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tiquity of a custom’ which, owing its origin to the tenderest affections of human nature, has perhaps on that account been used from the infancy of time.
The abuse of this vigil, or lake-wake, is of pretty old standing. The tenth canon at the provincial synod held in London temp. Edw. III. in Collier's Ecclesiast. History, i. 546, “endeavours to prevent the disorders committed at people's watching a corpse before burial. Here the synod takes notice that the design of people's meeting together upon such occasions was to join their prayers for the benefit of the dead person ; that this ancient and serviceable usage was overgrown with superstition and turned into a convenience for theft and debauchery; therefore, for a remedy against this disorder, 'tis decreed, that, upon the death of any person, none should be allowed to watch before the corpse in a private house, excepting near relations and friends of the deceased, Campsie, co. Stirling, we read: “It was customary for them to have at least two lyke-wakes (the corpse being kept two nights before the interment), where the young neighbours watched the corpse, being merry or sorrowful, according to the situation or rank of the deceased.” Waldron, in his Description of the Isle of Man, p. 170, says that “when a person dies, several of his acquaintance come to sit up with him, which they call the wake. The clerk of the parish is obliged to sing a psalm, in which all the company join ; and after that they begin some pastime to divert themselves, having strong beer and tobacco allowed them in great plenty. This is a custom borrowed from the Irish, as indeed are many others much in fashion with them.”
“ The lik-wake is retained in Sweden, where it is called wakstuga, from wak-a, to watch, and perhaps stuga, a room, an apartment, or cottage. Ihre observes, that although these wakes should be dedicated to the contemplation of our mortality, they have been generally passed in plays and compotations, whence they were prohibited in public edicts.' v. Wake.” Jamieson.
Durand cites one of the ancient councils, in which it is observed that psalms were wont to be sung, not only when the corpse was conducted to church, but that the ancients watched on the night before the burial, and spent the vigil in singing psalms. “Porro observandum est, nedum psalmos cani consuetum, cum funus ducitur, sed etiam nocte quæ præcedit funus, veteres vigilasse nocturnasque vigilias canendis psalmis egisse." p. 232. So also St. Gregory, in the epistle treating of the death of his sister Macrina, says: “ Cum igitur nocturna pervigilatio, ut in martyrum celebritate canendis psalmis perfecta esset, et crepusculum advenisset," &c. ibid. It appears that among the primitive Christians the corpse was sometimes kept four days. Pelagia, in Gregory of Turon. requests of her son, “ ne eam ante diem quartum sepeliret."
and such as offered to repeat a set number of psalms for the benefit of his soul.” The penalty annexed is excommunication. This is also mentioned in Becon's Reliques of Rome, and comprised in the catalogue of crimes that were anciently cursed with bell, book, and candle.
Bourne complains of the sport, drinking, and lewdness used at these lake wakes in his time. They still continue to resemble too much the ancient bacchanalian orgies—an instance of depravity that highly disgraces human nature. It would be treating this serious subject with too much levity to say, that if the inconsiderate wretches who abuse such solemn meetings think at all, they think with Epicurean licentiousness that since life is so uncertain, no opportunity should be neglected of transmitting it, and that the loss, by the death of one relation, should be made up by the birth of another.
[In some parts of Yorkshire it is thought that no person can die on a bed which contains pigeons' feathers, however small the quantity. A correspondent of the Athenæum recollects “when a child in Cumberland, inquiring why turkey feathers were not saved, and being told by an old servant that they must not be put into a bed as no person could die on them ;” and thinks that the prohibition extended to game feathers ;” adding, “I believe it will be found that none of these feathers are fit for use, being too hard and sharp in the barrel.” Another correspondent writes, “ that the superstition of a person not dying easily on the feathers of wild fowl prevails in Derbyshire; and the same idea prevails in Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, and probably in other Welsh counties;" and another says that a similar superstition exists in Sligo and Mayo. In this case the superstition has probably arisen from the disuse of the feathers in question, in consequence of their unfitness. Be this as it may, the belief would appear by the following communication in the same journal, from a medical correspondent in Lancashire, that it also obtains in that county: “Some years ago, I attended a young woman who was consumptive. The agony was protracted for three or four days, as occasionally happens in such cases; and I was consulted as to the expediency of removing her to another bed. “She could not die upon the one she then occupied, as it had got some pigeons' feathers in it. They did not heed my directions to keep her still, and she died as they were placing her in another bed. These people had two or three tales in proof of their assertion; and this case would probably be accounted additional evidence, though I took care to tell the parties they had killed the poor creature, as others had been killed before, by the act of removing her.”
In West Sussex there is a curious belief that when an infant dies, it communicates the fact itself, by a visit, as if in the body, to some near relative.
