THE USES OF AFFLICTION.

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. 

 

A short 19th Century essay discussing the age old conundrum of the existence of moral injustice in a world created by a holy supreme being. The unknown author is at times surprisingly pragmatic and frank. I do wonder if those who benefit from the ostentatious wealth of 21st Century Christianity recognise the hypocrisy of their 19th Century counterparts in the passages below.

THE USES OF AFFLICTION.

THERE is, perhaps, no doctrine of the New Testament that must strike the ear of a heathen more strangely, than that the Infinite Father, though a being whose very essence is love, yet chasteneth those whom he most loveth, and scourgeth every soul that he receiveth. Even in the Christian church, this doctrine is little understood, or, indeed, received, if we may judge from the remakrs continually made by otherwise intelligent persons, concerning the various dispensations of joy or sorrow which are continually going on around them. True, there are, everywhere, many souls who have been brought to feel its vital meaning ; but as a doctrine of the Christian church, it seems to be still but imperfectly received or understood, even in this nineteenth century of its promulgation. No stronger proof of the truth of this assertion is needed, than is offered by the common act, that when sorrow or misfortune falls on those whom the world admits to be virtuous, or when the notoriously wicked pass their lives amid a continual succession of prosperity, we hear surprise expressed that an overruling Providence should allow such things to be. It would seem to be overlooked, that worldly honor, the insidious corrupter of virtue, is no fitting reward for piety, nor was ever held out as such by our Lord to his followers ; while equal blindness is shown to the truth that worldly honor is the appropriate and naturally to be expected reward of worldliness.

It is but fair and just, humanly speaking, that he who sells his should for gold, should receive his price ; and that he who sacrifices honor and integrity to gain office and high station, should receive that for which he strives. To him who labors only for what this world can give, the good things of this world should not be grudged ; while he who toils for the blessings of heaven, should be content to wait for his reward until the hour comes when he shall be received into heavenly mansions.

When sorrow and disappointment fall to the lot of the evil, the cry is often raised, Lo ! a judgement from heaven, and something of satisfaction is expressed. On such occasions let him who is without sin raise the first cry of joy. Let us consider what is the nature of a judgement.

God is love ; therefore his judgements must be filled with tenderness towards his children ,for they must bear the impress of his nature. Whether painful or joyous, they are full of benignant purposes for the health of the soul ; even as the raging tempest, no less than the bland sunshine, is the beneficent and needful instrument whereby the insalubrious atmosphere is purified.

If we truly receive into our hearts the doctrine that the judgements of heaven are tender manifestations of parental love, the voice of triumph can never be raised when the wicked suffer. A gentle compassion would rather be awakened in our hearts, and we should look upon them in hope, earnestly desiring to do for them everything in our power, in order to encourage and promote the legitimate effect of the dispensation.

When affliction falls upon the pious, though it may seem dark and unintelligible to those who behold it ; yet, in most instances, the individual, if he humbly looks into his own heart, can perceive its application ; for every one who cares to read his own heart, knows in some degree, or may know if he will, his own sins, his own wants. When, however, even the sufferer finds his trials unintelligible ; when first they come upon him, if he but waits in humble faith, he will, even by the work that they shall do in his own soul, so grow in wisdom that he will presently learn to comprehend their design. He may not recognize the seed when it is first sown, yet if he tend it in faith, God will water it, and the blade will appear, bearing in due time fruit, an hundred fold.

The acute suffering to which little children are often subjected previous to the development of any of their reasoning powers, is sufficient proof that the comprehension of grief is not necessary in order that it may works its purpose on the character. For surely we cannot doubt that infantile suffering has an end to be wrought upon the tender germ of life, however little we may be able to understand that end.

The providences of God are often like sweet music playing in the midst of a noisy crowd, whose clamor quite drowns its harmonies from the ear of him who stands near by. If, however, the listener will place himself far away beyond the reach of the sounds of uproar, we will then hear with distinctness the tones of the music, which by their melodious qualities possess the power of penetrating the atmosphere to a distance far grater than the unmodulated clangor can reach. The thronging cares and passions of this life, will, in the same manner, sometimes prevent the soul from perceiving the beautiful fitness and exquisite harmony of those dispensations of heaven that crush the hopes and destroy the plans, which have perhaps been cherished inmates of the heart for years. But if the sufferer will go far away from those hopes and plans ; that is, if he will rise above worldly considerations, and contemplate events in their eternal relations, he will perceive and feel the harmony and beauty in the ways of Providence, and know that the discordance was either in his own heart, or in the world around him.

William Blake, The Ancient of Days in Europe a Prophecy copy D from the British Museum.

William Blake, The Ancient of Days in Europe a Prophecy copy D from the British Museum.

THE NIGHT IS CLOSING ROUND, MOTHER. By Barry Cornwall.

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. 

 

This beautiful poem was included in the author’s publication English Songs, and Other Small Poems, 1832. Barry Cornwall was a pseudonym for a gentleman called Bryan Waller Procter (1787 – 1874). Although Cornwall published numerous writings, he was also a lawyer and the Metropolitan Commissioner of Lunacy. He was the contemporary of Lord Byron and Robert Peel. His daughter Adelaide Anne was also a poet – in fact one of England’s most popular 19th Century poets, and a favourite of Queen Victoria. She was a tireless philanthropist, dedicating her life to the rights of women, particularly those living in poverty. Bryan Procter achieved a great deal of acclaim during his lifetime, and known for some time afterwards. The author Wilkie Collins dedicated one of my favourite books, The Woman in White, to him in 1859.

THE NIGHT IS CLOSING ROUND, MOTHER. By Barry Cornwall.

THE night is closing round, mother !
The shadows are thick and deep !
All around me they cling, like an iron ring,
And I cannot, — cannot sleep !

Ah, heaven ! thy hand, thy hand, mother !
Let me lie on thy nursing breast !
They have smitten my brain with a piercing pain :
But ’tis gone, — and I now shall rest.

I could sleep a long, long sleep, mother !
So, seek me a calm, cool bed :
You may lay me low, in the virgin snow,
With a moss-bank for my head.

I would lie in the wild woods, mother !
Where naught but the birds are known ;
Where nothing is seen but the branches green,
And flowers on the greensward strown.

No lovers there witch the air, mother !
Nor mock at the holy sky :
One may live and be gay, like a summer day,
And at last, like the summer, die !

Dying girl with mother; ambrotype, c.1860 courtesy The Thanatos Archive.  One image of many extraordinary early post mortem and unusual photography.

Dying girl with mother; ambrotype, c.1860 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 Thantos Archive membership site and Facebook page.