MANNERS AND SOCIAL USAGES
LETTERS AND LETTER-WRITING.
The person who can write a graceful note is always spoken of with phrases of commendation. The epistolary art is said to be especially feminine, and the novelists and essayists are full of compliments to the sex, which is alternately praised and objurgated, as man feels well or ill. Bulwer says: "A woman is the genius of epistolary communication. Even men write better to a woman than to one of their own sex. No doubt they conjure up, while writing, the loving, listening face, the tender, pardoning heart, the ready tear of sympathy, and passionate confidences of heart and brain flow rapidly from the pen." But there is no such thing now as an "epistolary style." Our immediate ancestors wrote better and longer letters than we do. They covered three pages of large letter-paper with crow-quill handwriting, folded the paper neatly, tucked one edge beneath the other (for there were no envelopes), and then sealed it with a wafer or with sealing-wax. To send one of these epistles was expensive--twenty-five cents from New York to Boston. However, the electric telegraph and cheap postage and postal-cards may have been said, in a way, to have ruined correspondence in the old sense; lovers and fond mothers doubtless still write long letters, but the business of the letter-writer proper is at an end. The writing of notes has, however, correspondingly increased; and the last ten years have seen a profuse introduction of emblazoned crest and cipher, pictorial design, and elaborate monogram in the corners of ordinary note-paper. The old illuminated missal of the monks, the fancy of the Japanese, the ever-ready taste of the French, all have been exhausted to satisfy that always hungry caprice which calls for something new.
The frequency with which notes upon business and pleasure must fly across a city and a continent has done away, also, with the sealing-wax, whose definite, red, clear, oval was a fixture with our grandfathers, and which is still the only elegant, formal, and ceremonious way acknowledged in England, of sealing a letter.
There were, however, serious objections to the use of wax in this country, which were discovered during the early voyages to California. The intense heat of the Isthmus of Panama melted the wax, and letters were irretrievably glued together, to the loss of the address and the confusion of the postmaster. So the glued envelope--common, cheap, and necessary--became the almost prevailing fashion for all notes as well as letters.
The taste for colored note-paper with flowers in the corner was common among the belles of thirty years ago--the "rose-colored and scented _billet-doux_" is often referred to in the novels of that period. But colored note-paper fell into disuse long ago, and for the last few years we have not seen the heavy tints. A few pale greens, grays, blues, and lilacs have, indeed, found a place in fashionable stationery, and a deep coffee-colored, heavy paper had a little run about three years ago; but at the present moment no color that is appreciable is considered stylish, unless it be ecru, which is only a creamy white.
A long truce is at last bidden to the fanciful, emblazoned, and colored monogram; the crest and cipher are laid on the shelf, and ladies have simply the address of their city residence, or the name of their country place, printed in one corner (generally in color), or, latest device of fashion, a fac-simile of their initials, carefully engraved, and dashed across the corner of the note-paper. The day of the week, also copied from their own handwriting, is often impressed upon the square cards now so much in use for short notes, or on the note-paper.
There is one fashion which has never changed, and will never change, which is always in good taste, and which, perhaps, would be to-day the most perfect of all styles, and that is, good, plain, thick, English notepaper, folded square, put in a square envelope, and sealed with red sealing-wax which bears the imprint of the writer's coat of arms. No one can make any mistake who uses such stationery as this in any part of the world. On such paper and in such form are ambassadors' notes written; on such paper and in such style would the Princess Louise write her notes.
However, there is no law against the monogram. Many ladies still prefer it, and always use the paper which has become familiar to their friends. It is, however, a past rather than a present fashion.
The plan of having all the note-paper marked with the address is an admirable one, for it effectually reminds the person who receives the note where the answer should be sent--information of which some ladies forget the importance, and which should always be written, if not printed, at the head of a letter. It also gives a stylish finish to the appearance of the note-paper, is simple, unpretending, and useful.
The ink should invariably be black. From the very superior, lasting qualities of a certain purple fluid, which never became thick in the inkstand, certain ladies, a few years ago, used the purple and lilac inks very much. But they are not elegant; they are not in fashion; the best note-writers do not use them. The plain black ink, which gives the written characters great distinctness, is the only fashionable medium.
Every lady should study to acquire an elegant, free, and educated hand; there is nothing so useful, so sure to commend the writer everywhere, as such a chirography; while a cramped, poor, slovenly, uneducated, unformed handwriting is sure to produce the impression upon the reader that those qualities are more or less indicative of the writer's character. The angular English hand is at present the fashion, although less legible and not more beautiful than the round hand. We cannot enter into that great question as to whether or not handwriting is indicative of character; but we hold that a person's notes are generally characteristic, and that a neat, flowing, graceful hand, and a clean sheet, free from blots, are always agreeable to the eye. The writer of notes, also, must carefully discriminate between the familiar note and the note of ceremony, and should learn how to write both.
Custom demands that we begin all notes in the first person, with the formula of "My dear Mrs. Smith," and that we close with the expressions, "Yours cordially," "Yours with much regard," etc. The laws of etiquette do not permit us to use numerals, as 3, 4, 5, but demand that we write out _three, four, five_. No abbreviations are allowed in a note to a friend, as, "I'd be glad to see you;" one must write out, "I should be glad to see you." The older letter-writers were punctilious about writing the first word of the page below the last line of the page preceding it. The date should follow the signing of the name.
A great and very common mistake existing among careless letter-writers is the confusion of the first and third persons; as a child would write, "Miss Lucy Clark will be happy to come to dinner, but I am going somewhere else." This is, of course, wildly ignorant and improper.
A note in answer to an invitation should be written in the third person, if the invitation be in the third person. No abbreviations, no visible hurry, but an elaborate and finished ceremony should mark such epistles. For instance, an acceptance of a dinner invitation must be written in this form:
Mr. and Mrs. Cadogan
have great pleasure in accepting the polite
Mr. and Mrs. Sutherland
for dinner on the seventeenth inst., at seven o'clock.
18 Lombard Square.
One lady in New York was known to answer a dinner invitation simply with the words, "Come with pleasure." It is unnecessary to add that she was never invited again.
It is impossible to give persons minute directions as to the style of a note, for that must be the outgrowth of years of careful education, training, and good mental powers. "To write a pretty note" is also somewhat of a gift. Some young men and young girls find it very easy, others can scarcely acquire the power. It is, however, absolutely necessary to strive for it.
In the first place, arrange your ideas, know what you want to say, and approach the business of writing a note with a certain thoughtfulness. If it is necessary to write it hastily, summon all your powers of mind, and try to make it brief, intelligible, and comprehensive.
Above all things, _spell correctly_. A word badly spelled stands out like a blot on a familiar or a ceremonious note.
Do not send a blurred, blotted, slovenly note to any one; it will remain to call up a certain prejudice against you in the mind of the recipient. The fashion is not now, as it once was, imperative that a margin be left around the edge of the paper. People now write all over the paper, and thus abolish a certain elegance which the old letters undoubtedly possessed. But postage is a consideration, and all we can ask of the youthful letter-writers is that they will not _cross_ their letters. Plaid letters are the horror of all people who have not the eyes of a hawk.
No letter or note should be written on ruled paper. To do so is both inelegant and unfashionable, and savors of the school-room. Every young person should learn to write without lines.
The square cards are much used, and are quite large enough for the transmission of all that a lady ordinarily wishes to say in giving or accepting an invitation. The day of the week and the address are often printed on the card.
Square envelopes have also driven the long ones from the table of the elegant note-writer, and the custom of closing all ceremonious notes with sealing-wax is still adhered to by the most fastidious. It would be absurd, however, to say that it is nearly as common as the more convenient habit of moistening the gummed envelope, but it is far more elegant, and every young person should learn how to seal a note properly. To get a good impression from an engraved stone seal, anoint it lightly with linseed-oil, to keep the wax from adhering; then dust it with rouge powder to take off the gloss, and press it quickly, but firmly, on the melted wax.
