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 author of this piece, like many other contributors, was a recognised human rights activist of her time, supporting women’s rights, the abolition of slavery and Native American rights. Interestingly, the author achieved significant recognition and success as a writer, not an easy feat for a woman. Lydia Maria Child (1802 – 1880) became well known for her novel Hobomok released in 1824 it became a sensation as it was the first historical novel written from a feminine point of view and contains a female protagonist who married a Native American Indian. In the piece below, the author displays her empathy for another ‘outsider’, the emigrant alone in a foreign land.
THE EMIGRANT’S BURIAL. By L. M. Child.
THE Englishman was an intelligent, well-informed young man, who, being unable to marry the object of his choice with any chance of comfortable support in his own country, had come to prepare a home for his beloved in the El Dorado of the West.
A neglected cold brought on lung fever, which left him in a rapid decline ; but still, full of hope, he was pushing on up the Mississippi in a steamer, for the township where he had planned for himself a domestic paradise. He was now among strangers, and felt that death was nigh. The Swiss emigrants treated him with that thoughtful, zealous tenderness which springs from genial hearts, deeply imbued with the religious sentiment. One wish of his soul they could not gratify, by reason of their ignorance. Being too weak to hold a pen, he earnestly desired to dictate to some one else a letter to his mother and betrothed. This Capt. T. readily consented to do ; and promised, so far as in him lay, to carry into effect any arrangement he might wish to make.
Soon after this melancholy duty was fulfilled, the young sufferer departed. When the steamboat arrived at its final destination, the kindhearted Capt. T. made the best arrangements he could for a decent burial. There was no chaplain on board ; and unused as he was to the performance of religious ceremonies, he himself read the funeral service from a book of Common Prayer, found in the young stranger’s trunk. The body was tenderly placed on a board, and carried out, face upwards, into the silent solitude of the primeval forest. The sun verging to the west, cast oblique glances through the foliage, and played on the pale face in flickering light and shadow. Even the most dissipated of the emigrants were sobered by a scene so touching and so solemn ; and all followed reverently in procession. Having dug the grave, they laid him carefully within, and replaced the sods above him ; then sadly and thoughtfully they returned slowly to the boat. Subdued to tender melancholy by the scene he had witnessed, and the unusual service h had performed, Capt. T. avoided company, and wandered off alone into the woods. Unquiet questionings and far-reaching thoughts of God and immortality lifted his soul towards the Eternal ; and, heedless of his footsteps, he lost his way in the windings of the forest. A widely devious and circuitous route brought him within sound of human voices. It was a gushing melody taking its rest in sweetest cadences. with pleased surprise, he followed it, and came suddenly in view of the new-made grave. The kindly Swiss matron and her innocent daughter, had woven a large and beautiful cross from the broad leaves of the papau-tree, and twined it with the pure white blossoms of the trailing convolvulus. They had placed it reverently at the head of the stranger’s grave ; and kneeling before it, chanted their Evening Hymn to the Virgin. A glowing twilight shed its rosy flush on the consecrated symbol and the modest, friendly faces of those humble worshippers. Thus beautifully they paid their tribute of respect to the unknown one, of another faith, and a foreign clime, who had left home and kindred to die among strangers, in the wilderness.
How would the holy gracefulness of this scene have melted the hearts of his mother and his beloved.