Funeral Fashions.

The Ladies' Cabinet of Fashion.
Vol. XXX. 1867
George Vickers, Angel Court, Strand
Rogerson and Tuxford, printers, 246, Strand.
London 1867

By Mrs. Caroline A. White.

If there be one human vanity more foolish and uncalled for than another, more opposed to the spirit of the natural teaching of the fact of death, it is that into which the undertaker flatters us, and which exhibits itself in mortuary parade.

Death the humiliator, the equalizer of all social distinctions, who lays the great or talented upon the same level with the fatuous and the poor—
"Kings, like chimney-sweepers, must
Put off their crowns and come to dust" —
is still made an occasion of costly, and, in too many instances, in middle-class life, of ill-afforded and distressing outlay.

True, funeral pomp and ceremony have much abated in modern times. The haughtiest beauty, the proudest rank (short of royalty), now gives up the unseemly struggle with the inevitable, and submits without embalment to decay.

The ghastly ceremony of "lying in state" — that uncongenial reception, at which the entertainer, with stark limbs and painted face, received in silence the compliments of his guests, however adulatory — is only exceptionally used, and then with modified observances.

Funerals too by torch-light, once distinctive of the obsequies of great personages, are in these times almost unknown, except as part of the maimed rites (and then to enhance the horror of them) with which the self-murderer is lai dat midnight in the unhallowed ground of a three-went-way or cross-road — a ceremony so aged and weird as to bear a relationship to the Pagan superstitions of the Romans, and remind the classic reader that Hecate, the goddess of Hell, presided, under the name of Trivia, over all places where two roads crossed, and that she kept the ghosts of unburied bodies for a hundred years on this side Styx, and wandered about with their phantoms at night, accompanied with the baying and bowling of dogs. Remembering the superstition, not yet moribund in England, and active in the sister Isle, that the spirits of bodies unburied, or its equivalent in popular estimation, buried in unconsecrated ground, are condemned to wander on earth for a certain time, the analogy of the custom to the ancient idea is very apparent to my own mind.

Another advance in funeral fashion is the abandonment of the insane usage (under the idea of the greater sanctity of such burial-places) of converting our churches into mausoleums, and placing the family vault beneath the family pew. Nay, we have gone yet further in our sanitary reform, and have carried our dead out of our towns and cities, as did our Anglo-Saxon ancestors before us; but, unlike them, we have carried out our plans and building materials also, and in the instance of every sub-urban cemetery are surrounding their precincts with dwellings for living inhabitants, and thus voluntarily bringing about the very condition which occasioned the necessity for the Extramural Burial Act. In the earliest historic period fields distinct and apart, lone caves, and chambered mountains were used as depositories for the dead. The old Egyptians ferried their mummied relatives in funeral boats to the scene of sepulture, and the Nile separated the dead and living. The Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans had their public burial places outside the walls of their cities. The latter built Columbariums, or receptacles for the ashes of the dead, by the sides of the highways, that passers by might be reminded of their mortality, and also, according to Juvenal (Sat. 1) to save the beat part of the ground. The public places of sepulture were of two kinds: one for the burial of great persons, at the decree of the Senate, usually the Campus Martius —a great plain, dedicated to Mars, on the north side of which stands the superb mausoleum of Augustus; and the puticuli, or Esquilian Mount, outside the Esquilian gate, where the very poor and slaves were buried, according to Horace, "A common sepulchre for the miserable mob," and which had in his day become a source of so much unhealthiness to the neighbouring parts ot the city, that Augustus bestowed many acres of it on the poet's patron Mœcenas, who converted it into fine gardens.

