The million-peopled city
The Funeral of a Pensioner described.
thus describes the funeral of a Chelsea pen- sioner:-
" It rarely happens that, out of a body of 500 invalids, one or two are not committed every week to the dust; and Wednesday and Friday being here the canonical days for interments, you may chance to be present at the ceremony. Let me, then, assume that we have traversed the inter- mediate space together, and are standing at this moment at the extremity of Jew's-row, though prepared, by the simple operation of throwing our right shoulders forward, to make good our entrance into the Hospital. See, there is some operation in progress more important than usual. The gates are closed, the guard is turned out, and the sentry holds the postern in his hand, that he may admit well- dressed and respectable-looking people, at the same time that he shuts out the mob. Examine the bearing of these men closely, and having done so, retain the indifference which on ordinary occasions may pervade you, if you can. There are just twelve of them, with a sergeant and a corporal, of whom three, including the sergeant, have severally lost a leg; two present each an empty sleeve; and the remainder are furrowed over by age, and heavily laden with infirmities. Yet, how erect and steady is their port! There they are, with the three-cornered hat of William the Third's day, surmounting the red frock of a similar date-noble specimens of what soldiers once were, gallant ruins of men who never knew in youth what fear was, and are not now likely to forget what is due to their well-earned reputation. And observe the sentry at the gate;-how good-humouredly he repulses the crowd, chiefly of boys, that press upon him, though his sole weapon be now the staff, which is used indifferently to command attention, and to support the steps
|. of him who wields it. But, as I have just said, he has no orders to exclude well-dressed people, and will not, therefore, resist our effort to establish ourselves within the barricade, if such be your desire. Move forward, then, and place yourself just beyond the guard-house, till the procession, of which the approach is announced by the roll of the muffled drum and the shrill notes of the fife, shall have passed. We can then fall in with the rear, and be witnesses to the ceremonies, whatever they may be, that attend the funeral of a pen- sioner.|
"The drum will have been heard some time, and the well-known air, the , recognised, ere the pro- cession comes in sight, winding round the angle of the court. It appears, however, at last, headed by the firing party, 12 veterans, accoutred for the occasion in old black waist- belts, from which, in the rear, depend old bayonets, and to which, in front, are fastened old cartouche-boxes. Their muskets, somewhat the worse for wear, and stripped of the slings which formerly attached to them, are reversed, not perhaps with the nicety which a firing party from the Grenadier Guards might display, but after a fashion which sufficiently indicates that the old men have not forgotten the lessons learned in early youth. The tread of the men them- selves, likewise, is orderly; and they are commanded by a sergeant, who marches behind the rearmost file, with his partisan or halbert reversed. Next to the firing party move the drummer and fifer, 2 feeble grey-headed men, in whom it would be difficult to recognise the relics of the light- hearted lads whose merry music has startled many a maiden from her broken slumbers, and called her to the window that she might look her last at some favourite partner in the dance, or, it may be, at one who had established still stronger claims upon her memory. And now come the chaplain and his clerk, of whom it would be unbecoming in
|me to say more than that both have seen some service, and that both carry about in their own persons sensible proofs that where there is service there is usually danger. These, again, are succeeded by the coffin, which being covered with a black pall, and surmounted by the hat of the deceased,- the single military trophy of which his latter days could boast,-is borne on the shoulders of six of his comrades. His relatives, if he have any, now fall into their places; the nurses who attended him in his last illness succeed, and the whole procession is closed by the inmates of his ward, among whom it rarely occurs that he had not one or more intimate and familiar friends.|
"As the closing files pass the grave-yard doorway, we attach ourselves to the little column, and are introduced into an open area, oblong in shape, totally devoid of ornament, and fenced about with lofty brick-built walls. Not yet, however, have we leisure to look round; for the procession having advanced about half way towards its further ex. tremity, defiles somewhat to the right, and halts beside a mound of fresh earth. Here, at the foot of the grave, the clergyman takes his station; while the firing party form line along its edge, leaving, however, space enough between for those whose business it may be to lower the coffin into the dust. Meanwhile the mourners, including nurses and pensioners, in attendance, arrange themselves in a sort of half-circle about the grave. And now the chaplain, raising his hat, begins the service, during the progress of which you cannot better employ yourself than by looking round upon the countenances of his audience. But the service is not of long continuance. The chaplain has ceased to speak. The coffin is lowered into the grave, earth is consigned to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. And now, the sergeant, taking a pace to the front, gives the word of command, and his party come to attention, shoulder their arms, and present.
|Their volley may be less exact than it used to be-but no matter. It tells the neighbourhood that a gallant spirit has gone back to Him who gave it; after which the men half- cock their firelocks, face to the left, and the yard is soon emptied." |
A missionary of the , who visits this Hospital, was anxious to know what effect a funeral had on the old men. His statement is a painful one. It is as follows,-" One or two of the old men failing to fire in an orderly manner, it so much incensed their comrades, that before they could get out of the burying-ground, there was such swearing at each other that my feelings were shocked, and I never again went to witness a funeral."
The average attendance at the on Wed- nesdays and Fridays is only about 15, but on days of funerals it is much larger. The very small attendance at other times evidences that services of a different order are what are wanted by the old men.
 Records of Chelsea Hospital," pp. 334--8.