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Harriet Wood Townshend Letter to N. S. Townshend, January 1854

Harriet Wood Townshend Letter to Norton Strange Townshend, January 1854. Norton Strange Townshend Family Papers, Box 1, Folder 26.

“Dearest, best loved, and still my own:

The thought that you will read this when I have departed almost unnerves me and fills my eyes with blinding tears.

I have been so blest in treading the path of life by your side, dear, I have found so sweet a refuge from the sorrows of life on your loving breast and so rich a repose in the affection of your true heart, that I believe our Father who is all love will look pityingly and forgivingly upon the anguish of my heart in yielding life and you.

Oh beloved, how I shrink from speaking to you in words of the love which fills my heart, and which yearns to clasp you in its

embrace forever, warding from you all sense of loneliness and desolation, and gilding with sunlight the waste places of your coming life. Dearest, I have lived over all the anguish before you, the vacant home, the solitary pillow, the care of your motherless children, the numberless trials and inconveniences which will make your life grievous, al, all I know and have felt till my whole being has gone out to you in inexpressible tenderness. The longing to comfort you when I am no more is so intense that I feel, I know, it must be an inextinguishable part of my being which shall have its scope and exercise in the life that is to be.

Could I foresee, darling, every occasion where you will need my counsel, so that we could talk of it all now, I might save you much perplexity, and oh, how

gladly would I spend what remains to me of life in smoothing the rough places of your way.

Sometimes when I have thought of these long months of illness and of discipline, of mental weakness and irritability, I have feared that memory would only recall to you this wreck of my former self. I cannot bear to think that the thought of me will be so associated with pain and weakness as to be distressful to you. I want you to think of me often and as your own dear wife, who in the ten swift years she has pillowed your head upon her breast, has never owned a thought unfaithful to you, loving you better than all else in this weary world.

And as you read, beloved, let not your thought be of the hand that penned, now

mouldering back to dust, but of the living, spiritual presence, overshadowing you now with a deathless love. Believe it, love, as truly as if you felt the pressure of my hand upon you brow as in the days gone by, and let it comfort you.

God has willed it that I walk no longer with you, but you may have long years before you yet. He alone knows to whom the secrets of all hearts are manifest, how fearful was the struggle when it first broke upon me that I must leave you, how the very thought lacerated every poor fibre of my heart. I learned then how intense and absorbing was the love upon which my happiness had depended so entirely these years of our united life, and which has made life so beautiful that death has looked far, very far in the dim futurity,

a love which has been so satisfying to the craving spirit, that it has been content to drink its fill from earthly fountains, needing these symptoms of decay and infirmity to bring it to a sense of its dependence upon a higher source.

I take comfort, dearest, in the thought that this love which has become a part of myself, and is one of the holiest emotions of my heart, is not bounded by this present life, but shall be intensified and made purer in the life to come. That I shall be permitted to minister to you until we meet in a perfect and lasting union above. There soul shall meet soul in a completeness of fellowship we cannot conceive of here, where this fleshly medium must ever interpose, each pure and holy thought gleaming with a transparency which shall

need not imperfect, weak words to translate it to the kindred soul. For here we see but as through a glass darkly, there we shall see as we are seen and know as we are known.

The past year has brought to me a new experience of pain unalleviated by hope save that which shone in from beyond the confines of this present life. My impatient heart has often asked–“Were it not more merciful to be cut off from existence by a sudden stroke that may be met by firmness of mind and unimpaired strength, than this slow rusting of the earthly chain?” This physical powerlessness and dependency which chafe the imprisoned spirit, making it a partaker of the weakness then the array of unfulfilled purposes that

have darkened the retrospect of life standing between my heart and submission. Ah! This was the discipline our Father deemed best for me, and it has increased my self-knowledge and deepened my humility. My life has looked to me like a miserable abortion, and the thought has pained me beyond expression. Why should I dwell on this, darling, when I am seeking to comfort you? Only because it is right that you should know something of the mental conflict which has been at times overmastering, but which, I trust, has resulted by the grace of God in true views of life and duty. If my life has been barren of results which would lead me to hope that the world had been made better for my having lived in it, it is

perhaps equally true that I have under-valued the influence of a quiet, humble life, and in the longing for something beyond, have failed in performing with a glad and cheerful spirit the duties that God has assigned me. Were my days upon the earth prolonged it does seem to me that I could live more truly, that I could do far more for your happiness and the well being our children than I have ever done. It is well that our destinies are in the hands of one who knows what is best for us, yea, and who careth for us, too.

If in this concentration of thought upon self, I have seemed regardless of those around me, if I have been at times exacting and impatient under pain, oh, my own dearest one, forgive, though your

loving heart, I know well, has treasured only the tenderest and kindest memories of the ‘child wife’ whose womanhood has developed under the fostering influence of your love.

