'The just Value you have expressed for the Matrimonial State, is the Reason that I now venture to write to you, without Fear of being ridiculous; and confess to you, that though it is three Months since I lost a very agreeable Woman, who was my Wife, my Sorrow is still fresh; and I am often, in the midst of Company, upon any Circumstance that revives her Memory, with a Reflection what she would say or do on such an Occasion: I say, upon any Occurrence of that Nature, which I can give you a Sense of, though I cannot express it wholly, I am all over Softness, and am obliged to retire, and give Way to a few Sighs and Tears, before I can be easy. I cannot but recommend the Subject of Male Widowhood to you, and beg of you to touch upon it by the first Opportunity. To those who have not lived like Husbands during the Lives of their Spouses, this would be a tasteless Jumble of Words; but to such (of whom there are not a few) who have enjoyed that State with the Sentiments proper for it, you will have every Line, which hits the Sorrow, attended with a Tear of Pity and Consolation. For I know not by what Goodness of Providence it is, that every Gush of Passion is a step towards the Relief of it; and there is a certain Comfort in the very Act of Sorrowing, which, I suppose, arises from a secret Consciousness in the Mind, that the Affliction it is under flows from a virtuous Cause. My Concern is not indeed so outragious as at the first Transport; for I think it has subsided rather into a soberer State of Mind, than any actual Perturbation of Spirit. There might be Rules formed for Men's Behaviour on this great Incident, to bring them from that Misfortune into the Condition I am at present; which is, I think, that my Sorrow has converted all Roughness of Temper into Meekness, Good-nature, and Complacency: But indeed, when in a serious and lonely Hour I present my departed Consort to my Imagination, with that Air of Perswasion in her Countenance when I have been in Passion, that sweet Affability when I have been in good Humour, that tender Compassion when I have had any thing which gave me Uneasiness; I confess to you I am inconsolable, and my Eyes gush with Grief as if I had seen her but just then expire. In this Condition I am broken in upon by a charming young Woman, my Daughter, who is the Picture of what her Mother was on her Wedding-Day. The good Girl strives to comfort me; but how shall I let you know that all the Comfort she gives me is to make my Tears flow more easily? The Child knows she quickens my Sorrows, and rejoices my Heart at the same Time. Oh, ye Learned! tell me by what Word to speak a Motion of the Soul, for which there is no name. When she kneels and bids me be comforted, she is my Child; when I take her in my Arms, and bid her say no more, she is my very Wife, and is the very Comforter I lament the Loss of. I banish her the Room, and weep aloud that I have lost her Mother, and that I have her.
'Mr. SPECTATOR, I wish it were possible for you to have a Sense of these pleasing Perplexities; you might communicate to the guilty part of Mankind, that they are incapable of the Happiness which is in the very Sorrows of the Virtuous.
'But pray spare me a little longer; give me Leave to tell you the Manner of her Death. She took leave of all her Family, and bore the vain Application of Medicines with the greatest Patience imaginable. When the Physician told her she must certainly die, she desired, as well as she could, that all who were present, except my self, might depart the Room. She said she had nothing to say, for she was resigned, and I knew all she knew that concerned us in this World; but she desired to be alone, that in the presence of God only she might, without Interruption, do her last Duty to me, of thanking me for all my Kindness to her; adding, that she hoped in my last Moments I should feel the same Comfort for my Goodness to her, as she did in that she had acquitted herself with Honour, Truth and Virtue to me.
'I curb my self, and will not tell you that this Kindness cut my Heart in twain, when I expected an Accusation for some passionate Starts of mine, in some Parts of our Time together, to say nothing, but thank me for the Good, if there was any Good suitable to her own Excellence! All that I had ever said to her, all the Circumstances of Sorrow and Joy between us, crowded upon my Mind in the same Instant; and when immediately after I saw the Pangs of Death come upon that dear Body which I had often embraced with Transport, when I saw those cherishing Eyes begin to be ghastly, and their last Struggle to be to fix themselves on me, how did I lose all patience? She expired in my Arms, and in my Distraction I thought I saw her Bosom still heave. There was certainly Life yet still left; I cried she just now spoke to me: But alas! I grew giddy, and all things moved about me from the Distemper of my own Head; for the best of Women was breathless, and gone for ever.
'Now the Doctrine I would, methinks, have you raise from this Account I have given you is, That there is a certain Equanimity in those who are good and just, which runs into their very Sorrow, and disappoints the Force of it. Though they must pass through Afflictions in common with all who are in human Nature, yet their conscious Integrity shall undermine their Affliction; nay, that very Affliction shall add Force to their Integrity, from a Reflection of the Use of Virtue in the Hour of Affliction. I sat down with a Design to put you upon giving us Rules how to overcome such Griefs as these, but I should rather advise you to teach Men to be capable of them.
'You Men of Letters have what you call the fine Taste in their Apprehensions of what is properly done or said: There is something like this deeply grafted in the Soul of him who is honest and faithful in all his Thoughts and Actions. Every thing which is false, vicious or unworthy, is despicable to him, though all the World should approve it. At the same time he has the most lively Sensibility in all Enjoyments and Sufferings which it is proper for him to have, where any Duty of Life is concerned. To want Sorrow when you in Decency and Truth should be afflicted, is, I should think, a greater Instance of a Man's being a Blockhead, than not to know the Beauty of any Passage in Virgil. You have not yet observed, Mr. SPECTATOR, that the fine Gentlemen of this Age set up for Hardness of Heart, and Humanity has very little share in their Pretences. He is a brave Fellow who is always ready to kill a Man he hates, but he does not stand in the same Degree of Esteem who laments for the Woman he loves. I should fancy you might work up a thousand pretty Thoughts, by reflecting upon the Persons most susceptible of the sort of Sorrow I have spoken of; and I dare say you will find upon Examination, that they are the wisest and the bravest of Mankind who are most capable of it.
Your most humble Servant,
[Footnote 1: The Mr. Francham who wrote this letter was of Norwich, whence it is dated.]Translation of motto: