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This essay appeared in the November 1794 edition of the Massachusetts Magazine
under the name "Constantia." In it, Judith discusses facing death with calmness and faith.
The Repository. No. XXVI.
REFLECTIONS occasioned by reading an account of a ludicrous exit.
I DO not like this apparent gaiety, this ebullition of facetious wit, in the hour of dissolution! Methinks an air of levity but ill becomes a departing spirit; and there is a decent, a composed solemnity, which while it elevates the mind, in the same moment, best accords with propriety. If my head is, upon the coming hour, destined to the block, resignation, and presence of mind, with manners sedately dignified, is fortitude: but licentious jesting, and ludicrous comments, upon an occasion so awfully serious, are truly shocking. At such a period, recollection is surely necessary -- at least, it is natural; an affectation of unconcern is despicable; and if it is real, it announces a mind devoid of sensibility. Exertions of native superiority, evinced by calm composure, are descriptive of equanimity; but boisterous mirth can never be considered as the smallest indication of heroism. Were we to rush, with a familiar air, or supercilious step, into the presence of that being, whose brow was encircled by the wreath of merit, or upon whose head glittered even an earthly crown, we should be justly chargeable with temerity; but when we are about to present ourselves before an omnipotent, and a self-existent Creator, from whom we originate, and upon whom we must eternally depend, perturbation, even in the extreme, may be tolerated -- and the most profound veneration, and deep-felt awe, is but a proper acknowledgement of the immensity of Deity. It is surely incumbent upon the soul, to clothe itself in the garments of humility, to assume its utmost purity, and if it joys in its approach to the divine, the benignant Author of its existence, let its joy partake of solemnity -- let it be chastised by serious propriety. I envy not the felicity of that actor, who, being apprized that he hath but a few hours to continue in the present scene, devotes the interval to dress, and fancy; to bows, and compliments. When the period of my dissolution is at hand, let me employ my powers in mediating upon an opening heaven -- in grasping at ideas suitable to that august assembly, which I am so soon to join, and in an effort to divest my spirit of every earth-born care. -- The change is assuredly great -- it is of immeasurable importance. -- Of our destination we can have little idea, and although, from the philanthropy of our God, from the atonement made for our offences, and the price paid for our redemption, we may rationally conclude, that happiness is our designation; yet, there is a variety of considerations that are, at such a moment, abundantly sufficient to fill, and exercise the strongest, and most capacious mind; and we should be careful to close the scene with becoming decency. Even the atheist, I should imagine, except he hath, by continued anticipation, become habituated to the comfortless prospect of annihilation, must acknowledge the period which is to terminate his existence, but ill-suited to expressions of mirth -- and the probability is, that he bids adieu to pain and pleasure, with sensations of solemn regret.
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
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