My heart aches, dearest, to think how much you will feel the loss of that home which you have prized so much, and which I know you have felt to be an oasis in the sands of your busy life. How isolated and broken will that life henceforth seem. I fear you will never know again the joys of home unless you find another to fill my place.

It may be that you will find as many have done before you, a necessity laid upon you to gather up again the broken threads of life, and weave a new and blessed home influence around the child-

hood of our children, may it be for their sakes and yours an influence of love and goodness. The selfishness of my heart on that point has long been subdued and given place to a desire for your happiness and highest well-being. I know you will not, can not forget me, or think of me but tenderly. If your lot could be cast with one who knew and loved me too, that you might sometimes talk of me together, it would be sweet to think of. But do not connect yourself with one so selfish as to be jealous of my memory, or who will not aid to preserve it in the hearts of my children.

Let her be, darling, a woman of piety and of prayer, who will make the moral and spiritual training of our dear

ones her first care. I have too much confidence in you to believe that you would be influenced unduly by personal attractions in so momentous a matter. There will be more involved in this than in your first choice. Joined to the craving want within of companionship and wifely affection, is the cry of young children for a mother, and that place none but a true woman can fill. Your wants cannot now be met by a half-developed woman. The amount and character of company which your position brings and which are at variance with the ordinary routine of farm life, involve an amount of care you can scarcely realize. See to it, beloved, that the temper and spirit of the one who will create that of your household be not marred by the pressure of care and

constant physical weariness against which no one is fully proof. Uphold her by your sympathy, constant and unfaltering. Ah, dearest, you know not how often the little word of appreciating sympathy that you must have deemed so trifling, has fallen upon my heart like cool drops upon the sands, giving to the care that was crushing into my spirit with leaden weight, a winglike buoyancy, and quickening every pulse of my being into love and gratitude. And so I believe it is with the heart of every woman that loves absorbingly. Here, love, I pause, that I may bless you with the consecration of dying lips, for the true and faithful love of these years, for every tender utterance which I laid away deep down in my inmost heart–

“I bless you for kind looks and words,

Showered on my path like dew;

For all the love of those deep eyes,

A gladness ever new.

For the voice the e’er to mine replied

In kindly tones of cheer;

For every spring of happiness

My soul hath tasted here.”

If I have been sorely tried in spirit I knew there was a breast where I could pillow my head, an encircling arm to strengthen me, and a voice which modulated to tenderness ever ruled my spirit as the harp of David the vexed spirit of Saul. O life has been made so precious by this human love. For all, God bless you as I cannot.

Should you connect yourself again, love, by that sweetest of human ties, guard well the object of your choice from the more than ordinary trials of a stepmother, let her not be ignorant of the prejudice she must encounter

and which I fear must embitter the life of a sensitive woman, though blessed with a love as precious as yours. Counteract, as far as you can, all prejudice our children may have been taught to feel against a second mother, which would prevent them from winning her love. Forbear with your parents, dear, in this particular. I fear you will be grievously tried, but they are old, and their opinion fixed, deal as mildly and with as much tact as you can consistently, and it will be happier for all. I once shared in the popular prejudice myself, but now it seems to me that there is no place a true woman can fill more nobly. Where she enters upon its duties with the spirit of a Mary Ware, receiving the children of another as a sacred trust, training them up jointly with her own, without partiality,

reestablishing the broken household, and entering fully with the bereaved husband into all the deep heart griefs of that past, there she shows herself right womanly. Alas! I know there are not many such, but some I know there are.

In this matter I do not speak to you in a spirit of dictation, I would not fetter you in it by any request of mine. But that after the lapse of a suitable time you may follow the dictates of your heart and judgment, cheered by these words of sympathy and approval. To my thinking, every new affection enlarges the capacity of the true heart, and no new love crowds out the old. Of the dear children I have much now to say and in the fullest confidence that you will strive to carry out my wishes.

When I look at them my heart is full. Dear, precious ones, folded no longer on a mother’s breast, parts of my own being, how can I leave them in this wicked world! How have I prayed and hoped that I might lead them in its rough way a little longer. Ah, how fearful the responsibility of giving a life that can end but with eternity! Of setting in motion that complicated machinery of good or evil, a human soul! For our darling Arthur my anxieties have ceased. In a home where there is neither sin nor sorrow, his infant soul has learned lessons of heavenly wisdom with little of the folly of earth to unlearn.

I rejoice, love, for your sake that I can leave with you these other dear ones, pledges of a love true and faithful

and sweet remembrancers to you of the mother that bore them. They will be sweet comforters, darling, sources of pure and continual joy to your bereaved heart. And, oh my husband, never, never relinquish the charge of them to another as you have to their own mother, they are all that remains to you of me, regard them as a sacred trust I have left in your keeping. Open your heart to the influence of their childish sayings, draw out their little, crude thoughts & establish between them and yourself the closest intimacy. Though it take hours of time that you can ill spare, you will be amply paid for your task of love and self-denial. A mother’s love! Ah me, “That fount of deep, strong, deathless love,” I fear wells up within no other

heart. Many a little one outwardly well cared for, has pined through life from a sense of neglect, from the craving of an unsatisfied want its young heart scarcely could define. Some thoughtless repulse at an unguarded moment may bar up to you forever the avenues to that young spirit, whose repressed emotions are flowing back to their warm source in a frozen tide, benumbing all the finer sensibilities, or driving it to seek other confidence and intimacy than yours. See that this is not so, dear, be everything to them yourself, let them not feel the want even of mother love.

