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 including some surprisingly 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.
We create alternate states, try to make sense of unimaginable emotions, and evoke extraordinary creatures and worlds to make sense of what it means to be here, and to feel what we feel. The words of Reverend William Rogers are committed to help those who have lost the most precious thing they can lose.
In all likelihood Reverend William Rogers is the one and same as the English champion for free public education, rational espouser of prostitution licences to protect women from Jack the Ripper and the man of God encouraging secular education programs (as well as a keen dancer). Interesting fellow. Infant mortality in the 19th Century was high. At times I read it was so high, that people had more pragmatic attitudes toward death and loss. Then you read texts like this, and you realise that loss and grief are universal across cultures and time. The loss of a child, most piercing of all.
This particular piece of prose was earlier published in The Christian Souvenir: An offering for Christmas and the New Year, Isaac Fitzgerald Shepard (editor), London, 1843. The couplet quoted in this piece is from A New-born Child and Its Parent, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834).
INFANCY IN DEATH. By Rev. William Rogers.
THE gladness of spring has ever a cast of sadness with it to me. The air is perfumed, indeed, by bud and blossom, as if an angle had shaken his wings around us ; but look you, there are more germs blighted and dead beneath the tree, than clinging yet to the branches. Life is ever in the minority, and that sweet emblem admonishes me how largely young life enters the harvest of death. It seems but natural, when the duties of life have formed and perfected, and when the soul is shut in from the world without, but its decaying senses, and limited to the circle of its own reflections, that the spent energies of age should rest in the grave. But here in infancy, you have death with no faculty developed, and the life which might have been an oak to shelter nations, dying a seedling. Life itself is but a fragment, interposed between eternities ; but here the very fragment is broken, and the living clay, which but an hour ago was stamped with his own image by the hand of God, under the selfsame hand crumbles into dust. That life seems an intention interrupted ; a purpose formed, and, in the very moment of its taking shape, strangely changed. It seems a life with no end but death ; and death, too, where last we should look for it in the varied condition of man. When hallowed love has blended its own nature in the life of the newborn, and,
“For the mother’s sake, the child is dear,
And dearer yet the mother, for the child;”
wherever else the curse on the earth might fall and blight, here last and lightest should we look for it ; but even here Death claims his own.
But let us regard this matter as they to whom God has spoken in words articulate by man, and interpret his providence by a higher than earthly wisdom. That life of a day shall endure with the longest. It was but the title-page we read ; the volume of its being is above. Its absolute existence is the same, whether straitened to an hour, or protracted to threescore years and ten on earth, for it claims immortality as its birthright. we robe the little one in the vestments of death, and bear it out with many tears to the dust that lived before it ; we chisel the record of its life of hours, and of our love, upon the chill marble ; and thus we cheat the heart from truth and fact, while we think and speak of it as dead. It is not dead. It cannot die. It lives, and shall live, with the lifetime of God. It breathed an hour in clay, that we might know that God had created another immortal, and that they whom the child bereft, were honored with its parentage, and then it passed from earth to claim its own.
Follow it, if you will, where it mingles with those of whom the Saviour said, “Their angels do always behold my Father which is in heaven,” the formation of character here is under a probation of many sorrows, but there you have the earthborn trained in heaven. it is among the ministries of angels, and gladness such as the blessed know, and truth from the lips of prophets sanctified, among the records of an eternity past, and the developments of an eternity to come, that it wakens to conscious life. There it mingles with the elder spirits of eternity, and beholds the face of Deity, bright in his brightness, yet itself seen as but a shadow intercepting the intenser glory of the throne. Would you disrobe it of its immortality ? Would you have its faculties, sprung in an hour to giant stature, dwindled to the feebleness of infancy, to enter again the narrow chambers of its mortality ? would you hush the song-perfecting praise from infant lips, and give it back to earth, to die again, and win its weary and doubtful way above ? there was a reason for the mastery of faith in the Shunamite, when her boy was dead, and she answered the inquiry of the prophet, “Is it well with the child ? ” “It is well.” No, let it rest, -remembering, when you look upon an infant dead, that heaven is enlarged.
Brief as the term of a child’s life on earth may be, it has answered the end of its existence. It did not live only to die. It lived to be loved, to stir up within the human breast the strong, quick pulsations of a mother’s and a father’s heart, to which the solitary must ever be strangers. Had it never lived, the place that it filled would have been a blank, and the hearts it warmed, unmoved ; but now, instead of nothingness, there is a memory, which the soul melts with emotions that God has treasured up in parentage. And sad though that memory be, it softens with time, until it seems as if they had but dreamed of an angel.
But its life and death had yet a higher use. In this pilgrimage of ours, we forget that we are banished Paradise, and we attempt to frame another from the grosser elements about us. It seems the end of divine providences to expel us from the Eden we have planted, and with whose power we expected unbroken peace. Banished, we repeat the folly, till the poor weary heart hardly dares to love, and says it will not ; yet it does, though death and the grave are quick to sunder the loved and loving, and then, perchance guided by mercy, it finds in God and truth, and object which it may dare to love, for death only brings us nearer to God, and there is no grave in heaven.
God has many voices in this world, in his varied providence, and though they speak in no dialect of man, they are clear and well understood. It is the anticipation of spirit-communion hereafter. But among them all, whether loud or low, whether wrathful or tender, there is none, which does so move the heart to think of God, as the still lips of INFANCY IN DEATH.