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they here the bells rongen : and this is the cause why the helles ben rongen-to the ende that the feindes and wycked spirytes shold be abashed and flee."
That these opinions, indeed, relative to the passing-bell, continued to prevail, as things of general belief, during the greater part of the seventeenth century, is evident from the works of the pious Bishop Taylor, in which are to be found several forms of prayer for the souls of the departing, to be offered up during the tolling of the passing-bell. In these the violence of Hell is deprecated, and it is petitioned that the spirits of darkness may be driven far from the couch of the dying sinner.
So common, indeed, was this practice, that almost every individual had an exclamation or form of prayer ready to be recited on hearing the passing-bell, whence the following proverbial rhyme :
u When the Bell begins to toll
Cry, Lord have mercy on the soul.” In the “Vittoria Corombona" of Webster, this custom is alluded to in a manner singularly wild and striking. Cornelia says:
I'll give you a saying which my grand-mother
Was wont, when she heard the bell, to sing o'er unto her lute.
Since o'er shady groves they hover,
Ancient British Drama, vol. iii. p. 41. Even so late as the commencement of the eighteenth century, it appears that this custom of praying during the passing-bell still lingered in some parts of the country; for Mr. Bourne, the first edition of whose book was published in 1725, after vindicating the practice, adds,—" I know several religious families in this place (Newcastle), and I hope it is so in other places too, who always observe it, whenever the melancholy season offers ; and therefore it will at least sometimes happen, when we put up our prayers constantly at the tolling of the bell, that we shall pray for a soul departing. And though it be granted, that it will oftener happen otherwise, as the regular custom is so little followed; yet that can be no harmful praying for the dead."
Immediately after death a ceremony commenced, the most offensive part of which has not been laid aside for more than half a century. This was called the Licke or Lake-wake, a term derived from the Anglo-Saxon Lic, a corpse, and Wæcce, a wake or watching. It originally consisted of a meeting of the friends and relations of the deceased, for the purpose of watching by the body from the moment it ceased to breathe, to its exportation to the grave; a duty which was at first performed with solemnity and piety, accompanied by the singing of psalms and the recitation of the virtues of the dead. It speedily, however, degenerated into a scene of levity, of feasting, and intoxication; to such a degree, indeed, that it was thought necessary at a provincial synod held in London during the reign of Edward III. to issue a canon for the restriction of the watchers to the near relations and most intimate friends of the deceased, and only to such of these as
* For an account of three editions of De Worde's Golden Legende, see Dibdin's Typographical Antiquit. vol. i. 73.
These forms of prayer are transcribed by Bourne in his Antiquitates Vulgares. -Vide Brand's edit. p. 10. Bishop Taylor died in 1667.
# Bourue apud Brand, p. 9.
offered to repeat a fixed number of psalms for the benefit of his soul.* To this regulation little attention, we apprehend, was paid ; for the Lake-wake appears to have been observed as a meeting of revelry during the whole of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries ; and Mr. Bourne, so late as the year 1725, declares, that it was then “a scene of sport and drinking and lewdness.” of
In Scotland during the period of which we are treating, and even down to the rebellion of 1745, the Lake-wake was observed with still greater form and effect than in England, though not often with a better moral result. Mr. Pennant describing it, when speaking of the Highland customs, under the mistaken etymology of Late-wakes, says, that the evening after the death of any person, the relations or friends of the deceased met at the house, attended by a bag-pipe or fiddle; the nearest of kin, be it wife, son, or daughter, opened a melancholy ball, dancing and greeting, i. e. crying violently, at the same time; and this continued till day-light, but with such gambols and frolics among the younger part of the company, that the loss which occasioned them was often more than supplied by the consequences of that night. Mrs. Grant, however, in her lately published work on the Superstitions of the Highlanders, has given us a more favourable account of this ancient custom, which she has connected with a wild traditionary tale of much moral interest.
