No. 64

Monday, May 14, 1711. [Steele.

--Hic vivimus Ambitiosa

Paupertate omnes------ Juv.

THE most improper things we commit in the Conduct of our Lives, we are led into by the Force of Fashion. Instances might be given, in which a prevailing Custom makes us act against the Rules of Nature, Law and common Sense: but at present I shall confine my Consideration of the Effect it has upon Men's Minds, by looking into our Behaviour when it is the Fashion to go into Mourning. The Custom of representing the Grief we have for the Loss of the Dead by our Habits, certainly had its Rise from the real Sorrow of such as were too much distressed to take the proper Care they ought of their Dress. By Degrees it prevailed, that such as had this inward Oppression upon their Minds, made an Apology for not joining with the rest of the World in their ordinary Diversions, by a Dress suited to their Condition. This therefore was at first assumed by such only as were under real Distress; to whom it was a Relief that they had nothing about them so light and gay as to be irksome to the Gloom and Melancholy of their inward Reflections, or that might misrepresent them to others. In process of Time this laudable Distinction of the Sorrowful was lost, and Mourning is now worn by Heirs and Widows. You see nothing but Magnificence and Solemnity in the Equipage of the Relict, and an Air [of ] Release from Servitude in the Pomp of a Son who has lost a wealthy Father. This Fashion of Sorrow is now become a generous Part of the Ceremonial between Princes and Sovereigns, who in the Language of all Nations are stiled Brothers to each other, and put on the Purple upon the Death of any Potentate with whom they live in Amity. Courtiers, and all who wish themselves such, are immediately seized with Grief from Head to Foot upon this Disaster to their Prince; so that one may know by the very Buckles of a Gentleman-Usher, what Degree of Friendship any deceased Monarch maintained with the Court to which he belongs. A good Courtier's Habit and Behaviour is hieroglyphical on these Occasions: He deals much in Whispers, and you may see he dresses according to the best Intelligence.

The general Affectation among Men, of appearing greater than they are, makes the whole World run into the Habit of the Court. You see the Lady, who the Day before was as various as a Rainbow, upon the Time appointed for beginning to mourn, as dark as a Cloud. This Humour does not prevail only on those whose Fortunes can support any Change in their Equipage, not on those only whose Incomes demand the Wantonness of new Appearances; but on such also who have just enough to cloath them. An old Acquaintance of mine, of Ninety Pounds a Year, who has naturally the Vanity of being a Man of Fashion deep at his Heart, is very much put to it to bear the Mortality of Princes. He made a new black Suit upon the Death of the King of Spain, he turned it for the King of Portugal, and he now keeps his Chamber while it is scouring for the Emperor. He is a good Oeconomist in his Extravagance, and makes only a fresh black Button upon his Iron-gray Suit for any Potentate of small Territories; he indeed adds his Crape Hatband for a Prince whose Exploits he has admired in the Gazette. But whatever Compliments may be made on these Occasions, the true Mourners are the Mercers, Silkmen, Lacemen and Milliners. A Prince of merciful and royal Disposition would reflect with great Anxiety upon the Prospect of his Death, if he considered what Numbers would be reduced to Misery by that Accident only: He would think it of Moment enough to direct, that in the Notification of his Departure, the Honour done to him might be restrained to those of the Household of the Prince to whom it should be signified. He would think a general Mourning to be in a less Degree the same Ceremony which is practised in barbarous Nations, of killing their Slaves to attend the Obsequies of their Kings.

I had been wonderfulIy at a Loss for many Months together, to guess at the Character of a Man who came now and then to our Coffee-house: He ever ended a News-paper with this Reflection, Well, I see all the Foreign Princes are in good Health. If you asked, Pray, Sir, what says the Postman from Vienna? he answered, Make us thankful, the German Princes are all well: What does he say from Barcelona? He does not speak but that the Country agrees very well with the new Queen. After very much Enquiry, I found this Man of universal Loyalty was a wholesale Dealer in Silks and Ribbons: His Way is, it seems, if he hires a Weaver, or Workman, to have it inserted in his Articles, 'That all this shall be well and truly performed, provided no foreign Potentate shall depart this Life within the Time above-mentioned.' It happens in all publick Mournings, that the many Trades which depend upon our Habits, are during that Folly either pinched with present Want, or terrified with the apparent Approach of it. All the Atonement which Men can make for wanton Expences (which is a sort of insulting the Scarcity under which others labour) is, that the Superfluities of the Wealthy give Supplies to the Necessities of the Poor: but instead of any other Good arising from the Affectation of being in courtly Habits of Mourning, all Order seems to be destroyed by it; and the true Honour which one Court does to another on that Occasion, loses its Force and Efficacy. When a foreign Minister beholds the Court of a Nation (which flourishes in Riches and Plenty) lay aside, upon the Loss of his Master, all Marks of Splendor and Magnificence, though the Head of such a joyful People, he will conceive greater Idea of the Honour done his Master, than when he sees the Generality of the People in the same habit. When one is afraid to ask the Wife of a Tradesman whom she has lost of her Family; and after some Preparation endeavours to know whom she mourns for; how ridiculous is it to hear her explain her self, That we have lost one of the House of Austria! Princes are elevated so highly above the rest of Mankind, that it is a presumptuous Distinction to take a Part in Honours done to their Memories, except we have Authority for it, by being related in a particular Manner to the Court which pays that Veneration to their Friendship, and seems to express on such an Occasion the Sense of the Uncertainty of human Life in general, by assuming the Habit of Sorrow though in the full possession ofTriumph and Royalty.


1. [of a]

2. The death of Charles II. of Spain, which gave occasion for the general war of the Spanish succession, took place in 1700. John V., King of Portugal, died in 1706, and the Emperor Joseph I. died on the 17th of April, 1711, less than a month before this paper was written. The black suit that was now 'scouring for the Emperor' was, therefore, more than ten years old, and had been turned five years ago.