Dates and numerical designations, such as the number of a house, may be written in Arabic figures, but quantities should be expressed in words. Few abbreviations are respectful. A married lady should always be addressed with the prefix of her husband's Christian name.
In this country, where we have no titles, it is the custom to abbreviate everything except the title of "Reverend," which we always give to the clergy. But it would be better if we made a practice of giving to each person his special title, and to all returned ambassadors, members of Congress, and members of the Legislature the title of "Honorable." The Roman Catholic clergy and the bishops of the Episcopal and Methodist churches should be addressed by their proper titles, and a note should be, like a salutation, infused with respect. It honors the writer and the person to whom it is written, while a careless letter may injure both.
COSTLY THY HABIT.
We are often asked as to the appropriate dress to be worn at afternoon tea, at balls, at dinners, christenings, etc.
Neatness and simple elegance should always characterize a lady, and after that she may be as expensive as she pleases, if only at the right time. And we may say here that simplicity and plainness characterize many a rich woman in a high place; and one can always tell a real lady from an imitation one by her style of dress. Vulgarity is readily seen even under a costly garment. There should be harmony and fitness, and suitability as to age and times and seasons. Every one can avoid vulgarity and slovenliness; and in these days, when the fashions travel by telegraph, one can be _... la mode_.
French women have a genius for dress. An old or a middle-aged woman understands how to make the best of herself in the assorting and harmonizing of colors; she never commits the mistake of making herself too youthful. In our country we often see an old woman bedizened like a _Figurante_, imagining that she shall gain the graces of youth by borrowing its garments. All this aping of youthful dress "multiplies the wrinkles of old age, and makes its decay more conspicuous."
For balls in this country, elderly women are not expected to go in low neck unless they wish to, so that the chaperon can wear a dress such as she would wear at a dinner--either a velvet or brocade, cut in Pompadour shape, with a profusion of beautiful lace. All her ornaments should match in character, and she should be as unlike her charge as possible. The young girls look best in light gossamer material, in tulle, crepe, or tarlatan, in pale light colors or in white, while an elderly, stout woman never looks so badly as in low-necked light-colored silks or satins, Young women look well in natural flowers; elderly women, in feathers and jewelled head-dresses.
If elderly women with full figure wear low-necked dresses, a lace shawl or scarf, or something of that sort, should be thrown over the neck; and the same advice might be given to thin and scrawny figures. A lady writes to us as to what dress should be worn at her child's christening. We should advise a high-necked dark silk; it may be of as handsome material as she chooses, but it should be plain and neat in general effect. No woman should overdress in her own house; it is the worst taste. All dress should correspond to the spirit of the entertainment given. Light-colored silks, sweeping trains, bonnets very gay and garnished with feathers, lace parasols, and light gloves, are fit for carriages at the races, but they are out of place for walking in the streets. They may do for a wedding reception, but they are not fit for a picnic or an excursion. Lawn parties, flower shows, and promenade concerts, should all be dressed for in a gay, bright fashion; and the costumes for these and for yachting purposes may be as effective and coquettish as possible; but for church, for readings, for a morning concert, for a walk, or a morning call on foot, a tailor-made costume, with plain, dark hat, is the most to be admired. Never wear a "dressy" bonnet in the street.
The costumes for picnics, excursions, journeys; and the sea-side should be of a strong fabric, simple cut, and plain color. Things which will wash are better for our climate. Serge, tweed, and piqu, are the best.
A morning dress for a late breakfast may be as luxurious as one pleases. The modern fashion of imitation lace put on in great quantities over a foulard or a gingham, a muslin or a cotton, made up prettily, is suitable for women of all ages; but an old "company dress" furbished up to do duty at a watering-place is terrible, and not to be endured.
It has been the fashion this season to wear full-dress at weddings. The bride and her maids have appeared with low neck and short sleeves in the cold morning air at several fashionable churches. The groom at the same time wearing morning costume. It is an era of low necks. The pendulum of fashion is swinging that way. We have spoken of this before, so only record the fact that the low neck will prevail in many summer evening dresses as well as for morning weddings.
The very tight fashion of draping skirts should make all women very careful as to the way they sit down. Some Frenchman said he could tell a gentleman by his walk; another has lately said that he can tell a lady by the way she sits down. A woman is allowed much less freedom of posture than a man. He may change his position as he likes, and loll or lounge, cross his legs, or even nurse his foot if he pleases; but a woman must have grace and dignity; in every gesture she must be "ladylike." Any one who has seen a great actress like Modjeska sit down will know what an acquired grace it is.
A woman should remember that she "belongs to a sex which cannot afford to be grotesque." There should never be rowdiness or carelessness.
The mania for extravagant dress on the stage, the _pieces des robes_, is said to be one of the greatest enemies of the legitimate drama. The leading lady must have a conspicuous display of elaborate gowns, the latest inventions of the modistes. In Paris these stage costumes set the fashions, and bonnets and caps and gowns become individualized by their names. They look very well on the wearers, but they look very badly on some elderly, plain, middle-aged, stout woman who has adopted them.
Plain satins and velvet, rich and dark brocades, made by an artist, make any one look well. The elderly woman should be able to move without effort or strain of any kind; a black silk well made is indispensable; and even "a celebrity of a by-gone day" may be made to look handsome by a judicious but not too brilliant toilette.
The dress called "complimentary mourning," which is rather a contradiction in terms, is now made very elegant and dressy. Black and white in all the changes, and black bugles and bead trimming, all the shades of lilac and of purple, are considered by the French as proper colors and trimmings in going out of black; while for full mourning the English still preserve the cap, weepers, and veil, the plain muslin collar and cuffs, the crape dress, large black silk cloak, crape bonnet and veil.
Heavy, ostentatious, and expensive habiliments are often worn in mourning, but they are not in the best taste. The plain-surfaced black silks are commendable.
For afternoon tea in this country the hostess generally wears a handsome high-necked gown, often a combination of stamped or brocaded velvet, satin, and silk. She rarely wears what in England is called a "tea-gown," which is a semi-loose garment. For visiting at afternoon teas no change is made from the ordinary walking dress, unless the three or four ladies who help receive come in handsome reception dresses. A skirt of light brocade with a dark velvet over-dress is very much worn at these receptions, and if made by a French artist is a beautiful dress. These dark velvets are usually made high, with a very rich lace ruff.
The high Medicean collar and pretty Medicean cap of velvet are in great favor with the middle-aged ladies of the present day, and are a very becoming style of dress for the opera. The present fashion of full dress at the opera, while it may not improve the music, certainly makes the house look very pretty and stately.
Too many dresses are a mistake, even for an opulent woman. They get out of fashion, and excepting for a girl going out to many balls they are entirely unnecessary. A girl who is dancing needs to be perpetually renewed, for she should be always fresh, and the "wear and tear" of the cotillion is enormous. There is nothing so poor as a dirty, faded, and patched-up ball-dress; the dancer had better stay at home than wear such.
The fashion of sleeves should be considered. A stout woman looks very badly in a loose sleeve of hanging lace which only reaches the elbow. It makes the arm look twice as large. She should wear, for a thin sleeve, black lace to the wrist, with bands of velvet running down, to diminish the size of the arm. All those lace sleeves to the elbow, with drops of gold, or steel trimming, or jets, are very unbecoming; no one but the slight should wear them.
Tight lacing is also very unbecoming to those who usually adopt it--women of thirty-eight or forty who are growing a little stout. In thus trussing themselves up they simply get an unbecoming redness of the face, and are not the handsome, comfortable-looking creatures which Heaven intended they should be. Two or three beautiful women well known in society killed themselves last year by tight lacing. The effect of an inch less waist was not apparent enough to make this a wise sacrifice of health and ease of breathing.
