A belief, widely attested in the 19th century, was that if certain feathers other than those of domestic poultry, ducks, and geese were used in stuffing a pillow or a featherbed, any dying person lying on them would linger in agony. Correspondence in several early issues of N&Q showed slight local variations: pigeons were blamed in Cheshire and Northamptonshire, wild birds of any species in Cornwall, game birds in Sussex and Surrey. Similar ideas are recorded from other parts of England throughout the century. The remedies were equally traditional; either the pillow was pulled out from behind the dying man's head in such a way that he fell backwards, or he was lifted out of bed entirely and laid on the cold floor. Various informants told horrified collectors how well it worked:
   Look at poor Muster S., how hard he were a-dying; poor soul, he could not die ony way, till neighbour Puttick found out how it were. 'Muster S.,' says he, 'ye be lying on geame feathers, mon, surely,' and so he were. So we took'n out o' bed and laid'n on the floor, and he pretty soon died then! (N&Q 1s:5 (1852), 341)
   Conversely, 'Instances have been recorded where some such feathers have been placed in a small bag, and thrust under the pillow of a dying man to hold him in life till the arrival of some expected relation' (Wright, 1913: 277).

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.


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