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The Roman Period
The Victorian Era
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The Victorian Era

The Victorian era is known for many things, including the distinctive art and architecture that flourished during the period. The period is named for Queen Victoria of England. When she came to the throne, a time of sentiment and self-indulgence was ended. By setting a new standard for virtue, she returned respect to the throne and spurred a worldwide movement, The Victorian Era. The Era lasted 63 years, from 1837 to 1901.

The Victorian era is also known for its fascination with death. Elaborate rituals surrounded the everyday occurrences of dying and grieving, and it was in this environment that tear bottles re-surfaced as a popular icon of grief and grieving.

  During Victorian funerals, men and women alike would shed tears for the deceased. A more upscale ceremony would distribute lachrymatory for the guests to capture their tears and aid in their mourning.
Cigar like styling would make this vial more acceptable to men.

A most common story of Victorian times is that mourners would shed their tears into a lachrymatory that used a special stopper. When the tears had finally evaporated, the mourning period would be complete. This measured approach may have been an alternative to the structured mourning rituals that are better documented.

Popular references to lachrymatory were apparently common during the period. One subtle reference is found in The Living Age, a literary journal, in 1898. In the story, A Fateful Dinner Party, by H. Meyer Henne, the character Major Blythe discusses consoling a friend with Mrs. Samuels, "Lady Sloane won't need to go shares with the tear bottle." While this is a sarcastic reference, it wouldn't be included if the audience wouldn't understand the meaning.

The following is an especially poignant poem, also from 1896.

In January of 1896, The Atlantic Monthly published a poem by Frank Dempster Sherman (1860-1916) called "A Tear Bottle." As you will see, the author references the tears of a Greek girl -- which supports the belief that the tear bottle played a part in ancient Greek culture.


The Atlantic Monthly: A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics.

Vol LXXVII – January, 1896 – No. CCCCLIX, pages 186-187.

An image of the original text can be viewed at Cornell University's Library collection.


A Tear Bottle

Glass, wherein a Greek girl’s tears
  Once were gathered as they fell,
After these two thousand years
  Is there still no tale to tell?

Buried with her, in her mound
  She is dust long since, but you
Only yesterday were found
  Iridescent as the dew, —

Fashioned faultlessly, a form
  Graceful as was hers whose cheek
Once against you made you warm
  While you heard her sorrow speak.

At your lips I listen long
  For some whispered word of her,
For some ghostly strain of song
  In your haunted heart to stir.

But your crystal lips are dumb,
  Hushed the music in you heart:
Ah, if she could only come
  Back again and bid it start!

Long is Art, but Life so brief!
  And the end seems so unjust:
This companion of her grief
  Here to-day, while she is dust!
        Frank Dempster Sherman.


It was also during the Victorian Era that archeology began to take on a new fervor. An interesting view of "contemporary" perspectives can be found in "The Explorations of Di Cesnola in Cyprus", by Hiram Hitchcock. Published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in July 1872. What makes the article so interesting today is the "oneness of the race in all ages." That is, the discovery that each human civilization developed with more commonality than difference. In the record of this discovery is "a white lachrymatory with very delicate incrustation; and a curious one with a long neck." Like many excavations over time, a tear bottle, or sometime ascribed to be one, was part of the find. The Cornell Library collection contains an original manuscript of this interesting article (see page 197 for the lachrymatory reference).

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