Page:Elizabethan People.djvu/403

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313
BIRTH—BAPTISM—ETC.

burial. It is interesting to read in the Chamberlain's accounts for July 4, 1579: "For the bell and pall for Mr. Shaxper's daughter, 8d."—the highest fee on the list, as Mr. Fleay points out.

The bellman was a civic officer of no little importance. One of his chief offices, besides ringing the bell at deaths and funerals, was to visit condemned criminals the night before their execution and to admonish them of their sins.

"I am the common bellman
That usually is sent to condemned persons
The night before they suffer."

(Duchess of Malfi, iv. 2.)

I have elsewhere described in detail the elaborate performance of this officer when a prisoner was taken from Newgate for execution.[1]

In the time of Shakespeare the putting on of the winding sheet was an impressive ceremony, accompanied by solemn and melancholy music. The following descriptive lines are taken from Webster's White Devil:

"I found them winding of Marcello's corse;
And there is such a solemn melody,
'Tween doleful songs, tears, and sad elegies;
Such as old grandames, watching by the dead,
Were wont to outwear the nights with; that, believe me,
I had no eyes to guide me forth the room,
They were so o'er charged with water.——

  1. Shakespeare's London, page 229.