been some person of an ill-life and conversation, some one who may not claim the entire rites of Christian burial,---one by whom- some parts of the sacred ceremony would be desecrated if they should be bestowed
him. I meet these meagre processions sometimes in the street. They are sure to make me out of humour and melancholy all the day af. ter. They have a harsh and ominous aspect.
If there is any thing in the prospectus issued from Mr. Middle. ton's, Stonecutter’s-street, which pleases me less than the rest, it is to find, that the six pair of gloves are to be returned, that they are only lent, or, as the bill expresses it, for use, on the occasion. - The hoods, scarfs, and hatbands, may properly enough be given up after the solemnity: the cloaks no gentleman would think of keeping ; but a pair of gloves, once fitted on, ought not tesy to be re-demanded. The wearer should certainly have the fee-simple of them. The cost would be but trifling, and they would be a proper memorial of the day. This part of the Propo. sals wants reconsidering. It is not conceived in the same liberal way of thinking as the rest. I am also a little doubtful whether the limit, within which the burial-fee is made payable, should not be extended to thirty shillings.
Some provision too ought undoubtedly to be made in favour of those well-intentioned persons and well-wishers to the fund, who having all along paid their subscriptions regularly, are so unfortunate as to die before the six months, which would entitle them to their freedom, are quite completed. One can hardly imagine a more distressing case than that of a poor fellow lingering on in a-consumption till the period of his freedom is almost in sight, and then finding himself going with a velocity which makes it doubtful whether he shall be entitled to his funeral honours : his quota to which he nevertheless squeezes out, to the diminution of the comforts which sickness demands. I think, in such cases, some of the contribution-money ought to revert.
With some such modifications, which might easily be introduced, I see nothing in these Proposals of Mr. Middleton which is not strictly fair and genteel ; and heartily recommend them to all persons of moderate incomes, in either sex, who are willing that this perishable part of them should quit the scene of its mortal activities with as handsome circumstances as possible.
Before I quit the subject, I must guard my readers against a scandal which they may be apt to take at the place whence these Proposals purport to be issued. From the sign of the First and the Last, they may conclude that Mr. Middleton is some publi. can, who, in assembling a club of this description at his house, may have a sinister end of his own, altogether foreign to the solemn purpose for which the club is pretended to be instituted. I must set them right by informing them, that the Issuer of these Pro. posals is no publican, though he hangs out a sign, but an honest superintendant of funerals, who, by the device of a Cradle and a Coffin, connecting both ends of human existence together, has most ingeniously contrived to insinuate, that the framers of these first and lust receptacles of mankind divide this our life betwixt them, and that all that passes from the midwife to the undertaker may, in strict propriety, go for nothing: an awful and instructive lesson to human vanity.
Looking over some papers lately that fell into my hands by chance, and appear to have been written about the beginning of the last century, I stumbled, among the rest, upon the following short Essay, which the writer calls 66 The Character of an Undertaker:" It is written with some stiffness and peculiarities of style, but some parts of it, I think, not unaptly characterise the profession to which Mr. Middleton has the honour to belong.
The writer doubtless had in his mind the entertaining character of Sable, in Steele's excellent comedy of the Funeral.
CHARACTER OF AN UNDERTAKER. “ He is master of the ceremonies at burials and mourning as. semblies, grand marshal at funeral processions, the only true yeo. man of the body, over which he exercises a dictatorial authority from the moment that the breath has taken leave to that of its final commitment to the earth. His ministry begins where the physician's, the lawyer's, and the divine's, end. Or if some part of the functions of the latter run parallel with his, it is only in ordine ad spiritualia. His temporalities remain unquestioned. He is arbitrator of all questions of honour which may concern the defunct; and upon slight inspection will pronounce how long he may remain in this upper world with credit to himself, and when it will be prudent for his reputation that he should retire. lis determination in these points is peremptory and without appeal. Yet with a modesty peculiar to his profession, he meddles not out of his own sphere. With the good or bad actions of the deceased in his life-time he has nothing to do. He leaves the friends of the dead man to form their own conjectures as to the place to which the departed spirit is gone. Ilis care is only about the exuviæ. He concerns not himself even about the body, as it is a structure of parts internal, and a wonderful microcosm.
He leaves such cu. rious speculations to the anatomy professor. Or, if any thing, he is ayerse to such wanton enquiries, as delighting rather that the parts which he has care of should be returned to their kindred dust in as handsome and unmutilated condition as possible; that the grave should have its full and unimpaired tribute,--a com. plete and just carcass. Nor is he only careful to provide for the body's entireness, but for its accommodation and oruament. He orders the fashion of its clothes, and designs the symmetry of its dwelling. Its vanity has an innocent survival in him. He is bed. maker to the dead. The pillows which he lays never rumple. The day of interment is the theatre in which he displays the mysteries of his art. It is hard to describe what he is, or rather, to tell what he is not, on that day: for, being neither kinsman, ser. vant, nor friend, he is all in turns; a transcendant, running through all those relations. His office is to supply the place of self-agency in the family, who are presumed incapable of it through grief. He is eyes, and ears, and hands, to the whole household. A draught of wine cannot go round to the mourners, but he must minister it. A chair may hardly be restored to its place by a 'less solemn hand than hi takes upon himself all functions, and is a sort of Ephemeral Major-domo! He distributes
his attentions among the company assembled according to the degree of affliction, which he calculates from the degree of kin to the deceased; and marshals them accordingly in the procession. He himself is of a sad and tristful countenance; yet such as (if well examined) is not without some shew of patience and resignation at bottom: prefiguring, as it were, to the friends of the deceased what their grief shall be when the hand of Time shall have softened and taken down the bitterness of their first anguish; so handsomely can he fore-shape and anticipate the work of Time. Lastly, with his wand, as with another divining rod, he calculates the depth of earth at which the bones of the dead man may rest, which he ordinarily contrives may be at such a distance from the surface of this earth, as may frustrate the profane attempts of such as would violate his repose, yet sufficiently on this side the centre to give his friends hopes of an easy and practicable resur. rection. And here we leave him, casting in dust to dust, which is the last friendly office that he undertakes to do.”
Begging your pardon for detaining you so long among graves, and worms, and epitaphs," I am, Sir, your humble servant,
Art. XIV.-Yugons largely; or an Analogical Essay on the Treute
ment of Intellectual Disorders, together with an Account of a surprising Cure performed therein by the Writer when usleep.
We are always pushing our analogies either too far, or not far enough; and more injury is done in the latter instance than people imagine, though the abuse in general is certainly on the other side. Upon that side indeed, the fault is so notorious and has been so well exposed, that it stands a good chance of amendment; and even the ladies, though they are aware (charming rogues !) how much an innocent little mistake or two become them, may in time be induced to call hats and horses by their proper epithets, and pot term every thing sweet and sweet pretty-sweet caps, sweet ponies, sweet pretty greys, &c.
There is however one of the most obvious and commonest ana. logies, to which we do not pay sufficient practical attention, though it's language is perpetually in our mouths :- I mean that between mind and body. In speaking of these dissimilar, but at. the same time inseparable and sympathizing moieties of our na. ture, we borrow from each of them, and apply to both indiscrimi.