The outward symbol of affliction has been dignified with the name of the reality which it so feebly portrays. In the reality, and in its external shadow, I find a rather extensive subject for our consideration.
It has been a necessity of our pour human nature to give vent to feelings of distress in some manner from the earliest period of the world's history, ever since the day that sin "brought death into the world, and all our woe." And in the history of nations - as in those of each individual being, from the cradle to the bier - various in character have been the expressions of mortal anguish when "it must have way."
It is my intention to take a three-fold view of the subject: historical, sentimental (in the best sense of the term) and practical, and further, to consider the case of those who find satisfaction in wearing black garments; those who find none in so doing; and those who, desiring to wear mourning, have not the means to purchase it.
The Israelites use dot fast and weep and rend their garments, clothe themselves with sackcloth, hair-cloth, or coarse black or brown cloth. They sat in ashes, threw them on their heads, tore and cut off their hair and their beards, smote on their breasts and tore them, made loud wailing, and went barefoot and bareheaded. All the time of their mourning they sat at home or went to mourn at the grave, and ate whatever they allowed themselves on the ground, their faces being covered. They further gave vent to their misery by leaving their beds unmade, abstaining from the use of a bath, and all the duties of the toilet. It was, of course, impossible to protract a mourning of this description, and the ordinary limit was restricted to a week, but extended to a month on special occasions. Contemporary nations used to "cut themselves with knives and lancets," and gave vent to loud, and what we should regard as extravagant grief; and, as we are informed in a Holy Writ, they "made themselves bald for the dead" (Jer. XVI, 6, 7). The mourning by Joseph and the Egyptians for Jacob was of seven days - "a great and very sore lamentation;" and in the Book of Daniel, tenth chapter, three weeks are named as a period for mourning. From what the prophet Zechariah tells us, it would seem that men and women used to part company on such occasions, and give vent to their sorrow. They "put on mourning apparel," and abstained from their "anointing with oil." (See 2 Sam, XIV, 2.) It was also a custom to hire public wailing women to mourn after a complimentary manner, just as we hire "mutes" to wear black, and long black or white bands from their hats, and scarves. See Jer. IX, 17, 18 where "mourning and cunning women" are mentioned; as likewise in the prophecies of Amos V, 16, where persons "skilful in lamentation" are named.
I spoke just now of "the cuttings" made in evidence of grief for the dead by the ancient Israelites as not being peculiar to them. The custom of self-bleeding obtained amongst the Greeks, and also the Turks, and the cicatrices left for the remainder of life served as mementoes of the departed. As to the Lacedaeomonians, they used to tear the flesh from each other's foreheads with pins and needles in honour of deceased monarchs. The making bald also was by no means peculiar to the Israelites and their contemporaries, for the Greeks and Romans cut off their hair, as an offering of what they greatly esteemed, to a deceased relative; and sometimes it was laid upon the grave. The whole Greek army would do the same in honour of a much esteemed general. It was also their habit to retire into solitude, and to throw ashes on their heads, under which circumstances it was well that they did cut off their hair; and as natural also that they wore a veil whenever they appeared in public. Their dress was of black. The early Peruvians had an unpleasant prejudice in favour of pulling out the eyebrows and eyelashes as an offering to the dead; and in savage tribes of modern times the sacrifice of the hair, more or less, much prevails, as amongst the Carib and Dakota tribes of North America. The former sacrifice their long and precious scalplock, which is plaited down their backs, as the utmost expression of their respect and utter distraction; and the latter also cutting short, like their slaves and captives, that in which they glory. I have read of some uncivilised tribes who make their expression of grief a still more unpleasant affair, that of cutting off a joint of a finger. Indeed, the devotion of the Greeks to the memory of their commanders is thrown into the shade by some of these aboriginal tribes, whose magnates gave orders that a hundred fingers should be cut off to do honour to the memory of a chieftain just deceased.
The colours adopted in various parts of the world to express respect for the dead have been various. We derived our idea from the Romans, who wore a black toga for mourning, and sometimes left it off altogether for the same purpose. So far as the men were generally concerned, the colour did not change either under the Empire or the Republic, but under the former the women wore white, under the latter dark blue - a colour adopted by some of the men.
The Egyptians, in all probability, gave the custom of hiring "wailing women" to sing and lament, and beat tambourines, divested of the tinkling metal plates, to the Israelites. Two or more were engaged to mourn for an hour at a time. Strange to say, the colour adopted by them for their mourning is yellow.
In Turkey they adopt blue or violet, in China and Japan white, and in Ethiopia brown. In Bokhara they wear purple, as we are informed by Thomas Moore, in "Lalla Rookh."
"Not glittering o'er
With gems and wreaths, such as the others wore,
But in that deep-blue, melancholy dress,
Bokhara's maidens wear in mindfulness
Of friends or kindred - dead, or far away."
But throughout Europe, the United States of America, and our own colonies and dependencies, black is universal for deep mourning; and grey, or black with a little admixture of white, for slight mourning.
I have now reached the second division of my subject - the sentiment, which supplies the origin of all external exhibition of grief, whether of a positive or negative character.
