I am lucky enough to have in my personal library a book entitled ‘The Mourner’s Friend or Sighs of Sympathy For Those Who Sorrow’. It is a collection of prose and verse compiled to give comfort to the grieving. Edited by J.B. Syme, published in 1852 by S.A. Howland in Worcester, Mass, USA; its contents are by American and European authors and some surprising famous names. My copy of the book has some water damage, ageing paper, and precarious binding, so before it deteriorates my project to preserve the words of the authors will find its way here on the MOLAM blog.
The poem below has no attribution. It does make another appearance in a later publication entitled Sacred and household poetry, gathered from the highways and byways of 1858 also published in Massachusetts (Boston). This latter book was compiled by Elizabeth Dana (born 1811) and it is noted that she was also the compiler of Life and letters of Miss Mary C. Greenleaf: Missionary to the Chicksaw Indians. Interestingly, when one searches for the Greenleaf publication there is no attribution to Elizabeth Dana, merely to author unknown, Mary herself, or the male publishers. Mary Coombs Greenleaf was born in 1800 in Newburyport, Massechusetts, which would make Elizabeth Dana her contemporary. I wonder if they were personal friends? I wonder if Elizabeth Dana was from the well-known Dana family of Boston? Whatever interesting links there are to this work, one thing is certain, it encapsulates the Victorian ideal of a blessed death. The euphemistic use of sleep for death is an ancient one, but the Victorians were committed to it, particularly in reference to children, and particularly expressed through art. I have also written of this subject in relation to a mourning locket in the MOLAM collection and its biblical references. Perhaps we need more solace when a child is lost, ’tis easier to entrust them to a blessed everlasting sleep.
THE CHILD’S GRAVE.
IT is a place where tender thought
Its voiceless vigil keepeth :
it is a place where kneeling love
‘Mid all its hope still weepeth :
the vanished light of all a life
That tiny spot encloseth,
Where, followed by a thousand dreams,
The little one reposeth.
It is a place where thankfulness
Its tearful tribute giveth,
That one so pure hath left a world
Where so much sorrow liveth :
Where trial to the heavy heart
its constant cross presenteth,
And every hour some trace retains,
For which the soul repenteth.
It is a place for Hope to rise
When other brightness waneth ;
And, from the darkness of the grave,
to learn the gift it gaineth
from him, who wept as on the earth
Undying love still weepeth ;
from him, who spake those blessed words,–
“She is not dead, but sleepeth ! ”
Image courtesy The Thanatos Archive. One image of many extraordinary early post mortem and unusual photography. To learn more of this fascinating visual history see The Thanatos Archive membership site and Facebook page.