May 16, 1857

16 May 1857


Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1855, by ROBERT BONNER, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.


Every day, in my walks, I pass a large bow window on the corner of two streets, in which is displayed the agreeable spectacle of big and little coffins of all sorts and shapes, piled up and standing on end. This is in bad taste enough; but yesterday, through the ostentatious glass-windows of the shop, I saw a little rosy baby crawling over and around them, while the elder children were using them for play-houses for their dolls! Now such a sight may strike other people agreeably, or they may pass it every day with entire indifference; unfortunately for my peace of mind, I can do niether one nor the other, for by a sort of horrid fascination my eyes are attracted to that detestable window, and familiarity but increases my disgust.

Now I know I shall need a coffin some day or other; but to-day the blue sky arches over my head, the fresh wind fans my temples, and every blade of grass, and now-blown violet, makes me childishly happy; now what right has that ghoul of an undertaker to nudge me in my healthy ribs as I pass, check my springing step, send the blood from my cheek back to my heart, change my singing to sighing, and turn this bright glorious earth into one vast charnel-house? In the name of cheerfulness, I indict him, and his co-fellows, for unmitigated nuisances.

And while I am upon this subject I would like to ask why the New York sextons, for I believe it is peculiar to them, should have the exclusive privilege of advertising their business on the outer church-walls, any more than the silver-smith who furnishes the communion-plate; or the upholsterer who makes the pulpit and pew-cushions; or the bookseller who furnishes the hymn-books; or the dry-goods merchant who sells the black silk to make the clergyman's robe? It strikes me that it is a monopoly, and a very repulsive one. In my opinion, this whole funeral business needs reforming. Much of the shrinking horror with which death is invested even to good Christians, is traceable to these repulsive, early associations, of which they cannot, by any exercise of faith, rid themselves in after years. This unnecessary, ostentatious, long-drawn-out paraphernalia of woe; these gloomy sable garments, which all should unite in abolishing; these horrible pompous-funerals, with their pompous under-takers, where people who scarce ever glanced at the living face congregate to sniffle hypocritical tears over the dead one; these stereotyped round-about prayers that mean so little, and which the mourner never hears; this public counting of scalding tears by careless gazers at the grave-yard or the tomb; it is all horrible—it need not be—for the sake of childhood, often through fear of death all its lifetime subject to bondage, it ought not to be. Even the "heathen," so called, have the advantage of us in the cheerfulness with which they wisely invest a transition, from which flesh and blood with its imperfect spiritualization instinctively shrinks.

Source Text:

Fanny Fern, "A Sable Subject," The New-York Ledger (16 May 1857): 4

To cite this project:

Fanny Fern, "A Sable Subject," Fanny Fern in The New York Ledger, Ed. Kevin McMullen (2018)