INFANCY IN DEATH. By Rev. William Rogers.

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. 

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.

Courtesy Bostonwriters.wordpress.com

Courtesy Bostonwriters.wordpress.com

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.

IT SLEEPETH.

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 metaphor of sleep in relation to death seems to have appeared forever in art. Here we have it in poetry as it relates to the heartbreaking loss of a baby. I have previously written of this subject in relation to a locket in my collection. How difficult to accept that moment when a child looks peacefully asleep, to hope that a mere loving touch will awaken them.

IT SLEEPETH.

TRANQUILITY it sleepeth
On its mother’s breast,
Gentle thoughts have won it
Lovingly to rest.

Lo ! how deep its slumber,
Like a summer lake ;
Kiss it, mother, kiss it,
That it may awake.

Press it to thy bosom,
Warm it with thy smile;
Let its sunny glances
Gladden us awhile.

Lo ! a shadow stealeth
O’er it, dim and dark ;
Can’st thou hear its breathing
Woo the silence ? Hark !

Silent ! Lay thy finger
Gently on its heart ;
Silly one ! it sleepeth,
Wherefore dost thou start ?

Sleepeth ! ay, it sleepeth
In its beauty, where
Mother’s love avails not,
And the angels are.

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.

Memento Mori in Jewellery: Anachronistic 1780s White Enamel Ring

Here is a re-posting of an indepth analysis of a spectacular and unique ring circa 1780 which Hayden Peters wrote for his fabulous site Art of Mourning. This ring, dedicated to Ann Staneway, is from my personal collection of mourning jewellery.  Enjoy!

Click here to read the post Memento Mori in Jewellery: Anachronistic 1780s White Enamel Ring Where Memento Mori Meets Neo-Classicism.

Anne Staneway 1780 OB 18 Mar 1780 AE 20

Ann Staneway OB 18 Mar 1780 AE 20

How Society Entered Mourning: c. 1680 – 1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

Here is a re-posting of a terrific analysis of an early memento mori ring Hayden Peters wrote for his reference site Art of Mourning. This exquisite ring is from my own personal collection of mourning jewellery, and is a true delight to have.  Enjoy!

Click here to read How Society Entered Mourning.

A Memento Mori Mourning Ring c. 1680

A Memento Mori Mourning Ring c. 1680

Mourning, History & Jewellery in Boston

Mourning ring made for John Gray, the infant son of John and Mary (Otis) Gray, who died six days after his birth in September 1763. The ring is made of gold, with three joined enameled scrolls and large square crystal over gold foil skull set into raised, rayed mount flanked by two small round facet-cut crystals. Scrolls contain text in raised gold Roman capitals in black cloisonné enamel.: "J:GRAY OB.17.SEP.1763.AE 6D."

Mourning ring made for John Gray, the infant son of John and Mary (Otis) Gray, who died six days after his birth in September 1763. The ring is made of gold, with three joined enameled scrolls and large square crystal over gold foil skull set into raised, rayed mount flanked by two small round facet-cut crystals. Scrolls contain text in raised gold Roman capitals in black cloisonné enamel.: “J:GRAY OB.17.SEP.1763.AE 6D.”

Before it closes on the 31st January 2013 you must go and visit the exhibition In Death Lamented at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston – that is, if you are lucky enough to live close by!

Unfortunately we are based on the other side of the world, but I was wise enough to purchase a copy of the accompanying publication which I had to review on Amazon. I couldn’t help myself, I do that sort of thing.

Sarah Nehama I am proud to say has contributed to this blog. She is a jeweller herself and an avid collector of mourning jewellery, many pieces of hers you will see in the collection. She also authored the book. Here is a fascinating interview with her discussing mourning jewellery and items in the exhibition.

If you have seen the exhibit please let me know what you thought of it below in the comments. As a collector of mourning jewellery I would have loved to have seen it myself!