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ceptacles of mankind divide this our life between them, and that all that passes from the midwife to the undertaker may, in strict propriety, go for nothing: an awful and instructive lesson to human vanity. Looking over some papers lately that fell into my
hands by chance, and appear to have been written about the beginning of the last century, I stumbled, among the rest, upon the following short essay, which the writer calls - The Character of an Undertaker." It is written with some stiffness and peculiarities of style; but some parts of it, I think, not unaptly characterize the profession to which Mr. Middleton has the honour to belong. The writer doubtless had in his mind the entertaining character of Sable, in Steele's excellent comedy of the Funeral.
CHARACTER OF AN UNDERTAKER.
* He is master of the ceremonies at burials and mourning assemblies, grand marshal at funeral processions, the only true yeoman of the body, over which he exercises à dictatorial authority from the moment that the breath has taken leave to that of its final commitment to the earth. His ministry begins where the physician's, the lawyer's, and the di. vine's end. Or if some part of the functions of the latter run parallel with his, it is only in ordine ad spiritualia. His temporalities remain unquestioned. He is arbitrator of all questions of honour which may concern the defunct; and upon slight inspection will pronounce how long he may remain in this upper world with credit to himself, and when it will be prudent for his reputation that he should retire. His determination in these points is peremptory and without appeal. Yet, with a modesty peculiar to his profession, he meddles not out of his own sphere. With the good or bad actions of the deceased in his lifetime he has nothing to do. He leaves the friends of the dead man to form their own conjectures as to the place to which the departed spirit is gone. His care is only about the exuviæ. He concerns not himself eveu about the body, as it is a structure of parts internal, and a wonderful microcosm. He leaves such curious speculations to the anatomy professor. Or, if anything, he is averse to such* wanton inquiries, as delighting rather that the parts which he has care of should be returned to their kindred dust in as handsome and unmutilated condition as possible ; that he grave should have its full and unimpaired tribute-a complete and just carcass. Nor is he only careful to provide for the body's entireness, but for its accommodation and orna.
ment. He orders the fashion of its clothes, and designs the symmetry of its dwelling. Its vanity has an innocent survival in him. He is bedmaker to the dead. The pillows which he lays never rumple. The day of interment is the theatre in which he displays the mysteries of his art. It is hard to describe what he is, or rather to tell what he is not, on that day: for, being neither kinsman, servant, nor friend, he is all in turns; a transcendent, running through all those relations. His office is to supply the place of self-agency in the family, who are presumed incapable of it through grief. He is eyes, and ears, and hands to the whole household. А draught of wine cannot go round to the mourners, but he must minister it. A chair may hardly be restored to its place by a less solemn hand than his. He takes upon himself all functions, and is a sort of ephemeral major-domo! He distributes his attentions among the
company assembled according to the degree of affliction, which he calculates from the degree of kin to the deceased; and marshals them accordingly in the procession. He himself is of a sad and tristful countenance ; yet such as (if well examined) is not without some show of patience and resignation at bottom; prefiguring, as it were, to the friends of the deceased what their grief shall be when the hand of Time shall have softened and taken down the bitterness of their first anguish; so handsomely can he foreshape and anticipate the work of time. Lastly, with his wand, as with another divining-rod, he calculates the depth of earth at which the bones of the dead man may rest, which he ordinarily contrives may be at such a distance from the surface of this earth as may frustrate the profane attempts of such as would violate his repose, yet sufficiently on this side the centre to give his friends hopes of any easy and practicable resurrection. And here we leave him, casting in dust to dust, which is the last friendly office that he undertakes to do."
Begging your pardon for detaining you so long among graves, and worms, and epitaphs,"
I am, sir,
ON THE DANGER OF CONFOUNDING MORAL
WITH PERSONAL DEFORMITY;
WITH A HINT TO THOSE WHO HAVE THE FRAMING OF AD
VERTISEMENTS FOR APPREHENDING OFFENDERS.
To the Editor of the Reflector.
MR. REFLECTOR— There is no science in their pretensions to which mankind are more apt to commit grievous mistakes, than in the supposed very obvious one of physiognomy. I quarrel not with the principles of this science, as they are laid down by learned professors; much less am I disposed, with some people, to deny its existence altogether as any inlet of knowledge that can be depended upon. I believe that there is, or may be, an art to “read the mind's construction in the face." But, then, in every species of reading, so much depends upon the eyes of the reader; if they are blear, or apt to dazzle, or inattentive, or strained with too much attention, the optic power will infallibly bring home false reports of what it reads. How often do we say, upon a cursory glance at a stranger, what a fine open countenance he has, who, upon second inspection, proves to have the exact features of a knave. Nay, in much more intimate acquaintances, how a delusion of this kind shall continue for months, years, and then break up all at once.