I have related many extraordinary customs very uncongenial to our feelings, but it must not be supposed that hypocrisy was necessarily exhibited; for, custom having prescribed certain observances, to devote time, care, self-mortification, and money to their accomplishment was surely an indication of genuine respect of affection. And, however barbarous the ceremony, it might have indicated as much genuine feeling as the shedding of quiet tears unseen at home. Few of us "creatures of habit," as we are bound by the prejudices of our friends, care to be remarkable, any more than less civilised nations, by acting after a contrary fashion to them.
But, without scandalising them, a considerable amount of personal freedom is conceded to all. And, moreover, "necessity has no law;" and the pecuniary circumstances of one person might permit of much indulgence in the outward expression of distress, while those of another allow of little or none. It is scarcely possible to find two leaves alike on the same tree; and so even among members of the same family features and characters vary too. Therefore as others differ from us in disposition, we must check all unkindly criticism, misjudging of motives and personal vain-glory. There may be no difference whatever in the depth of feeling between the individual who is shrouded in crape, and one who wears but the most trifling expression of mourning; experience continually proves the fact that each alike may -
"...have that within which passeth show."
A strong prejudice against the wearing of black is consistent with great strength of feeling, yet those who entertain it are too often misjudged. In their behalf I would observe that there are no black flowers in Nature, although there are sombre hues. Still there is nothing really black in the beautiful garment with which our world is clothed. Even the firmament above it, though inky-dark at night, is wondrously glorified and gladdened with its stars. I have known a great lover of the beauties of Nature who mourned for the loss of one beloved for years so acutely that she could scarcely endure to speak of that bereavement, even to the day of her death. And yet she had such an objection to being wrapped in black attire that she omitted to wear it on some occasions when custom required its adoption. A sincere feeling of sorrow was veiled under an ordinary garb, for she wished to look up from the narrow bed, where her dear ones were laid, to their happy place of rest beyond the charnel house, and to shake off as much as possible all depressing influences that her mind might be the more absorbed in thoughts of the beatific vision of the hereafter. In reference to these mourners after a fashion of their own, I may quote the words of one who had studied human nature more closely than most of his fellows -
"'Tis not my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black
That can denote me truly...
These but the trappings and the suits of woe."
At the same time our sympathies may be as tenderly and truly enlisted in behalf of that still larger company feeling a necessity for a vent for grief. Like the outburst of tears and convulsive sobs, that medium for the relief of the nerves provided for all living, so the adoption of a sable garb supplies something of consolation to mankind in general. And then if some appear to outstep the limits of ordinary custom, in the amount of their crape and the duration of its wear, we must not be censorious, and charge them with affectation nor even with folly. Leave them alone and undisturbed for a season. Let it suffice for you to know that the hand of God is upon them, how heavily, for their state of mind, of health, of nerves, of faith, He only and they themselves can realise. Doctors will sometimes prescribe crying, even aloud, under a certain amount of mental and physical strain. The nerves demand an "opening of the floodgates." The bereaved ones must be left to turn their sad faces to the wall, and to unburden their hearts for awhile unrestrained. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness," God only knows it as well. "In all their affliction He is afflicted," of whom it is recorded, when, in a scene of mourning -
It is a gracious act of Christian charity to supply those of your poor friends or relatives, lacking the means to purchase them, with a black dress, bonnet, or out-door covering which their position in life would demand on such an occasion. For amongst these indigent persons there are those who would derive much consolation from showing outward marks of respect for their loved and lost; and none are so keenly sensitive, as a general rule, as poor gentlefolks, who struggle to keep up a certain appearance suitable to their birth, both because they wish to associate with their own connections, and because they would rather bravely struggle on under unseen privations, than prove a burden to their relatives, however, unintentionally. "Withhold not thy hand" in such cases as these. Light up the poor wan faces with a gleam somewhat akin to a smile, by helping them to vent their sufferings in some little external exhibition, in harmony with the "shadow of death" brooding within. In Nature the heavier the shower, the sooner the break in the cloud, the clearer the light, and the warmer the sunshine that follows - a meet emblem for that calm that succeeds a stormy grief, in trustful anticipation of the blessed "clear shining after the rain," and that "reaping in joy" of "those that sow in tears" - "sorrowing after a godly sort." Show no impatience. Let them give free vent to their trouble in their own way, having this consummation in view.
I have now arrived at the third and last portion of my subject - the practical part of so-called "mourning." To many a few hints may prove of service.
