They die ~ the dead return not ~ Misery sits near an open grave and calls them over ~ A youth with hoary hair and haggard eye ~ They are the names of kindred friend and lover, which he so feebly calls ~ they all are gone ~ Fond wretch, all dead! Those vacant names alone, this most familiar scene, my pain ~ These tombs ~ alone remain.💀Death was written by Percy Bysshe Shelley & was published by Mrs Shelley after her husband’s death 1824.
Death is nothing new. We are all born, and at some point Death will claim us all. In the centuries before, life was far shorter and early deaths more common. Though these days our lives maybe longer lived, it does all depends where in the world you’re born. Here in Britain, we have the national health service, clean water, clean air, health and safety in the work place and access to inexpensive food and medicines like off the shelf pain killers etc. Though this pandemic has brought about many changes to all our lives, and once again death is now staring us all in the face on a daily basis with no cure for any of us.
The Victorians had a much more personal relationship with death. A mother might have given birth to six children in hope that three of her children might survive into adolescence. I know while researching my own family history twelve children wasn’t uncommon (Though myself I couldn’t imagine going through that many pregnancies) My ancestors made researching member of my family more difficult by naming children after ones that had passed away. At first I thought this was to keep the memory of the child alive, but no. It was to save money as once a child was registered you could use that name again, without further payment.
Most of us are able to plan ahead with our lives knowing we can have an active life well into our eighties and even beyond by keeping fit, eating well and with the luxury of good health care with our modern medicines and treatments as well as a better understanding of personal hygiene to protect us and our families. The pandemic has reinforced the important of keeping ourselves and love ones safe from invisible gems. Thank Goodness for washing machines and household cleaning products.
It wasn’t just the Victorians who created a new industry out of mourning, when Queen Victorian dressed in black and spent years grieving the loss of her beloved Albert. The fear of death is deep rooted across the world, but the great fear of all is one of man’s oldest, and is more profound even than the fear of death itself. The fear of premature burial.
A whole industry grew out of building devices to make sure your love one has truly passed over. Although the obsession with premature burial reached its height in nineteenth-century Europe, its history dates back further. Today with our modern hospitals and medical machinery that allows doctors to diagnosis death beyond all shadow of a doubt, we no longer have to fear premature burial.
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Premature Burial, a short horror story published in 1844 in The Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper. The narrator in Poe’s story had more reason than most to be scared, suffering as he did from catalepsy, a neurological condition which produces intermittent episodes of profound bodily paralysis, closely mimicking death itself. Many believed that Poe lived in fear of such attacks of catalepsy and dreaded being placed in his family vault whilst still alive.
In 1896 an ingenious device was invented by Count Karnice-Karnicki, chamberlain to the Tsar of Russia. He constructed an apparatus consisting of a tube which passed vertically out of the coffin lid and ended in an airtight box above ground-level. On the chest of the corpse was a glass sphere attached to spring which ran the length of the tube and was connected to a mechanism inside the box. The idea was any slight movement of the corpse would cause the lid of the box to fly open to admit air and light as well as activate a flag, a light and a loud bell to attract the attention of anyone wandering through the graveyard. The device could be hire for twelve shillings, at the turn of the century, and would be used for two to three weeks before being removed and available for someone else to hire.
The problem with these devices were the false alarms, which would cause the bodies to be dug up, only for the poor relatives to find the bells and flags had been trigged by rigor mortis fading, or abdominal eructation.i.e. gas leaving the body as it breaks down.
Hopefully, we will all be lucky enough to live a long and happy life beyond this pandemic.
As a new season begins and the rebirth of nature starts, let me wish you all a wonderful weekend.