* Statutes; see Bills of Mortality.The first Christian burial-place in Britain (596) was separated from the habitations of men, and planted, like our modern cemeteries, with flowers —
"Mark my hillock with the simple flower,"
occurs in a Saxon poem, and we read that the custom of planting rose-trees on graves remained with us from the time of the Romans. It was not till 742 (more than a hundred years afterwards) that burials were permitted in towns; but in 750, we find the church taking the dead under its protection, and burials in churchyards allowed, an innovation subsequently extended to the churches themselves; and in 1075, vaults were erected in the chancels at Canterbury, for those who were rich enough to purchase the privilege of interment in them. In later years Government exhibited as great a desire to profit by the common fate of humanity as the church has done, and a tax on burials was actually levied in England in the times of William III., and, George. III,, 1793: for the intermerit of a Duke £50, for that of a common person 4s.*

All those years the populace, thoroughly im bued with the superstition originally propagated by the clergy, that the dead rested better for being interred in close proximity to the church, never troubled themselves with the condition of the grave-yards. The outbreak of cholera in 1432, and the late Dr. Southwood Smith's Enquiry into the Sanitary Condition of the Metropolis, in the same year, eventually led to the Burial Act, and its various amendments, and resulted in the consecration of Kensalgreen Cemetery, and subsequently of many others in the suburbs and country.

From that period burials in church-yards have been gradually discontinued, till the Act for extra-mural burials coming into force, put an end to them wholly in towns. Yet this necessary change was not enforced without considerable opposition on the part of the clergy and the people; but, happily, science and common-sense were in the majority, and, as Horace said of the Esquilian-hill, "now one may live" near our church-yards, which have, in many instances, been converted into healthy places.

As Fashion, in funerals as in everything else, leads the people like a flock of sheep, the popularity of certain of our suburban cemeteries has effected the overcrowding of them, and those nearest town threaten, in the course of a few years, to reproduce the evils which induced their introduction. That one which of all others possesses in itself the peculiar features most desirable in a place of sepulture—solitude, expanse, aridity of soil, and constantly-changing currents of air, sweeping, not simply over the two thousand acres it comprises, but over the wide miles of heath-land of which it is a part — the grandly-situated Necropolis at Woking — has yet to be popularly appreciated. People forget that the Company's means of transit compresses the distance into half-an-hour of time. But here again the pomps and vanities of the grave are to be considered, and by railway there is no place for them. No place for men with staves and trays of feathers; no need of tightly-reined, sleek-coated, prancing steeds, plumed catafalque, and mourning coaches! The whole system menaces threateningly the vested interests of the undertakers, who, as we know from experience, have not a word too hard to throw at it. It is cheap — that perhaps is the worst of it; the pauper may lie there in his sandy bed, overcovered with a floral pall of purple heath, undisturbed and separate, at a cost which even a parish-officer thinks moderate; while for the outlay of a few pounds, one may purchase the right to moulder unmolested in the lap of the great mother, till time and the elements resolve all that is mortal of us to themselves.

A Royal franchise where the king's writ runneth not. In perpetuity! is written on such freeholds; but let that pass. It has an odd sound in this and similar scenes of silent mutation. But the phrase has reference, probably, to the rights of the living rather than to the tenancy of the dead.

The world has exhibited strange vagaries in the mode of disposing of the body when its term of service has ceased. Interment would seem to have been the primitive mode. Cremation followed. The ancient Greeks and Romans specially used the latter. The Egyptians affected to preserve the body, and succeeded in giving it thousands of years' endurance. Others again expose it on tree-tops and on temporary scaffolds, that the carrion-birds may destroy all but the framework as soon as possible. Some severe economists (or it maybe with the same sentiment that has made Artemesia famous for swallowing the ashes of her husband) eat their dead relatives, and thousands of Hindoos are floated by the sacred riven to find their final rest in the sea.

In Christian countries, upon the introduction of burials in churches, costly tombs and monuments, as much for the decoration of the sacred interiors as in honour of the dead, grew into fashion; and survivors were enoouraged to think that the larger the outlay and the more elaborate the ornaments, the more service was afforded to the House of God, and the more honour to the memory of the deceased. The results are seen in the exquisite monuments still beautifying our cathedrals and minsters, models of some of which are familiar to visitors at the Crystal Palace and the South Kensington Museum, where the rudest spectator pauses beside the cast of the tomb of Sir Henry Vere, whose effigy lies beneath a marble canopy supported by four kneeling knights.

