The Mourner's FriendI 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.¬†

This is quite an extraordinary piece. Written in the first person from the perspective of an abusive alcoholic husband. It appears out of place within the context of this anthology of predominantly spiritual verse aimed to bring solace. This is almost social realist like in its narrative and imagery. The protagonist displays remorse and despair, but there is no redemption here; only lost love and lost hope within the abyss of addiction. Augustine Duganne (1823 Boston – 1884) is quite the interesting character himself. Like many of the other authors appearing here he was a social activist and spokesperson for human rights, particularly proclaiming the Arts should be accessible to the working class and impoverished – essentially a democratic and egalitarian discipline. One of my favourite quotes from him is from his short treatise Art’s true mission in America published in 1853: “And beautiful will be the spectacle, when, casting national and sectional prejudices aside, and holding all as brothers who enclasp the same shrine and raise the same anthem, we shall behold the spirit of redeemed Art moving onward through the land, exalting and purifying the souls of men, and teaching by sights and sounds of loveliness the great and eternal harmony of Nature.” (pp. 30-31).


I’M thinking on thy smile, Mary, –
Thy bright and trusting smile,-
In the morning of our youth and love,
Ere sorrow came, or guile :
When thine arms were twined about my neck,
And mine eyes looked into thine,
And the heart that throbbed for me alone,
Was nestling close to mine

I see full many a smile, Mary,
On young lips beaming bright;
And many an eye of light and love
Is flashing in my sight;-
But the smile is not for my poor heart,
And the eye is strange to me,
And loneliness comes o’er my soul
When its memory turns to thee!

I’m thinking on the night, Mary,
the night of grief and shame,
When with drunken ravings on my lips,
To thee I homeward came;-
O, the tear was in thine earnest eye,
And thy bosom wildly heaved,
Yet a smile of love was on thy cheek,
Though the heart was sorely grieved!

But the smile soon left thy lips, Mary,
And thine eye grew dim and sad;
For the tempter lured my steps from thee,
And the wine-cup drove me mad;
From thy cheek the roses quickly fled,
And thy ringing laugh was gone,
yet thine heart still fondly clung to me,
And still kept trusting on.

O, my words were harsh to thee, Mary,
For the wine-cup made me wild;
And I chid thee when thine eyes were sad,
And I cursed thee, when they smiled,
God knows I loved thee, even then,
But the fire was in my brain,
And the curse of drink was in my heart,
To make my love a bane.

‘T was a pleasant home of ours, Mary,
In the spring-time of our life,
When I looked upon thy sunny face,
And proudly called thee wife,-
And ‘t was pleasant when our children played
Before our cottage door;-
But the children sleep with thee, Mary,-
I shall never see them more!

Thou’rt resting in the churchyard, now,
And no stone is at thine head!
But the sexton knows a drunkard’s wife
Sleeps in that lowly bed;-
And he says the hand of God, Mary,
Will fall with crushing weight
On the wretch who brought thy gentle life
To its untimely fate!

But he knows not of the broken heart
I bear within my breast,
Or the heavy load of vain remorse,
That will not let me rest;
He knows not of the sleepless nights,
When, dreaming of thy love,
I seem to see thine angel eyes
Look coldly from above.

I have raised the wine-cup in my hand,
And the wildest strains I’ve sung,
Till with the laugh of drunken mirth
The echoing air has rung;
But a pale and sorrowing face looked out
From the glittering cup on me,
And a trembling whisper I have heard,
That I fancied breathed by thee!

Thou art slumbering in the peaceful grave,
And thy sleep is dreamless now,
But the seal of an undying grief
Is on thy mourner’s brow;
And my heart is chill as thine, Mary,
For the joys of life have fled,
And I long to lay my aching breast
With the cold and silent dead!