Ask the married man, who has been so but for a short space of time, if those blue eyes where, during so many years of anxious courtship, truth, sweetness, serenity seemed to be written in characters which could not be misunderstood—ask him if the characters which they now convey be exactly the same ? if for truth he does not read a dull virtue (the mimic of constancy) which changes not, only because it wants the judgment to make a preference? if for sweetness he does not read a stupid habit of looking pleased at everything ? if for serenity he does not read animal tranquillity, the dead pool of the heart, which no breeze of passion can stir into health ? Alas! what is this book of the countenance good for, which when we have read so long, and thought that we understood iis contents, there comes a countless list of heart-breaking erTitle at the end !
But these are the pitiable mistakes to which love alone is subject. I have inadvertently wandered from my purpose, which was to expose quite an opposite blunder, into which we are no less apt to fall, through hate.
How ugly a person looks upon whose reputation some awkward aspersion hangs, and how suddenly his countenance clears up with his character. I remember being persuaded of a man whom I had conceived an ill opinion cf, that he had a very bad set of teeth ; which, since I have had better opportunities of being acquainted with his face and facts, I find to have been the very reverse of the truth. That crooked old woman, I once said, speaking of an ancient gentlewoman, whose actions did not square altogether with my notions of the rule of right. The unanimous surprise of the company before whom I uttered these words soon convinced me that I had confounded mental with bodily obliquity, and that there was nothing tortuous about the old lady but her deeds.
This humour of mankind to deny personal comeliness to those with whose moral attributes they are dissatisfied, is very strongly shown in those advertisements, which stare us in tho face from the walls of every street, and, with the tempting bait which they hang forth, stimulate at once cupidity and an abstract love of justice in the breast of every passing peruser ; I mean, the advertisements offering rewards for the apprehen. sion of absconded culprits, strayed apprentices, bankrupts who have conveyed away their effects, debtors that have run away from their bail. I observe, that in exact proportion to the indignity with which the prosecutor, who is commonly the framer of the advertisement, conceives he has been treated, the personal pretensions of the fugitive are denied, and his defects exaggerated.
A fellow whose misdeeds have been directed against the public in general, and in whose delinquency no individual shall feel himself particularly interested, generally meets with fair usage. A coiner or a smuggler shall get off tolerably well. His beauty, if he has any, is not much underrated, his deformities are not much magnified. A runaway apprentice, who excites perhaps the next least degree of spleen in his ecutor, generally escapes with a pair of bandy legs ; if he has taken anything with him in his flight, a hitch in his gait is generally superadded. A bankrupt, who has been guilty of withdrawing his effects, if his case be not very atrocious, commonly meets with mild usage. But a debtor who has left his bail in jeopardy is sure to be described in characters of unmingled deformity. Here the personal feelings of the bail, which may be allowed to be somewhat poignant, are admitted io interfere ; and, as wrath and revenge commonly strike in the dark, the colours are laid on with a grossness which I am convinced must often defeat its own purpose. The fish that casts an inky cloud about him that his enemies may not find him, cannot more obscure himself by that device than the blackening representations of these angry advertisers must inevitably serve to cloak and screen the persons of those who have injured them from detection. I have before me at this moment one of these bills, which runs thus :
" FIFTY Pounds REWARD.
- Run away from his bail, John Tomkins, formerly resident in Princes-street, Soho, but lately of Clerkenwell. Whoever shall apprehend, or cause to be apprehended and lodged in one of his majesty's jails, the said John Tomkins, shall receive the above reward. He is a thickset, sturdy man, about five foot six inches high, halts in his left leg, with a stoop in his gait, with coarse red hair, nose short and cocked up, with little gray eyes, one of them bears the effect of a blow which he has lately received, with a put belly, speaks with a thick and disagreeable voice, goes shabbily dressed, had on when he went away a greasy shag great-coat with rusty yellow buttons.”
Now although it is not out of the compass of possibility that John Tomkins aforesaid may comprehend in his agreeable person all the above-mentioned aggregate of charms; yet, from my observation of the manner in which these advertisements are usually drawn up, though I have not the pleasure of knowing the gentleman, yet would I lay a wager, that an advertisement to the following effect would have a much better chance of apprehending and laying by the heels this John Tomkins than the above description, although penned by one who, from the good services which he appears to have done for him, has not improbably been blessed with some years of previous intercourse with the said John. Taking, then, the above advertisement to be true, or nearly so, down to the words “ left leg” inclusive, (though I have some doubt if the blemish there implied amount to a positive lameness, or be perceivable by any but the nearest friends of John,) I would proceed thus :
“ Leans a little forward in his walk, his hair thick and inclining to auburn, his nose of the middle size, a little turned up at the end, lively hazel eyes, (the contusion, as its effects are probably gone off by this time, I judge better omitted,) inclines to be corpulent, his voice thick but pleasing, especially