I fear that what I write henceforth must be unconnected and fragmentary. I feel my strength departing day by day, an days have already passed, days of weariness and unrest such as I never knew before,

in which I dared not try to write. I fear I shall never complete what I have so much wished for your sake. The hopefulness of my spirit is fast ebbing with the increasing weakness of this poor frame. Give me more strength, Oh Father, or a sweet calm submission to Thy will.

Jan. 5. Do not think from what I have said that I desire for our children that petting and indulgence which would result in weakness and imbecility of character. An amount of attention which would lead them to suppose that their wants were of paramount importance is to be dreaded as a sure means of making them exacting and selfish and miserable when the time arrives that they cannot receive it. I trust they will be independent, self-relying and efficient characters, capable of looking after their own wants if need be, and with energies to spare for this needy world, and hearts to put them into the work. Train them to habits of strict industry with a proper sense of the value of time and the dignity of labor. Useful and active employment is ever a safeguard from vice and no one ever regretted the formation of such habits in youth. Ah, how much lighter does it make the

cares of after years. Inspire them with contempt for a useless, drone-like existence, so grievous in the retrospect and unacceptable to God.

Preserve them from the concentration of mind upon self by teaching them to consider ad do for others. Oh, may they know beauty of entire unselfishness, and the sweetness of self-sacrifice. I trust that strict and ready obedience may be required of them by whoever has them in care, until it be cheerfully rendered and become a fixed habit. I am the more anxious for this because I believe it lies nearer the foundation of Christian character than most apprehend. How shall the wilful [sic] and unsubdued heart shine in the likeness of Christ? How shall the heart that refuses obedience to the earthly parent submit to the Heavenly? The transformation and the struggle must be great, and likeness of the Redeemer obscured even then.

Jan. 14. I have especially desired that our children may be encouraged to think of and do for others because I have observed in them both a painful self-consciousness, perhaps not greater than is usually found in children of

quick sensibility. I rejoice that they possess this fine sensibility, but would not have it cultivated disproportionately, or to that degree of morbid sensitiveness which would unfit them for practical life. No condition of mind can more wholly unfit for its trials and conflicts, or the fearless discharge of duty. I have seen so much of this in persons whose education was otherwise nearly faultless but who could not through extreme sensitiveness get along with the world as it is. Let them read no works of fiction which give a false coloring to life and rouse hopes and expectations never to be realized. How many a young mind has been thus poisoned and its usefulness forever destroyed. Look carefully into their reading, dear, and select for them judicious and interesting books that they may not have the temptation of reading everything they pick up. Books of history simplified as they now are and stories of moral tendency abound, and are sufficient to satisfy the most active imagination kept within healthful bounds. Do not let them read such works as “David Copperfield,” “My Novel,” &c. They may be a pleasant and useful recreation for a man of business or any person of mature mind, but

a young person like Marcellus, for instance, runs over the fascinations of the story without comprehending its real import, and the result is to make everything tame and uninteresting in the details of common life. I could but impute the floating skepticism which pervaded his mind to his indiscriminate reading. How seldom does that condition of mind in one so young give place to a calm and steady faith, and permit one to lay hold on that “Hope which is an anchor to the soul sure and steadfast,” on this wild, wild sea of life. Jan. 16. I desire to have the most perfect truthfulness and sincerity inculcated in our children. You may wonder that I should deem it needful to say this, but it is a matter that lies very near my heart. Mary has peculiar temptations in this direction from her active and fertile imagination. It will be hard for her to tell a story without embellishment, and some of her friends who would be shocked at the thought of an untruth, laugh at the little artful evasions she employs to escape blame. The effect of this has already become painfully apparent to me, and has awakened apprehensions

for her future character. I have scarcely known what course to pursue with reference to the little variations she so often sees fit to make in her statements of facts, I believe simply because her fertile little brain cannot rest satisfied with the tame detail of things as they are. Let her conscientiousness be diligently cultivated and truth to a shade be insisted upon in all her statements. Nothing else, I fear, will save her from becoming an artful woman, and prevent the rich gift of a glowing imagination from becoming a temptation and a snare. I love to think of the character of a Christian woman as gleaming with a perfect purity and transparency, untarnished by a breath of deceit or shifting worldly policy. Oh Father of love, preserve in this precious child, this beautiful gift to our home and hearts, the sincerity and sweet truthfulness of childhood amid the snares of a deceitful world—-“