At a lady's lunch party, which is always an occasion for handsome dress, and where bonnets are always worn, the faces of those who are too tightly dressed always show the strain by a most unbecoming flush; and as American rooms are always too warm, the suffering must be enormous.
It is a very foolish plan, also, to starve one's self, or "_bant_," for a graceful thinness; women only grow wrinkled, show crow's-feet under the eyes, and look less young than those who let themselves alone.
A gorgeously dressed woman in the proper place is a fine sight. A well-dressed woman is she who understands herself and her surroundings.
DRESSING FOR DRIVING.
No one who has seen the coaching parade in New York can have failed to observe the extraordinary change which has come over the fashion in dress for this conspicuous occasion. Formerly ladies wore black silks, or some dark or low-toned color in woollen or cotton or silk; and a woman who should have worn a white dress on top of a coach would, ten years ago, have been thought to make herself undesirably conspicuous.
Now the brightest colored and richest silks, orange, blue, pink, and lilac dresses, trimmed with lace flounces, dinner dresses, in fact--all the charming confections of Worth or Piugat--are freely displayed on the coach-tops, with the utmost graciousness, for every passer-by to comment on. The lady on the top of a coach without a mantle appears very much as she would at a full-dress ball or dinner. She then complains that sometimes ill-natured remarks float up from the gazers, and that the ladies are insulted. The fashion began at Longchamps and at Ascot, where, especially at the former place, a lady was privileged to sit in her victoria, with her lilac silk full ruffled to the waist, in the most perfect and aristocratic seclusion. Then the fast set of the Prince of Wales took it up, and plunged into rivalry in dressing for the public procession through the London streets, where a lady became as prominent an object of observation as the Lord Mayor's coach. It has been taken up and developed in America until it has reached a climax of splendor and, if we may say so, inappropriateness, that is characteristic of the following of foreign fashions in this country. How can a white satin, trimmed with lace, or an orange silk, be the dress in which a lady should meet the sun, the rain, or the dust of a coaching expedition? Is it the dress in which she feels that she ought to meet the gaze of a mixed assemblage in a crowded hotel or in a much frequented thoroughfare? What change of dress can there be left for the drawing-room?
We are glad to see that the Princess of Wales, whose taste seems to be as nearly perfect as may be, has determined to set her pretty face against this exaggerated use of color. She appeared recently in London, on top of a coach, in a suit of navy-blue flannel. Again, she and the Empress of Austria are described as wearing dark, neat suits of ????, and also broadcloth dresses. One can see the delicate figures and refined features of these two royal beauties in this neat and inconspicuous dress, and, when they are contrasted with the flaunting pink and white and lace and orange dresses of those who are not royal, how vulgar the extravagance in color becomes!
Our grandmothers traveled in broadcloth riding-habits, and we often pity them for the heat and the distress which they must have endured in the heavy, high-fitting, long-sleeved garments; yet we cannot but think they would have looked better on top of a coach than their granddaughters--who should remember, when they complain of the rude remarks, that we have no aristocracy here whose feelings the mob is obliged to respect, and that the plainer their dress the less apt they will be to hear unpleasant epithets applied to them. In the present somewhat aggressive Amazonian fashion, when a woman drives a man in her pony phaeton (he sitting several inches below her), there is no doubt much audacity unintentionally suggested by a gay dress. A vulgar man, seeing a lady in white velvet, Spanish lace, a large hat--in what he considers a "loud" dress--does not have the idea of modesty or of refinement conveyed to his mind by the sight; he is very apt to laugh, and to say something not wholly respectful. Then the lady says, "With how little respect women are treated in large cities, or at Newport, or at Saratoga!" Were she more plainly dressed, in a dark foulard or an inconspicuous flannel or cloth dress, with her hat simply arranged, she would be quite as pretty and better fitted for the matter she has in hand, and very much less exposed to invidious comment. Women dress plainly enough when tempting the "salt-sea wave," and also when on horseback. Nothing could be simpler than the riding-habit, and yet is there any dress so becoming? But on the coach they should not be too fine.
Of course, women can dress as they please, but if they please to dress conspicuously they must be ready to take the consequences. A few years ago no lady would venture into the street unless a mantle or a scarf covered her shoulders. It was a lady-like precaution. Then came the inglorious days of the "tied-backs," a style of dress most unbecoming to the figure, and now happily no more. This preposterous fashion had, no doubt, its influence on the manners of the age.
Better far, if women would parade their charms, the courtly dresses of those beauties of Bird-cage Walk, by St. James's Park, where "Lady Betty Modish" was born--full, long, _bouffant_ brocades, hair piled high, long and graceful scarves, and gloves reaching to the elbow. Even the rouge and powder were a mask to hide the cheek which did or did not blush when bold eyes were fastened upon it. Let us not be understood, however, as extolling these. The nineteenth-century beauty mounts a coach with none of these aids to shyness. No suggestion of hiding any of her charms occurs to her. She goes out on the box seat without cloak or shawl, or anything but a hat on the back of her head and a gay parasol between her and a possible thunder-storm. These ladies are not members of an acclimatization society. They cannot bring about a new climate. Do they not suffer from cold? Do not the breezes go through them? Answer, all ye pneumonias and diphtherias and rheumatisms!
There is no delicacy in the humor with which the funny papers and the caricaturists treat these very exaggerated costumes. No delicacy is required. A change to a quieter style of dress would soon abate this treatment of which so many ladies complain. Let them dress like the Princess of Wales and the Empress of Austria, when in the conspicuous high-relief of the coach, and the result will be that ladies, married or single, will not be subjected to the insults of which so many of them complain, and of which the papers are full after every coaching parade.
Lady riders are seldom obliged to complain of the incivility of a passer-by. Theirs are modest figures, and, as a general thing nowadays, they ride well. A lady can alight from her horse and walk about in a crowded place without hearing an offensive word: she is properly dressed for her exercise.
Nor, again, is a young lady in a lawn-tennis suit assailed by the impertinent criticisms of a mixed crowd of by-standers. Thousands play at Newport, Saratoga, and other places of resort, with thousands looking on, and no one utters a word of rebuke. The short flannel skirt and close Jersey are needed for the active runner, and her somewhat eccentric appearance is condoned. It is not considered an exhibition or a show, but a good, healthy game of physical exercise. People feel an interest and a pleasure in it. It is like the old-fashioned merry-making of the May-pole, the friendly jousts of neighbors on the common play-ground of the neighborhood, with the dances under the walnut-trees of sunny Provence. The game is an invigorating one, and even those who do not know it are pleased with its animation. We have hitherto neglected that gymnastic culture which made the Greeks the graceful people they were, and which contributed to the cultivation of the mind.
Nobody finds anything to laugh at in either of these costumes; but when people see a ball-dress mounted high on a coach they are very apt to laugh at it; and women seldom come home from a coaching parade without a tingling cheek and a feeling of shame because of some comment upon their dress and appearance. A young lady drove up, last summer, to the Ocean House at Newport in a pony phaeton, and was offended because a gentleman on the piazza said, "That girl has a very small waist, and she means us to see it." Who was to blame? The young lady was dressed in a very conspicuous manner: she had neither mantle nor jacket about her, and she probably did mean that her waist should be seen.
There is a growing objection all over the world to the hour-glass shape once so fashionable, and we ought to welcome it as the best evidence of a tendency towards a more sensible form of dress, as well as one more conducive to health and the wholesome discharge of a woman's natural and most important functions. But if a woman laces herself into a sixteen-inch belt, and then clothes herself in brocade, satin, and bright colors, and makes herself conspicuous, she should not object to the fact that men, seeing her throw aside her mantle, comment upon her charms in no measured terms. She has no one to blame but herself.
