[Footnote A: In “A Milk White Flag,” a good specimen of “up-to-date” farce, Mr. Hoyt dallies entertainingly and discreetly with the blithesome topics of undertakers, corpses, and widows.]
In “The Funeral” the author impaled, with many a merciless slash of the pen, the hypocrisy and vulgar flummery that characterised the whole gruesome ceremony of conducting to its earthly resting-place the body of a well-to-do sinner. For the average Englishman loved a funeral and all its ghastly accompaniments as passionately as though he had Irish blood in his veins, and often insisted upon investing the burial of his friends with the mockery, rather than the sincerity, of woe.
Grief thus became a pleasure, and it was a pleasure, be it added, which was not taken too sadly. (Pardon the paradox.) The spirits of the deceased’s many admirers had to be raised, and the enlivening process was set in motion by means of numerous libations, not of tea, but of lusty wine. When the wife of mine host of the “Crown and Sceptre” left this world of cooking and drinking, the women who crowded to the good lady’s funeral had to drown their sorrows in a tun of red port,[A] and it is evident that at the burial of men the grief of the mourners required an equal amount of quenching. Indeed, the most absurd expenditures and preparations were made for what should be the simplest of ceremonies, and the result oftentimes proved garish in the extreme. As an example of the display in this direction, John Ashton quotes from the Daily Courant a report of the obsequies of Sir William Pritchard, sometime Lord Mayor of London. After a vast deal of pomp wasted in St. Albans and other places upon the unappreciative and inanimate Pritchard, the remains reached the country seat of the deceased, in the county of Buckingham. “Where, after the body had been set out, with all ceremony befitting his degree, for near two hours, ’twas carried to the church adjacent in this order, viz., 2 conductors with long staves, 6 men in long cloaks two and two, the standard, 18 men in cloaks as before, servants to the deceas’d two and two, divines, the minister of the parish and the preacher, the helm and crest, sword and target, gauntlets and spurs, born by an officer of Arms, both in their rich coats of Her Majesty’s Arms enbroider’d; the body, between 6 persons of the Arms of Christ’s Hospital, St. Bartholomew’s, Merchant Taylors Company, City of London, empaled coat and single coat; the chief mourner and his four assistants, followed by the relations of the defunct, &c."[B] In this aggregation of grandeur the mere bagatelle in the shape of a corpse seems almost completely overshadowed, and it is thus comforting to reflect that the latter finally had interment in a “handsome large vault, in the isle on the north side of the church, betwixt 7 and 8 of the clock that evening.” The dear departed, or grief for his memory, frequently played but too small a role in all these trappings of despondency,