A peasant ofGlen Banchar, a dreary and secluded recessin the central Highlands,
“ Was fortunate in all respects but one. He had three very fine children, who all, in succession, died after having been weaned, though, before, they gave every promise of health and firm
Both parents were much afflicted; but the father's grief was clamorous and upmanly. They resolved that the next should be suckled for two years, hoping, by this, to avoid the repetition of such a misfortune. They did so; and the child, by living longer, only took a firmer hold of their affections, and furnisbed more materials for sorrowful recollection. At the close of the second year, he followed his brothers; and there were no bounds to the allliction of the parents.
“ There are, however, in the economy of Highland life, certain duties and courtesies which are indispensable ; and for the omission of which nothing can apologise. One of those is, to call in all their friends, and feast them at the time of the greatest family distress. The death of the child happened late in spring, when sheep were abroad in the more inhabited straths; but, from the blasts in that high and stormy region, were still confined to the cot. In a dismal snowy evening, the man, unable to stifle his anguish, went out, lamenting aloud, for a lamb to treat his friends with at the Lale-wake. At the door of the cot, however, he found a stranger standing before the entrance. He was aslonished, in such a night, to meet a person so far from any frequented place. The stranger was plaioly allired; but had a countenance expressive of singular mildness and benevolence, and, addressing him in a sweet, impressive voice, asked him what he did there amidst the tempest. He was filled with awe, which he could not account for, and said, that he came for a lamb. •What kind of lamb do you mean to take ?' said the stranger. • The very best I can find,' he replied, as it is to entertain my friends ; and I hope you will share of it.'—'Do your sheep make any resistance when you take away the lamb, or any dislurbance afterwards P- Never,' was the answer. How differently am I treated !' said the traveller. When I come to visit my sheepfold, I lake, as I am well entitled to do, the best lamb to myself; and my ears are filled with clamour of discontent by these ungrateful sheep, whom I have fed, watched, and protected.'
“ He looked up in amaze; but the vision was fled. He went however for the lamb, and brought it home with alacrity. He did more : It was the custom of these times—a custom, indeed, which was not extinct lill after 1745—for people to dance at Lale-wakes. It was a mournful kind of movement, but still it was dancing. The nearest relation of the deceased often began the ceremony weeping; but did, however, begin it, to give the example of fortitude aod resignation. This man, on other occasions, had been quite unequal to the performance of this duty; but at this time he, immediately on coming in, ordered music to begin, and danced the solilary measure appropriate to such occasions. The reader must have very little sagacity or knowledge of the purport and consequences of visions, who requires to be told, that many sons were born, lived, and prospered afterwards in this reformed family.”S
Colliers Ecclesiastical History, vol. i. p. 546.
# Tour in Scotland. Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders of Scotland, vol. i. p. 184–188.
Some vestiges of the Lake-wake still remain at this day in remote parts of the north of England, especially at the period of laying out, or streeking the corpse, as it is termed ; and here it may be remarked, that in the time of Shakspeare, the practice of winding the corse, or putting on the winding-sheet, was a ceremony of a very impressive kind, and accompanied by the solemn melody of dirges. Some lines, strikingly illustrative of this pious duty, are to be found in the “ White Devil; or Vittoria Corombona" of Webster, published in 1612. Francisco, 'Duke of Florence, tells Flaminio,
“ I found them winding of Marcello's corse ;
And there is such a solemn melody,
They were so o'ercharged with water.