We might add that by this over-dressing women deprive themselves of the advantage of contrast in style. Lace, in particular, is for the house and for the full-dress dinner or ball. So are the light, gay silks, which have no fitness of fold or of texture for the climbing of a coach. If bright colors are desired, let ladies choose the merinos and nuns' veilings for coaching dresses; or, better still, let them dress in dark colors, in plain and inconspicuous dresses, which do not seem to defy both dust and sun and rain as well. On top of a coach they are far more exposed to the elements than when on the deck of a yacht.
Nor, because the fast set of the Prince of Wales do so in London, is there any reason why American women should appear on top of a coach dressed in red velvet and white satin. Let them remember the fact that the Queen had placed Windsor Castle at the disposal of the Prince for his use during Ascot week, but that when she learned that two somewhat conspicuous American beauties were expected, she rescinded the loan and told the Prince to entertain his guests elsewhere.
INCONGRUITIES OF DRESS.
We are all aware of the value of a costume, such as the dress of the Pompadour era: the Swiss peasant's bodice, the Normandy cap, the _faldetta_ of the Maltese, the Hungarian national dress, the early English, the Puritan square-cut, the Spanish mantilla, the Roman scarf and white cap--all these come before us; and as we mention each characteristic garment there steps out on the canvas of memory a neat little figure, in which every detail from shoe to head-dress is harmonious.
No one in his wildest dreams, however, could set out with the picture of a marquise, and top it off with a Normandy cap. Nor could he put powder on the dark hair of the jaunty little Hungarian. The beauty of these costumes is seen in each as a whole, and not in the parts separately. The marquise must wear pink or blue, or some light color; she must have the long waist, the square-cut corsage, the large hoop, the neat slipper, with rosette and high heel, the rouge and patches to supplement her powdered hair, or she is no marquise.
The Swiss peasant must have the short skirt, the white chemisette, the black velvet bodice, the cross and ribbon, the coarse shoes, and the head-dress of her canton; the Normandy peasant her dark, striking dress, her high-heeled, gold-buckled shoe, and her white apron; the Hungarian her neat, military scarlet jacket, braided with gold, her scant petticoat and military boot, her high cap and feather. The dress of the English peasant, known now as the "Mother Hubbard" hat and cloak, very familiar to the students of costumes as belonging to the countrywomen of Shakespeare's time, demands the short, bunched-up petticoat and high-heeled, high-cut shoes to make it perfect.
We live in an age, however, when fashion, irrespective of artistic principle, mixes up all these costumes, and borrows a hat here and a shoe there, the effect of each garment, diverted from its original intention, being lost.
If "all things by their season seasoned are," so is all dress (or it should be) seasonable and comprehensive, congruous and complete. The one great secret of the success of the French as artists and magicians of female costume is that they consider the _entire figure_ and its demands, the conditions of life and of luxury, the propriety of the substance, and the needs of the wearer. A lady who is to tread a velvet carpet or a parqueted floor does not need a wooden shoe; she needs a satin slipper or boot. Yet in the modern drawing-room we sometimes see a young lady dancing in a heavy Balmoral boot which is only fitted for the bogs and heather of a Scotch tramp. The presence of a short dress in a drawing-room, or of a long train in the street, is part of the general incongruity of dress.
The use of the ulster and the Derby hat became apparent on English yachts, where women learned to put themselves in the attitude of men, and very properly adopted the storm jib; but, if one of those women had been told that she would, sooner or later, appear in this dress in the streets of London, she would have been shocked.
In the days of the French emigration, when highborn ladies escaped on board friendly vessels in the harbor of Honfleur, many of them had on the long-waisted and full-skirted overcoats of their husbands, who preferred to shiver rather than endure the pain of seeing their wives suffer from cold. These figures were observed by London tailors and dress-makers, and out of them grew the English pelisse which afterwards came into fashion. On a stout Englishwoman the effect was singularly absurd, and many of the early caricatures give us the benefit of this incongruity; for although a small figure looks well in a pelisse, a stout one never does. The Englishwoman who weighs two or three hundred pounds should wear a sacque, a shawl, or a loose cloak, instead of a tight-waisted pelisse. However, we are diverging. The sense of the _personally becoming_ is still another branch of the great subject of dress. A velvet dress, for instance, demands for its trimmings expensive and real lace. It should not be supplemented by Breton or imitation Valenciennes. All the very pretty imitation laces are appropriate for cheap silks, poplins, summer fabrics, or dresses of light and airy material; but if the substance of the dress be of the richest, the lace should be in keeping with it.
So, also, in respect to jewelry: no cheap or imitation jewelry should be worn with an expensive dress. It is as foreign to good taste as it would be for a man to dress his head and body in the most fashionable of hats and coats, and his legs in white duck. There is incongruity in the idea.
The same incongruity applies to a taste for which our countrymen have often been blamed--a desire for the magnificent, A woman who puts on diamonds, real lace, and velvets in the morning at a summer watering-place is decidedly incongruous. Far better be dressed in a gingham, with Hamburg embroidery, and a straw hat with a handkerchief tied round it, now so pretty and so fashionable. She is then ready for the ocean or for the mountain drive, the scramble or the sail. Her boots should be strong, her gloves long and stout. She thus adapts her attire to the occasion. In the evening she will have an opportunity for the delicate boot and the trailing gauze or silk, or that deft combination of all the materials known as a "Worth Costume."
In buying a hat a woman should stand before a long Psyche glass, and see herself from head to foot. Often a very pretty bonnet or hat which becomes the face is absolutely dreadful in that wavy outline which is perceptible to those who consider the effect as a whole. All can remember how absurd a large figure looked in the round poke hat and the delicate Fanchon bonnet, and the same result is brought about by the round hat. A large figure should be topped by a Gainsborough or Rubens hat, with nodding plumes. Then the effect is excellent and the proportions are preserved.
Nothing can be more incongruous, again, than a long, slim, aesthetic figure with a head-gear so disproportionately large as to suggest a Sandwich-Islander with his head-dress of mats. The "aesthetic craze" has, however, brought in one improvement in costume. It is the epauletted sleeve, which gives expansion to so many figures which are, unfortunately, too narrow. All physiologists are speculating on the growing narrowness of chest in the Anglo-Saxon race. It is singularly apparent in America. To remedy this, some ingenious dress-maker devised a little puff at the top of the arm, which is most becoming. It is also well adapted to the "cloth of gold" costume of the days of Francis I., which modern luxury so much affects. It is a Frond sort of costume, this nineteenth-century dress, and can well borrow some of the festive features of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, if they be not incongruous. We, like those rich nobles and prosperous burghers, have lighted on piping times of peace; we have found a new India of our own; our galleons come laden with the spoils of all countries; we are rich, and we are able to wear velvet and brocade.
But we should be as true as they to the proprieties of dress. In the ancient burgher days the richest citizen was not permitted to wear velvet; he had his own picturesque collar, his dark-cloth suit, his becoming hat. He had no idea of aping the cian, with his long hat and feather. We are all patricians; we can wear either the sober suit or the gay one; but do let us avoid incongruity.
A woman, in dressing herself for an evening of festivity, should remember that, from her ear-rings to her fan, all must suggest and convey the idea of luxury. A wooden fan is very pretty in the morning at a watering-place, but it will not do in the evening. None of the modern chatelaine arrangements, however ornamental, are appropriate for evening use. The chatelaine meant originally the chain on which the lady of the house wore her keys; therefore its early association of usefulness remains: it is not luxurious in intention, however much modern fashion may have adorned it.