There is a curious superstition in Devonshire, that the departure of life is delayed whilst any lock is closed in the dwelling or any bolt shot. It is a practice, therefore, when a dying person is at the last extremity, to open every door in the house. This notion extends even to the supposition that a beam over the head of the dying man impedes the departure of the spirit. A clerical friend, who was most indefatigable in the discharge of his duties among the poor of his parish, related to me that, in a village near Collumpton, he witnessed the death of a person, when the last moments seemed delayed by some unseen cause, and the relatives, in consequence, moved the bed, observing that over the place there was a beam concealed in the floor above. In consequence of such removal, as they said, the sick man “ went off like a lamb.”—Devizes Gazette. Another belief is, that a bed made of goose feathers has the same effect on a dying man as that attributed to the beam.]
LAYING-OUT OR STREEKING THE BODY.
DURAND gives a pretty exact account of some of the ceremonies used at laying-out the body, as they are at present practised in the North of England, where the laying-out is
called streeking. He mentions the closing of the eyes” and lips, the decent washing, dressing, and wrapping-up in a winding sheet4 or linen shroud ;5 of which shroud Prudentius thus speaks :
“ Candore nitentia claro
Prætendere lintea mos est."6 Gough, in the introduction to his second volume of Sepulchral Monuments, p. 205, citing Lowe's MS. History of Orkney, says: “Funeral ceremonies in Orkney are much the same as in Scotland. The corpse is laid out after being stretcht on a board till it is coffined for burial. I know not for what reason they lock up all the cats of the house and cover all the looking-glasses as soon as any person dies; por can they give any solid reason." It by no means seems diffi. cult to assign a reason for locking up the cats on the occasion ; it is obviously to prevent their making any depredations upon the corpse, which it is known they would attempt to do if not
1 7'o streek, to expand, or stretch out, from the Anglo-Saxon strecan, extendere. See Benson's Anglo-Saxon Vocabulary, in v. A streeking board is that on which they stretch out and compose the limbs of the dead body.
? The face-cloth, too, is of great antiquity. Strutt tells us that after the closing of the eyes, &c. a linen cloth was put over the face of the deceased. Thus we are told that “ Henry IV., in bis last illness, seeming to be dead, his chamberlain covered his face with a linen cloth.” Engl. Æra, p. 105.
3 Misson, in his Travels in England, translated by Ozell, p. 89, mentions, under the head of Funerals, “the washing the body thoroughly clean, and shaving it, if it be a man, and his heard be grown during his sickness."
+ Stafford, in his Niobe, or his Age of Teares, 1611, p. 162, says : I am so great an enemy to ceremonies, as that I would onelie wish to have that one ceremonie at my buriall, which I had at my birth, I mean swad. ling, and yet I am indifferent for that too."
Quinetiam sanctorum corpora, manibus erectis supinisque excipere. occludere oculos, ora obturare, decenter ornare, lavare accuratè, et linteo funebri involvere," &c. Durand. de Ritibus, p. 224. We have the very coffin of the present age described in Durand. Corpus lotum et sindone obvolutum, ac loculo conditum, veteres in cænaculis, seu tricliniis exponebant.” p. 225. Loculus is a box or chest. Thus in old registers I find coffins called kists, i. e. chests. See Gough's Sepulchr. Monuments, ii. Introd. p. 5.
“ The custome is to spread abroad
White linens, grac'd with splendour pure." Beaumont.
prevented. In the Statistical Account of Scotland, xxi. 147, parish of Monquhitter, we read: “It disturbed the ghost of the dead, and was fatal to the living, if a tear was allowed to fall on a winding-sheet. What was the intention of this, but to prevent the effects of a wild or frantic sorrow? If a cat was permitted to leap over a corpse, it portended misfortune. The meaning of this was to prevent that carnivorous animal from coming near the body of the deceased, lest, when the watchers were asleep, it should endeavour to prey upon it,” &c. These notions appear to have been called in Scotland * Frets,"
In Wits, Fits, and Fancies, 1614, p. 186, is the following, alluding to the practice of laying out or streeking the body : “ One said to a little child whose father died that morning, and was layd out in a coffin in the kitchen, 'Alas, my prety ch thy father is now in heaven ;' the child answered, Nay, that he is not ; for he is yet in the kitchen.' Laying out the corpse is an office always performed by women, who claim the linen, &c. about the person of the deceased at the time of performing the ceremony. It would be thought very unlucky to the friends of the person departed, were they to keep back any portion of what is thus found. These women give this away in their turn by small divisions; and they who can obtain any part of it, think it an omen or presage of future good fortune to them or theirs.
The interests of our woollen manufactures have interfered with this ancient rite in England. Misson, speaking of funerals in England, says: “There is an Act of Parliament which ordains that the dead shall be buried in a woollen stuff, which is a kind of thin bays, which they call flannel ; nor is it lawful to use the least needleful of thread or silk. (The intention of this act is for the encouragement of the woollen manufacture.) This shift is always white; but there are different sorts of it as to fineness, and consequently of different prices. To make these dresses is a particular trade, and there are many that sell nothing else.” The shirt for a man “has commonly a sleeve purfled about the wrists, and the slit of the shirt down the breast done in the same manner. This should be at least half a foot longer than the body, that the feet of the deceased may be wrapped in it, as in a bag. Upon the head they put a cap, which they fasten with a very broad