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A Study in Bereavement

                   WRITTEN BY MR THOMAS PARKER IN 1954

AN old man, looking back on life, usually remembers a few
scenes of really striking irony, and probably the most
striking irony is that of almost unconscious hypocrisy.
There was more of this in the unenlightened though eminently
virtuous generation of the first decade of this century than there
is now. Perhaps this was due to their not having seen, like our-
selves, any really practical application of medical science to what
was in those days called the “mystery” of life and death. My
readers may possibly remember that it was not till 1904 that Lord
Treadwell discovered how life might be prolonged until senile
decay had set in, and in this way completely revolutionized the
scientific aspect of what is still called “death”—a term which then
had a very different meaning. But the old ideas lived on, and it
was not until 1915 that the community began to adapt itself to the
altered requirements of a more stationary population. It is curious
to remember how my elders talked of cancer as an incurable di-
sease, and of suicide as a deplorable aberration, if not as a crime.

    But I am wandering, and must return to my reminiscence.
In the autumn of 1904, when I was a young man of forty-seven,
I remember attending the “funeral” of a distant cousin, called
Mrs Mitcham. In those days comparatively few people were
cremated, and owing to the uncertain tenure of life it was thought
correct on such occasions to simulate an almost unseemly grief,
instead of accepting the natural close of human activity in a spirit
of rational resignation. The following narrative may interest the
younger generation as showing the odd mixture of knowledge and
ignorance, sentimentality and insensibility, displayed by their an-
cestors. My memory of the episode is so vivid that I have been
able to reproduce almost exactly the remarks made by the persons
then present. Though I have lost sight of most of them, the pro-
bability is that some are still alive, and I have, therefore, preferred
to use fictitious names.

    There was, as I remember, at this “funeral” a certain Mrs
Sophia Cardew, the only sister of Mrs Mitcham, with three more
or less young daughters; a Mr John Matheson, a stockbroker;
a pathetic-looking old woman, called Mrs Boles; and two philan-
thropic ladies of the parish, Miss Molesworth and Miss Honiton.

Even in those days there lingered the Victorian custom of making
the family solicitor read the will of the person who had been
buried, and this function was accordingly performed by a solicitor
of the name of Binks, who recently died at the age of 103.

    The will began more or less in the common form of the
time. The testatrix had left her “faithful landlady,” Mrs Boles,
£75 a year so long as she looked after the pug and three canaries,
and three small legacies to Binks and her two co-district visitors,
Miss Molesworth and Miss Honiton respectively. Mrs Cardew
was to have the life interest in £7,000, which at her death was to
be equally divided among such of her daughters as should be
married by April 1, 1907, when the eldest would be thirty-seven,
and the youngest twenty-nine. Mr Matheson, the deceased’s son-
in-law, was residuary legatee. He was a widower with one child,
and Andrew Mitcham, his brother-in-law, had died a reputed
bachelor some years before.

    The will was, on the whole, satisfactory to all parties. The
landlady sat reflecting on what would best conduce to the longevity
of pugs and canaries, and the Misses Cardew were quite old enough
to realize that their aunt’s bequest was the best of all possible
excuses for open dalliance with gentlemen, who, according to the
absurd fashion then in vogue, reserved to themselves the monopoly
of courtship. Mr Matheson and Mr Binks most imprudently
drank a quantity of “brown sherry,” a poisonous liquor which had
not then been condemned by any Minister of Hygiene.*

    The decorous torpor of the scene was suddenly interrupted
by the appearance of the local doctor in a garment called a “frock
coat” and pince-nez. An early marriage had forced him into a
country practice, but had not entirely destroyed a really intel-
lectual curiosity of a kind then comparatively rare.

    “I have come,” he began abruptly, “on a very urgent
matter. I was up in town very early this morning, and with great
luck managed to see my old contemporary, Julius Treadwell, whom
you may recently have seen boomed in the halfpenny papers.
had thought he was a complete charlatan, and wished, if so, to
have the means of exposing him. But he took me off to Bart’s,♱

    * If I remember right, this ministry did not exist till 1908.—T.P.

     A big London hospital.

                                    A Study in Bereavement

and in the presence of a most distinguished company succeeded
in restoring life to a man who had been dead two days. He sets
the heart going after four hours’ work, and calculates that in such
a case life may continue quite five years more, or conceivably until
senile decay sets in. We did this with closed doors, but no doubt
the evening papers will be full of it. He showed that even after
four days he has a reasonable chance of success, as he has now
discovered a means of combating any organic changes that may
have set in.”

    The company began to look more and more scandalized,
and Mr Binks suddenly drew himself up with great solemnity.