Many a fashion has, it is true, risen from a low estate. The Order of the Garter tells of a monarch's caprice; the shoe-buckle and the horseshoe have crept up into the highest rank of ornaments. But as it takes three generations to make a gentleman, so does it take several decades to give nobility to low-born ornament. We must not try to force things.
A part of the growing and sad incongruity of modern dress appears in the unavoidable awkwardness of a large number of bouquets. A belle cannot leave the insignia of belledom at home, nor can she be so unkind as to carry Mr. Smith's flowers and ignore Mr. Brown's; so she appears with her arms and hands full, to the infinite detriment of her dress and general effect. Some arrangement might be devised whereby such trophies could be dragged in the train of the high-priestess of fashion.
A little reading, a little attention to the study of costume (a beautiful study, by-the-way), would soon teach a young woman to avoid the incongruous in dress. Some people have taste as a natural gift: they know how to dress from a consultation with their inner selves. Others, alas! are entirely without it. The people who make hats and coats and dresses for us are generally without any comprehension of the history of dress. To them the hat of the Roundhead and that of the Cavalier have the same meaning. To all people of taste and reading, however, they are very different, and all artists know that the costumes which retain their hold on the world have been preferred and have endured because of their fitness to conditions of climate and the grace and ease with which they were worn.
ETIQUETTE OF MOURNING.
There is no possibility of touching upon the subject of death and burial, and the conditions under which funerals should be conducted, without hurting some one's feelings. The Duke of Sutherland's attempt in England to do away with the dreadful shape which causes a shudder to all who have lost a friend--that of the coffin--was called irreverent, because he suggested that the dead should be buried in wicker-work baskets, with fern-leaves for shrouds, so that the poor clay might the more easily return to mother earth. Those who favor cremation suffer again a still more frantic disesteem; and yet every one deplores the present gloomy apparatus and dismal observances of our occasions of mourning.
Death is still to the most Christian and resigned heart a very terrible fact, a shock to all who live, and its surroundings, do what we will, are painful. "I smell the mould above the rose," says Hood, in his pathetic lines on his daughter's death. Therefore, we have a difficulty to contend with in the wearing of black, which is of itself, to begin with, negatory of our professed belief in the resurrection. We confess the logic of despair when we drape ourselves in its gloomy folds. The dress which we should wear, one would think, might be blue, the color of the sky, or white, in token of light which the redeemed soul has reached.
Custom, which makes slaves of us all, has decreed that we shall wear black, as a mark of respect to those we have lost, and as a shroud for ourselves, protesting against the gentle ministration of light and cheerfulness with which our Lord ever strives to reach us. This is one side of the question; but, again, one word as to its good offices. A mourning dress does protect a woman while in deepest grief against the untimely gayety of a passing stranger. It is a wall, a cell of refuge. Behind a black veil she can hide herself as she goes out for business or recreation, fearless of any intrusion.
The black veil, on the other hand, is most unhealthy: it harms the eyes and it injures the skin. As it rubs against the nose and forehead it is almost certain to cause abrasions, and often makes an annoying sore. To the eyes enfeebled by weeping it is sure to be dangerous, and most oculists now forbid it.
The English, from whom we borrow our fashion in funeral matters, have a limitation provided by social law which is a useful thing. They now decree that crape shall only be worn six months, even for the nearest relative, and that the duration of mourning shall not exceed a year. A wife's mourning for her husband is the most conventionally deep mourning allowed, and every one who has seen an English widow will agree that she makes a "hearse" of herself. Bombazine and crape, a widow's cap; and a long; thick veil--such is the modern English idea. Some widows even have the cap made of black crepe lisse, but it is generally of white. In this country a widow's first mourning dresses are covered almost entirely with crape, a most costly and disagreeable material, easily ruined by the dampness and dust--a sort of penitential and self-mortifying dress, and very ugly and very expensive. There are now, however, other and more agreeable fabrics which also bear the dead black, lusterless look which is alone considered respectful to the dead, and which are not so costly as crape, or so disagreeable to wear. The Henrietta cloth and imperial serges are chosen for heavy winter dresses, while for those of less weight are tamise cloth, Bayonnaise, grenadine, nuns' veiling, and the American silk.
Our mourning usages are not overloaded with what may be called the pomp, pride, and circumstance of woe which characterize English funerals. Indeed, so overdone are mourning ceremonies in England--what with the hired mutes, the nodding plumes, the costly coffin, and the gifts of gloves and bands and rings, etc.--that Lady Georgiana Milnor, of Nunappleton, in York, a great friend of the Archbishop, wrote a book against the abuse, ordered her own body to be buried in a pine coffin, and forbade her servants and relatives to wear mourning. Her wishes were carried out to the letter. A black, cloth-covered casket with silver mountings is considered in the best taste, and the pall-bearers are given at most a white scarf and a pair of black gloves. Even this is not always done. At one time the traffic in these returned bands and gloves was quite a fortune to the undertaker. Mourning is very expensive, and often costs a family more than they can well afford; but it is a sacrifice that even the poorest gladly make, and those who can least afford it often wear the best mourning, so tyrannical is custom. They consider it--by what process of reasoning no one can understand, unless it be out of a hereditary belief that we hold in the heathen idea of propitiating the manes of the departed--an act of disrespect to the memory of the dead if the living are not clad in gloomy black.
However, our business is with the etiquette of mourning. Widows wear deep mourning, consisting of woollen stuffs and crape, for about two years, and sometimes for life, in America. Children wear the same for parents for one year, and then lighten it with black silk, trimmed with crape. Half-mourning gradations of gray, purple, or lilac have been abandoned, and, instead, combinations of black and white are used. Complimentary mourning is black silk without crape. The French have three grades of mourning--deep, ordinary, and half mourning. In deep mourning, woollen cloths only are worn; in ordinary mourning, silk and woollen; in half mourning, gray and violet. An American lady is always shocked at the gayety and cheerfulness of French mourning. In France, etiquette prescribes mourning for a husband for one year and six weeks--that is, six months of deep mourning, six of ordinary, and six weeks of half mourning. For a wife, a father, or a mother, six months--three deep and three half mourning; for a grandparent, two months and a half of slight mourning; for a brother or a sister, two months, one of which is in deep mourning; for an uncle or an aunt, three weeks of ordinary black. In America, with no fixity of rule, ladies have been known to go into deepest mourning for their own relatives or those of their husbands, or for people, perhaps, whom they have never seen, and have remained as gloomy monuments of bereavement for seven or ten years, constantly in black; then, on losing a child or a relative dearly loved, they have no extremity of dress left to express the real grief which fills their lives--no deeper black to go into. This complimentary mourning should be, as in the French custom, limited to two or three weeks. The health of a delicate child has been known to be seriously affected by the constant spectacle of his mother in deep mourning.
The period of a mourner's retirement from the world has been very much shortened of late. For one year no formal visiting is undertaken, nor is there any gayety in the house. Black is often worn for a husband or wife two years, for parents one year, and for brothers and sisters one year; a heavy black is lightened after that period. Ladies are beginning to wear a small black gauze veil over the face, and are in the habit of throwing the heavy crape veil back over the hat. It is also proper to wear a quiet black dress when going to a funeral, although this is not absolutely necessary.
Friends should call on the bereaved family within a month, not expecting, of course, to see them. Kind notes expressing sympathy are most welcome to the afflicted from intimate friends, and gifts of flowers, or any testimonial of sympathy, are thoughtful and appropriate. Cards and note-paper are now put into mourning by those who desire to express conventionally their regret for the dead; but very broad borders of black look like ostentation, and are in undoubted bad taste. No doubt all these things are proper enough in their way, but a narrow border of black tells the story of loss as well as an inch of coal-black gloom. The fashion of wearing handkerchiefs which are made with a two-inch square of white cambric and a four-inch border of black may well be deprecated. A gay young widow at Washington was once seen dancing at a reception, a few months after the death of her soldier husband, with a long black veil on, and holding in her black-gloved hand one of these handkerchiefs, which looked as if it had been dipped in ink. "She should have dipped it in blood," said a by-stander. Under such circumstances we learn how much significance is to be attached to the grief expressed by a mourning veil.