With the decay of architecture came a reaction, and the monuments to the dead in our churches became cumbrous, unmeaning, and inelegant; especially in bad taste are those of the Georgian era to our military and naral heroes, statesmen, and other public personages. They are anomalies of the most wondrous description, both as regards costume, characteristics, and situation, and represent English men in semi-Roman dress, surrounded by Mythological symbols, and, in some instanoss supported by heathen divinities, whose presence seem a desecration of a Christian church, and are in themselves a sufficient cause to induce' future iconoclastic contest.

Fortunately a return to simplicity, and spurn taste seems imminent, as these qualities extend themselves to the sculptors and the statuary's art; and our cemeteries offer a wide and practical field for such improvements.

Few things can be more ugly than the rounded or square headstones, inscribed with epitaphs fabulously eulogostic, or texts culled by the undertaker, or worse still the rhymed moralities of one of these modern Libitinarii, which mark the majority of English graves. The cross plain or floriated and broken column are beautiful in themselves, and, because they are so, are constantly repeated in our cemeteries, too often without reference to their symbolism. I have seen a broken column above the grave of an individual who had nearly reached his three acore years and ten, just as I remember to have seen the tomb-stone of a lady, aged sixty or more, in the church-yard of Kingston-on-Thames, pathetically reminding the passer by that "her sun had gone down at noon." In brief, funeral fashions are much like other fashions, and what looks well and is charmingly appropriate to certain circumstances, are indiscriminately affected by the majority. Statuary, on the other hand, either from its expensiveness, or because its resources are rarely put to use, is seldom seen in church-yards or cemeteries; though amongst flowers and foliage, nothing looks moro beautifully impressive. A figure leaning and weeping over a cinerary urn, which urn is empty to the mass of observers of all meaning, and has been out of date in British funeral fashions for at least eighteen hundred years, is the to -to -speak stereotype subject. Grief must indeed be dry, to the makers of mortuary emblems, if it can offer no other, or higher type of its effects on human nature, than this quassi classic one. Genius even in an undertaker's statuary yard would dis cover that sorrow in its various gradations and relations may be moulded into a thousand touching shapes, each more expressive in its simple naturalness than any model borrowed from the ancients. There is in Romney Abbey, secondary only in its touching beauty to Chantrey's "children" at Lichfield, a monument to a child carved in white marble by the hand of her father, which Will live in my memory for ever. Its tenderness and purity, and the fragrancy of love thrown over and into every curve and line of the fair child, whose curly head rests on one dimpled arm.while from the other downdropped hand a flower has fallen — a rose-bud if I recollect — presents oue of the sweetest images of dead infancy imaginable. You feel as you gaze upon it, that the sculptor's tears wetted the path of the graver, and that the tenderest memories' trembled in the simulated curls round the bright head, and concreted themselves as it were into the life-like form and easy posture of the lost blossom. Upon the side of the low cushion-like monument, on which the little figure lies, is in scribed a line very full of parental tenderness, and also of christian hope and faith: "Is it well with the child?" and they said "It is Well!" I do not expect statuary work to emulate the grace and finish of sculpture, but an approach to nature is practicable, and far more likely to lead to high results, even on the part of an ordinary workman, than this constant repetition of the same image. But to pass from mortuary monuments to mourning, which is, alas! as old as death itself, we find various people expressing it in various ways. The ancient Israelites eat upon the ground, and kept silence; they neither washed nor anointed themselves, and, instead of perfumes, spread ashes on their heads. Their mourning habits were straight clothes made of camel's-hair, without plait or fold in them, or else the oldest and dirtiest garments they possessed. They covered the face and fasted daily till sunset; but as this condition of things could not be maintained very long, their period of mourning for ordinary friends lasted seven days; upon extraordinary occasions a month.

