‘The Mourner’s Friend or Sighs of Sympathy For Those Who Sorrow’ 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 including some surprisingly famous names.
Charles Sprague (1791-1875) was from a prominent Boston family, descendent from the ‘founding fathers’, and a successful career Banker. He was also a popular, award-winning published poet known for his public readings. This particular poem was first published in the 1837 edition of ‘Boston Book’ when the author was 46 years of age. It must have been popular considering the renowned female composer Miss Augusta Browne (sounds like a fearless creative maverick herself!) composed music to the poem and it was published as sheet music available to the public in 1842. A frontispiece appears to the right courtesy of Levy Sheet Music.
The Family Meeting leads the reader into a happy family gathering, warm and loving; a celebration of this welcome happenstance. From the second stanza the melancholy of grief for those missing embellishes the picture with emotional nuance. Death has taken family members, and although all who are living are gathered, the memory of those missing is never too far. Love remains, and bittersweet as it may be they are there in spirit, in their hearts, and memories, always there in the family meeting.
In a notation of the published piece in 1837 the postscript line acknowledgement was printed: ‘These lines were written on occasion of the accidental meeting of all the surviving members of a family, the father and mother of which, one eighty-two, the other eighty years old, have lived int he same house fifty-three years.’
Charles was the father of four children himself, two of which died in childhood.
THE FAMILY MEETING.
WE are all here !
All who hold each other dear.
Each chair is filled, – we’re all at home ;
To night let no cold stranger come :
It is not often thus around
Or old familiar hearth we’re found :
Bless, then, the meeting and the spot ;
For once be every care forgot :
let gentle Peace assert her power,
And kind Affection rule the hour ;
We’re all – all here.
We’re not all here !
Some are away, – the dead ones dear,
Who thronged with us this ancient hearth,
And gave the hour to guiltless mirth.
Fate, with a stern, relentless hand,
Looked in and thinned our little band:
Some like a night-flash passed away,
And some sank, lingering day by day ;
The quiet graveyard, – some lie there, –
And cruel Ocean has his share, –
We’re not all here.
We are all here !
Even they, – the dead, – though dead, so dear;
Fond Memory, to her duty true,
Brings back their faded forms to view.
How life-like, through the mist of years,
Each well-remembered face appears !
We see them as in times long past,
From each to each kind looks are cast ;
We hear their words, their smiles behold;
They’re round us, as they were of old, –
We are all here.
We are all here !
You that I love with love so dear.
This may not long of us be said ;
Soon must we join the gathered dead ;
And by the hearth we now sit round,
Some other circle will be found.
O, then, that wisdom may we know,
Which yields a life of peace below !
So, in the world to follow this,
May each repeat, in words of bliss,
We’re all – all here !