Discusses sinking of the steamship Lexington
Jan. 18, 1840
Catharine Peet Bostwick was 53 years old when this was written.
Catharine Peet Bostwick died 23 years, 10 months, 1 day after writing it.
It was written 180 years, ago.
It was a Saturday.
January 18th 1840
My Dear Mrs. Howard,
When I wrote John, I should write to you on the afflicting bereavement — the loss of the well-beloved and the joy of your eyes, it never occurred to me, the essay to express sympathy or give consolation could be intrusive but the fever of this has kept me silent, long since I would have expressed that Christian sympathy for your sorrows while, while it cannot wound, may chance to soothe.
Full well I know the power of Christian sympathy and that moment when the heart is oppressed with the most [?] sorrows will occur, when it is open to its benign and gracious influence. Alike in our desires, our aims, and in our afflictions, we suffer and feel the same calamities, joys, and hopes. I can too well realize your sorrows, and though I know to some it would appear as one of peculiar poignancy, because of the value of the lost, her worth and loveliness, her mental endowments and Christian graces, but how much do the charm of all these add to the sweet salve of memory. You have no corroding reflection, no agonizing regrets that the dear plant so long nurtured and cherished in the garden of your pleasures is separated from the parent stock, unfitted for the celestial regions of her Savior God. No, there she lives, too glorious and bright for mortal eyes, and there she prepares bowers of unfolding verdure for the dear ones she loved on earth.
What more selfish than our grief in cases like this. We never cease to contemplate on what we imagine a prolonged life would procure for us from such a source. No joy but they might have been the source of it, and the mind ranges through all earth’s flowery path, and bright sunny scenes, no thorn is felt, no cloud is seen, the bright image of the departed is never shrouded in gloom or the prey of Hydra head cure, thus we nurse our grief.
But what does the scripture and experience teach us? We cannot always, but we do sometimes, see the mercy that takes as well as that bestows. We know too little even to doubt that God’s time is best. The dear child you mourn was the gift of that being who cannot err. The same being has withdrawn the treasure in the cup of life. Her existence was unmingled with bitterness. But what might it have been had she continued here? What evil may she have escaped and what sorrow may you have been spared? Alas! How often is it that life, though it dawn like hers, with the brilliant glow of an included sun, sets in the deep gloom of storm and tempest. My God, what are we that we question thy wisdom and mercy! Oh teach us to lay our hands upon our mouth saying, not my will, but thine, Oh God.
My dear Mrs. Howard, we know little of one another, but we feel in unison like joys and sorrows. Accept my sympathy and do not believe a heartless form prompts this expression of it. Experience is a teacher, not to be withstood an engraver on stone, not on the sand, and though the waves of affliction have not washed over me, the threatening billow has repeatedly washed my feet. In watching Charlottes shortened health, I have passed months in conflicting hopes and fears. How many anxious hours have I struggled with desponding and with what a load at my heart I endeavored to attend my family duties. Wakeful nights and weary days have too often taught me to feel what such bereaved affections as you suffer be. May you seek consolation where it is surely to be found abundant, adapted to your sorrows and sufficient for all your wants, and there you will learn how little this world is to be [ruled?] by those who seek a better. How selfish the grief that would shroud a glorified spirit in a perishing garb of clay to suffer sorrow and death. And these too you will learn to sing hymns of praise that one of your dear children is beyond the reach of sorrow or sin.
Hannah Moore says, “there is always mercy behind a cloud if we will look for it.” How impenetrable are these clouds sometimes, and at this moment how do we tremble and stand appalled at the sight of human misery. The [steamship] ‘Lexington’ burnt before our eyes a full six hours. Like a specter ship, she haunts my vision. We know there must be the extreme of human suffering. Our purpose frozen no man could refuse them, these hundreds of fellow beings must struggle for life with a foe powerful and deadly as fire, frost, and the whelming flood. I cannot tell you what I have suffered, when alone my breath was an audible groan. I would not sleep not eat nor talk. The very attempt at cheerfulness in my family was sickening. How was she freighted with not and joyous beings — the rich and successful returning to friends after an absence of years to enjoy the wealth earned by every privation — the friends and wedding occasion member of different families. Was death in all their thoughts the morning with her second husband and family and friends? Did she or they think to be buried in the same grave? The literary and the good, the father, brother, and child all perished. What were they as they went proudly on their way? What are they now? Not a wreck is left those persons escaped on bales of cotton. The friends of the dead are constantly arriving all on the melancholy errand seeking to hear of the dead, but the “Ice king” holds them in their group and we they heed him not. “It is the survivor dies.” Whose sorrow is like unto their sorrow. Was ever heart pierced with more bitter grief than must be them? I could detail many particulars but why dwell on this soul harrowing subject? May God of his infinite mercy make it profitable to all.
Remember me kindly to Elizabeth and her husband. They have displeased me by their disregard of family claims upon them. William, above all, should not forget that his father’s blood still runs in the veins of a few. But I forgive them all offenses — life is too short to notice them. May God bless and keep you, yours, and them, for eternity.
P.S. I have crowded my letter in an uncomely manner without saying something I ought. The wretched disaster has driven all thoughts away. Should you ever feel competent to speak of your daughter, let me know something of her sickness and death. John is very general in what he writes. Charlotte’s health is now thank God very good.