The mourning which soldiers, sailors, and courtiers wear has something pathetic and effective about it. A flag draped with crape, a gray cadet-sleeve with a black band, or a long piece of crape about the left arm of a senator, a black weed on a hat, these always touch us. They would even appear to suggest that the lighter the black, the more fully the feeling of the heart is expressed. If we love our dead, there is no danger that we shall forget them. "The customary suit of solemn black" is not needed when we can wear it in our hearts.
For lighter mourning jet is used on silk, and there is no doubt that it makes a very handsome dress. It is a singular fact that there is a certain comfort to some people in wearing very handsome black. Worth, on being asked to dress an American widow whom he had never seen, sent for her photograph, for he said that he wished to see "whether she was the sort of woman who would relish a becoming black."
Very elegant dresses are made with jet embroidery on crape--the beautiful soft French crape--but lace is never "mourning." Even the French, who have very light ideas on the subject, do not trim the most ornamental dresses with lace during the period of even second mourning, except when they put the woolen yak lace on a cloth cloak or mantilla. During a very dressy half mourning, however, black lace may be worn on white silk; but this is questionable. Diamond ornaments set in black enamel are allowed even in the deepest mourning, and also pearls set in black. The initials of the deceased, in black brilliants or pearls, are now set in lockets and sleeve-buttons, or pins. Gold ornaments are never worn in mourning.
White silk, embroidered with black jet, is used in the second stage of court mourning, with black gloves. Deep red is deemed in England a proper alternative for mourning black, if the wearer be called upon to go to a wedding during the period of the first year's mourning. At St. George's, Hanover Square, therefore, one may often see a widow assisting at the wedding of a daughter or a son, and dressed in a superb red brocade or velvet, which, directly the wedding is over, she will discard for her solemn black.
The question of black gloves is one which troubles all who are obliged to wear mourning through the heat of summer. The black kid glove is painfully warm and smutty, disfiguring the hand and soiling the handkerchief and face. The Swedish kid glove is now much more in vogue, and the silk glove is made with such neatness and with such a number of buttons that it is equally stylish, and much cooler and more agreeable.
Mourning bonnets are worn rather larger than ordinary bonnets. In England they are still made of the old-fashioned cottage shape, and are very useful in carrying the heavy veil and in shading the face. The Queen has always worn this style of bonnet. Her widow's cap has never been laid aside, and with her long veil of white falling down her back when she appears at court, it makes the most becoming dress that she has ever worn. For such a grief as hers there is something appropriate and dignified in her adherence to the mourning-dress. It fully expresses her sad isolation: for a queen can have no near friends. The whole English nation has sympathized with her grief, and commended her black dress. Nor can we criticize the grief which causes a mother to wear mourning for her children. If it be any comfort to her to wrap herself in crape, she ought to do so. The world has no right to quarrel with those who prefer to put ashes on their heads.
But for the mockery, the conventional absurdities, and the affectations which so readily lend themselves to caricature in the name of mourning, no condemnation can be too strong. There is a ghoul-like ghastliness in talking about "ornamental," or "becoming," or "complimentary" mourning. People of sense, of course, manage to dress without going to extremities in either direction. We see many a pale-faced mourner whose quiet mourning-dress tells the story of bereavement without giving us the painful feeling that crape is too thick, or bombazine too heavy, for comfort. Exaggeration is to be deprecated in mourning as in everything.
The discarding of mourning should be effected by gradations. It shocks persons of good taste to see a light-hearted young widow jump into colors, as if she had been counting the hours. If black is to be dispensed with, let its retirement be slowly and gracefully marked by quiet costumes, as the feeling of grief, yielding to the kindly influence of time, is shaded off into resignation and cheerfulness. We do not forget our dead, but we mourn for them with a feeling which no longer partakes of anguish.
Before a funeral the ladies of a family see no one but the most intimate friends. The gentlemen, of course, must see the clergyman and officials who manage the ceremony. It is now the almost universal practice to carry the remains to a church, where the friends of the family can pay the last tribute of respect without crowding into a private house. Pallbearers are invited by note, and assemble at the house of the deceased, accompanying the remains, after the ceremonies at the church, to their final resting-place. The nearest lady friends seldom go to the church or to the grave. This is, however, entirely a matter of feeling, and they can go if they wish. After the funeral only the members of the family return to the house, and it is not expected that a bereaved wife or mother will see any one other than the members of her family for several weeks.
The preparations for a funeral in the house are committed to the care of an undertaker, who removes the furniture from the drawing-room, filling all the space possible with camp-stools. The clergyman reads the service at the head of the coffin, the relatives being grouped around. The body, if not disfigured by disease, is often dressed in the clothes worn in life, and laid in an open casket, as if reposing on a sofa, and all friends are asked to take a last look. It is, however, a somewhat ghastly proceeding to try to make the dead look like the living. The body of a man is usually dressed in black. A young boy is laid out in his every-day clothes, but surely the young of both sexes look more fitly clad in the white cashmere robe.
The custom of decorating the coffin with flowers is a beautiful one, but has been, in large cities, so overdone, and so purely a matter of money, that now the request is generally made that no flowers be sent.
In England a lady of the court wears, for her parent, crape and bombazine (or its equivalent in any lusterless cloth) for three months. She goes nowhere during that period. After that she wears lusterless silks, trimmed with crape and jet, and goes to court if commanded. She can also go to concerts without violating etiquette, or to family weddings. After six months she again reduces her mourning to black and white, and can attend the "drawing-room" or go to small dinners. For a husband the time is exactly doubled, but in neither case should the widow be seen at a ball, a theatre, or an opera until after one year has elapsed.
In this country no person in mourning for a parent, a child, a brother, or a husband, is expected to be seen at a concert, a dinner, a party, or at any other place of public amusement, before three months have passed, After that one may be seen at a concert. But to go to the opera, or a dinner, or a party, before six months have elapsed, is considered heartless and disrespectful. Indeed, a deep mourning-dress at such a place is an unpleasant anomaly. If one choose, as many do, not to wear mourning, then they can go unchallenged to any place of amusement, for they have asserted their right to be independent; but if they put on mourning they must respect its etiquette, By many who sorrow deeply, and who regard the crape and solemn dress as a mark of respect to the dead, it is deemed almost a sin for a woman to go into the street, to drive, or to walk, for two years, without a deep crape veil over her face. It is a common remark of the censorious that a person who lightens her mourning before that time "did not care much for the deceased;" and many people hold the fact that a widow or an orphan wears her crape for two years to be greatly to her credit.
Of course, no one can say that a woman should not wear mourning all her life if she choose, but it is a serious question whether in so doing she does not injure the welfare and happiness of the living. Children, as we have said, are often strangely affected by this shrouding of their mothers, and men always dislike it.
Common-sense and common decency, however, should restrain the frivolous from engaging much in the amusements and gayeties of life before six months have passed after the death of any near friend. If they pretend to wear black at all, they cannot be too scrupulous in respecting the restraint which it imposes.
MOURNING AND FUNERAL USAGES.
Nothing in our country is more undecided in the public mind than the etiquette of mourning. It has not yet received that hereditary and positive character which makes the slightest departure from received custom so reprehensible in England. We have not the mutes, or the nodding feathers of the hearse, that still form part of the English funeral equipage; nor is the rank of the poor clay which travels to its last home illustrated by the pomp and ceremony of its departure. Still, in answer to some pertinent questions, we will offer a few desultory remarks, beginning with the end, as it were--the return of the mourner to the world.
