Judith Sargent Murray Society
JSM's dates: 1751-1820
The Reaper. No. II.
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This essay appeared in the Monday, October 27, 1794 edition of the Federal Orrery. In it, "The Reaper" relates a lesson in compassion she learned from her daughter.

The Reaper. No. II.
Perhaps there is no character, whose claims upon our admiration are so well formed, and who produces so fair a title to our esteem, as that being, who hath obtained the government of his passions; who, refusing to become the sport of contingencies, and, superior to the events of the moment, pursues, unhesitatingly, with constant firmness, that regular plan, which few occurrences in life, are considered of sufficient importance to derange. How equal beats the pulse of the proficient in equanimity! How calm is the bosom-- how serene the soul! Great indeed is the utility of industriously cultivating a uniform disposition of mind. Innate composure, harmony of ideas, skillful designation, and methodical completion -- are equally essential to the police of private happiness, as to the dignity of public reputation. They form and meliorate the embryo thought -- they systemize, mature, and give energy to those floating sentiments, which, amid the tumultuous hurry of a turbulent imagination, would be totally destroyed; and, they assuredly accelerate, and accomplish the noblest purposes of the soul. Imbecile hesitancy, pusillanimous indecision, painful and perturbed regret, embittered reflection, corroding remorse, are all of them the progeny of the passions. They dwell with confusion, and frequently deform the mind, which, losing its balance, submits its helm to the direction of the momentary gifts of circumstance.

Some days since, (I blush, while I make the confession,) robbed of the tenor of my soul, by those domestic casualties, that the terms, on which we hold our being, unavoidably produce in the routine of existence, the region of my bosom became the seat of uproar and dismay. A servant ascended the stair-case --"a person below wishes to see you" -- I had been expecting a visitor of importance, and, taking my little daughter in my hand, with an effort to banish chagrin from my countenance, I prepared to meet the supposed honorable guest. But my calculation was erroneous. Gray hairs, in the garb of poverty, awaited my approach; and I was accosted, in the humble language of supplication. Yet I was not moved -- the asperities of my composition were savagely edged, and the demon of avarice, like the serpent at the ear of Eve, breathed his pernicious poison into my soul! -- "Well, supposing he is poor, aged, and struggling with accumulated informities, are not your finances extremely circumscribed -- are you not reduced to the exercise of almost penurious economy -- and is not this opulent metropolis fully competent to making ample provision for its poor?" "No, friend," I petulantly replied, -- "the master of the house is not at home, and I have no money to dispose of." -- He bowed, submissively. A mild langour beamed in his eye, and an expression of mortified resignation played upon his cheek. Sterne's monk was not more eloquent; but, still hardened by my heart, I was quitting the vestibule, when Julia suddenly exclaimed -- "See, mamma, the poor old man can hardly walk -- he is sick -- and he wants money -- Will you not give him some money? Do, mamma" -- and the sweet pleader caught me by the gown. It was, with a shock of electricity, and the genius of benevolence burst from the cloud -- "Is it possible? Is this the example you exhibit to a daughter, whom you hope to rear to every virtue? Mistaken woman, of what weight will be those precepts, that your life doth not exemplify? Assuredly, if you neglect to practice the graces, that you would inculcate, those honied words, that, in some tranquil moment, may pour the strain of instructive morality into the listening ear of innocence, will not avail!: Hastily, with both hands emptying my pockets -- impetuously I exclaimed -- "Fly, my love -- haste, my Julia" -- for my petitioner had recrossed the threshold -- "give him all I have, and may heaven shield his venerable head!" The child having little more than completed her third year, is extremely averse to strangers, and has all the timidity, that is generally the appendage of infancy -- yet, upon this occasion, she became the rosy-cheeked cherub of speed; and my peace-offering was soon lodged in the hands of the old man. The poor sufferer spontaneously supplicated -- "May the Almighty bless your pretty face; and may no calamity ever wear a furrow there!"

Had I been in the practice of that self-command, and uniform composure, which I would recommend, I should have spared myself the pain of blushing, in the presence of my child; -- I should not have been so lavish in my bounty; -- I should have administered to the necessities of a fellow creature, with discretion. In one word, equally avoiding opposite extremes, I should have pursued the calm and happy medium, which results from that order, which is the offspring of wisdom.

Reader, let us reap, from experience, a valuable composure, which may serve as the invariable regulator of every movement of our future lives -- For the Reaper, she is convinced, that ORDER is the TALISMAN of every excellence.


2008 © Bonnie Hurd Smith

Independent scholar and author Bonnie Hurd Smith is the president and CEO of History Smiths, a marketing company that works with businesses to incorporate history -- their own and their community's -- into their branding, marketing, and community outreach to attract customers, boost customer loyalty, and secure a high status reputation in the communities they serve.