England: 1856 and 1874. 8vo. Bound notebook, with writing on 98 pp., the remaining leaves blank (first leaf torn out). Original blue roan (worn and shaken, boards almost detached, spine defective, depredation to bottom edge of front cover), marbled endpapers and edges, double gilt lines to boards and spine. Text block clean with only slight stains to a few pages. Preserved in a 4-flap lig-free chemise housed in a protective cloth case. Fair. Item #3857
"I too, have laid my lily down..."
SORROWFUL REFLECTIONS WRITTEN BY A GOVERNESS ON THE DEATH A CHILD IN HER CHARGE: ASTONISHINGLY POIGNANT AND ELOQUENT MANUSCRIPT COMMONPLACE BOOK.
The manuscript contains writings by three three different women. The first (and most extensive) is by the Governess of a dead child: "In Memory of dear little Harry who was taken to Heaven 5th of 4th mo'th 1856." Her spidery Victorian handwriting is even and accomplished. The format of the above date, and her use of "thee" and "thou" throughout may suggest that she was a Quaker. For 30 pages she expresses her heartfelt love for the child, and her own agony during Harry's decline and ultimate death:
"Oh darling as I write of thee my heart is overflowing, my eyed blinded with tears, for oh I think so much of what thous might'st have been, thou fairy bud of promise!"
The Governess begins the MS with a passage from Hebrews 12:11 ("now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous"); following this is an 8-line poem that is unfamiliar to us:
"His soul hath winged its flight above
To viewless homes, where all is love
And hearts in soft possession move
All life to melody!
Beyond the clouds, beyond the sky
Unseen that *bright boy's* home doth lie
Yes! over death the victory
Through Christ to him is given!"
Certainly the rhyme scheme (AAAB CCCD / 8886 8887) is unusual.
The writer remembers Harry's loving manner, his "bright mind, nervous ardent temperament, keen sensibilities & quick decided spirit," as well as his "aristocratic bearing and fascinating ways." The Governess had provided religious instruction, which the young boy took to heart: when tempted to be disobedient, he "had asked God not to let him be naughty." But he was naughty, and disobeyed his Governess, but he always followed up with his transgressions with soft contrition. Harry showed curiosity about the natural world, Bible stories, Heaven and Hell. The Governess writes poignantly:
"Love was with him omnipotent -- the remembrance of a kindness once received was long treasured up in his warm little heart; he was easily ruled by affection and evidently himself thought it the most powerful weapon of assault, for if any wish presented itself that he was most earnest should be gratified, his arms were turned lovingly around the neck -- his kisses showered upon the cheek, and 'I really do love you so much, do you let me' – was in Harry’s voice hard to refuse."
It would appear that the child was something of a proto-bibliophile: "Little Harry was delighted with having a shelf given him to devote exclusively to his own books; he took pride in keeping it in order and placing each in its size and would even call me to see that it was 'all right'; indeed his love and enjoyment of arrangement was curiously striking."
The Governess describes the boy's last illness, of about six days' duration, in some detail, and the heartbreaking deathbed scene, which eclipses in sadness anything Thomas Hardy could have written, goes on for page after page: "Scarcely could we realize that death had entered the room, so peacefully the gentle spirit winged its flight to God. All was ended now, the hope and the fear and the sorrow and the sweet calm look, the light that appeared to beam upon that baby brow, was indeed the impress of the 'signet ring of heaven.' Oh, he was happy, he was happy now. That thought seemed the only one we could venture to listen to."
Harry had an older brother Willis, a sister Sibbie, "who for the last 3 mos. of his life was his most present companion" and an older sister Mary, who was away at school "and thus not particularly alluded to" in the diary pages.
The next 48 pages (likewise written by the Governess) are transcriptions of published (and unpublished?) bereavement verses. It would appear that in the present manuscript the compiler created a private "grief book" for no one but herself. Given the context of the present manuscript, the texts of these poems seem even bleaker. Having just read the Governess's own personal reflections, certain poems are almost impossible for us to finish. We recognized "The Mother's Reminiscence" (actually part of "The Mother's Heart" by Mrs. Caroline E.S. Norton, published in "The Universalist and Ladies' Repository" in 1844); an extract from a poem of Hannah Marsh (later Bowden); and a large part of Adelaide Anne Proctor's "The Angel's Story" (transcribed from "Household Words" magazine of 1854). Following this is a section entitled by the Governess as "Stanzas" which are unidentified, and there is no division between them. Some of these stanzas are obscure and may not have been published in full -- or at all. For instance, the first lines from a poem identified in the 1846 Missionary Register as being the beginning of "Bella Gray's Hymn" which does not seems to have been published elsewhere:
"Let me, let me, let me go;
Why so wish to keep me here,
In a world of sin and woe,
Pain, and grief, and anxious fear?"
The Governess continues with stanzas that may be compositions of her own: we have been unable to locate them online or in print; certainly the present manuscript merits continuing research.
The Governess then left 3 pages blank; on the first of these "M.E.G." [later identified as Mary E. Grote] wrote about the death of her first born son, "Ernie," whose father was Ernest William Davis. In the first line of her text, Grote refers to the manuscript itself ("this choice collection"). The Governess continued with 12 pages of verses; the first poem was written by an American woman, Catherine H. Esling ("He Was Our Father's Darling"). The hand of the Governess then disappears from the manuscript.
Mary Grote returns with a 5-page memorial "To Ernie" [i.e. Ernest, her son] dated August 30th, 1874. It would seem therefore that Grote's earlier 1-page passage was also written in 1874.
Fourteen blank leaves separate Grote's contribution from that which defines a manuscript Commonplace Book, for at the back are five pages of "Hints For Housewives" written in a different hand. These undated, unrelated notes seem to be brief, opinionated views on damp cupboards, flies, roasting meat, buying eggs, mending china, and other domestic matters. It amuses us to read the first line in this section, which is just as true now as it was in the late 19th century:
"So much information about everything is now so easily obtainable, that there is little excuse for enduring many of the small domestic worries to which housekeepers and others are so often subjected" (!).