This was at the close of August, 1728, and the Rector's letter entreating his good offices for Johnny Whitelamb reached John Wesley on the eve of his taking Priest's Orders, for which he was then preparing at Oxford. He was ordained priest on September 22nd, and a week later had news from William Wright in London that Hetty's third child was born--and was dead.
This is how the father announced his loss:
"To the Revd. Mr. John Wesley, Fellow in Christ Church College, Oxon"
John smiled at the superscription, inaccurate in more ways than one.
This comes to Let you know that my wife is brought to bed and is in a hopefull way of Doing well but the Dear child Died--the Third day after it was born--which has been of great concerne to me and my wife She Joyns With me In Love to your selfe and Bro: Charles. From Your Loveing Bro: to Comnd--
"P.S. I've sen you Sum Verses that my wife maid of Dear Lamb Let me hear from one or both of you as Soon as you think Convenient."
And these are Hetty's verses inclosed.
A Mother's Address to Her Dying Infant
"Tender softness, infant mild, Perfect, purest, brightest Child! Transient lustre, beauteous clay, Smiling wonder of a day! Ere the last convulsive start Rend thy unresisting heart, Ere the long-enduring swoon Weigh thy precious eyelids down, Ah, regard a mother's moan! --Anguish deeper than thy own.
"Fairest eyes, whose dawning light Late with rapture blest my sight, Ere your orbs extinguish'd be, Bend their trembling beams on me!
"Drooping sweetness, verdant flower Blooming, withering in an hour, Ere thy gentle breast sustain Latest, fiercest, mortal pain, Hear a suppliant! Let me be Partner in thy destiny: That whene'er the fatal cloud Must thy radiant temples shroud; When deadly damps, impending now, Shall hover round thy destin'd brow, Diffusive may their influence be, And with the blossom blast the tree!"
Mr. Wright inclosed these verses complacently enough. Poetry in his eyes was an elegant accomplishment vaguely connected with scholarship and gentility: and he took pride in possessing a wife who, as he more than once assured his cronies in the parlour of the "Turk's Head" at the end of the street, could sit down and write it by the yard.
To please Hetty he read them through, pronounced them very pretty, and folded up the paper, remarking, "I'll send it off to your brother John. He likes this sort of thing, and when he learns 'twas written in your weak state he'll think it wonderful."
Of the anguish in the closing lines his eye detected, his ear heard, nothing.
Yet it was an anguish which daily touched despair in Hetty's heart. God had laid a curse on her, and would not be placated by the good behaviour on which she had built her hopes. She had borne three children, and not one had He suffered to live for a week. No matter how many she might bear, the same fate stood ready for them. Nor was this all. She saw Him smiting, through these innocent babes, at her husband's love. Little by little she felt it relaxing and sinking through carelessness into neglect: and the whole scheme of her atonement rested on his continuing fondness. She had never loved him, but his love was, if not infinitely precious, of infinite moment to her. She needed it to sustain her and keep her in the right way. She omitted no small attentions which might make home pleasant to him. She kept the house bright (they had moved into Frith Street and lived over the shop), and unweariedly coaxed his appetite with her cookery, in which--and especially in pastry-making--she had a born gift. The fumes of the lead-works at the back often took her own appetite away and depressed her spirits, but she never failed to rouse herself and welcome him with a smile. Also (but this was to please herself) sometimes by a word of advice in the matter of toilet or of clothes, oftener by small secret attentions with the needle, she had gradually reformed his habits of dress until now he might pass for a London tradesman of the superior class, decently attired, well shaven and clean in his person. He resigned himself to these improvements with much good-nature and so passed through his metamorphosis almost without knowing it. She practised small economies too; and he owned (though he set it down to his own industry) that his worldly affairs were more prosperous than ever they had been before his marriage. But the fumes of the lead-works affected his appetite, too, and his spirits: and when these flag a man has an easy and specious remedy in brandy-and-water. By and by it became a habit with him, when his men ceased work, to stroll down to the "Turk's Head" for a "stiffener" before his meal. The men he met there respected him for a flourishing tradesman and flattered him. He adored his wife still. In his eyes no woman would compare with her. But there was no denying he felt more at home in company which allowed him to tell or listen to a coarse story and stretch his legs and boast at his ease.