    “My dear sir!” he remarked, “I am surprised that you
should burst in upon us in this way. Such topics are scarcely
seemly on an occasion of this kind, and I have not yet finished
explaining the will to the beneficiaries.”

    “Come, come,” said the doctor, “you don’t seem to see what
I’m driving at. I arranged with Treadwell that I would wire to
him immediately on obtaining your consent to try his skill. He
will have innumerable applications from all parts of the country
to-morrow, and, having regard to the startling circumstances of
his position, he says he must have a thousand guinea fee even if
he fails.”

    “I think,” replied the solicitor, most emphatically, “that
you misapprehend the situation. My clients are, I am sure, not at
all prepared to allow such sacrilegious experiments to be tried on
their beloved relative. I must also point out that the whole pro-
cedure seems to me grossly illegal, and, in any case, no body can
be exhumed without the leave Be the Home Secretary.”

    At this point I remember that Mrs Cardew went off into
a fit of hysterics, which brought the nerves of the whole party to
extreme tension.

    “Dr Mills,” remarked Mr Matheson, “I entirely agree with
my solicitor in thinking that this subject should not have been
broached in the presence of the ladies. But, apart from any other
consideration, I think it would be cruel to restore life to anyone
who has gone to his last rest. I go further, and maintain that it
is utterly contrary to the dictates of the Christian religion, how-
ever unimportant you may think it.”

    “You had better call in the parson on that point,” retorted

the doctor, becoming slightly heated; “but here I see you all in
deep mourning and presumably afflicted by the loss of the lady
who has just died. In all seriousness I hold out a prospect of
restoring her to you, and you immediately flout it. I can hardly
imagine that you are influenced by the question of expense.”

    “The fee,” said Mr Binks, with awakened interest, “would,
I suppose, be paid by the executors* as a part of the funeral ex-
penses; it would therefore be deducted from the residue, and
would ultimately fall on the residuary legatee—that is of course
you, Mr Matheson.”

    “Of course, if I thought there was anything in the idea,
I should have nothing to say against it,” was Mr Matheson’s rapid

    “Properly speaking,” continued Mr Binks, “nothing should,
in my pea be done without the consent of the deceased—but
I feel slightly bewildered by the proposal. In any case, the fee
should, I think, be apportioned among the beneficiaries. I should
add that, even if Mrs Mitcham was alive again, she would have no
means of replacing the income of a thousand guineas.”

    “Interesting as these details may be to the legal mind,”
said the doctor, addressing himself to the whole company, “the
question now before all of you is whether or not any of you wish
to see Mrs Mitcham alive again. The man I saw this morning is
now lying in bed in a perfectly normal condition, and talking as
anyone might who had emerged from a long catalepsy. I see
myself no reason for seriously doubting that the same result might
be achieved here.”

    Mrs Cardew had, meantime, slightly recovered, and sud-
denly observed:

    “Yow know perfectly well, doctor, that this is sanctioned by
no law, human or divine.”

     Her daughters did not seem to know quite what to say, but
the eldest, whose share of the £7,000 seemed unpleasantly contin-
gent, turned to her mother:

    “You must remember, mamma, that modern science does
wonderful things. As Mr Fulton said in his sermon last week,

    * In those days the State had not yet taken over these functions, and even
solicitors were allowed to act in this capacity until 1921, when the great principle of
“compulsory administration” was inaugurated by the centenarian Lord Chancellor.

                                    A Study in Bereavement

scientific discoveries are often providential. In that case they are
like new Acts of Parliament, and become a law in themselves.
Think of having dear Auntie back again! We needn’t see her till
she has recovered.”

    The landlady who, as far as I remember, cared more for the
dead woman than her relations, here showed a strong inclination
to tears. At the same time Miss Molesworth and Miss Honiton
rose, and said they thought that Mr Fulton should be consulted
before any decision was arrived at. I understood Miss Honiton
to add that she had never thought she would live to see those
beautiful words, “Earth to earth, dust to dust,” entirely lose their

    At this moment there was a knock at the door, and the doc-
tor’s servant entered with a telegram. The doctor opened
and read it.

    Can no longer come down, booked for next fortnight.—Treadwell.

     A visible relief came over everyone.

    “I wonder if the remarks of Lazarus’s family were cor-
rectly reported,” muttered the doctor, as he closed the door be-
hind him.

    Lazarus, I may add, was a personage whose name, though
now only familiar to scholars, was commonly cited at that time to
illustrate what was then considered a miraculous recovery of

                                                              E. S. P. HAYNES

    *   A quotation from a liturgy then in use at “funerals.”

MLA citation:

Haynes, E.S.P. “A Study in Bereavement.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 2, 1905, pp. 131-137. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2022. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Toronto Metropolitan University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2022,