Found Drowned George Frederic Watts

Found Drowned by George Frederic Watts | Memento mori

Found Drowned is an oil painting by George Frederic Watts, c. 1850, inspired by Thomas Hood‘s 1844 poem The Bridge of Sighs.

The painting depicts the dead body of a woman washed up beneath the arch of Waterloo Bridge, with her lower body still immersed in the water of the River Thames. She is presumed to have drowned after having thrown herself in the river in despair to escape the shame of being a “fallen woman”. (Source)

While suicide isn’t someting that we usually think about when reflecting on our own mortality, it is not something we can ever fully rule out. We don’t know what trauma lies ahead or what flames of suffering that will make us want to choose death.

This is a beautiful but sad painting. We look back to an age that outcast women to their homelessness (and as a result, leading them to take their own lives) for out of wedlock pregnancy. 

Newspapers of the period commonly reported on young women’s bodies found drowned in Thames. A quick online search shows that even recently there have been suicide attempts off of the Waterloo Bridge into the icy depths.

Sunset over Waterloo Bridge (1916)
Sunset over Waterloo Bridge by Emile Claus (1916)

As we think on our own mortality we should not forget that as much as we may see suicide as something we would never do, that those who took their own lives often felt the same way at an earlier point. We can use this awareness to be kinder to one another, be supportive where we can, look after our mental well-being, and become psychologically resistant.

Marianne Faithfull – The Bridge of Sighs (reading)

 

The Bridge of Sighs

Thomas Hood, 1844

One more Unfortunate,

 Weary of breath,

Rashly importunate,

 Gone to her death!

 

Take her up tenderly,

 Lift her with care;

Fashion’d so slenderly

 Young, and so fair!

 

Look at her garments

Clinging like cerements;

Whilst the wave constantly

 Drips from her clothing;

Take her up instantly,

 Loving, not loathing.

 

Touch her not scornfully;

Think of her mournfully,

 Gently and humanly;

Not of the stains of her,

All that remains of her

 Now is pure womanly.

 

Make no deep scrutiny

Into her mutiny

 Rash and undutiful:

Past all dishonour,

Death has left on her

 Only the beautiful.

 

Still, for all slips of hers,

 One of Eve’s family—

Wipe those poor lips of hers

 Oozing so clammily.

 

Loop up her tresses

 Escaped from the comb,

Her fair auburn tresses;

Whilst wonderment guesses

 Where was her home?

 

Who was her father?

 Who was her mother?

Had she a sister?

 Had she a brother?

Or was there a dearer one

Still, and a nearer one

 Yet, than all other?

 

Alas! for the rarity

Of Christian charity

 Under the sun!

O, it was pitiful!

Near a whole city full,

 Home she had none.

 

Sisterly, brotherly,

Fatherly, motherly

 Feelings had changed:

Love, by harsh evidence,

Thrown from its eminence;

Even God’s providence

 Seeming estranged.

 

Where the lamps quiver

So far in the river,

 With many a light

From window and casement,

From garret to basement,

She stood, with amazement,

 Houseless by night.

 

The bleak wind of March

 Made her tremble and shiver;

But not the dark arch,

Or the black flowing river:

Mad from life’s history,

Glad to death’s mystery,

 Swift to be hurl’d—

Anywhere, anywhere

 Out of the world!

 

In she plunged boldly—

No matter how coldly

 The rough river ran—

Over the brink of it,

Picture it—think of it,

 Dissolute Man!

Lave in it, drink of it,

 Then, if you can!

 

Take her up tenderly,

 Lift her with care;

Fashion’d so slenderly,

 Young, and so fair!

 

Ere her limbs frigidly

Stiffen too rigidly,

 Decently, kindly,

Smooth and compose them;

And her eyes, close them,

 Staring so blindly!

 

Dreadfully staring

 Thro’ muddy impurity,

As when with the daring

Last look of despairing

 Fix’d on futurity.

 

Perishing gloomily,

Spurr’d by contumely,

Cold inhumanity,

Burning insanity,

 Into her rest.—

Cross her hands humbly

As if praying dumbly,

 Over her breast!

 

Owning her weakness,

 Her evil behaviour,

And leaving, with meekness,

 Her sins to her Saviour!

 


***A memento mori is a reminder of death. It is a key practice in Stoicism but is not unique to it. It can be a simple visual reminder or quote or a more serious mediation on death.  Stoics use it to remind themselves of how short and fragile life is and therefore how much we have to be grateful for, to live virtuous lives, and not to waste our time.

In this series, each Monday, I will post a memento mori from various sources, either from the primary Stoic texts themselves or other sources.

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