Cor. This rosemary is wither’d, pray get fresh;
He should have worn it." Another exquisite passage of this fine old poet alludes to the same practice-a villain of ducal rank, expiring from the effect of poison, exclaims,
« O thou soft natural death! that art joint-twin
To sweetest slumber!--no rough-bearded comet
Whilst horror waits on princes.”+
“ Thrist, thrist, Horatio ! the funeral bak'd meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables,” a passage which Mr. Collins has illustrated by the following quotation from a contemporary writer : “ His corpes was with funerall pompe conveyed to the church, and there sollemnly enterred, nothing omitted which necessitie or custom could claime; a sermon, a banquet, and like observations.” #
The funeral feast is not yet extinct; it may occasionally be met with in places remote from the metropolis, and more particularly in the northern counties among some of the wealthy yeomanry. Mr. Douce considers the practice as
“ Certainly borrowed from the cæna feralis of the Romans," and adds, “in the North This feast is called an arval or arvil supper, and the loaves that are sometimes distributed among the poor, arval-bread. Not many years since one of these arvals was celebrated in a village in Yorkshire at a public-house, the sign of which was the family arms of a nobleman whose molto is “ Virtus post funera vivit." The undertaker, who, though a clerk, was po scholar, requested a gentleman present to explain to him the meaning of these Latin words, which he readily and facetiously did in the following manner; Virtus, a parish clerk, vivit, lives well, post funera,
*Ancient British Drama, vol. iii. p. 40.
+ Ibid. p. 36.
at an arval. The later word is apparently derived from some lost Teulonic term Ibat Indicated a funeral pile on which the body was burned in times of Paganism."*
A few observations must still be added on the pleasing, though now nearly obsolete, practice of carrying ever-greens and garlands at funerals, and of decorating the grave with flowers. There is something so strikingly emblematic, so delightfully soothing in these old rites, that though the prototype be probably heathen, their disuse is to be regretted.
" The carrying of ivy, or laurel, or rosemary, or some of those ever-greens,” says Bourne, “is an emblem of the soul's immortality. It is as much as to say, that though the body be dead, yet the soul is ever-green and always in life : it is not like the body, and those other greens which die and revive again at their proper seasons; no autumn nor winter can make a change in it, but it is unalterably the same, perpetually in life, and never dying.
* The Romans, and other heathens, upon this occasion made use of cypress, which being once cut, will never flourish nor grow any more, as an emblem of their dying for ever, and being do more in life. But instead of that, the ancient Christians used the things before mentioned ; they laid them under the corpse in the grave, lo signify, that they who die in Christ, do not cease to live. For though, as to the body they die to the world, yet as to their souls they live to God.
“ And as the carrying of these ever-greens is an emblem of the soul's immortalily, so it is also of the resurrection of the body : for as these herbs are not entirely plucked up, but only cut down, and will, at the relurning season, revive and spring up again ; so the body, like them, is but cut down for a while, and will rise and shoot up again at the resurrection.”ť
The bay and rosemary were the plants usually chosen, tbe former, as being said to revive from the root, when apparently dead, and the latter from its supposed virtue in strengthening the memory :
“ There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." Shakspeare has frequently noticed these ever-greens, garlands, and flowers, as forming a part of the tributary rites of the departed, as elegant memorials of the dead : at the funeral of Juliet he adopts the rosemary :
“ Dry up your tears, and stick your rosemary
On this fair corse, and as the custom is,
Act iv, sc. 5. Garlands of flowers were formerly either hung up in country-churches, as a mark of honour and esteem, over the seats of those who had died virgins, or were remarkable for chastity and fidelity, or were placed in the form of crowns on the coffins of the deceased, and buried with them, for the same purpose. Of these crowns and garlands, which were in frequent use until the commencement of the last century, a very curious account has been given by a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine.
“ In this nation (as well as others),” he observes, “ by the abundant zeal of our ancestors, virginily was held in great estimation; insomuch that those wbich died in that state were rewarded, at their deaths, with a garland or crown on their beads, denoting their triumphant victory over the lusts of the flesh. Nay, this bonour was extended even to a widow that had enjoyed but one husband (saith Weever in bis Fun. Mon. p. 12). And, in the year 1733, the present clerk of the parish church of Bromley in Kent, by his digging a grave in that churchyard, close to the east end of the chancel wall, dug up one of these crowns, or garlands, which is most artificially wrought in fillagree work with gold and silver wire, in resemblance of myrtle (with which plant the funebrial garlands of the ancienls were composed), whose leaves are fastened lo hoops of large wire of iron, now something corroded with rust, but both the gold and silver remains to this lime very little different from its original splendor. It was also lined with clolb of silver, a piece of which, logether with part of this curious garland, I keep as a choice relic of
“Besides these crowns, the ancients had also their depository garlands, the use of which were
Douce's Illustrations, vol. ii p. 202, 203.