Much the same forms were maintained amongst the old Greeks and Romans, and eastern nations. The Romans wore black for mourning, while white was their general wear; but when parti-colours became fashionable, white grew so much into contempt that at last it was only used by women for their mourning clothes. The men, however, continued to wear black. White is also worn by the Chinese as mourning. The Turks mourn in purple. The Ethiopians clothe themselves on mourning occasions in brown. It was at one time a fashion in Europe for queens to wear white in mourning; it was generally so worn in Spain till 1498. In Europe at the present day, black is the usual colour for mourning. Amongst the Romans no one wore mourning longer than ten months; even widows were not exempted from this rule. In this country mourning is popularly worn 12 months for near relations; but fashion, sentiment, and common sense, extend or contract the period at will. A few years back mourning was worn much longer than at present, and this without regard to circumstances. Indeed the lower we descend in social rank (with special exceptions) the stronger appears the desire to affect this outward and visible sign of bereavement. The death of an infant, or of a distant connection, is made a pretext for the ill-afforded expense, and for putting a family into mourning. With many people the respect it is presumed to show forthe deceased outweighs their duty to themselves, their children and society, and this feeling, which amounts almost to superstition, is duly fostered by custom, and the necessity there is at such a time for putting oneself, and the sad duties that devolve upon us, into the hands of the undertaker. Custom decides the depth of crape on the widow's gown, and the thickness of the fall on her bonnet — and this too often without reference to her means, suddenly lessened, sometimes wholly cut off, especially in the modestly-genteel walks of life, where appearance so often masks small means. How often is the Government clerk, upon the loss of a wife, whose nice economy and good management enabled him to hold his head up with fellow-officials, and to bring up his children respectably, in order to do proper honour to her memory, been forced to incur a debt which he does not see the way to pay, and for which his family and himself must suffer long after the black suits have grown rusty, with which he signalled to the world his and their loss! How often, with still less hope of paying for them, except at the price of bitter privations, does the poor widow don her weeds; and "put" her ohildren, as ths phrase goes, "into mourning"! Put them into mourning! as if the bitterest bereavement a family can suffer (supposing the head of it, man or woman, to be worth mourning) had not already filled their hearts chokefull of it! On the same sad day comes the undertaker, with his professionally raised eyebrows and depressed mouth, and undertones, suggesting and presuming that everything is to be respectably conducted — which means, besides the necessaries of his lugubrious office, sufficient yards of silk and crape and pairs of black kid gloves (always too large for the hands for which they are intended) to keep the fatherless or motherless family for some weeks (supposing their cost to be so applied); and the patient (or his or her) representative, sick at heart, or unable to object to an expenditure which is, it would seem, the modern offering to the manes of the departed, subjects the whole affair to the funeral contractor; and by-and-by, when the bill becomes due, the be reaved family find a millstone of debt superadded to straitened circumstances and natural sorrow.

One knows that there are numbers of these necessary tradesmen conscientious in their charges, and honest in their dealings, but these virtues are by no means the rule. We rejoice, therefore, to find a great company like the London Necropolis, not only offering the advantage (so at least it seems to the living) of an uncontaminated grace, but prepared to carry out at a fixed tariff moderate and inclusive, for every grade of funeral, all necessary undertaker's duties — a system which relieves survivors of a great burden, and leaves thetn free to follow or not the funeral fashions of the town. It seems to us a sign of advancing civilization, that many persons of rank, who have chosen Woking for the site of their family burial-place, and whose mausoleums and monuments diversify this unencumbered estate of Death, that in the majority of instances they have dispensed with the undertaker's properties, and have had their relatives deposited in earth in the most simple and unostentatious manner.

Such a severe humility becomes the undis turbed peacefulness and vastness of this funeral garden, and sets an example that in time may lead to a change in the mistaken pompousness of funeral fashions.

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