He was not aware of any slackening in affection. But Hetty noted it and fought against it, though with a sinking heart. She had counted on this babe to draw him back--if not to her, then at least to home. When told that it was dead, on an impulse she had turned her face at once to him and with a heart-rending look appealed for his forgiveness. He did not understand. Yet he behaved well, stroking her head and saying what he could to comfort her.
She was convinced now that she lay under God's curse, and by and by her weak thoughts connected this curse with her father's displeasure. If she could move her father to relent, it might be lifted from her. And so after many weeks of brooding she found courage to write this letter:
From Hetty to her Father
Although you have cast me off and I know that a determination once taken by you is not easily moved, I must tell you that some word of your forgiving is not only necessary to me, but would make happier the marriage in which, as you compelled it, you must still (I think) feel no small concern. My child, on whose frail help I had counted to make our life more supportable to my husband and myself, is dead. Should God give and take away another, I can never escape the thought that my father's intercession might have prevailed against His wrath, which I shall then, alas! take to be manifest.
Forgive me, sir, that I make you a party in such happiness (or unhappiness) as the world generally allows to be, under God, a portion for two. But as you planted my matrimonial bliss, so you cannot run away from my prayer when I beseech you to water it with a little kindness. My brothers will report to you what they have seen of my way of life and my daily struggle to redeem the past. But I have come to a point where I feel your forgiveness to be necessary to me. I beseech you, then, not to withhold it, and to believe me your obedient daughter,
If you would persuade me that your penitence is more than feigned, you are going the wrong way to work. I decline to be made a party to your matrimonial fortunes, as you claim in what appears to be intended for the flower of your letter; and in your next, if you would please me, I advise you to display less wit and more evidence of honest self-examination. To that--which is the beginning of repentance--you do not appear to have attained. Yet it would teach you that your troubles, if you have any, flow from your own sin, and that for any inconveniences you may find in marriage you are probably as much to blame (at the very least) as your honest husband. Your brothers speak well of him, and I shall always think myself obliged to him for his civilities to you.
But what are your troubles? You do not name them. What hurt has matrimony done you? I know only that it has given you a good name. I do not remember that you were used to have so frightful an idea of it as you have now. Pray be more explicit. Restrain your wit if you wish to write again, and I will answer your next if I like it. Your father,
On receiving this Hetty could not at once bethink her of having given any cause of offence. But she had kept a rough copy of her letter, and on studying it was fairly shocked by its tone, which now seemed to her almost flippant.
She marvelled at her maladroitness, which was the more singular because she had really written under strong emotion. She did not even now guess the secret of her failure; which was, that she had written entreating forgiveness of one whom she had not wholly forgiven. Nevertheless she tried again.
Hetty to her Father
Though I was glad, on any terms, of the favour of a line from you, yet I was concerned at your displeasure on account of the unfortunate paragraph which you are pleased to say was meant for the flower of my letter. I wish it had not gone, since I perceive it gave you some uneasiness.
But since what I said occasioned some queries, which I should be glad to speak freely about, I earnestly beg that the little I shall say may not be offensive to you, since I promise to be as little witty as possible, though I can't help saying you accuse me of being too much so; especially these late years past I have been pretty free from that scandal.
You ask me what hurt matrimony has done me, and whether I had always so frightful an idea of it as I have now? Home questions, indeed! and I once more beg of you not to be offended at the least I can say to them, if I say anything.
I had not always such notions of wedlock as now, but thought that where there was a mutual affection and desire of pleasing, something near an equality of mind and person, either earthly or heavenly wisdom, and anything to keep love warm between a young couple, there was a possibility of happiness in a married state; but when all, or most of these, were wanting, I ever thought people could not marry without sinning against God and themselves.
You are so good to my spouse and me as to say you shall always think yourself obliged to him for his civilities to me. I hope he will always continue to use me better than I deserve in one respect.
I think exactly the same of my marriage as I did before it happened; but though I would have given at least one of my eyes for the liberty of throwing myself at your feet before I was married at all, yet, since it is past and matrimonial grievances are usually irreparable, I hope you will condescend to be so far of my opinion as to own that, since upon some accounts I am happier than I deserve, it is best to say little of things quite past remedy, and endeavour, as I really do, to make myself more and more contented, though things may not be to my wish.
Though I cannot justify my late indiscreet letter, yet I am not more than human, and if the calamities of life sometimes wring a complaint from me, I need tell no one that though I bear I must feel them. And if you cannot forgive what I have said, I sincerely promise never more to offend by saying too much; which (with begging your blessing) is all from your most obedient daughter,
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