† Bourne's Antiquitates Vulg. p. 33, 34.
continued even till of late years (and perhaps are still relained in many parts of this nation, for my own knowledge of these matters extends not above lwenty or thirty miles round London), wbich garlands, al the funerals of the deceased, were carried solemnly before the corpse by two maids, and afterward hung up in some conspicuous place within the church, in memorial of the departed person, and were (at least all that I have seen) made after the following manner, viz. the lower rim or circlet, was a broad hoop of wood, whereunto was fixed, at the sides thereof, part of two other hoops crossing each other at the top, at right angles, which formed the upper part, being about one third longer than the width; these boops were wholly covered with artificial flowers of paper, dyed horn, or silk, and more or less beauteous, according to the skill and ingenuity of the performer. In the vacancy of the inside, from the top, hung white paper, cut in form of gloves, whereon was wrote the deceased's name, age, &c. together with long slips of various coloured paper, or ribbons. These were many times intermixed with gilded or painted empty shells of blown eggs, as farlher ornaments; or, it may be, as emblems of the bubbles or billerness of this life ; whilst other garlands had only a solitary hour-glass banging therein, as a more significant symbol of mortality.
“ About forty years ago, these garlands grew much out of repute, and were thought, by many, as very unbecoming decorations for so sacred a place as the church; and at the reparation, or new beautifying several churches, where I have been concerned, I was obliged, by order of the minister and churchwardens, to take the garlands down, and the inhabitants were strictly forbidden lo hang up any more for the fulure. Yet, notwildstanding, several people, unwilling to forsake their ancient and delightful custom, continued still the making of them, and they were carried at the funerals, as before, to the grave, and put therein, upon the coffin, over the face of the dead ; this I have seen done in many places.”
Bromley in Kent. Gentleman's Magazine for June, 1747.
Shakspeare has alluded to these maiden rites in Hamlet, where the priest, at the interment of Ophelia, says,
“ Here she is allow'd her virgin crants, Her maiden strewments, and the bringing home Or bell and burial."
Act v, sc. 1. The term crants, observes Johnson, on the authority of a correspondent, is the German word for garlands, and was probably retained by us from the Saxons.
The strewments mentioned in this passage refer to a pleasing custom, which is still, we believe, preserved in Wales, of scattering flowers over the graves of the deceased.* It is manifestly copied from the funeral rites of the Greeks and Romans, and was early introduced into the Christian church; for St. Jerome, in an epistle to his friend Pammachius on the death of his wife, remarks, “ whilst other husbands strawed violets and roses, and lilies, and purple flowers, upon the graves of their wives, and comforted themselves with such like offices, Pammachius bedewed her ashes and venerable bones with the balsam of alms; † and Mr. Strutt, in his “ Manners and Customs of England," tells us, “ that of old it was usual to adorn the graves of the deceased with roses and other flowers (but more especially those of lovers, round whose tombs they have often planted rose trees) : Some traces,” he observes, “ of this ancient custom are yet remaining in the church-yard of Oakley, in Surry, which is full of rose trees planted round the graves."
Many of the dramas of our immortal hard bear testimony to his partiality for this elegantly affectionate tribute; a practice which there is reason to suppose was, in the country at least, not uncommon in his days: thus Capulet, in Romeo and Juliet, observes, “ Our bridal flowers serve for a buried corse;"
Activ, sc. 5. and the Queen in Hamlet is represented as performing the ceremony at the grave of Ophelia :
* Sec Pratt's Gleanings in Wales, and Mason's Elegy in a Church-yard in Wales. + Bourne's Antiq. apud Brand, p. 45.
† Anglo Saxon Æra, vol. i. p. 69.