Monday, May 14, 1711.
‘… Hic vivimus Ambitiosa
Paupertate omnes …’
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 Houshold 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.