Judith Sargent Murray Society
JSM's dates: 1751-1820
The Repository. No. XXI.
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This essay appeared in the June 1794 edition of the Massachusetts Magazine under the name "Constantia." Here, Judith is referring to her own sister. As the oldest of eight children, Judith witnessed the deaths of four sisters while she was still a girl. Throughout her adult life, she was always very close to the three siblings who survived: Winthrop, Esther, and Fitz William. Many people are quick to dismiss how people felt about the loss of a child during the eighteenth century because it was so common. But that was simply not the case. The loss of a child was as devastating then as it is today.


The Repository. No. XXI.
 
Reflections in the manner of Hervey -- occasioned by the death of an infant Sister, who had hardly completed her fifth year. October, 1775.

HOW fleeting are all things here below! What a changing state is this! My sister, my darling sister, is forever gone! Dear, lovely, and beloved promiser of joy, how strangely unmindful of birth, or of precedence hast thou been! How hast thou taken the lead of thy elder, and outstripped her who was born before thee! Innocent and deeply interesting bud of beauty, didst thou not behold the helpless hands of her who bore thee, thrown abroad in heart-affecting agony? Didst thou not hear her exclaim -- Gracious God! and must I then lose her? Must I lose this child also? this child, who I fondly hoped would continue the prop of my declining years, the sweet companion of my aged life? Didst thou not mark thy father -- his speechless agony? Didst thou not see the big tears roll down his manly, his revered cheek? And could nothing detain thee, that thou hast thus unkindly flown? Pretty blossom -- thou wast just opening to our delighted view; daily did we discover many excellencies, many infantile charms -- and fondly did we hope, one day to admire thy full growth of loveliness: We flattered ourselves that by degrees we should see the human blossom blow; that every day, soft as it rolled, would add some new charm of virtue, or of beauty; that we should see thy infant reason grow apace, and fix the generous purpose in thy glowing breast. But alas! these pleasing prospects are now fled -- forever fled -- and we have resigned thee to thy parent earth! Yes, these eyes have beheld the breathless clay of that endearing prattler, whose morn of life hath been to my solitary hours the most enchanting solace. How hast thou inverted the order of nature! It is thou who should have watched over thy departing sister, who should have smoothed her dying pillow, and embalmed her by her falling tears. But I have heard thy last parting sigh; I have seen thy last gasp; thy happy, thy privileged spirit, hath indeed taken its flight; already thou hast joined the cherub train, which make up the infant nation of the blessed, and thou art now, doubtless, rejoicing in the regions of light. To the beauteous tenement that thou erst inhabited, we have discharged the last solemn rites, and it now sleeps quietly amid the congregation of the dead! I beheld the surrounding monuments, and they were more in number than the surviving relatives who attended thy little remains. Here a long line of ancestors marshalled in solemn order; thy immediate grand parents, in whose fond arms thou hast been so often pressed -- there a knot of little kindred, like thee, early committed to their parent earth, and now silently resting in its bosom. Uncles and aunts croud around; they departed in the bloom of life, when the high expectations which had been formed of them, were on the point of being crowned with fruition: But in the renovating day of the Lord, we shall again behold them -- and then, too, thy little form shall rise independent to our view; for it shall be dignified and adorned by the plastic and tender love of the Redeemer.

CONSTANTIA

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2007 © 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.