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tenderest Affections of human Nature, and has perhaps on that Account been used from the Infancy of Time.
I find in Durant a pretty exact Account of some of the Ceremonies used at present in what we call laying out or streeking* in the Northt:--Mention is made of the closing the Eyes and Lips—the decent washing-dressing--and wrapping in a Linen Shroudf:-Of which Shroud Prudentius, the Christian Poet, has these Words:
Candore nitentia claro
Hymn. ad Exequias Defunct. The Interests of our Woollen Manufactories have interfered with this antient Rite in England.
* To streek, to expand, or stretch out, from the Anglo-Saxon sprecan, extendere. See Benson's Anglo-Saxon Vocabulary in verbo.-A Streeking Board is that on which they stretch out and compose the Limbs of the dead Body,
t Quinetiam Sanctorum Corpora, manibus erectis supinisque excipere-occludere oculos-ora obturare-decenter ornare- lavare accuratè & linteo funebri involvere, &c.
Durant. de Ritibus, p. 224. Mr. Pennant, in his Tour in Scotland, tells us, that on the Death of a Highlander, the Corpse being stretched on a Board, and covered with a coarse Linen Wrapper, the Friends lay on the Breast of the Deceased a wooden Platter, containing a small Quantity of Salt and Earth, separate and unmixed; the Earth an Emblem of the corruptible Body; the Salt an Emblem of the immortal Spirit.All fire is extinguished where a Corpse is kept; and it is reckoned so ominous for a Dog or a Cat to pass over it, that the poor
Animal is killed without Mercy.
| The Face Cloth too is of great Antiquity.--Mr. Strutt tells us, that after the closing the Eyes, &c. a Linen Cloth was put over the. Face of the Deceased.- Thus we are told, that Henry the Fourth, in his last Illness seeming to be dead, his Chamberlain covered his Face with a Linen Cloth. English Ara, p. 105.
It is customary at this Day in Northumberland, to set a Pewter Plate, containing a little Salt*, upon the Corpse: as also a Candle in some places—The learned Moresin tells us, " That Salt is the Emblem " of Eternity and Immortality: It is not liable to " Putrefaction itself, and it preserves Things that
are seasoned with it froin Decay."—He gives us also his Conjecture on the Use of a Candlet on this Occasion: “ It was an Egyptian Hieroglyphic for
Life, meant to express the ardent Desire of having had the Life of the Deceased prolonged.”
Qur Funeral Entertainments are of old Date,Cecrops I is said to have instituted them, for the
* Salem abhorrere constat Diabolum, et ratione optima nititur, quia Sal æternitatis est et immortalitatis signum, neque putredine neque corruptione infestatur unquam, sed ipse ab his omnia vendicat.
Deprav. Rel. &c. p. 154. Considered in reference to this symbolical Explication, how beautiful is that Expression, “ Ye are the Salt of the Earth !"
+ Lucerna, seu Candela mortuis cadaveribus semper apponitur in domibus et templis, quamdiu supra terram sunt-an hinc ducto more, oculo, yel Lucerna incensa veteres Ægyptii vitam significabant, unde veteres soliti sunt lucernas ardentes sepulchris impos nere, hac saltem ratione significantes se mortuorum quamdiu possent vitas producturos. Depras. Rel. Orig. p. 39. Thus Mr. Pope, conversant in papal Antiquities;
“ Ah hopeless lasting Flames! like those that burn
Eloise to Abelard. Jubet Papa Cadaveris Expiationes fieri, ut quod valde immundum est, aspergatur aqua benedicta, thurificetur, exorcisetur sacris orationibus, illustretur sacris luminibus, quousque supra Terram fuerit, &c. Moresin Deprav. Rel. Orig. p. 26.
* Convivia funebria Cecrops primus instituit prudenter, ut amici amicitiam fortasse remissam renovarent, & pro uno defuncto acquirerent his mediis plures amicos, &c.-In Anglia ita strenue hanc curam obeunt, ut viliori pretio constet elocatio Filiæ, quam Uxoris mortuæ inhumatio, Ibid. p. 44.
Purposes of renewing decayed Friendship amongst old Friends, &c.—Moresin tells us, that in England they were so profuse on this Occasion, that it cost less to portion off a Daughter, than to bury a dead Wife. These Burial Feasts are still retained in the North,
We have the very Coffin of the present Age described in Durant*.