As to the length of its duration for the several relationships in life, there can be no fixed and unalterable law. A widow, however, could not, with ordinary propriety, leave off her "weed" under a twelvemonth; nor should deep mourning be left off for a parent under that time. A year is not too long to wear it for a brother or sister; but under any circumstances no change should be made from the first deep crape until six months have elapsed. From three to six months for an uncle or aunt would be within ordinary rules, unless under special circumstances, of early residence under the same roof, or close relations of much affection or obligation. There is a paltry affectation of mourning which is very objectionable for women for a two-fold reason, because, while acknowledging the wearer's feeling of obligation to wear it, the least possible expense and trouble are conceded to that feeling. Better make no sign at all, than one so poor and mean. I allude to the wearing of a band of cloth or crape round one arm, the wearer being otherwise dressed in colours. The second objection to this "freak of fancy" is that it is an aping of a masculine style. In many respects men are allowed more license than women, and often wear a coloured overcoat, if not entire suit, together with crape on the hat alone. Women are hedged about by stricter rules; they are expected to show a greater semblance of grief in family troubles, and to shed tears more freely. Thus, to show any hardness or indifference to the usages of society, is to throw off a certain amount of feminine propriety and tenderness, at once unnatural and repulsive. Wear a black bonnet or hat, and black gloves, in lieu of that strap round one arm; and your ulster, though not a black one, may be worn by as true a mourner, and as true a "lady," as any in the land.
All mourning should be plain, without ornamental trimmings. A widow's dress may be nearly or altogether covered with crape. Paramatta and crape-cloth are suitable for widows, and these, with cashmere, grenadine, camel's hair cloth, and barathea may be worn in mourning for other connections; white for slighter mourning, whether of widows or others. Plain black lustreless silk may be worn trimmed with crape. Plain grey stuff trimmed with black are suitable for slight mourning; also crepe lisse collars, serge, nuns' cloth, and mohair. For inexpensive mourning cashmerette and alpaca can be worn. Even in deep and expensive styles a slight introduction of white may be permitted; and, for economy's sake, widows may cover their white cuffs with single crape, to keep them clean. Satin, lace, and fringe must be excluded from the black dress worn as deep mourning, either for a husband or very near relative.
The only material exclusively appropriated to mourning is crape, and this is a most expensive item. Only the best in quality is worth purchase, as the inferior kinds wear badly. The former may be renovated. To persons to whom a certain amount of economy is an object, I advise that crape should be reserved for a best dress, and for out-of-door wear; and that a perfectly plain dull black material should be adopted for home wear, and for an ordinary walking costume. French people do not wear crape, except for bonnet and veil. They consider that a plain black crape-cloth which may be sent to a laundress for the common washing, a black woollen shawl, and black woollen gloves - not kid - are full mourning. I also recommend all those who are not wealthy, and who feel themselves under weightier personal obligations than those of "encouraging trade," to have one black dress always on the list of their wardrobe, which will be ready on any emergency, and save some outlay when, perhaps, their purses may ill afford to make it. Such a dress might be worn with equal propriety out of mourning, as it has of late years been so much disassociated with it, if only worn with some coloured article.
And while on the subject of crape I should not omit to tell you that, since it has been known that arsenic is employed in the dyeing of this material, people are less disposed to wear it constantly, and some even send it to go through the process of renovation when quite new, as by this means all that is injurious is abstracted: and it is, moreover, rendered impervious to damp. A crape bonnet no longer new may be restored to its original condition, without being taken off the frame, nor even removed from a silk lining. But were the latter of any other material, the removal would be necessary. If a warmer material than cashmere be desired, merino may be a good substitute. Sealskin fur, black lynx, or sable jackets and cloaks, muffs, and collars may be worn in the very deepest black with perfect consistency, but not as mere trimmings; and chinchilla is a good selection for a slighter degree of mourning, but where not very deep, any fur may be worn the price of which may render it suitable for the means of the wearer.
This last observation reminds me to add a few words for those of my readers whose slender resources preclude their indulgence in what would be to them so great a solace in their affliction. Genuine grief will make itself quite apparent without intentional effort, or any external exhibition in the colour of the dress, at least, to all those whose intimacy, or near relationship would make that sorrow a matter of any interest. Thus no disrespect to the dead will be charged by them to the amount of your coloured dress. And if to add a few black ribbons to your bonnet - in lieu of some faded trimming of a different hue - and one dark outer covering, be all the attempt within your power to make, to conceal your ordinary dress when out of doors, do not fret over your inability to do more. That poor black ribbon tells as much on behalf of your loving remembrance, as the costly and elegant costume a wealthy neighbour may purchase, who consoles herself by the greatest outlay her ample means may afford. Think of it as the utmost that the wise providence of God permits you to do. He who regarded the widow's mite as more than all that of the rich, of their abundance, had cast into the treasury, because it was "all that she had." Could your lost ones revisit your dwelling, they would but say approvingly, "She hath done what she could." Besides, as a matter of principle, it is wrong to purchase mourning when the money is due for rent, taxes, or other responsibilities, or when required for outlay on clothing essential for warmth, or for suitable food for yourself, or your family.
I have now no more to say on the question which we have under consideration, unless it be to remind you of the somewhat remarkable example left us by David, when he lost his child. While he yet lingered in life, the King fasted and wept and prayed; but when God took him, he "washed his face and anointed his head," and, laying aside all external expression of grief, he resumed his public duties. Few could act thus; yet the example is worthy of consideration, as well as that recorded in the sixtieth chapter of the prophecies of Isaiah, twentieth verse, referring to that blessed hereafter, when -
"The days of thy mourning shall be ended."