When persons who have been in mourning wish to re-enter society, they should leave cards on all their friends and acquaintances, as an intimation that they are equal to the paying and receiving of calls. Until this intimation is given, society will not venture to intrude upon the mourner's privacy. In eases where cards of inquiry have been left, with the words "To inquire" written on the top of the card, these cards should be replied to by cards with "Thanks for kind inquiries" written upon them; but if cards for inquiry had not been left, this form can be omitted.
Of course there is a kind of complimentary mourning which does not necessitate seclusion--that which is worn out of respect to a husband's relative whom one may never have seen. But no one wearing a heavy crape veil should go to a gay reception, a wedding, or a theatre; the thing is incongruous. Still less should mourning prevent one from taking proper recreation: the more the heart aches, the more should one try to gain cheerfulness and composure, to hear music, to see faces which one loves: this is a duty, not merely a wise and sensible rule. Yet it is well to have some established customs as to visiting and dress in order that the gay and the heartless may in observing them avoid that which shocks every one--an appearance of lack of respect to the memory of the dead--that all society may move on in decency and order, which is the object and end of the study of etiquette.
A heartless wife who, instead of being grieved at the death of her husband, is rejoiced at it, should be taught that society will not respect her unless she pays to the memory of the man whose name she bears that "homage which vice pays to virtue," a commendable respect to the usages of society in the matter of mourning and of retirement from the world. Mourning garments have this use, that they are a shield to the real mourner, and they are often a curtain of respectability to the person who should be a mourner but is not. We shall therefore borrow from the best English and American authorities what we believe to be the most recent usages in the etiquette of mourning.
As for periods of mourning, we are told that a widow's mourning should last eighteen months, although in England it is somewhat lightened in twelve. For the first six months the dress should be of crape cloth, or Henrietta cloth covered entirely with crape, collar and cuffs of white crape, a crape bonnet with a long crape veil, and a widow's cap of white crape if preferred. In America, however, widows' caps are not as universally worn as in England. Dull black kid gloves are worn in first mourning; after that gants de Suede or silk gloves are proper, particularly in summer. After six months' mourning the crape can be removed, and grenadine, copeau fringe, and dead trimmings used, if the smell of crape is offensive, as it is to some people. After twelve months the widow's cap is left off, and the heavy veil is exchanged for a lighter one, and the dress can be of silk grenadine, plain black gros-grain, or crape-trimmed cashmere with jet trimmings, and crepe lisse about the neck and sleeves.
All kinds of black fur and seal-skin are worn in deep mourning.
Mourning for a father or mother should last one year. During half a year should be worn Henrietta cloth or serge trimmed with crape, at first with black tulle at the wrists and neck. A deep veil is worn at the back of the bonnet, but not over the head or face like the widow's veil, which covers the entire person when down. This fashion is very much objected to by doctors, who think many diseases of the eye come by this means, and advise for common use thin nun's-veiling instead of crape, which sheds its pernicious dye into the sensitive nostrils, producing catarrhal disease as well as blindness and cataract of the eye. It is a thousand pities that fashion dictates the crape veil, but so it is. It is the very banner of woe, and no one has the courage to go without it. We can only suggest to mourners wearing it that they should pin a small veil of black tulle over the eyes and nose, and throw back the heavy crape as often as possible, for health's sake.
Jet ornaments alone should be worn for eighteen months, unless diamonds set as mementoes are used. For half-mourning, a bonnet of silk or chip, trimmed with crape and ribbon. Mourning flowers, and crepe lisse at the hands and wrists, lead the way to gray, mauve, and white-and-black toilettes after the second year.
Mourning for a brother or sister may be the same; for a stepfather or stepmother the same; for grandparents the same; but the duration may be shorter. In England this sort of respectful mourning only lasts three months.
Mourning for children should last nine months, The first three the dress should be crape-trimmed, the mourning less deep than that for a husband. No one is ever ready to take off mourning; therefore these rules have this advantage--they enable the friends around a grief-stricken mother to tell her when is the time to make her dress more cheerful, which she is bound to do for the sake of the survivors, many of whom are perhaps affected for life by seeing a mother always in black. It is well for mothers to remember this when sorrow for a lost child makes all the earth seem barren to them.
We are often asked whether letters of condolence should be written on black-edged paper. Decidedly not, unless the writer is in black. The telegraph now flashes messages of respect and sympathy across sea and land like a voice from the heart. Perhaps it is better than any other word of sympathy, although all who can should write to a bereaved person. There is no formula possible for these letters; they must be left to the individual's good taste, and perhaps the simplest and least conventional are the best. A card with a few words penciled on it has often been the best letter of condolence.
In France a long and deeply edged mourning letter or address, called a _faire part_, is sent to every one known to the family to advise them of a death. In this country that is not done, although some mention of the deceased is generally sent to friends in Europe who would not otherwise hear of the death.
Wives wear mourning for the relatives of their husbands precisely as they would for their own, as would husbands for the relatives of their wives. Widowers wear mourning for their wives two years in England; here only one year. Widowers go into society at a much earlier date than widows, it being a received rule that all gentlemen in mourning for relatives go into society very much sooner than ladies.
Ladies of the family attend the funeral of a relative if they are able to do so, and wear their deepest mourning. Servants are usually put in mourning for the head of the family--sometimes for any member of it. They should wear a plain black livery and weeds on their hats; the inside lining of the family carriage should also be of black.
The period of mourning for an aunt or uncle or cousin is of three months' duration, and that time at least should elapse before the family go out or into gay company, or are seen at theatres or operas, etc.
We now come to the saddest part of our subject, the consideration of the dead body, so dear, yet so soon to leave us; so familiar, yet so far away--the cast-off dress, the beloved clay. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes!
As for the coffin, it is simpler than formerly; and, while lined with satin and made with care, it is plain on the outside--black cloth, with silver plate for the name, and silver handles, being in the most modern taste. There are but few of the "trappings of woe." At the funeral of General Grant, twice a President, and regarded as the savior of his country, there was a gorgeous catafalque of purple velvet, but at the ordinary funeral there are none of these trappings. If our richest citizen were to die to-morrow, he would probably be buried plainly. Yet it is touching to see with what fidelity the poorest creature tries to "bury her dead dacent." The destitute Irish woman begs for a few dollars for this sacred duty, and seldom in vain. It is a duty for the rich to put down ostentation in funerals, for it is an expense which comes heavily on those who have poverty added to grief.
In dressing the remains for the grave, those of a man are usually "clad in his habit as he lived." For a woman, tastes differ: a white robe and cap, not necessarily shroudlike, are decidedly unexceptionable. For young persons and children white cashmere robes and flowers are always most appropriate.
The late cardinal, whose splendid obsequies and whose regal "lying in state" were in keeping with his high rank and the gorgeous ceremonial of his Church, was strongly opposed to the profuse use of flowers at funerals, and requested that none be sent to deck his lifeless clay. He was a modest and humble man, and always on the right side in these things; therefore let his advice prevail. A few flowers placed in the dead hand, perhaps a simple wreath, but not those unmeaning memorials which have become to real mourners such sad perversities of good taste, such a misuse of flowers. Let those who can afford to send such things devote the money to the use of poor mothers who cannot afford to buy a coffin for a dead child or a coat for a living one.
In the course of a month after a death all friends of the deceased are expected to leave cards on the survivors, and it is discretionary whether these be written on or not. These cards should be carefully preserved, that, when the mourner is ready to return to the world, they may be properly acknowledged.
LETTERS OF CONDOLENCE.