It appears that among the primitive Christians the Corpse was sometimes kept four Dayst. Pelagias, in Gregory of Turon, requests of her Son, that her Corpse may not be interred till after four Days.
The Payment of Mortuaries is of great Antiquity : it was anciently done by leading or driving a Horse or Cow, &c. before the Corpse of the Deceased at his Funeral. It was considered as a Gift left by à Man at his Death, by way of Recompence for all Failures in the Payment of Tithes and Oblations, and called a Corse-present. It is mentioned in the national Council of Engsham, about the
Some Antiquaries have been
* Corpus totum et sindone obvolutum, ac loculo conditum, veteres in Cænaculis, seu Tricliniis exponebant, p. 225.
Loculus is a Box or Chest. -Thus I find Coffin's called Kists; i. e. Chests, in our old Registers.
+ It was customary in the Christian Burials of the Anglo-Saxons, to leave the Head and Shoulders of the Corpse uncovered till the Time of Burial, that Relations, &c. might take a last View of their deceased Friend. To this day we yet retain (in our Way) this old Custom, leaving the Coffin of the Deceased unscrewed till the Time of Burial. Strutt, Vol. I. p. 66. Manners, &c. Postulabat a Filio, ne eam, ante diem quartum sepeliret.
led into a Mistake by this leading a Horse before the Corpse, and have erroneously represented it as peculiar to Military Characters*.
The abuse of this Vigil, or Lake-wake, is of pretty old standing. -I find the following Account of a Canon, made at the provincial Synod held in London in the Time of Edward III. in Collier's Ecclesiastical History, Vol. I. p. 546, “ The 10th “ Canon endeavours to prevent the Disorders com“ mitted at People's watching a Corpse before Bu“rial. Here the Synod takes Notice, that the De
sign of People's meeting together upon such Oc“casion, was to join their Prayers for the Benefit " of the dead Person ; that this antient and ser“ viceable Usage was over-grown with Supersti« tion, and turned into a Convenience for Theft “ and Debauchery : Therefore for a Remedy against
thiş Disorder, 'tis decreed, that upon the Death “of any Person, none should be allowed to watch “ before the Corpse in a private House, excepting
ncar Relations and Friends of the Deceased, and " such as offered to repeat a set Nụmber of Psalnis “ for the Benefit of his Soul.” The Penalty, annexed is Excommunication. This is also mentioned in Bacon's f Reliques of Rome, and comprised in the Catalogue of those Crimes that were antiently cursed with Bell, Book, and Candle,
* Collier's Ecclesiast. Hist. Vol. I. p. 487.
Mr. Bourne complains of the Sport, Drinking, and Lewdness used at these Lake-wakes * in his Time. They still continue to resemble too much the antient Bacchanalian Orgies.--An instance of Depravity that highly disgraces human Nature ! It would be treating the serious subject with two 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 np as soon as possible by the Birth of another.
* Mr. Pennant, in describing Highland Ceremonies, calls this Meeting the Late-wake; I suspect he has put a t for a k. Thus, in describing Coken, a romantic Seat near Chester-le-street, he spells it erroneously Coker, His Words are, “ The Late-wake is
Ceremony used at Funerals: The Evening after the Death of any “ Person, the Relations or Friends of the Deceased meet at the “ House, attended by Bag-pipe or Fiddle; the nearest of Kin, be “ it Wife, Son, or Daughter, opens a melancholy Ball, dancing “ and greeting, i. e. crying violently at the same Time; and this “ continues till Day-light, but with such Gambols and Frolics
among the younger Part of the Company, that the Loss which “ occasioned them is often more than supplied by the Consequences “ of that Night. If the Corpse remains unburied for two Nights, “ the same Rites are renewed. Thus, Scythian-like, they rejoice “ at the Deliverance of their Friends out of this Life of Misery.". He tells us in the same Place, “ that the Coranich, or singing at “ Funerals, is still in Use in some places. The Songs are generally « in Praise of the Deceased; or a Recital of the valiant Deeds of “ him or Ancestors.”
Perhaps Mr. Pennant, in spelling Late-zake, wished to have the Name derived from watching late :-None can suppose this, but those who are totally ignorant of our antient Language, which is preserved in all its pristine Purity in the vulgar Dialect of the North.