Probably no branch of the epistolary art has ever given to friendly hearts so much perplexity as that which has to do with writing to friends in affliction. It is delightful to sit down and wish anybody joy; to overflow with congratulatory phrases over a favorable bit of news; to say how glad you are that your friend is engaged or married, or has inherited a fortune, has written a successful book, or has painted an immortal picture. Joy opens the closet of language, and the gems of expression are easily found; but the fountain of feeling being chilled by the uncongenial atmosphere of grief, by the sudden horror of death, or the more terrible breath of dishonor or shame, or even by the cold blast of undeserved misfortune, leaves the individual sympathizer in a mood of perplexity and of sadness which is of itself a most discouraging frame of mind for the inditing of a letter.
And yet we sympathize with our friend: we desire to tell him so. We want to say, "My friend, your grief is my grief; nothing can hurt you that does not hurt me. I cannot, of course, enter into all your feelings, but to stand by and see you hurt, and remain unmoved myself, is impossible." All this we wish to say; but how shall we say it that our words may not hurt him a great deal more than he is hurt already? How shall we lay our hand so tenderly on that sore spot that we may not inflict a fresh wound? How can we say to a mother who bends over a fresh grave, that we regret the loss she has sustained in the death of her child? Can language measure the depth, the height, the immensity, the bitterness of that grief? What shall we say that is not trite and commonplace--even unfeeling? Shall we be pagan, and say that "whom the gods love die young," or Christian, and remark that "God does not willingly afflict the children of men?" She has thought of that, she has heard it, alas! often before--but too often, as she thinks now.
Shall we tell her what she has lost--how good, how loving, how brave, how admirable was the spirit which has just left the flesh? Alas! how well she knows that! How her tears well up as she remembers the silent fortitude, the heroic patience under the pain that was to kill! Shall we quote ancient philosophers and modern poets? They have all dwelt at greater or less length upon death and the grave. Or shall we say, in simple and unpremeditated words, the thoughts which fill our own minds?
The person who has to write this letter may be a ready writer, who finds fit expression at the point of his pen, and who overflows with the language of consolation--such a one needs no advice; but to the hundreds who do need help we would say that the simplest expressions are the best. A distant friend, upon one of these occasions, wrote a letter as brief as brief might be, but of its kind altogether perfect. It ran thus: "I have heard of your great grief, and I send you a simple pressure of the hand." Coming from a gay and volatile person, it had for the mourner great consolation; pious quotations, and even the commonplaces of condolence, would have seemed forced. Undoubtedly those persons do us great good, or they wish to, who tell us to be resigned--that we have deserved this affliction; that we suffer now, but that our present sufferings are nothing to what our future sufferings shall be; that we are only entering the portals of agony, and that every day will reveal to us the magnitude of our loss. Such is the formula which certain persons use, under the title of "letters of condolence." It is the wine mixed with gall which they gave our Lord to drink; and as He refused it, so may we. There are, no doubt, persons of a gloomy and a religious temperament combined who delight in such phrases; who quote the least consolatory of the texts of Scripture; who roll our grief as a sweet morsel under their tongues; who really envy the position of chief mourner as one of great dignity and considerable consequence; who consider crape and bombazine as a sort of royal mantle conferring distinction. There are many such people in the world. Dickens and Anthony Trollope have put them into novels--solemn and ridiculous Malvolios; they exist in nature, in literature, and in art. It adds a new terror to death when we reflect that such persons will not fail to make it the occasion of letter-writing.
But those who write to us strongly and cheerfully, who do not dwell so much on our grief as on our remaining duties--they are the people who help us. To advise a mourner to go out into the sun, to resume his work, to help the poor, and, above all, to carry on the efforts, to emulate the virtues of the deceased--this is comfort. It is a very dear and consoling thing to a bereaved friend to hear the excellence of the departed extolled, to read and re-read all of the precious testimony which is borne by outsiders to the saintly life ended--and there are few so hard-hearted as not to find something good to say of the dead: it is the impulse of human nature; it underlies all our philosophy and our religion; it is the "stretching out of a hand," and it comforts the afflicted. But what shall we say to those on whom disgrace has laid its heavy, defiling hand? Is it well to write to them at all? Shall we not be mistaken for those who prowl like jackals round a grave, and will not our motives be misunderstood? Is not sympathy sometimes malice in disguise? Does not the phrase "I am so sorry for you!" sometimes sound like "I am so glad for myself?" Undoubtedly it does; but a sincere friend should not be restrained, through fear that his motive may be mistaken, from saying that he wishes to bear some part of the burden. Let him show that the unhappy man is in his thoughts, that he would like to help, that he would be glad to see him, or take him out, or send him a book, or at least write him a letter. Such a wish as this will hurt no one.
Philosophy--some quaint and dry bit of old Seneca, or modern Rochefoucauld--has often helped a struggling heart when disgrace, deserved or undeserved, has placed the soul in gyves of iron. Sympathetic persons, of narrow minds and imperfect education, often have the gift of being able to say most consolatory things. Irish servants, for instance, rarely hurt the feelings of a mourner. They burst out in the language of Nature, and, if it is sometimes grotesque, it is almost always comforting. It is the educated and conscientious person who finds the writing of a letter of condolence difficult.
Perhaps much of our dread of death is the result of a false education, and the wearing of black may after all be a mistake. At the moment when we need bright colors, fresh flowers, sunshine, and beauty, we hide ourselves behind crape veils and make our garments heavy with ashes; but as it is conventional it is in one way a protection, and is therefore proper. No one feels like varying the expressions of a grief which has the Anglo-Saxon seriousness in it, the Scandinavian melancholy of a people from whom Nature hides herself behind a curtain of night. To the sunny and graceful Greek the road of the dead was the Via Felice; it was the happy way, the gate of flowers; the tombs were furnished as the houses were, with images of the beloved, and the veriest trifles which the deceased had loved. One wonders, as the tomb of a child is opened on the road out of Tanagra, near Athens, and the toys and hobby-horse and little shoes are found therein, if, after all, that father and mother were not wiser than we who, like Constance, "stuff out his vacant garments with his form." Is there not something quite unenlightened in the persistence with which we connect death with gloom?
Our correspondents often ask us when a letter of condolence should be written? As soon as possible. Do not be afraid to intrude on any grief, It is generally a welcome distraction; to even the most morbid mourner, to read a letter; and those who are So stunned by grief as not to be able to write or to read will always have some willing soul near them who will read and answer for them.
The afflicted, however, should never be expected to answer letters, They can and should receive the kindest and the most prompt that their friends can indict, Often a phrase on which the writer has built no hope may be the airy-bridge over which the sorrowing soul returns slowly and blindly to peace and resignation. Who would miss the chance, be it one in ten thousand, of building such a bridge? Those who have suffered and been strong, those whom we love and respect, those who have the honest faith in human nature which enables them to read aright the riddle of this strange world, those who by faith walk over burning ploughshares and dread no evil, those are the people who write the best letters of condolence. They do not dwell on our grief, or exaggerate it, although they are evidently writing to us with a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye--they do not say so, but we feel it. They tell us of the certain influence of time, which will change our present grief into our future joy. They say a few beautiful words of the friend whom we have lost, recount their own loss in him in a few fitting words of earnest sympathy which may carry consolation, if only by the wish of the writer. They beg of us to be patient. God has brought life and immortality to light through death, and to those whom "he has thought worthy to endure," this thought may ever form the basis of a letter of condolence.
"Give me," said the dying Herder, "a great thought, that I may console myself with that." It is a present of no mean value, a great thought; and if every letter of condolence could bear with it one broad phrase of honest sympathy it would be a blessed instrumentality for carrying patience and resignation, peace and comfort, into those dark places where the sufferer is eating his heart out with grief, or where Rachel "weeps for her children, and will not be comforted, because they are not."